This is a guest post by world traveler, writer, and husband Warren Talbot. With his wife Betsy, he’s been traveling for more than 400 days now and documented the adventure on their blog Married with Luggage. Here, he shares the best tips on how to save for food while traveling.
Dining while traveling can quickly eat into your budget if you are not careful. In our first year on the road our single highest expense item was food – $7,300. During this time we learned and applied some great tips for keeping the costs down while still enjoying our culinary experience in each country.
Cook for yourself
Whenever possible, stay where there is a kitchen. Whether this is a hostel, apartment, or a housesitting gig a kitchen can save you a bundle. While in Europe, where the food is significantly more expensive, we cooked most of our meals. This was a great opportunity to indulge in a passion I had always wanted to try – cooking. Each day I would find a new recipe and then we’d head off to the local market to find the fresh ingredients to make the dish. Not only did we save money, we ate far healthier and I was able to teach myself a new skill that I now absolutely love.
Eat at food markets
Every city, town, or village we visited in South America has a daily market where they serve food (and sell great produce for Tip #1). This can be a great adventure into new culinary delicacies and also save you money. Wander into the market and find out where the locals are eating and what they are ordering. If you do not speak the language, do not let this stop you. Without fail a genuine smile and a nod to someone else’s plate will get your meaning across. Most people are happy to share their cooking with you and to get your opinion.
Wander into the market, step into a stall which smells compelling, and sit down among the people there. Share a smile and a few words if possible. The experience will be a memory you can take with you and your wallet will certainly be happy with the result.
Eating out at restaurants can kill your budget faster than virtually anything (alcohol wins hands down in that contest). Finding strategies that will let you indulge in the local restaurants without breaking the bank is key to a happy holiday.
In order to save both money and our waistline, we started sharing meals several years ago. We go into a restaurant and spend time deciding on what dish we’d both be interested in eating. In order to avoid the inevitable debate we usually identify who gets to make the decision before we sit down. Since we both like most of the same foods this has worked out beautifully.
Try sharing a meal the next time you go out, either with your travel partner or find a new friend. The best part of this approach is if you are still hungry at the end, order another plate. You can control the costs and lose some weight in the process. And who does not want to do both of those?
Eat out at Lunch
As mentioned, eating out at restaurants can cause your expenses to balloon out of control rapidly. But do you really want to spend all your vacation not trying some of the delicacies or enjoying an outdoor cafe? Absolutely not. So, why not choose to eat out at lunch instead of dinner. Virtually every restaurant we’ve found offers lunch specials that are less than half the cost of their dinners. Take advantage of the specials and enjoy your dining out during the day.
These 2 words can make you either smile or cringe, but are sure to evoke some emotion. The idea of walking down the street, catching the unmistakable whiff of cooking meat can bring you running – either towards the source or quickly in the other direction. From hot dogs in New York, to chicken in Peru, to sausage in Edinburgh, to squid in Bangkok. There is always an opportunity to try something new.
One thing is certain, street meat is cheap the world over. From our experience, it is virtually always good and a great opportunity to explore new foods you may have never tried, or even seen, before.
Be adventurous the next time you walk by a food cart cooking up something that smells great. Though be warned, the idea of walking from food cart to food cart for an evening buffet can be addictive.
Whether you are traveling for a week or a year, food is likely to be a big part of your trip. Exploring new flavors, dishes, and spices is an amazing way to get to know an area. Do not let the costs stop you from diving in and giving your mouth something to smile about. Planning a bit in advance and exploring some alternatives to traditional restaurants can save you significant money and let you explore some new foods in the process. Embrace the culinary delights wherever you travel and don’t be afraid to dive in wherever you nose may lead.
What are your tips for saving money while dining on the road? Share them here or send them over to me at tips (at) rtwexpenses (dot) com.
In October 2010 Warren and his wife, Betsy, sold everything they owned to follow their dream of traveling the world. They’ve seen the wonders of Antarctica, explored the mountains of South America, cruised the Atlantic from bottom to top, dined on every good thing in Europe, and are currently spending time discovering Southeast Asia. Since leaving they’ve tracked every penny of their spending and share it at RTW Expenses. To follow along on their journey and learn about Living the Good Life, check them out at Married with Luggage.