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Family travel must-have: portable ‘kitchen’

Matt Villano

After hundreds of nights on the road with my girls, I’ve come to the conclusion that the most valuable tool for a family traveler is a portable kitchen.

No, I’m not talking about one of those plastic kitchen replicas with which little kids love to “cook.” I’m talking about a makeshift kitchen. For me. To whip out in my hotel room and use to prepare food and/or clean up after meals.

I’m talking about something like this (with an optional additional collapsible bowl).

I know what you’re thinking: Dude, that’s a camping tool (and a frieking dog bowl)! And to this skepticism, I say a) “Right you are” and b) “So the hell what?”

Look, I’m not interested in going all Thomas Keller on my kids when we travel. I want convenience and efficiency. For hot meals, we eat out (or take in). But for what I consider intermediate meals—those inevitable breakfasts and lunches you have because you have to have them—my setup works wonders.

We’ve brought our kitchen with us to three countries, six states and 22 different hotels (including the Travaasa Hana on Maui, where we’ll be when you read this post). At this point, I’m not sure we could travel without it. Over the last two weeks of our month-long trip to Hawaii, I’ve used our spread to whip up a number of different meals, including rice cereal and mashed guavas for the baby, and PB and sliced mangoes for the toddler.

In all cases, my “station” was the counter of a hotel bathroom.

My wife and I like the kitchen for different reasons. Powerwoman appreciates never having to fumble for utensils. I, on the other hand, love having a sponge and dish soap wherever we go (I admit I’m a total neat freak, and confess that milk residue in a sippy cup filled with water is a major pet peeve).

Bottom line: For less than $40, a kitchen like this one certainly is worth a try. Beside, years from now, when you take your kids camping, you’ll be ready for anything (except maybe Bolognese).