Cooking Thanksgiving while traveling

Well it is a change of the times this year. . . . after cooking Thanksgiving for 20+ years at my home, this year I have to cook it “on the road”. My mother-in-law has decided that travel is too much now, so we are taking Thanksgiving to her. We are renting an Air-BnB, arriving Tuesday morning and I’ll be having to split my time between visiting with her in the senior center and figuring out how to get T-day dinner on the table.

As of right now I have no idea what cookware is in the Air BnB but I’m sure it isn’t equipped for a full Thanksgiving dinner. (I’m guessing there will be 8 of us for dinner - not confirmed, but hey its Thanksgiving so anyone is welcome). I’ll be bringing a potato ricer and some parchment sheets with me. I’ll buy a cheap but sharp knife there (it just has to stay sharp 3 days).

I’m thinking I’m going to end up doing a lot of the baking/cooking/roasting in tin foil pans . . . .I can’t think what else I could do. The turkey should be fine that way (I’ll roast some necks and make a stock for gravy maybe . . . ). I’m going to have to skip making the rolls (usually home made, but no time this year). I’m going to preorder a turkey from Whole Foods (2 miles away from house) - I was going to order a few sides but what they have online seems basic and not worth ordering (e.g. green beans in garlic butter - I can do that in 10 minutes, why order that?). Oh and ordering pies - no time for making pies.

(I think for me - making the turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, and the family corn pudding recipe are the most important to be home-made and still feel like Thanksgiving. Or at least that is what I’m thinking right now . . . )

But I’m worried about presentation . . . . I won’t have luggage space for serving dishes - and serving everything from foil pans seems . . . “rustic” for Thanksgiving.

Anyway - has anyone done a big meal like this on the road? Any suggestions or pointers for serving dishes or baking dishes to improve upon a sea of foil pans?


My only suggestion: Dollar Tree.
You’ll save big cash buying foil roasters and smaller foils there than at a grocery store. Dollar Tree also has
“presentation” plates and such that can really brighten up a holiday table.
Good luck. You’ve taken on a challenging task.



Ollies or Big Lots should cover whatever Dollar tree doesn’t have.

If there is an IKEA near by their kitchen wear has many handy inexpensive options for serving, prepping and presentation.


I’ve done this a number of times. Plan, plan, plan and it will work out. I’d double check that the oven works and is normal sized…

Even with traveling light you should be able to bring dried herbs/spices in mini zip bags and a meat thermometer. I’d bring a good plastic spatula (the bowl scraping kind), can opener, corkscrew. I bring my multi- timer too. Perhaps an apron! I have some measuring cups that flatten for storage and bring them to rentals.

It’s great you are able to travel and bring Thanksgiving to your MIL. It will be a fun adventure!


Great suggestions. Thanks.

There is a Dollar Tree just down the road from Whole Foods. (I was thinking of a Party City but Dollar Tree is much more convenient).

Meat thermometer - excellent thing to pack!
Rubber spatula another good call!
Dried herbs will be great to cut down on duplications herbs or leaving large amounts behind.


Also made me think maybe I should bring a whisk for real whipped cream to go with pies.


If there is some way to check what’s actually available in the AirBnB kitchen beforehand that would be good. You might be surprised. My inlaws rented one near us over the summer for a family reunion and it had a huge gas range with two ovens, a full range of cookware (roasting pans, saucepans, dutch oven, skillets) and plates and silverware for twelve.


+1 Dollar Tree and IKEA both. Add Marshall’s/TJMaxx/HomeGoods for inexpensive serving dishes and table linens.

The Airbnb host might (should?) be able to send you pics of what is available for cooking/baking/serving (or at least of what’s in the cabinets) - especially given the holiday period rental.

If you make a list of what tools and serving dishes you need for your menu, cross the two and supplement only a few things (except critical tools - carry those!). Ask if there is a cutting board that will fit the turkey.

Williams Sonoma / Pier 1 have pretty melamine platters that would work for the turkey and are lightweight. You could ship those as well as any small, sharp items you can’t fly with directly to your mil’s senior center (Amazon has any number of cheap knives, corkscrews, and peelers). Or ship what you already own in a USPS fixed-rate box or padded envelope - $7/13 for medium/ large I think, which fit quite a lot. Label and bring a second one to ship the same sharp things back to yourself.

Paper doilies or cloth napkins can “prettify” a bowl for rolls or a plate under pies.

Remember to pick up plastic containers and zipper bags for leftovers at DollarTree, and maybe even heavy foil, parchment, and/or plastic wrap. They will also have festive paper napkins and tablecloths (disposable or cheap) if you want those.

While you can certainly make the simple sides, consider ordering them to free up the time (and cooking space) for more meaningful-to-you things like your rolls. Everything takes longer in someone else’s kitchen too, pare late down the list and freehp some time for yourself.

It’s lovely that you are flexible and willing to bring the holiday with you - that’s the real celebration here, family and togetherness, whether or not it looks or tastes just so.


Yes, this! Also if at least some prepared foods are in your budget, don’t feel guilty about embracing that if it helps.

We once hosted Thanksgiving dinner for extended family in a vacation cabin connected to a motel in Western Mass. because that’s what someone organized one year. Cooking the feast for that number of people would have been woeful with just a tiny stove, small fridge and no countertop in a closet-sized kitchenette set up. After we figured that out, we volunteered to arrange pick up from a local caterer. Got a tasty dinner on the table for all and nobody’s nerves were frayed.

The kitchenette had real dishes and I simply chose to ignore the foil pans in that case.


Adding to this. If the Airbnb host is nearby, they may open to lending you some key stuff (cutting board, roasting pans, cookie sheets). Doesn’t hurt to ask!

I would also make a list of “must have dishes” and “nice to have dishes” to focus the prep. Nice to have you can buy (maybe cranberry sauce/relish, bakery for rolls or even Pillsbury rolls in a pinch).

Have a great time and be sure to buy plenty of wine!


Oh good thing you mentioned cookie sheets - that would be on my dollartree list if it’s not in the Airbnb kitchen (to go under the foil pan for the turkey…)

You might considering visiting a “thrift shop” when you arrive and although it could be hit or miss, I am sure you can buy some serving plates, pots, etc use them then donate them back. You also might wat to try a rental center…yes I have rented chaffing dishes small and large for various events.

Add serving utentils to the dollar tree shopping list.
Whole foods you can order an already cooked turkey- no shame in that! Just don’t forget bread and mayo for sandwiches :))
I once attended a Tday that was all from whole foods (long story, the big gorgeous salad i brought was the best vegetarian option that year) and just making the sides and some whipped from actual cream whipped cream for pies is more manageable.

Can you delegate bakery dinner rolls and the pies to someone local who knows a good bakery?
+1 for baggies of spices from home, if for no other reason than stores will often run out of things like sage that people only buy once a year

Not sure how far you’re traveling but there are plenty of make ahead turkey gravy recipes that you could either make and bring or make day before Tday

Thanks for the suggestions and support. Just because of the timing (I arrive Tuesday, so I only have a day and a half to shop, prepare, cook, AND visit with my MIL) I think I’m going to have to limit things to what I can get at the grocery store and Dollar Tree (or Party City, there is one right in the same area). The thrift stores and party rental are great ideas too, I just won’t have time to do that I’m afraid.

I’ll let you know how it goes!


Do you know where to get a non-frozen turkey, because you certainly don’t have time to thaw one.


Excellent point. I’ll have to call to confirm.

What I like most about Dollar Tree is that Everything in the store is actually $1 unlike most “dollar stores”. Everything. Just in case you didn’t know.

We love moseying around in there for this that and the other. Foil pans and lots of $1 decorations for every holiday that look pretty good.

Can’t add much else to what anyone has said so far but hope all goes well with your travels and T’giving get together.:blush:

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Actually, some stuff is even under $1. I think the baking soda is 59 cents each, or 2/$1. Similarly on greeting cards, or at least they were a few years ago when we actually bought greeting cards.

And I agree with the implication that “Family Dollar” and “Dollar General” are advertising deceptively.

I did Thanksgiving in a timeshare one year, but on a much smaller scale - for 2. If it were me and I had it to do over again, I would probably pick up a cooked turkey from one of the large Supermarket chains. The side dishes could be made at home and transported in tupperware or casserole like dishes in a cooler, or make the sides when I got there. If you have a nice serving platter at home, you could wrap it up in bubble wrap.

Edited to add: we have an all-you-can-eat buffet type place that isn’t too shabby at holiday time. They have chefs carving turkeys and Ham, and all the comfort food you can eat. Not to mention cakes, pies, and soft serve ice cream, bread, rolls, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and a salad bar.

Dollar General in particular is popping up all over the place in Texas. Seems like every town sports that yellow and black sign. And i’ve seen Family Dollar in the oddest locations. Reminds me of that book by Bentley Little, The Store.

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Thanks for all the suggestions and help - all in all it was a huge success!

I did pre-order the turkey from Whole Foods - but honestly they had plenty out when we were there so we probably would have been fine without pre-ordering.

Cooking everything in foil pans turned out just fine. I just pushed them together and put the other dishes around them - you could hardly tell. I did initially buy the foil pans from the Dollar Tree but decided i wasn’t in love with the size of the pans (too deep, so I was worried about getting them into the refrigerator) so bought more at the grocery store. In the end we used them all for cooking - food prep - and sending leftovers home with people.

Some things I did and would do if I had to do this again - just in case you’re in the same boat -

I did bring my meat thermometer and a probe thermometer to put in the bird while cooking. I would definitely bring both again and I would have added an oven thermometer. I initially thought I would just hand the probe thermometer in the oven to check how calibrated it was. This was great but what I learned in doing that was that the oven was 25 degrees colder than the dial and that the dial was super finicky, resulting in an oven that was VERY slow to return to temp. I wish I had an oven thermometer once I put the turkey in the oven and when I was cooking the sides.

I brought probably 6 serving spoons with me - very glad I had those too. The Air BnB didn’t have any and the store didn’t either.

I pre-packaged the sugar/spice/etc dry ingredients for the various side dishes. I also packed a bag of kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, sugar, and flour. Those were huge time savers and I would definitely do that again.

I also packed about 6 kitchen towels - so glad I had those to use during prep - clean-up - and as make shift pot holders.

I did bring two rubber scrappers, some parchment paper, a set of measuring cups/spoons. I used them but the unit had those as well, so probably would have been fine without them.

I did buy a cookie sheet (to put under the foil turkey pan), a pyrex dish for a corn pudding that I didn’t think would cook right in foil, and a pyrex 4 cup measure to use as a pan drippings/stock separator. I left all 3 of those behind in the unit. I probably could have packed them home in my luggage but I have so many at home already it was fine.

I may pack a 4 cup measure to bring with me if I did it again (an OXO plastic one that can take the heat of hot liquid but light enough for luggage).

The strangest part of all of it . . . . NO LEFTOVERS, NONE. I don’t like that. In fact I’m cooking a turkey now that I’m home (sad but true, just about to put it in the oven) just so I have leftovers for turkey tetrazzini (a family tradition) and a carcass for stock/soup.

Thanks for all the suggestions!