Living on a Backpacker’s Budget

SSLOGOSTARAs I mentioned in my previous post, the awesome people at Samesun Backpacker Lodges have offered to help me with my Live Below the Line fundraising efforts. Not only have they sponsored me, but they will also be campaigning on my behalf during Trivia Night, Thursday nights in the Samesun Vancouver Beaver Bar (a bar that, during my few visits to VanCity this past year, has acted as a quiet spot to write during their off-hours, a place to catch up with old friends, and a venue to meet new friends over pints and a game of, yes, Thursday night trivia).

How could I properly express my gratitude from the other side of the country (aside from possibly mailing the staff a few dozen home-baked cookies)? Well, living on a backpacker’s budget can be quite limiting, much like what I’ve been pushing myself to do this week. So, in honour of Samesun and what Live Below the Line has taught me about food budgeting, I’ve decided to share some soup recipes that can each serve six for about $1.25 per person.

Before I go into each recipe, let me offer some tips for shopping on a budget.

  1. If you have a local bulk food store, go there for your dried goods: grains, legumes, pasta, even sugar, flour, spices, coffee and tea. You have the luxury of choosing exactly how much you buy (as opposed to having to buy a whole package of something), plus prices at these stores are normally a little cheaper than a grocery store.
  2. If you’re relying on beans and legumes for protein, I’d suggest getting them dried as opposed to canned. I know there’s more prep involved with dried beans (often having to soak them overnight then boiling them for about an hour), but being able to cut out the high levels of sodium that are found in canned beans is a better choice for your health. However, I know in a hostel this might not be an option, so sometimes you just have to buy the canned stuff.
  3. If you have a local market that sells fresh produce, go there before a big name grocery store. Produce will be cheaper (unless it’s a hoity-toity organic market — sorry hoity-toity organic market lovers). Think Ma’ and Pa’ markets.
  4. I’m what I like to call a “lax vegan”, meaning on a day-to-day basis I choose not to eat meat or other animal products. However, sometimes I crave a glass of milk, or some cream in my coffee. With that said, living on a vegetarian/vegan diet is usually more affordable than on one that includes meat and dairy products. Just remember, beans and legumes are your friend, and eat your veggies. All of the recipes below can be vegetarian and even vegan simply by following the suggestions I’ve included.
  5. When you’re shopping for soup stock, the cheapest option is not always the healthiest one. Soup stock cubes, which I’ve chosen to use in the recipes below, give you the best bang for your buck (I saw a pack of six on sale for $1.00 today — that’s enough for three big pots of soup), however they contain MSG, a food additive that increases flavour but whose role in various health issues has been studied over the past few decades (to date, MSG in moderation has been proven safe by many food associations around the world, however the thought of it in my food still bothers me). Not to give a product placement, but I like to use Knorr Homestyle Stock. It’s normally about $4.00 for a pack of four tubs (which gets me two big pots of soup), so when you work out the cost per recipe, the stock cubes win (about $0.33 per pot of soup vs. $2.00 for the Homestyle stock). Sometimes you have to go with what your wallet allows though.

Alright, now on to the recipes. I originally found this one on, but over the many years that I’ve made it I’ve altered it slightly.

Tuscan Bean Soup       

  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes, liquid preserved
  • 1 can of kidney beans
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 1/2 cup chopped spinach
  • 1 cup seashell pasta
  • 2 cubes of soup stock (I’d suggest either chicken or vegetable, stick to veggie if you’re following a vegetarian diet)
  • 6-8 cups of water (I normally use about 8)
  • ground black pepper to taste
  1. In a large pot over medium high heat, combine the oil, onion and garlic and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the green bell pepper and sauté for 3 more minutes.
  2. Add the water, canned tomatoes, tomato juice and beans. Bring to a boil, add the stock cubes, stir and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 20 minutes.
  3. Add the thyme, spinach and pasta. Simmer for 5 more minutes and pepper to taste.

Notes: One summer, a few years back, I was able to live on a $20 a week grocery budget. This recipe was an integral part of that budget. It’s pretty awesome. One thing I’ve learned from making this recipe a few dozen times is that it tastes better the more thyme you put into it (as in the herb, not the, eh? Get it? Ha, I made a funny…) Feel free to double, triple, even quadruple the amount of thyme called for above. However, it MUST be fresh, not dried. Also, the pasta you use doesn’t necessarily have to be shells; you can use any small pasta that you can find, or even break up some spaghetti into small pieces. That’s the beauty of soup, you don’t have to be all prim and proper.

Now on to recipe #2, another recipe I found a while ago on…

Black Bean and Salsa Soup

  • 2 cans of black beans
  • 2 vegetable stock cubes
  • 6-8 cups of water
  • 1 cup chunky salsa
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 4 tablespoons sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onion
  1. Dissolve stock cubes into one cup of boiling water. Add the remaining water and set aside.
  2. In an electric food processor or blender, combine beans, broth, salsa, and cumin. Blend until fairly smooth.
  3. Heat the bean mixture in a saucepan over medium heat until thoroughly heated.
  4. Ladle soup into 4 individual bowls, and top each bowl with 1 tablespoon of the sour cream and 1/2 tablespoon green onion.

Notes: If you’re making this at a hostel, chances are you might not have access to a food processor or blender. Don’t fret, use a fork or a potato masher. It’s more work but hey, it’ll be worth it. Also, if you want to do a vegan option, just omit the sour cream (I know it might seem a bit redundant for me to say this, but I also know how some people are with their sour cream and Mexican/Tex-Mex food).

And finally, recipe #3, one that I concocted on my own a few weeks ago. Just a little side note before I begin though:

Growing up, my Granny made the BEST West Indian pumpkin soup. In my search for a recipe similar to her own, I haven’t been able to find one that comes even close. So, one day I got some pumpkin from the store and tried to make my own version. This recipe is the result. It’s different from Gran’s, but is still an homage to her awesome chef skills.

Roasted Pumpkin and Sweet Potato Soup

  • pumpkin, skin on (I actually don’t have a specific amount to tell you for this. My grocery store normally has pieces pre-cut and wrapped in plastic wrap. They average about $2.20 to $2.50 per piece, with each piece being about 3″ x 5″ in size. Get one, or two if you’re feeling generous.)
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 red onion, cut into chunks
  • 1 medium tomato, cut into wedges
  • 6-8 cups of water
  • 2 veggie stock cubes
  • 1 can of white kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 bunch of cilantro, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Place the whole piece of pumpkin in a glass dish, skin side down. Add chopped sweet potato, onion and tomato. Season with salt and pepper, cover with foil, and roast in the oven for about 35-45 minutes at 350 degrees (veggies should be soft and mushy).
  2. Remove veggies from oven and scrape pumpkin flesh off of skin. Add pumpkin, sweet potato, onion and tomato to a pot. Add water and bring to a boil. Add stock cubes and stir until dissolved. Add beans and cilantro, bring to a boil and cook for about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Notes: I normally add pepper sauce from Barbados to this soup while it’s cooking, just to give it a nice kick. If you can afford it, get some of your own. This stuff is liquid gold. I will whole-heartedly give a product placement for this particular pepper sauce that I can’t live without. And as you can tell from this photo, I’m very protective of my bottle:


Delish in any dish, indeed.

So there you have it. Three yummy soup recipes that you can make with your friends (or even for yourself and portion it out for the week). Living on a backpackers budget, or challenging yourself to live on $1.75 a day for the Live Below the Line campaign, can be quite difficult. I purposely chose to loosen the reigns a bit on the budget for these recipes (as you can tell from the average $1.25 cost per person for the recipes I shared), but if you’re up for the challenge while you’re travelling, then go wild.

Remember, beans and legumes are your friends; make sure you get enough protein and fibre; eat your vegetables; and drink plenty of water. Also, if you’re at the Beaver Bar, keep tabs on how many $4 drinks you imbibe. Oh, and remember to tip your wait staff 😉


Hey Samesun guests, feeling generous? If you have a few dollars to spare then toss them into the penny jar at front desk. Or, if you’d like to donate online, check out my fundraising page here. Every little bit helps and no amount is too small.


One thought on “Living on a Backpacker’s Budget

  1. Pingback: Living Below the Line: Day 3 |

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