A major expense while traveling is food. Trying the local cuisine is one of the things I love most about traveling because the meal in itself is an experience and it gives me a better insight into the country’s culture. For a small girl I tend to have a big appetite, and I think about food a lot. I cannot go for very long without thinking about it! But after accommodation and transport, food can be one of the biggest drains on your travel budget.
Here I’ve put together some top tips for how to save money on food while traveling and ways to eat cheap on the road.
1. Eat that free breakfast at your hotel
One of the ways you can drastically cut costs on your travels is by staying in hostels or hotels that offer free breakfast. Just remember to set your alarm so you don’t miss it, as breakfast times are often early! If you start the day right with a filling breakfast, you may not feel hungry until dinner time. You can also grab a couple of pastries from the breakfast buffet or a piece of fruit and take those with you for snacks during the day.
2. Stop drinking soda and refill that water bottle
One or two sodas here and there is fine, but if you are buying several sodas a day it can really add up. They are usually more expensive than water, and less healthy for you too! If it’s safe for drinking, opt for tap water in the restaurants and fill up a water bottle before you go out on a day of sightseeing. In some countries you simply have to drink bottled water to avoid getting sick, so just remember to buy it in supermarkets and not in restaurants! I travel with the Ohyo Collapsible Water Bottle and a Bobble BPA-Free 550 ml Water Bottlewhich can filter water as you drink.
3. Stay somewhere with a kitchen
Eating out is expensive and after a while it can be frustrating having to find somewhere to eat every day. Sometimes you just want a decent home-cooked meal. Staying in a place with a kitchen allows you to eat what you want, freedom to pick what you will eat for dinner and, develop your cooking skills and save money on food. I have been following the paleo diet and it is much easier to eat healthy foods if I’m preparing my own meals!
Try booking self-catering accommodation, staying with friends or using the hostel kitchen. I don’t always cook in hostels because the kitchens are pretty crowded and don’t have the utensils I need, but occasionally I have found some real gems. The hostels in Portugal are particularly luxurious and are great for cooking. If you’ve just made some new friends, you could suggest preparing a meal and getting them to chip in for the cost! Looking for meal ideas? Visit Kitchen Professor for anything from smoked salmon to calzone and baby back ribs.
4. Eat local food
Eating local food is usually cheaper and tastier. In Vietnam for instance, it is cheap to eat pho noodles or rice paper rolls, but if you order western food like a burger or pasta, you will usually have to pay a lot more.
5. Eat street food
Countries in Southeast Asia have lots of little street stalls with plastic chairs and a basic setup. They may not look fancy, but the food is delicious! If you want to eat for under a dollar, this is where you’ll find the cheapest food. Some people worry about the safety of eating street food, but let me put it this way; I have never once been sick from eating street food in Southeast Asia, but I got food poisoning while I was in the USA!
Afraid to try the street food? See this article I wrote about some of the delicious street food in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
6. Farmers Markets and Food Trucks
When I’m traveling I love visiting farmers markets. I love sampling all the fresh produce and I often find I am rather full after grazing on yummy cheeses! I visited a great farmers market in Santa Barbara, California and I love the farmers market at the ferry building in San Francisco.
I also love eating from food trucks as it’s quick and easy when I’m on the go. Eating sit down meals can be pricey, particularly when you have to factor in tax and tip. Portland, Oregon and Austin, Texas are known for their food trucks and I love both these cities.
7. Catch Happy Hour
When you arrive in a new place, google restaurants or bars that have a good happy hour. If you’re OK with eating early, you can save money by ordering food and drinks at Happy Hour prices! I use this trick a lot when I am in the USA. A lot of places have a happy hour between 3-7pm, although not on Saturdays and Sundays.
8. Stop Snacking
Do you really need to snack? It can be so tempting to stop for a gelato or buy a quick coffee. These are all little extras that are nice, but do you really need them? Eat bigger meals and skip the snacking if you want to save a few bucks.
9. Don’t eat at the airport
Airport food is ridiculously expensive! But once you’re through security and you’re starving, airport cafés have a captive audience and can charge what they like. The simple answer is to take a packed lunch for your flight, or if you’re traveling on a long-haul flight with free meals…wait until then. If you really must eat at the airport, the fast-food options like McDonalds are usually the cheapest, but sadly the most unhealthy.
Airport lounges often have free food buffets, so if you can score free access to a lounge through frequent flier status then you can save money on food by eating in the lounge.
10. Eat at buffets
In Las Vegas the food is expensive so I tend to eat at the buffets. They cost roughly $20 and for that you can eat whatever you want! I personally love buffets because it means I can enjoy a bit of everything and I’m not stuck with one choice from the menu. The Buffet of Buffets pass is worth getting in Vegas as it gives you unlimited access to all the Caesars buffets for 24 hours.
11. Use those coupons
If you want to eat at nicer restaurants, try sites like Groupon or Living Social for deals. Sometimes cities have booklets with coupons in them; tear the coupons out and take them with you! Every little counts when it comes to eating out. You can also find some great deals and coupons with Don’t Pay Full.
Eating out is a very social thing, so share! I love to share food with my friends so we split one or two things and it usually saves us a bit of money. I don’t have to deal with food envy either!
I really enjoy nice food and I like to splash out on a nice meal once in a while, but I simply can’t afford to do it every day. It’s all about finding a balance. Of course sometimes I stray from my budget, particularly on shorter trips, but when I’m away for long periods of time I try to cook as much as possible or eat from street vendors. This way, when I do go out for a fancy dinner and a glass of wine, it feels that bit more special!
13. Order Take-Away
Take-away can be cheaper than eating out in restaurants because you’re not so tempted to order all the extras like wine and after-dinner coffee. Plus it’s great if you’re eating alone or you’re with friends and don’t feel like venturing out. While you might want to tip the delivery guy, you can avoid having to tip 20% to your waiter or waitress. There are also some great sites that allow you to order take-away from your favourite local restaurants! For instance Eat Now lets you order all kinds of food from 3,000 + local restaurants from your phone or online and you can pick up or have it delivered. So you can order Indian takeaway for dinner and pay by cash, card or Paypal, plus it will save your usual for next time!