How I Save Money on Food While Traveling

My largest travel expense, after flights and accommodation, is generally food. I enjoy traveling for food and want to try as much local cuisine as possible wherever I am – an attitude that has an unfortunate tendency to drain my budget for a trip quite quickly. Over the past year, I’ve learned a few tricks to the art of enjoying great food at a lower cost, without feeling like I’m giving up any aspects of the culinary experience of my trips.

Eat Like a Local

Often, the best restaurants in both price and quality are not going to cater to tourists, they’re going to be the local favorites. If you walk just a block or two away from the main attractions, you can find some great hole-in-the-wall places or bustling neighborhood bars. I’m an adventurous eater so I’m never concerned about not being able to read a menu, but if you’re a little pickier, memorizing the translation of a few things you know you’ll enjoy can take the fear out of ordering in a foreign language.

Eat Cheap While Traveling | www.paisleyandfig.comThe meal I ordered by recognizing “jambon” (ham) on a menu in France.

Grab a Bite on the Go

Getting something to eat at a fast casual restaurant will generally be cheaper than a sit down meal, especially if you are somewhere that it is customary to leave a tip. You can easily find a great, take-out meal for a few bucks from a street cart or food truck, or even a deli or small shop. I love doing this when I have a busy day of sight-seeing because I don’t like spending too much time sitting in a restaurant on those days. My favorite part about eating on the go is finding a bench or other place to sit and watch people go about their daily life to feel like a part of the city, a feeling that can lack if you spend all of your time going in for the tourist attractions.

Eat Cheap While Traveling | www.paisleyandfig.comMy favorite crêpes from Au P’tit Grec. Even better, they only cost €3-5.  

Check Out the Market

It’s always fun to wander huge farmers markets and open air markets, but the local, every-day supermarkets can be great resources as well. Either way, you should be able to get a taste of local foods you’ve never seen before and pick up ingredients to make a meal in a hostel or apartment kitchen where you’re staying, or piece together a meal out of snacks. In Italy, I loved snacking on the fresh fruit sold in baskets outside every market, especially the apricots, and in Paris I had a lunch out of cheeses, breads, and wine I picked up at the supermarket next to my hostel.

Eat Cheap While Traveling | www.paisleyandfig.comFresh and dried fruit displayed outside a market in Siena, Italy.

Include Meals in Your Stay

There’s been quite a few times I’ve found myself torn between two hostels and whether or not a meal is included has been a strong deciding factor. In Iceland, all but one of the hostels or hotels I stayed at included a breakfast. I chose the last one based on location and ambiance, and the breakfast I paid for there was my least favorite of the bunch. Included meals can be a great bonus, and if you’re comparing a handful of places that are basically the same in price and rating, I’d pick the one with breakfast.

Eat Cheap While Traveling | www.paisleyandfig.comA typical breakfast spread provided by hostels and hotels in Iceland. 

Spend Your Money Wisely

Being on a budget doesn’t mean you shouldn’t splurge on some meals – just be wise about when you spend. If there are specific restaurants I want to try, I will look them up in advance to see if they offer a lunch menu or have a happy hour and if the food seems similar enough, I will opt for that option instead. However, some restaurants and culinary experiences simply cannot be missed, and when those come along, I’m always grateful that I’ve been frugal with my money during the rest of the trip.

Eat Cheap While Traveling | www.paisleyandfig.comA splurge meal at Hotel Skaftafell in Iceland. Arctic Char with a lemon butter sauce and a Viking beer after getting drenched in a rain storm while out exploring the Vatnajökull glacier.

Bring Your Own Food

I actually do this quite frequently, which I think surprises the people who know me and my love for food best. But sometimes, especially when I’m driving, I just want to hit the road and not think about breakfast or end the day by refueling in the easiest way possibly and going to bed. My favorite foods to pack are instant oatmeal packets and Tanka bars (individually wrapped bars made from bison and cranberries).

Eat Cheap While Traveling | www.paisleyandfig.comMy very unglamorous meal of oatmeal cooked right in the packet and a Tanka bar. This food came in handy after a long day of driving when I just wanted to eat and go to bed!

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