10 smart ideas on how to save money on food while traveling. Money-saving tips that you can start using for your next trip.
Tasting local cuisines is a major part of travel! Remember that incredible meal you shared with a cutie from your walking tour on that unforgettable summer getaway? Or that scrumptious lunch you had with your loved ones on the last day of your family vacation? These moments are often enhanced by our sense of taste.
Not to mention all the foodies out there, who travel for the sole purpose of devouring dish after dish (that was totally me in Portland, Oregon). The challenge is trying to stick to a budget when you want to eat everything in front of you. But just because you’re a financially savvy traveler, doesn’t mean you have to miss out on delectable meals.
Here 10 smart ideas on how to save money on food while traveling, that you can start using for your next adventure.
1. Cook 1-2 meals per day minimum
Aim to cook 1-2 meals per day and then choose worthwhile dining out experiences at local restaurants. There is no point in wasting your money buying slices of pizza in Paris.
Don’t worry if you aren’t a master chef (trust me, I can barely boil an egg). The dishes can be very simple. Consider bread or cereals for breakfast, then pasta, rice, or noodles with vegetables for dinner. If you only choose one meal to cook, I recommend breakfast as it’s usually the cheapest and easiest to make yourself but costly to eat out.
If you’re finding that the cost of groceries is higher than the cost of eating out (like in some Central American or Asian countries), make sure you’re shopping where the locals go. Mostly likely the farmer’s market and not the major supermarket. Going to local food markets in other countries can be very eye-opening and a lot of fun! So this will actually add another element to your trip.
Just remember to choose accommodation where you can cook. By searching on Airbnb, you can filter for options that have a kitchen.
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2. Go local
Do you research before or ask some locals where the cheapest and best restaurants are. I have found that tour guides have great tips for restaurants and bars. In Warsaw, I was able to have a 3-course meal for less than the equivalent of USD $5 by eating at a Bar Mleczny (milk bar).
3. Share a main
Not all meal sizes are created equal. Depending on which country you visit, an appetizer can be the size of a main in your home country (I’m looking at you, U.S.A.). Get an idea of the size of the meal is before ordering. You could even ask your server to demonstrate the portion size using their hands. Then consider whether an appetizer will be enough.
Alternatively, it might be worthwhile splitting one main dish between two people. If you are traveling solo and the meal size it large, take your leftovers to go and eat for your next lunch or dinner.
4. Fillers are appetite killers
When I was younger and my family would go to an all-you-can-eat restaurant, Mum would always tell us not to fill up on bread. Well, here I am telling you to do exactly the opposite. If you are eating out and there is free bread – go for it! Then order a starter instead of a main. This also works if you order carbohydrate-heavy starters as a meal. I have been known (more than once) to order a bowl of fries as dinner to save money.
Obviously, moderation is important and anything in excess over an extended period of thing can be a bad thing. Even my best friends, carbohydrates. So please consider your own health before bingeing on bread like me.
5. Drink water
Okay, so water is a beverage, not a food, however, the cost of drinks in restaurants can really add up. If you want to save money, stick to water when eating out then buy a bottle of wine or beers from the supermarket to drink back at the hostel. For those who are traveling in countries where you can’t drink the tap water – find out where you can buy bigger bottles of water to refill your travel bottle.
While backpacking through Southeast Asia, my boyfriend and I buy 20L water bottles when we are staying in the same place for five days or more. Usually, there is a charge for the bottle and then the replacement can be cheap as $1 – but even when we’ve paid full price for a 20L bottle, it’s been cheaper than buying multiple 1L bottles every day.
Otherwise, opt for the 5L – maybe you won’t save as much money but you’ll certainly be saving the environment.
6. Be cheap and/or go vegetarian
A very easy method to use! Browse the menu and choose the cheapest option on it. This is literally me in almost any restaurant. Vegetarian meals are also usually cheaper than those with meat, so it could be a healthy alternative (especially as you’re less likely to get food poisoning by avoiding meat – a real worry for any backpacker).
7. Choose accommodation that includes breakfast
This is something I always try to do when I travel. Breakfast may not be the most expensive meal of the day but the cost can quickly add up. Hotel booking websites like Booking.com will even give you the option of filtering for accommodation that includes free breakfast.
Also, check with your place of accommodation whether they have vouchers or discounts for local restaurants.
8. Eat on the street
Honestly, if I had a choice of eating at a restaurant or from a street food vendor, I would probably choose the latter. I adore street food! It’s usually cheap, fresh, and local. When traveling through the regions of South East Asia and Central America, you can eat for as little as USD $1.
If your accommodation doesn’t include free breakfast, then look for a local bakery to get a cheap but filling meal. Supermarkets and bakeries are also great places to pick up sandwiches for a cheap lunch. Take it to the nearest park and make a picnic out of it.
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10. Restaurant alternatives
For the experience of eating local cuisine without the necessary restaurant price tag, there are restaurant alternatives. Both BonAppetour and EatWith are platforms that provide in-home dining experiences, cooking classes, and tastings. The in-home dining experiences are hosted by local chefs and provide a fun atmosphere to talk to locals and make new friends.
I’ve taken a cooking class in Bangkok and eaten with a Portuguese family in Lisbon, through BonAppetour. The value that I received for both of these experiences was more than I imagined. It was more than just a meal, but an immersive, cultural experience to remember.
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