Self-catering holiday packing list + free PDF checklist
A self-catering holiday packing list is a little bit different from your usual hotel holiday packing list.
When you travel to stay in a hotel, you generally plan to eat out – in restaurants, cafes, and so on. So, when packing for a self-catering holiday, there are extra items you need to take with you so you can cook comfortably.
The self-catering accommodation can be pretty much any place that has a kitchen – a cabin, an apartment, a house, and even some hotel rooms.
The packing list remains pretty much the same.
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Why have a self-catering holiday?
There are quite a few reasons why we’ve started to prefer self-catering holidays over staying in a hotel.
Recently, since Emma was born that is, we’ve preferred staying in places that have a kitchen. At first, it was because of Emma’s milk protein intolerance, and afterwards – because we just find it that much more comfortable!
Plus, of course, Covid hit, so many restaurants didn’t allow eating in.
Another thing is – it’s often hard to find good restaurants and eating food from the same one all the time gets boring. But when you have a kitchen, you have a choice – eat out or make your own meal.
Or, as we sometimes do it, get takeaway from a restaurant and eat in at the apartment.
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Tips for creating a self-catering holiday packing list
As I already said, a self-catering holiday packing list is longer than your usual packing list.
But many of the things you need to take depend on a couple of factors, so let me list them first.
What’s in the kitchen?
Before packing all your pots and pans, make sure to research properly what is available in the kitchen in your serviced apartment.
We’ve stayed in places that have all the most popular spices and oils, coffee machines with beans provided, and even things like rice available. Pretty much, fully-fully stocked with shelf-stable things.
And on the other end of the spectrum, we’ve stayed in an apartment with one pan, one spatula, and the bare minimum of utensils. That one, as you can imagine, didn’t have a spice in sight, so we had to buy a bunch. It didn’t even have dish soap.
The best way how to find out what’s provided is by asking the rental directly.
The second-best way – reading the description of the place on many different sites and reading reviews from people that have stayed there before.
Related: how to choose the best hotel
Is there a store nearby?
If the nearest store is a 40-minute car ride away, you might want to pack some basic food items. It’s not so pleasant when the first thing you have to do after arriving at your destination is travelling to the store.
I’m speaking from experience here, haha.
Do you like or need some specific things that are not so easy to find in a basic store?
When we had our first trip after Emma was born, I was on a very strict no-milk diet (because of breastfeeding). At that time, instead of cheese, I used nutritional yeast. Well, let me tell you, that is not an easy thing to find!
If you have some items that are sold in some specific stores, believe me, it’s better to pack them with you. I had to eat pasta without my “cheese”, by the way.
How much space do you have?
As usual, the luggage space will affect your packing list a lot.
If you’re flying, make sure that the accommodation has a fully stocked kitchen. You don’t want to try and fit pans and pots, sharp knives, and utensils in your suitcase, do you?
If you’re driving, it’s already much easier as you can generally pack more with you.
Related: How to plan a perfect vacation
Plan your meals out!
Oh, believe me. I know it’s hard to plan your meals, but if you’re going to take food with you, it’s a great idea.
It helps with the packing list, as you don’t take unnecessary items with you.
There’s no need to have a “this day I’ll have that” kind of plan, but at least some general meals that you’re going to make some day.
Tricks for planning and packing for a self-catering holiday
1. Pack your spices in small zip-lock bags or dishes
Especially things like salt and sugar, honey, or other things that you wouldn’t use if you bought a whole package at the destination. It’s just wasteful to buy new if you have it at home. Or it takes too much space to carry the whole package with you.
Plus, if you leave the leftovers, the accommodation will probably throw them out because of covid concerns.
It’s even possible to buy small one-portion packages of things like olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mayo etc.
2. If you’re flying, buy basics on the way from the airport to the accommodation
When we visited Sardinia in 2021, we stopped in a huge Lidl on the way to buy some water. The plan was to buy all the other basics later in the small store by our apartment.
Well, guess what?! The store was closed – and there was no info about it being closed on google maps.
So ridiculous that we could have bought the basics for at least the breakfast in the supermarket – but nooo.
If you have a huge store on the way to the apartment, just buy the things that you need there. No need to risk it.
3. You can cook a meal at home and take it with you
Well, provided that there will be a convenient way to reheat it.
The last time we travelled, we made a lasagne at home and had it for dinner after arrival.
Of course, you will need something like a travel cooler for this. But still, it’s nice to not worry about getting food as soon as you arrive.
That’s one of the reasons why staying in self-catering accommodation is better than in a hotel – you need to worry less about food.
4. Don’t shop in the nearest store if you’re staying in a really touristy location
It’s better to find some of the bigger brand stores, as that will help you save money. The smaller stores in the touristy places generally have higher prices. I understand that it’s because the rent probably is higher as well, but still, I prefer to not spend too much when I can avoid it.
And at last – the actual self-catering holiday packing list
Essentials that you need for every trip
I actually have a whole article on travel essentials where all the basic items you need to take are listed.
To make it easier for you, I’ll list the things here. If you need some more explanation as to why I’m packing these things, head over to the original article.
You can jump straight over to the actual self-catering packing list if you’d like.
Documents and basics
- Passport and copies of IDs
- Hotel reservations
- Transport reservations
- Covid certificate + masks etc.
- Driver’s licence, if needed
- Phone charger
- Shampoo and conditioner
- Soap/shower gel
- Hand cream
- Lip balm
- Toothpaste and toothbrush
- Clothes washing detergent
- Hairbrush and hairties
- Period products, if necessary
Basic clothing items
- Underwear – 1 for each night spent, plus one extra
- Socks – 1 for each night spent, plus one extra
- T-shirts – both long and short sleeve
- Pants – 1 extra
- Shawl wrap
- Gloves/hat if applicable
- Sandals/flip flops if applicable
- Closed-toe shoes
First aid kit
- Medicine against fever
- Medicine for stomach
- Pain medicine
- Cream against itchiness
- Sanitizer for hands
- Antiseptic for wounds
- Any medicine you need to take regularly
Food for your self-catering packing list
There’s quite a lot of food on our self-catering holiday packing list. That’s because we don’t like to spend too much time shopping.
Of course, you can’t take all of these when flying, as there’s usually not that much space in the luggage.
So we take as much as possible in smaller containers, especially things like salt, pepper, and oil, and buy the rest at the destination.
And of course, meal planning helps lower the amount of stuff you take!
Dry food items that don’t need refrigerating
- Wine 😉
I think most of these items make sense, right?
A tip: as I said before, use smaller containers and ziplock bags to take only as much as you need.
For the spices, we usually take the ones that we use often, such as oregano, chilli, and turmeric.
And the things like salt, oil, coffee, and others, are usually packed in a smaller container or a ziplock bag so that they take up less space. In the best-case scenario, we use it up during the trip and don’t have to take it back home.
Since we quite often make banana pancakes for breakfast, my actual packing list included bananas and flour as well.
Food that should go in the cold bag
- Milk or substitute
- Dinner for the first night
- Mayonnaise, ketchup, etc.
- Meat for main meals
All of these items need to be refrigerated, so you’ll need to store these in a cooler box or a travel fridge.
My parents have a travel fridge that can actually be plugged into the car’s accessory outlet (cigarette lighter). It means that they don’t have to worry about the ice blocks, which is amazing on longer trips.
A tip: a frozen meat will help keep all the other items cold
It’s not easy to pack things that need refrigerating on the airplane, so I recommend that you buy them at the destination.
Kitchen items to pack for a self-catering holiday
Before packing these things, make sure to ask the accommodation if by any chance they are provided!
Quite often, though, there will just be one of each, like, one tea towel in the kitchen. That means that quite often there will be just a very wet towel – so not helpful at all. That’s why it’s better to pack at least one with you.
As for paper towels, they are so multifunctional! Napkin for the nose, cloth for cleaning counters, and so on. And we’ve almost never had them at the accommodation.
Weirdly, there are places that don’t provide dish soap. Like, do you want me to leave dirty dishes? Because it’s almost impossible to wash the oil off with no liquid.
And usually, if there’s no corkscrew in the apartment itself, you might get it if you ask. But! Sometimes, there’s no one to ask. So better to pack one with you if possible. Not in the hand luggage, though, if you’re flying!
Some places might charge you extra if you don’t clean up before leaving, but at the same time does not provide enough garbage bags or any cleaning liquids. That’s why it’s a good idea, space allowing, to pack some with you.
Extra items that you should make sure your accommodation provides
- Bed linens
- Towels for the bathroom
- Toilet paper
- Blankets and pillows
Yes, there are places that don’t provide these things.
If you’re unsure of what yours provides, contact them in advance!
It’s better to do it before booking if you’re flying – if you need to pack blankets and pillows with you, there might not be enough space in your luggage!
Speaking of bathroom towels, I recommend that you take travel towels with you. They take less space and dry faster than ordinary ones.
It actually might be a good idea to throw a toilet paper roll in your suitcase. Even if the accommodation provides one, there might not be enough, especially if there are many of you travelling.
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Last words about this self-catering holiday packing list
It seems like a long list, right? Especially the food!
And all those kitchen items…
You might be wondering if it’s actually worth it to have a self-catering holiday.
But let me assure you that yes, it is! The freedom that comes with having your own place to cook is amazing. I wish we had booked at least one such place when travelling around South America – I was burnt out from eating restaurant food!
To have only the things you require on your self-catering holiday packing list, make sure to contact the accommodation if you are unsure of what they provide.
Is there anything I missed? Let me know in the comments!