Vacation packing for your palate

August 12, 2022

When you’re packing for vacation, most of your choices will depend on where you’re going (weather, activities, etc.) and where you’re staying (luxury resort, Airbnb, your own Airstream trailer). Most of the time, you don’t need to pack kitchen essentials, unless the destination is one where you plan to do much of your own cooking instead of sampling the local cuisine.

The last time we rented a condo on a sunny beach in Florida, the living accommodations were fine, but the kitchen was a disaster. Many of the plastic utensils were twisted, melted or stained, the nonstick pans had long ago lost their interior coating and the knives couldn’t cut butter, let alone chop the beautiful vegetables we found at the local farmers market.

After traveling a few times with our friends Pat and Marie, we’ve learned to take along some key items from our home kitchen if we’re going to be cooking on someone else’s stove. First and foremost of these are salt and pepper. If you’re like me, you’ve arrived to discover either an almost-empty salt shaker or one filled with a cake of salt melted into a rock by the humidity.

You have no idea how long those bottles of olive oil and vinegar have been tucked away in the rental unit’s cupboard. Either pack unopened bottles or buy new ones on your first trip to the grocery. Add to your list the one condiment you tend to use on almost everything – Worcestershire sauce, kimchi or Tabasco. Again, bring unopened bottles or buy them on day one.

Never assume that the tea bags and coffee you find on the counter are recent additions to the scenery; always bring your favorite brands so you can wake up to that delicious fix of caffeine you know and love. You’ll need to buy whatever sweetening or whitening ingredients you prefer, whether soy or almond milk, half and half or cream, and real or artificial sweetener.

Also, invest in disposable storage containers so you can transform your delicious dinner into a handy lunch the next day. Since some of these can be purchased at a nominal cost, my advice is to bring the key items that are too costly to buy at your destination: knives and a microplane. Pack these in a knife roll or wrapped in a towel in your checked baggage, of course. If you’re driving to your destination, all the better for finding space.

One of the surprises we discovered on a recent trip was a set of lovely wine glasses, but no wine opener in evidence. I was grateful I had packed a streamlined waiter’s corkscrew, since not all wine bottlers have moved away from corks to screw tops. You will see other kitchen-travel packing lists that include sheet pans, but that seems a bit much, as you can always use the oven broiling pan in a pinch.

I mentioned salt and pepper, which are basic, but you may also want to go to the website for Penzey’s spices ( to see if there are some seasoning mixtures that might be helpful to have on hand. For example, for the tomato and mozzarella salad in the photo, we used Penzey’s Country French Vinaigrette dressing base. It includes a balanced blend of savory herbs to mix with oil and vinegar.

No matter whether you pack the very basics and purchase the less-costly ingredients, or pack everything in your suitcase, your vacation rental will be so much more enjoyable if you have the basics on hand, especially a sharp paring knife!

Tomato Salad

1 head summer crisp lettuce
2 lbs mixed heirloom tomatoes
8 oz ciliegine mozzarella

Separate leaves in the head of lettuce, rinse and dry. Arrange on a serving platter to cover the bottom of the plate. Depending on the size of the tomatoes, cut into quarters or eighths and arrange on top of the lettuce. Drain the cheese and scatter mozzarella balls across the plate. Drizzle generously with vinaigrette. Yield: 4 to 6 servings. *Make your own with an Italian seasoning blend, olive oil and vinegar, or reach for your favorite brand in a bottle.

Chicken Mango Skewers

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 mango, peeled and cubed
1 T olive oil
3 ears corn on the cob
1 T butter
1 bunch green onions
1/2 t paprika
1 lime, quartered

Preheat grill to medium. Cut chicken into 1-inch cubes. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Thread skewers with chicken and mango pieces. Brush with oil and grill, turning occasionally, until chicken is cooked through, about 12 to 15 minutes. Shuck corn, remove silk and cut kernels from the cobs. Melt butter in a nonstick skillet. Slice green onions and add to the skillet along with corn kernels; sprinkle with paprika. Cook for about 5 minutes; turn off heat and cover until chicken is ready. To serve, arrange a mound of corn mixture in the center of each plate, top with skewers and serve with lime wedges. Yield: 4 servings.

Vacation Kitchen Necessities List

Coffee & tea
Coffee sweetener
Coffee whitener
Kitchen knives
Oil & vinegar
Plastic containers
Salt & pepper
Spice mixes


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