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Holiday essentials: self-catering without the fuss

by Izzy Burton 15 July 2015

Self-catering holidays can be great, but without a little organisation there’s a risk of them feeling more like an endurance test than a relaxing break. From planning to packing, these tips should help your next self-catering trip run a little more smoothly.

Izzy writes for Great British Chefs where she combines a lifetime love of food and tricolons.

Never have I felt more sympathy for my parents than I did on my return from my first self-catering holiday as an adult. As the self-elected cook for the holiday I was in charge of planning, preparing and (more often than I’d like) tidying up after all the meals we ate for the week. Self-catered holidays can be great - often cheaper, and a wonderful opportunity for leisurely experiments in the kitchen - but if you go in without a plan you can often be left feeling even more in need of a holiday at the end than the start.

Minimise packing by planning meals carefully

There’s no need for quite as anally retentive planning methods as my venn diagrams, but think carefully about common ingredients in meals to make the most of what you take. Which herbs crop up most commonly across your menus? Do you need both brown and white rice? Is it worth buying that enormous sack of potatoes? Take a look at our recipe collections by ingredient to get some ideas on using the same core ingredients in a variety of interesting ways.

Research the area

On a recent holiday to Berlin we were ten minutes from the vast Turkish market running along Maybachufer, whereas several years ago on a trip to the Isle of Mull there was one shop on our half of the island. It is always worth doing a little bit of research on the area you will be staying in before deciding what to bring with you and what to buy there. The same goes for shopping hours; opening hours vary widely from day to day across Europe (and around the world). Depending on where you’re staying it may be difficult to find an open shop if you’re arriving late at night or on the weekend, so check ahead and maybe have a couple of nearby (open) restaurants up your sleeve too.

Ensure you're well equipped

It’s common for most holiday rental listings to have an inventory, but often these are vague at best. Self-catering properties should provide enough crockery and cutlery for everyone staying, and a basic range of pots, pans and utensils. If you’re staying for longer than a few days, however, or your planned holiday menus are a little more ambitious than the average holidaymaker have a think about what you would classify as the essentials. A quality knife is always a good bet - depending on travel arrangements, obviously - while a colander can earn its place by doubling as a salad spinner and steamer if you’re getting desparate. Tupperware, too, is an oft-forgotten necessity, along with cling film or foil for on-the-go money saving snacks.

French supermarket
No self-catering holiday would be complete without the bewildering odyssey around a vast, cavernous supermarket
biscuits and cakes
Forget tourist traps, you can learn a lot about a country's culture from its food shops

Know what you're buying

This might seem like an obvious one, but if you’re on a self-catering holiday abroad and your language skills are about as good as the average Brit remember to pay particular attention to the grocery section of your phrasebook. Repeatedly shouting the item you’re after - inevitably in English with a rising inflection - will not always cut it in a supermarket. I always thought my GCSE German was of a decent standard until I was stood in the dairy aisle of a Lidl for fifteen minutes trying to buy cream, peering at almost identical tubs and hoping desperately that I wasn’t going to end up with custard in my mushroom tagliatelle.

Know what not to buy

Similarly, if you have any dietary requirements or allergies take care to mug up on these before you arrive at your destination, because even just learning the word for ‘vegetarian’ can save a lot of potential meat-guilt anxiety. Particularly useful for the ambiguous packaging of kettle-centric, instant meals popular with campers and the ill-equipped, this will also help when you’re eating out, too.

Make the most of where you are

Of course, a self-catering holiday doesn’t have to mean you never venture out to eat elsewhere, particularly if you’re staying in a city or town where the variety of restaurants on offer can be too tempting to resist. However, self-catering accommodation means that you can make the most of any delis, markets and bakeries you might pass during the course of your day, picking up glorious local produce (and copious amounts of cheese) to try for yourself.

 
 
 

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Holiday essentials: self-catering without the fuss

 
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