Eating cheaply while traveling is easy. Nomadic Matt shows you how.
How to Eat Cheap Around the World
By Nomadic Matt
After accommodations, food is going to be one of your largest day to day on the road expenses. After all, you need to eat – and eat often. You can eat cheap canned beans and live off pasta throughout the world if you really want but that’s not really fun and I’m sure you didn’t fly to Paris, Thailand, or some other great place to not try the food. Here’s how you can indulge in the local cuisine without blowing your budget:
Cook Your Meals
A week’s worth of groceries is cheaper than a week’s worth of restaurants. I generally find that I spend about $60 – 50 USD per week on groceries, as opposed to $20+ per day at restaurants. That’s a reduction of 70% in food expenses. Even if you are simply going away for a two week vacation, consider cooking part of your meals. Food costs add up quick – a snack here and a dinner there and you’ll be wasting a lot of your money on food. The majority of hostels, guesthouses, and shared apartments all have full kitchens where you can cook your meal.
In many parts of the world, especially in Europe, you can dine on dinner menus at lunch special prices. The plate of the day as it is called is the best bargain in the world. For example, while I was in Barcelona, I went to eat at the seafood restaurants near the beach. However, dinner was around $50 USD. Yet coming back the next day for the lunch special allowed me to get the same meal for only $20 USD because of the lunch special. Another destination that is great for this is Singapore. Singapore is a very expensive place by Asian standards – food here can cost as much as it does back home. Yet restaurants here have fixed menus for lunch that cost between $10-15 USD as opposed to $25 USD for dinner. In England, pubs provide set meals for as low as $10 USD.
Refill Your Water Bottle
You need to stay hydrated when traveling and buying water everyday costs money. Get a metal water bottle or reuse your plastic water bottle a few times to save money. I usually use a plastic water bottle for about 4 days, more if I can find a place to clean it. Instead of buying 3 bottles a day, I usually buy 2 per week. I may only be saving a small amount of money each time but over the course of a long trip that can really add up. Moreover, I reduce the amount of plastic I use which is also good for the environment. It’s win-win.
Never Eat in a Tourist Area
This is a simple enough tip, but one often forgotten by people since we tend to be in these areas because the attractions are. Prices in tourist areas generally tend to be 20-50% higher because tourists don’t mind spending more money since they are away for a short time and unaware what local prices actually are.
In most places around the world, the streets are lined with little food stalls and areas where food is cooked openly on the street. You grab a plate, sit down in a little plastic chair, and enjoy a delicious meal. Street food is some of the best food in the world. Meals at street stalls (different from street vendors, who have a bit more permanent set up) cost less than a dollar most of the time, and are a great way to really experience the local cuisine. Many places — like Thailand, for example — wouldn’t be the same if the street food disappeared. Many travelers are worried that such food isn’t safe but I assure you it is. If it made people sick, people wouldn’t eat at these stalls in such large numbers. I eat street food wherever I can and prefer street stalls to sit down restaurants.
A gelato here, a gelato there. Sodas. Bottles of water. Cookies. More gelato. It all adds up. Since the price is so small (“it’s only a dollar!” you say!) we don’t think of snacking as having a big impact on our budget. But buying snacks a few times a day will slowly add up and throw your budget out of whack. Before you know it, you can be spending $5 USD or more per day extra on food. That doesn’t sound like a lot but that’s $100 USD on a 10 day trip. I’d rather spend that $100 on a fabulous meal or nicer hotel than giving into a snack attack. Stick to big, filling meals! It’s healthier anyways.
Locals don’t spend a lot of money on food. They aren’t blowing their budget every night to have fabulous local food. You don’t need to either. Local food isn’t some specialty found in the tourist area. It’s the everyday food of people and can be found all over the place. Follow these tips and you’ll know how to eat cheap around the world.