Eating Well on a Tight Travel Budget

You’ve forked over big bucks for a plane ticket, the hostel is charging you twice as much as the price listed in your guidebook, and your friend wants to sign up for an elephant trek. Even the most carefully planned budget can fly out the window on a trip, and meals tend to munch up a large chunk of that cash. Since you can’t forego food while traveling (and who would want to?), here’s a guide to eating well while spending less.

Shop at a market
Dining three times a day at restaurants will quickly lighten your wallet in all but the cheapest countries. As an alternative, buy your breakfast and lunch supplies at the local supermarket or, better yet, at an outdoor market. The quality is high, the prices are low, and you’ll get an opportunity to see what locals are eating as you shop. Pack your army knife and pick up yogurt, bread, cheese and a fruit you’ve never seen before. Spread out a little picnic, chow down, then stuff the leftovers in your bag for a snack.

Eat on the street
Think of meals as another chance to experience a new culture. Eat widely, eat bravely, and eat at food stands on the street. Head towards the stand that’s the most crowded, find out what everybody’s nibbling on, and then point to what you want if you don’t speak the language. Odds are you’ll come away with something delicious and budget-friendly. Or, if you’re proudly presented with a big bowl of tentacles and eyeballs, at least you’ll have a good story to tell.

Eat locally
Since you have to spend your hard-earned money on food, you might as well pump your bucks back into the local economy instead of supporting big fast-food chains. Besides, name-brand fast-food is often more expensive abroad than it is at home, leading to the unpleasant discovery that your tiny lukewarm hamburger just cost twice as much as those huge greasy cones of fish and chips available next door. Ask around for non-touristy restaurant recommendations, and seek out locally made products. You didn’t fly all the way to Morocco to drink Coke, so order a mint tea or a fresh orange juice and savor the difference.

Cook your own food
Long-haul travelers know that making their own meals can save a bundle. Stay at a hostel with a kitchen, or if you’re on a bigger budget, consider renting a condo instead of booking a hotel room.

Splurge on lunch
If it’s your lifelong dream to gorge on truffles at a fancy three-star French restaurant, reserve a table for lunch instead of dinner. A midday meal will still showcase the chef’s talent, but is more likely to lack the astronomical price tag. Besides, eating your biggest meal in the middle of the day is better for digestion, right?

Broaden your horizons
Seek out a country’s ethnic cuisines. Don’t get hung up on lackluster cream teas in London when you can enjoy a cheap, fiery vindaloo at a curry house. Add Indonesian food in Amsterdam or dim sum in Vancouver to your list of things to try.

Lay off the booze
In many places, a bottle of beer costs as much as an entire dinner. If you’re strapped for cash, become a temporary teetotaler.

Exercise moderation
Don’t over-order in restaurants since you usually can’t take the leftovers home. Split plates with friends, and try a selection of appetizers to sample a variety of flavors instead of limiting yourself to a few bigger entrees.