For sure, there is no love more sincere than the love for food. Eating was definitely one of the highpoints on my trip around the world. The yummilicious smells, flavors, and aromas would make me want to eat at the slightest craving. Whether it was indulging in exotic delicacies or searching for vegetarian food, every emotion that I experienced in my quest to eat is a memory I cherish with delight.
I was quite indulgent with the food because I knew I will not put on weight (ah! the benefits of traveling). But more importantly, it was the quest for staying healthy that led me to eat my heart out when traveling. I was on a long – term solo journey and so could not afford to fall sick on the road.
My food indulgences taught me that one doesn’t need to break the bank or eat in the finest restaurants to eat well. On the basis of my experiences, I have compiled a list of tips below to guide you on how you can save money on food as well as eat well on a tight travel budget.
Cook the meals wherever possible. Usually in countries where food is expensive, most hostels and vacation rentals provide kitchen facilities. Make use of them to make new friends, learn a few new recipes, and to save money.
Booking hotels/ hostels with complimentary breakfast is advisable, for obvious reasons. Most of them don’t mind if you pack an extra sandwich or take an apple.
Make street your friend. Eating food from street vendors is a great way to learn about and enjoy the local cuisine at right prices. Just ensure that you eat at places where you can see people cooking fresh food or which is frequented by the locals.
Go local. Avoid the tourist traps and eat with the locals! I would always ask my hostel manager/ staff for recommendations. Remember, they know the city better than anyone else. The places where they eat or even their favorites would definitely be more affordable. If you get lucky, people will invite you to eat with them and take you around their city like Tan. I met her in Hoi An in a museum. When I asked her for food recommendations, she was kind enough to take me around her city, not only giving me an insight about life in Vietnam but also making that day “Alice in Foodland” for me. Love you, Ta!
Another way to eat cheap when you are in the major tourist spot is to leave the main street or Piazza and check out the smaller streets and alleys. You will surely find many places to eat because that’s where the people who work in main streets eat.
That way your money will go into the pockets of local people instead of expensive big fast food chains while you get to enjoy the everyday food of the local community. Most of us normally try a few popular dishes when indulging in local cuisine when in reality, most cuisines are much more diverse. In many communities around the world, there are different foods for different occasions and seasons. For instance India is not only naan, biryani, and butter chicken; it is also kadhi pakora, aloo methi, khandvi, modak, gulgula and much more.
Shop at the markets. Having all your meals and snacks in the restaurants will blow up your travel budget especially when you are traveling in expensive countries. As an alternative, buy your breakfast and lunch supplies at the local supermarket. Even in expensive countries, I was able to get some bread, yogurt /cheese, a pack of chips/ snacks and a big cup of my favorite coffee for under $7.
Heading to local fruit and vegetable markets is also recommended. You not only get to discover new fruits, vegetables, and meat; but also get them at dirt cheap prices. Remember, your tight travel budget might be same as a local person’s budget. Also, these markets are usually very lively and visiting them is an experience in itself!
Always make some space in your bag for food. By this, I mean only a little snack like a pack of nuts, chocolates, and/ or some fruits. It is natural to get a little hungry in – between the meals. The stores near the tourist areas usually sell the supplies at higher prices. So if you pack a little snack before you leave for the day, you will save a lot more money. Packing a little snack is also important when you are doing a road trip or traveling overnight in buses or trains.
Don’t skip your meals. “I can miss my breakfast and have a big brunch instead.” I have heard this sentence way too often and trust me, it is wrong on so many levels. Skipping meals might help you save some money, but it will make you quite miserable. We use more energy when we are traveling and so logically, we need more food than usual. The whole point of travel is to learn and be happy and you can surely not do that on an empty stomach.
Save money on water. Drinking a lot of water is always advisable. If you drink only the bottled water, your budget will surely go haywire. In the expensive countries such as Norway, a 1.5 liters of bottled water can cost as much as Rs 210 ($3.4).
In many countries such as Canada, it is okay to drink tap water, just ask your concierge or locals or fellow travelers. And in countries where you have to buy bottled water like Thailand or Mexico, insist on getting locals brands. The local brands are not only cheaper than regular Kinley or Nestle water but are also equally safe. After all, the quality standards are similar for local and international brands.
Exercising moderation is the key. I have observed it many-a-times that I usually spend the same amount of money in both expensive and cheap countries. When I am in expensive countries, I am prudent in my spends but when I’m in cheaper countries, I become a spendthrift, what else explains the fact that I ate out all the time when I was in Slovenia and Berlin. When I discussed this with my fellow travelers, they agreed that it happens to them a lot!
A fellow traveler once told me that he was drinking less while he was traveling in Europe but when he was in Southeast Asia, he was drinking every day. Towards the end, he realized that he spent more in Southeast Asia on his food and drinks than what he did when traveling in Europe.
The point of telling these examples is to make you aware of the travel mistake that we travelers often make. It is quite human to love luxuries and so when we know that a place is cheap, we tend to overspend. If you can exercise moderation everywhere, trust me you will never be miserable.
In the end, I would like to insist that eating cheap and healthy while traveling is definitely possible. I hope these tips will help you when you hit the road for your next adventure. You can find additional tips in the article – Travel tips for Vegetarians & Vegans.
And if you have a tip or trick on how to eat well on a tight travel budget, please share in the comment section below. I would love to learn from you. Happy travels!