Holiday planning

Your guide to self-catering holidays

By Rebecca Gamble

4 March 20216 min read

Kid in the swimming pool with a plate of watermelon on the side

Considering a self-catering holiday? If you’re travelling on a budget, you should: going self-catering can be an incredibly economical way to get away. It’s also a great way to tap into local life as you’ll often need to source your own ingredients from markets and supermarkets, and you may even be inspired to dish up few regional recipes.

If that sounds like your cup of tea, read on. Our handy guide will take you through all basics, from what to pack for your self-catering holiday to how to keep your budget in check.

What is self-catering?

Self-catering means your accommodation will have the facilities that enable you to cater, ie cook, for yourself. By definition, it means meals will not be provided as part of your stay.

Self-catering properties range from studio apartments and holiday cottages to vast villas with private pools. The facilities offered vary widely too, from simple kitchenettes to fully-fledged kitchens, so always check what you’ll get before you book.

What's the difference between self-catering and room only?

On the face of it, self-catering and ‘room only’ stays may seem similar, as neither board basis will include any meals in the price you pay for your stay. But while self-catering properties provide cooking facilities, this isn’t usually the case with room only bookings. It simply means you’re booking a hotel room but without any meals included.

However, staying in a hotel on a room only board basis does have some benefits that you often don’t get when self-catering. For example, you’ll still get to enjoy the hotel’s maid service and there will usually be a restaurant onsite – you’ll just need to pay.

What do I need for a self-catering holiday?

It’s a good idea to take some supplies with you when you’re going on a self-catering holiday, as a bit of preparation will save you time and money while you’re away. Think about the basic items you’ll need to prepare meals and any special utensils that will make your stay easier. If you’re decanting liquids into smaller bottles, ensure the lids are tightly sealed before you pack them.

What to bring for a self-catering holiday

Essential food and drink for self-catering holidays:

  • Cooking oil
  • Salt, pepper and sugar
  • Your favourite tea bags and coffee
  • Ketchup and other sauces
  • Snacks
  • Canned goods for a quick meal

Kitchen essentials for self-catering holidays:

  • Tea towels and a kitchen roll
  • Washing up liquid
  • Containers to store any leftovers
  • Kitchen foil or cling film

Other items:

  • Washing powder (check if there’s a washing machine you can use)
  • Travel-sized board games
  • A first-aid kit
  • A couple of rolls of toilet paper

Remember that, if you are flying, your baggage allowance will limit how much you can take. If you do have space, it’s worth considering taking other items you love, whether that’s a favourite brand of baked beans for breakfast or pasta and jars of sauce for a quick, cheap dinner. If you’re driving, you’ll be able to take significantly more if you want to.

It’s also wise to find out what equipment your accommodation will include so you can decide if you need to take anything extra. For example, if you like to start your day with fresh coffee and your accommodation doesn’t supply a cafetiere, then take your own. And it’s a good idea to take your own corkscrew (note that it’s not allowed in your hand luggage) and tin opener too, just in case.

Is it cheaper to go self-catering or all-inclusive?

All-inclusive and self-catering are at opposite ends of the board basis scale. With all-inclusive, your food, snacks and drinks are typically all included in the price you pay for your holiday. In contrast, with self-catering, food or drink is not included.

It means self-catering holidays tend to be cheaper to book, but it doesn’t mean you’ll spend less on your holiday overall – that depends what you do when you’re away. If you cook all your meals in your apartment or villa and bring snacks from home, you’ll almost certainly have a much cheaper holiday overall. However, if you eat out every day, splash out on ice-cream each afternoon, and like to while away the evenings drinking wine or cocktails in local bars, the costs will rack up. And, you may find you’ve spent even more than you would have done on an all-inclusive holiday.

It’s not just the potential savings that are a benefit of going self-catering; there are many other reasons people choose this type of accommodation:

Flexibility: Do you like to sleep in late when you’re on holiday and have breakfast at your leisure? Do you enjoy taking in the sights on day-long excursions? When you book self-catering accommodation, you aren’t tied to eating your meals at a resort’s timetable, nor will you end up feeling like you’ve wasted money if you miss a meal that you’ve already paid for if you go out for the day. The flexibility of being able to prepare your own food is also good news for parents of small children who wake early and need to be fed. You can get busy making their breakfast instead of trying to keep them happy until the hotel’s restaurant opens. And if your children are fussy eaters, you can take some of their favourite snacks and foods with you too.

Freedom to dine out: If you’ve booked a full board or all-inclusive hotel package, you’ll be limited to eating all your meals at the hotel’s restaurants. But with self-catering, as well as having the freedom to cook your own meals, you also have the choice out to dine out wherever you wish. This means you can really explore the local area and seek out restaurants you fancy.

More space: It varies by property, but self-catering accommodation is usually more spacious than hotel rooms. And if you book a large property to accommodate a big group, it means you’ll often have a generous amount of communal space in your accommodation where you can all hang out together.

What are the downsides of self-catering holidays?

The clue is in the name – you actually do need to cater for yourself; your meals won’t be provided. So, if you’re planning to do much of your own cooking, check how close the accommodation is to local supermarkets and grocery stores before you book. It’s especially important if you’re not planning to hire a car during your stay because you’ll need to carry the bags. If you’re not planning to cook much, make sure you book accommodation that has plenty of cafes and restaurants nearby.

Another factor to consider is that self-catering properties don’t usually have a daily maid service, as you would expect in a hotel, so consider how happy you’ll be to tidy up after yourself while you’re on holiday.

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