A self-catering holiday, where you purchase or prepare your own meals rather than have them included in the price, is a great choice for a number of reasons. You’ll have more flexibility in when, where and what you eat, rather than having to follow the often-limited menus and mealtimes set by the resort. Those with dietary requirements or allergies, or who are simply picky eaters, get to skip the stress of worrying if there’ll be anything they can eat for any given meal. And, if you do it right, it can actually work out a lot cheaper.

The catch is that you do have to plan ahead – when will you make your own meals, and what will you need? When will you eat out, and where will you go? We know that the idea of having to prepare too much for a relaxing break might make you groan, but once you’re actually there you’ll be glad you did, and that you don’t have to worry about it when you should be taking a break. With that in mind, here are some top tips for what to keep in mind when getting ready for a self-catering holiday.

Bring what you need

A cup of tea with a teabag in itIt can be a good idea to bring the basics, like bread or teabags, from home, especially if you’re unlikely to make it to the shops on the day you arrive. You won’t want to buy cooking utensils on holiday, either, so you might want to pack those special items you can’t do without – if you’re particular about the sharpness of your knives, for example, you may find that those you’re provided just don’t cut it (no pun intended).

Of course, you should do your research to ensure you’re not packing a lot of things you won’t need. Self-catering accommodation varies a lot in terms of what’s available, so find out which appliances and equipment are provided for you, and plan accordingly. You may even find that basics like fresh bread and milk will be waiting for you when you arrive.

Appreciate the little things

It’s useful to bring along small quantities of ingredients you use often, but in minimal amounts. If you like a pinch of salt with your food, or a sprinkling of mixed herbs, buying these fresh on holiday will likely leave you with a lot left over, and when it's time to leave you’ll have to decide between wasting the rest by throwing it away or fitting it into your suitcase and bringing it home... where you already have plenty. This can even be the case with tea and coffee, especially if you don't spend a lot of time at your accommodation – will you really go through 50 teabags or a whole jar of coffee in a week? (No judgment if you do.)

The solution here is to bring some along from home, by figuring out how much you’re likely to use and packing accordingly. Even if there is some left at the end of the holiday, it won’t be so much that you feel like you’re wasting money by getting rid of it. Bring it along in disposable containers and you can even free up some luggage space for souvenirs.

Stock up on supplies

Apples in a supermarketThere are two ways to approach shopping during a self-catering holiday. The first option is to stock up with a weekly shop like you would at home. This lets you get it out of the way on the first day, but it can limit spontaneity too, and you’ll likely feel pressured to use everything you’ve bought. The other possibility is to pick up fewer ingredients more frequently, which gives you more flexibility with what and when to cook, but does mean you have to worry about when you’ll next need to hit the shops. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide which of these suits your way of doing things.

If you are planning to do one big shop, it’s worth seeing if you can place an order online for delivery on the day you arrive. Obviously, whether this is possible will depend on where you’re staying, but showing up at your holiday home and having all your supplies arrive on your doorstep that evening is a great alternative to starting your holiday by dragging yourself around a crowded supermarket. Be sure to book a delivery time that you’re sure you can make, though – you don’t want to miss your slot because you ran into traffic or one of the kids had a tantrum right before you set out.

Cook with local produce

Fresh seafood in a marketOne great way to prepare some memorable holiday meals is to find out about the local specialities and incorporate those into your menu. If you’re staying near the coast, why not pick up some fresh seafood from your local fishing village? Or look into nearby farmers’ markets and see what they have on offer? It provides the opportunity for a special dinner that’s different from what you might have at home.

It’s a good idea to do some prior research with this so you can find out what’s available, where, and when, and figure out appropriate recipes to use. Of course, if you spot some unexpected treat while you’re out and about, it can also be fun to wing it – there’s always the local pub if things don’t work out.

Dine out as a treat

With all these tips on preparing your own meals, don’t forget to visit the local restaurants and enjoy the opportunity to dine out on your holiday, with the potential to sample new dishes and eat in scenic surroundings. Again, though, it’s worth planning ahead, even though you won’t be the one doing the cooking.

Too often people make the mistake of deciding to eat out at the last minute, maybe after deciding that nobody feels like cooking or it’s too late to prepare a meal yourself. This can make what should be an enjoyable activity into a chore, as you hungrily search for anywhere that looks decent, order in a rush and wait impatiently for the food to come out. It’s better to have some idea where you’d like to go ahead of time, and head there before everyone gets desperate for a meal – since you’ll be paying more for the experience, you should make sure it’s an enjoyable one.

Planning ahead like this means you can spend more time relaxing on your self-catering holiday – but however you choose to do it, the most important part is to have fun!