After airfare and accommodation, your next largest travel expense will be food. In this Friday post, I’ll cover the fun topic of food and drinks, and discuss several ways to cut costs on grub.

You do need to eat every day, and for me, trying new local cuisines is one of the highlights of a trip. However, eating in restaurants for every meal can be expensive and time-consuming. So how do you spend less on food? First, see if you can limit yourself to one restaurant meal a day. This will also leave you more time to see the sights. Some of the tips below will help you do that.

Breakfast

Some hotels and guesthouses include breakfast in their room rates, and you should take advantage of that as much as possible. Otherwise, it’s easy to buy a few breakfast items the night before, even more so if your room/apartment is equipped with a fridge and a kettle. Hostel and small guesthouses often have a kitchen area where guests can store their food and prepare basic meals.

Nice breakfast spread at a B&B in Salta, Argentina

Nice breakfast spread at a B&B in Salta, Argentina

Eating in restaurants

Here are some money-saving tips when choosing to eat in a restaurant:

Eat local food, which is always cheaper than “foreign” food. For example, if you’re in Thailand, shrimp curry will cost less than pizza.

Choose a simple local eatery. Places with no decor and plastic chairs will be the cheapest. If you can’t read the menu, you’re probably getting the local price, rather than an inflated tourist price.

I hate at this night market several times a week while in Chiang Rai (Thailand)

I ate at this night market several times a week while in Chiang Rai (Thailand)

Pick your drinks carefully. Look at the menu before you order a drink. The cheapest beverage varies with the country you’re in. It’s not necessarily Coke! Have wine in France, fresh fruit juices or lager beer in tropical Latin America and Southeast Asia.

Eat your main meal at lunch. You will often pay less for similar items.

Find restaurants off the “main drag” and avoid the ones with “touts”. In Europe, restaurants or cafes located on a street corner or main tourist street are often pricier.

Choose the daily menu or set meal (“menu du jour”, “menu del día”). It’s cheaper than buying à la carte.

This $5 set meal in Mexico included soup, main course, juice, tortillas, and small desert !

This $5 set meal in Mexico included soup, main course, juice, tortillas, and small desert !

Share large servings. In the USA, where portions are huge, two people can generally dine by sharing one appetizer and one main course. The same applies in Northern Portugal where even a half portion (meia dose) is often more food than you can eat.

Limit your consumption of alcohol. Booze is always expensive with respect to the rest of your meal. Whether a cocktail costs $4 or $20 at your destination, you can probably get a simple meal for the same price. Buying beer or wine at the store occasionally and drinking it on your balcony is a good and cheaper choice.

Alternatives to restaurants

For the remaining meal, consider the following alternatives to a formal sit-down restaurant:

Get food on the go from small outlets, food stands or hawker stalls (baguette sandwiches and filled crepes in France, French fries in Holland, roasted corn on the cob or empanadas in Latin America, everything in Thailand!)

Patronize small local eateries or cafeterias (usually set menus of basic but filling local food). Some shopping malls also have food courts with very decent options.

Visit the local market (often an attraction in its own right) and have breakfast or lunch at one of the food stalls.

Self-cater some of the time, especially in more expensive countries. Buy supplies and picnic in a park, cook in your hostel’s kitchen, or use your own kitchen if you’re renting an apartment.

Self-catering in France: fresh bread, local cheese, and some white wine. What else do you need?.

Self-catering in France: fresh bread, local cheese, and some white wine. What else do you need?

More tips

Always carry some snack food and bottled water with you so that you don’t find yourself suddenly starving in the most expensive neighbourhood in town, or during a long bus or train journey. (Most train food is notoriously expensive and mediocre, if it is at all available).

Go to the tourist office upon arrival in a new town and see if you can find some tourist booklets or restaurants flyers offering discount coupons.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with food. As you research your destination, make a list of a few items that you absolutely want to try, but remain open to new discoveries. If you will be visiting some countries known for their cuisine, be sure to put some money aside for a couple of special meals. After all, food is a highlight of most trips!

Interesting Thai snacks from the 7-11

Interesting Thai snacks from the 7-11

Got another tip for saving money on food and drinks while travelling? Please share in the comments!


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