The Budget Traveler’s Guide To Cut-Price Restaurant Meals

Eating out three meals a day can do some serious damage to your travel budget, especially when you want those three meals to be as good as possible. Sure, you could self-cater to save a few bucks, but if you’re a real foodie who wants to taste the best a city has to offer, how can you do it without breaking the bank?

Filling up on street food or tracking down food trucks are two tried and true techniques used by backpackers and budget travelers the world over, but those who want to eat at traditional restaurants cut their costs too. Here are five ideas for eating at sit-down restaurants on a budget.

Enjoy a pre-theater meal

Restaurants located in a city’s theater district will usually offer discounted meals to diners who want to get a bite to eat before heading to see their show – but you don’t necessarily have to hold theater tickets to take advantage of this deal. Most restaurants will happily accommodate you, although the catch is you’ll have to eat early with pre-show meal deals usually ending around 6:30 p.m. Cities with a strong theater culture like NYC and London have long lists of pre-theater meal venues to choose from but the trend is catching on in many smaller cities as well.

Seek out prix fixe menus

Ordering from a prix fixe (“fixed price”) menu can work out significantly cheaper than ordering individual items off a traditional a la carte menu. As an added bonus, you get to try out extra dishes you may not have considered ordering, which sometimes turn out to be the highlight of the meal. With a prix fixe menu, you know upfront exactly how much your meal is going to cost so there are no nasty surprises when your bill shows up.

Eat well at lunch

Most restaurants have separate menus for dinner and lunch – with the latter being significantly cheaper. So if you’re traveling on a budget, the midday meal is the perfect opportunity to try out the fancier establishments that would be too pricy to enjoy at dinnertime. There’s usually a fair bit of overlap between the lunch and dinner menus anyway since few restaurants can afford to offer drastically different items for lunch and dinner.

Eat at markets

You’ve probably already heard the tip about heading to a local produce market, picking up some bread, cheese and fruit and making a picnic out of it – but that’s not what I mean when I say you should consider eating at markets. Instead, I’m talking about dining at one of the small restaurants or food booths set up inside many popular markets. You’ll usually have to sit at a counter or in a cafeteria-style setting and there are typically only one or two menu choices at most of the booths – but the upside is that the dishes on offer have been perfected.

You also get to enjoy fish, meat and vegetables that are super fresh and a fraction of the cost they’d be at a typical restaurant. Quincy Market in Boston (see image above) and Kauppatori Market in Helsinki, Finland, are two examples of markets offering great meals.

BYOB where possible

Depending on where you’re traveling, alcohol can put a real ding in your budget. For example, Singapore puts a heavy tax on alcohol so a beer in a bar or restaurant can set you back $12-$20 while a cocktail will leave you with serious sticker shock. You may already BYOB when eating out in your hometown, so why not do the same thing when traveling? Supermarkets are often a good source of reasonably priced alcohol that you can take along to your meal.

[Photo credit: Flickr users zoetnet; franklin_hunting; Darryl Whitmore; Christine Cowen]

How to Stay Healthy on a Road Trip

Finding the willpower to eat healthy while traveling is hard enough when you have access to fresh markets and cooking utensils. It becomes even more of a challenge when you’re on a road trip, trapped in a car for hours on end, with nothing but fast food restaurants and greasy spoon diners for roadside dining options. But with a little planning, a little extra time, and a lot of self-control, you can eat healthy while on a road trip. Here are few tips.

Start your day off right.
Begin your day with a carbohydrate feast and you’ll be craving carbs again in a few hours. Put down the donut and instead, take the time to have a healthy breakfast at your hotel. Eat a good mix of whole grains and protein and you’ll ingest fewer calories while staying full later into the afternoon.

Get some exercise.
Spending eight hours or more being sedentary in the car means that your body may be burning a lot fewer calories than normal. Reduce your intake accordingly and try to get a nominal amount of exercise. Even if all you do is take a 15-minute walk in the morning and then do a few bonus laps every time you stop along your route, you’ll feel good having stretched your legs. Even better: plan your stops around scenic walks or hikes so you can do a little sightseeing while you get moving.Pack healthy snacks.
It’s easy and tempting to swing through the drive-thru or grab some chips from the gas station, but that won’t do your waistline any favors. Pack healthy snacks like almonds, granola or trail mix (choose low fat, low sodium, high fiber varieties), fruit and peanut butter, or power bars. Depending on the length of your drive, you can pack a cooler with items like string cheese sticks or hummus and pita. Just refill the ice each day at your hotel. And don’t forget to drink lots of water throughout the day and avoid coffee and soda.

Choose your meal stops wisely.
It’s harder to make healthy choices at a place where the daily special is a triple cheeseburger or a chicken-fried steak. If you can, take an hour to stop and have a proper meal once a day. Sit down, eat slowly, and follow the same healthy rules you normal use for eating out – choose grilled or broiled over fried, get dressings on the side, opt for tomato-based instead of creamy sauce. If you don’t feel like dining out, try to seek out a grocery store where you can pick up healthy prepared foods to go. Most Whole Foods locations have extensive salad bars and cut fruit available to go.

Diners in India may face a fine for not clearing their plates

Ever get to a restaurant, realize that you’re starving and everything sounds delicious, proceed to order way too much food and then realize when it arrives that there is no way on Earth you can eat it all? While in addition to being wasteful, this kind of behavior can now earn you a fine in India.

According to the Independent, diners caught wasting food in Mumbai will be charged an extra 5 rupees (about 10 cents). The rising cost of food and gas prices in India was the impetus behind the idea, which was the brainchild of the Association of Hotel and Restaurant Owners in Mumbai. The city is home to 7,000 restaurants and 40% of residents eat out at least once per day, so the wasted food does add up.

While the very small fine may not be enough to deter some people from wasting food, its backers hope that it will raise awareness about the rising cost of ingredients.

I have to wonder though, will exceptions be made if you just don’t like the food? I can only imagine overhearing the complaints: “Not only was my biryani awful, but they charged me extra because I couldn’t eat it all!”

Detroit’s first Restaurant Week kicks off Friday

Nearly every major city has a Restaurant Week – one week per year when dining establishments all over the city offer multi-course menus at a deep discount. Restaurants see it as a way to pull in new customers or boost sales during a slow period, while diners jump at the chance to try out new places or revisit their favorites for a smaller price.

For the first time, Detroit will be running its own Restaurant Week. It will run for 10 days, from September 18 to 27, and encompass two weekends. 17 restaurants are participating, with each offering at least three courses for $27, not including tax and tip. Some are also running drinks specials during the time. Each menu is being created specially for the event but will be consistent with the restaurant’s usual fare.

If your travel plans are taking you to the Motor City, or if you live in Detroit, you’re in for some good eating. Restaurants participating in the promotion include: Atlas Global Bistro, The Whitney, Coach Insignia, and Cuisine. A three-course dinner at the posh Whitney could easily set you back $50 per person. A feast at Coach Insignia, on the top of the Renaissance Center, would cost even more. And the others aren’t exactly diner dives – these are some of the top restaurants in the D when it comes to fine dining, so $27 for three-courses is quite a deal.

London Restaurant Hotshots to Try Dubai

Formula One, the world’s tallest building, the most luxurious hotel on the globe, a housing development that is built to resemble a miniature world. Dubai has made a name for itself with its larger than life constructions, impressive spectacles, and over-the-top luxury offerings.

It seems only natural, then, that the major players in other urban areas would want to try their hand in Dubai. London super-cool eatery The Ivy, a fave of movie stars and other paparazzi targets, is going international by opening a location in the glamorous gulf city.

The competition will be quite stiff, however. Because of its status as both a business and leisure destination, numerous restaurateurs have joined the fray, making Dubai one of top culinary destinations in the world.

Celeb chef Gordan Ramsey, when he isn’t cussing at would-be chefs on reality TV, is overseeing a restaurant at Dubai’s Hilton. And there are many others, more than a few who have earned the coveted Michelin star given to fine dining’s finest.

Any newcomers are going to find the competition top notch.

Will Dubai’s restaurant scene ever reach its limits? Perhaps, but The Ivy and its peers are sprinting to make into into the world’s new capital of fine dining before that happens.