Thrifty eating: How to save on food while traveling

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“Where to eat” is one of the last things I research for a trip, if at all. I usually eat wherever I happen to be at mealtime as that just makes sense to me time-wise. Plus, it seems to me an exercise in heartbreak to hunt down the area’s most raved-about restaurants only to realize I can’t afford anything on the menu. Living as I do in the Philippines — and in a university area, in particular, where the peso equivalent of 2 euros can get you a good 3-dish meal, plus rice and drinks — the cost of food is one of the hardest things to swallow when I travel, particularly in Europe.

The first time I found myself in Europe, my sister and I ate sandwiches ALL. THE. TIME. They were cheap and often big enough to split between the two of us. In the Philippines, rice is king, and anything with bread is usually just considered a snack, but in pricey Paris, sandwich jambon et fromage…good enough.

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I wouldn’t recommend that strategy now — eating sandwiches can get old fast, trust me — but here’s what I usually do now to save money on food:

  • Book a hotel with free breakfast. Nothing makes me happier than starting the day with a breakfast buffet but even just a slice or two of bread and ham will do the trick. As much as possible I try to book accommodations that include breakfast in their daily rate so I don’t have to pay for it out of pocket. Some hotels even serve breakfast up to 10:30 AM so breakfast can actually double as lunch.
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  • Bring food from home. Nothing that will replace an actual meal, but I usually bring:
    • Packets of instant soup — for when I get hungry at the hotel. Campbell’s Mushroom Cheese with Croutons is my favorite.
    • Crackers and/or candy — for when I’m on the road and everything is expensive. Crackers or candy will stave off hunger long enough for me to find a more affordable place to eat.
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  • McDonald’s meals and other fast food, while not exactly the healthiest things out there, tend to be cheaper than restaurant fare. I just think: a couple of burgers won’t kill me but starvation will. 🙂
    • Keep in mind that in many places around the world, you’re expected to clear your own table after eating. To be safe, keep an eye on the locals and do what they do.
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  • Prix fixe meals — “fixed price” meals that cost 12-15 euros and include 2-4 dishes — are usually cheaper than ordering a multi-course meal ala carte. I go for these meals when I’m really hungry or when I want to sample the local cuisine.
    • Prix fixe meals are usually cheaper at lunch than at dinner.
    • Servings tend to be big (by Asian standards, anyway) so when I’m with my sister or a female friend, and we’re not that hungry, we sometimes split prix fixe meals.
    • Although prix fixe meals are generally acknowledged to be a [relatively] cheap option, a single pasta dish will often be even cheaper and the serving big enough not to need a main course.
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  • And my new favorite thrifty eating strategy: buying bread, cold cuts and drinks from the supermarket and making a picnic out of it. It rarely totals over 10 euros and is good enough for two!

Food_Yellow (Turmeric) Rice

How do you save on food when you travel? Or is food something you willingly spend a lot on? I’d love to know what you think.

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Thrifty eating: How to save on food while traveling” was created by LSS for travel site Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.

 


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20 thoughts on “Thrifty eating: How to save on food while traveling”

  • When my friend & I go to Salem, MA we pack food for the drive and then lunch for each day like an apple, pb sandwich, cereal bar, almonds. We stay at a B&B that includes breakfast and then we’re just paying for dinner. We go to local restaurants that are middle-priced ( like $7-10 )and then on our last day we go someplace fancier we budgeted for and split it.

    Any other trip I actually do plan for food which seems dweeby of me. I get a list of the supposedly tasty but cheap eats and the addresses just in case. I skip fast food because I don’t eat it here and there’s usually not many good vegetarian menu items annnnd I consider eating part of the fun of the trip whether trying local dishes or something new or seasonal but it can add up so quick!! I just try to plan well but I guess when it comes down to it I’m with you as far as just grabbing what’s around.

    Sandwiches are one of my favorite foods! I’m weird!

    • Thanks for sharing! I do know a lot of people who have a list of cafes and restaurants that they want to try, especially those who are really into food. Sandwiches…I LIKE them but I can only eat so much and then I’m like…I need rice! 😀 Great idea about listing places with tasty and cheap eats, you never know when there’s one near where you’re going for the day.

  • The hostels we’ve stayed in also had free buffet breakfast, and we have overflowing bread. Taking my cue from other guests, I also took a couple of bread pieces as baon for the day haha! And syempre, I eat a lot during breakfast so I’m full enough to skip lunch.

    And since water is very expensive in Europe, I buy 1 bottled water, keep the bottle and just refill it sa water fountain or tap or before leaving the hotel. Limpyo ra ila water 🙂

    • Thanks dais! Great tip about buying a bottle of water and then refilling it. I’m ALWAYS tempted to take away some bread from the breakfast buffet! But I’ve only had the nerve to do it once or twice. 😀 Sometimes I take some of the butter or jam though. And Nutella! Did you notice how they have tons of those small Nutella packs? Mura’g Star margarine lang sa ka-common hehe!

  • I agree on the free breakfast and we also do brunch. For the water, it would be a plus if the hotel has a kettle coz you can at least boil the water before drinking esp if you have a very sensitive stomach 🙂

  • When going to a foreign place I would usually go to a local favorite food stop and share the bill with my travel friend/s. But there are times (thrifty days) that I would buy something to eat from the market.

  • We usually have a room with a fridge. In some countries they also provide tea and or coffee-making facilities. That’s all you need. In a fridge you can keep – fruit/yogurt/cereal/milk/salads/cheese/etc. Buy cooked chicken or other meats or fish. Add some bread or pre-made potato salad or something like that, then you have all you need to make a cold meals – great in hot climates. We carry a couple of sharp kitchen knives, and a fork each. We also carry a couple of plastic sandwich tubs for making packed lunches for the day, and we also use them as bowls for our breakfast cereal. If we buy a whole chicken we have a plastic container with a lid – both pieces get washed out and become plates for our everything-but-the-kitchen-sink salads. Yum 🙂
    In NZ we stayed in hostels where they have big kitchens and we didn’t eat out once in 5 weeks!
    Alison

      • When you do your grocery shopping you need to buy something like a pre-packaged salad in one of those throw-away plastic containers – this then becomes your plate and/or mixing bowl, or else the chicken container I mentioned if it comes packaged that way. Also add small sharp knife (swiss army knife?) to your list so you can chop things up. In NZ we travelled with things like salt, olive oil, balsamic, etc because we knew we’d use it up in 5 weeks. Still, we were only in Rome for one week and we did the same there – can’t remember what we used for salad dressing. We also travel with a very thin flexible plastic chopping board – it takes up virtually no space or weight.

  • Great tips! Gamit kaau ni. 🙂 When possible such as when we bring our own burner or if our hotel room has a kitchen, Sheila and I cook our own meals. We just buy the ingredients. It saves us tons of money. And it lets us enjoy our 2nd passion—-cooking!

  • I’d rather spend on food actually… it reflects the spirit of the place and I always want to try something from the traditional cuisine 🙂 it doesnt have to be the most expensive thing of course… the point is to try something new 🙂

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