Travel can be expensive…and one of those large costs can be the amount of money it takes to eat on the road. Eating is sometimes one of my biggest costs and one of the things I tend to splurge on while travel, I just try to “splurge smart”. I splurge on the unique activities in the places if you can. And for everything else there are lots of ways to make the most of your money and save while traveling too. I detailed a few of the ways to look at in your budget to help trim the fat (pun intended) from your expenses while eating.
But remember while trying to save money, don’t cut costs too drastically. You still want to experience the local culture and one of the most important ways to do that is through the country’s food. Keep in mind that are plenty of ways to save and still enjoy a place and experience the local food.
Avoid foreign food
Some countries are expensive no matter the cuisine. But particularly if you are traveling a lot of “non-local” cuisine can be multiple times the price of the local costs (and really not as good). I often found “western cuisine” to be a few dollars in places like Malaysia while the local eats were a fraction of the cost. Perhaps you really want to try to burger to see the local take or you are just sick of noodles after months on the road but try to eat in moderation.
Eat Street Food
It always seems adventurous at least to your friends back home, but trying street food can be a great way to enjoy the area and experience the culture. In places like South East Asia you can find incredible options in the hawker stalls around the city for a really small cost. My best experiences in Thailand and Malaysia for instance have been eating at these tiny establishments. Even in places like Tokyo you can find little places tucked into small areas under train tracks for example. Worried about getting sick? This is potential problem no matter where you go, so the best thing is to be smart. Look for places with high traffic and lots of turn over. Remember just because a place looks “fancier” doesn’t mean its necessarily cleaner behind the scenes.
I generally try to avoid fast food like the plague while traveling. In some parts of the world fast food can actually be more expensive (think parts Asia) while in others it is the most economical way to go (western countries generally). I wouldn’t do this all the time but the cost and convenience can be useful occasionally. If you do decide to go fast, do try to visit local chains if possible. They give you an idea of the local take of quick eats.
Visit the supermarket
Always a solid option for most places. If you are going to buy food try to check the local supermarket where the locals shop. Even snacks will be cheaper than buying it from convenience stores lining the busy streets. A lot of markets also have delis and you can get a nice sandwich and a few other items to have a great lunch outside enjoying the town or city where you are located. One of my favorite choices in many of my travels, especially in many expensive countries (Western Europe for example). Just don’t overdo it on purchases. Sometimes it can be easy to buy a lot when in a supermarket (shopping while hungry can cause that). But if you end up buying too much food and wasting it, you probably just destroyed any savings you would have received.
Check if they have another outlet
This was one of my first shocking revelations while traveling. There were a lot of restaurants or cuisines I wanted to try but realized they were just prohibitively expensive. Is there another way? It doesn’t work with every place but I did notice some fancy places have more than one restaurant and some of them have basically the same food for less money! How is that possible? Well they trade a lot of the ambiance or perhaps cache for simpler digs. You might not get the fine dining experience but you can often get the fine dining food. I’ve also seen cases were depending on what floor you at in, the prices would change too. Worth taking a check if there is some place you really want to eat.
Take it to go
In a lot of places eating in a place is far more than taking it to go. Besides the obvious of tips I have found higher costs for just eating in a restaurant or in certain places higher taxes/fees for eating in vs. takeaway. Get a nice lunch or dinner to go and find a park somewhere or take it back to your room and relax and get something to eat. I often will go and buy some takeaway and then find a an area to sit and relax or get some work done while eating too.
Watch the snacks
Pay attention to the costs of getting lots of snacks and other cheap eats. Often you won’t even realize how much you have spent! If you are going to snack, buy a bigger bag and then either eat a little per day. Or if you are like me and lack enough self-control partition it out into smaller bags to eat over the course of a trip.
Get a water filter
In a lot of place you need to have bottled water. Save money and the environment by going with a cheaper water filter or just filling up drinking water with an empty bottle (if the water is safe there).
Avoid Costly Beverages
Not everywhere this is easy, but in the US its pretty easy to get water with your meal for free. In some countries it seems trying this is not as easy as it sounds, where the restaurant tries to force you into buying bottled water. Try your best to avoid expensive drink choices (alcohol, etc.) which depend on where you are in the world. In some parts of the world like Scandinavia I found that soft drinks were in fact incredibly expensive (I paid 10 dollars for a soda at a cafe in Copenhagen once…and never again).
Pretty self explanatory. However for a better experience try to cook local dishes. Finding recipes can be fairly easy and fun, either by asking folks in your location or looking online. Also you can usually bet that ingredients will be easier and cheaper to find than would be in your home country. You can also probably find a local cooking class, and while the class may not be cheap in itself, the lessons could help you for a lot longer down the road.
Go big on Lunch
Lots of parts of the world have specials during lunch time. Often you will pay far less for the same food for lunch than you would for the “dinner portion”. Why is that? Well for one thing they are trying to convince people to come into their establishment during a slower time of the day. Many places will even have special lunch boxes for those on the go that make great affordable samples into different types of food. I used to love this in Japan for instance going into a little shop for a lunch bento box that I could take with me and go eat later.
Sometimes there is a small and large size at a lot of restaurants. If you have a refrigerator back in your place it can be advantageous to upsize your meal and then take part of it home. Usually the costs between a smaller and larger portion is minimal in comparison to the price of another meal. I’ve often had the luck of getting two or more meals out of a dinner somewhere.
Coupons and Specials
With the ubiquity of internet in so many places finding coupons and other deals can be quite easy and profitable. Sites like groupon, yelp, and living social have lots of deals on eating in restaurants not just in the US. I’ve sat somewhere outside and checked the internet for a deal and then went right afterwards to the restaurant and saved 50% on what otherwise would have been my bill. This doesn’t work in every country, but it works in a lot more places than you probably realize. Also be sure to check the tourism offices and your hostel/hotel as well. Some of them will have savings/coupons for many restaurants around town too.