When traveling, one of the biggest strains on your wallet is the cost of food. The problem isn’t that there aren’t affordable food options, but more that many people are unsure of how to navigate the dining scene in foreign locations. Instead of asking your hotel for recommendations or going to restaurants that “look nice,” use this guide to find budget-friendly meal options when traveling.
Stop Thinking “Everything Is So Cheap”
This is a dilemma many travelers face when in low-cost countries, or simply when they find a snack they enjoy that is less than $3. Instead of thinking you don’t have to worry about purchasing something because “it’s only $1,” think about how all those “it’s only $1” times add up. Moreover, if you’re the type of person who needs to eat something in between lunch and dinner, opt for a big lunch on a set menu. In most countries, you can find filling and cheap lunch specials and combos during this time, which can also help you eat a smaller dinner.Picnic
Not only does picnicking save you money, it’s also fun to put together. Instead of having one big meal, you’ll be able to taste a lot of different foods. For me, a good picnic includes bread, cheese, fruit, cold meat, dip and a dried vegetable. Along with saving money, having a picnic is also a great way to meet other travelers. You can either ask someone from your accommodation to go in on the food with you, or offer someone something where you’re eating. For example, when picnicking in the parks of Europe I would often offer someone some of my fruit in exchange for some bread, and I’d end up with a lunch partner.
Eating at local restaurants can save you an exorbitant amount of money. Not only that, but the food is usually better. Don’t go to places with an English menu, and peek in to see if there are mostly locals inside. When traveling through Peru, a girl I met – who had eaten at the touristy restaurant the hostel had recommended – was ecstatic at how cheap food in the country was. “I paid $8 for a big antipasto plate,” she gushed. As I’d been eating at local restaurants and paying less than $2 for a huge soup, entree, desert and juice, I found this pretty expensive.
Don’t Eat At The First Place You See
When traveling, many people will see a place that looks good, or just go to the place recommended by their hotel. By doing this, you may be missing out on a great deal. When in Banos, Ecuador, with a friend, we decided we were getting a little tired of local food and wanted Mexican. We saw a place that looked good near our guesthouse, but decided to walk down the street a little bit more. About three blocks farther, we found a place that allowed us to have wine, beer, two appetizers and a huge entree for what one appetizer and one small entree would have cost at the first restaurant.
Street food is my favorite thing in the world. I’m always amazed at the unique entrees, and how inexpensive they are. While many people associate street food with Asia, there are many countries around the world with delicious offerings. I love chocla con queso in Peru, plantains with cheese and mayonnaise in Ecuador, choripan in Argentina, fried chicken and yams in Ghana and a giant salted pretzel in New York.
Buy Large Waters
If you’re in a city where the tap water is undrinkable, purchase a gallon bottle of water and use it to refill your smaller one. While it may not sound like much, a huge water is usually less than a dollar more than a small one, and lasts for days. And of course, if the tap water is drinkable, drink it.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and one you shouldn’t skip to save money. Before booking your accommodation, make sure they include breakfast in the rate. That way, you can fill up on free food and eat lighter later in the day.
Do Some Research
While you could spend hours scouring the streets for a good place to eat, doing a simple Google search could save you a lot of time. I like to skip the tourism board and business sites and check travel forums and blogs to see what other people found on their travels.
While it can be nice to have a cocktail with dinner, it will usually tack on quite a bit of money. Think about it. Say you have one $5 drink with dinner each night. At the time, this will seem like no big deal. However, after a week you’ll have spent $35 extra dollars, and after a month $150 or more. Along with saying no to alcohol with dinner, I also bring my own water bottle so I won’t have to buy a beverage at all.
Check For Extra Fees
Certain things that may be free in your home country when eating out may not be complimentary in the place you’re visiting. For example, in certain countries it’s common to charge for condiments and the use of the table. Likewise, the breads and small appetizers the server automatically brings over may have a charge associated with them. Make sure to ask and, if they’re not free and you don’t want them, have the server take them back, as you’ll get charged for having them on the table.
Grocery shopping and cooking your own meals is not only healthy, but also budget-friendly. It’s also fun to discover new grocery items you don’t have in your home country. In Argentina, I traveled with a girl who dined out for every meal while I cooked for myself. After doing the math, I realized she spent in two meals what I paid for four entire days of food. Even if you don’t want to cook every meal, incorporating it into your eating itinerary will save you a lot of money.
Pack Your Own Lunch For The Airport And Excursions
It’s nice when tours include a lunch in the price, but if they don’t it’s best to pack your own. Tourist sites and airports usually charge a crazy amount of money, and usually don’t have the best food, anyway.