When traveling, expenses like lodging and transportation are easy to budget. With many trips, these costs can be spread over a few months. Purchase your plane tickets a few weeks ahead of your hotel reservations and buy your public transportation pass as your travel dates draw closer.
One cost that is harder to research, estimate, budget for and purchase in advance is food. In many locations, food will be one of your biggest expenses. However, there are ways to save money on food while traveling, without sacrificing the full experience of your destination.
Set a Reasonable Budget
Start by researching what a typical meal costs in your destination. This isn’t always easy, but it can be done using travel blogs, forums, guide books, online menus and your travel agent. When you arrive, stick with the budget you set. Don’t sacrifice nice meals (unless they are completely out of your price range). Instead, allocate a larger portion of your budget to one or two high-end restaurants and stick with meals below your budget otherwise.
Making dinner the largest meal of the day is costly, especially in countries where dinner is traditionally a much smaller meal. Lunch menus offer many of the same dishes as dinner menus, but often at a more reasonable cost. If you have a specific restaurant you’d like to dine at, consider eating lunch there on a week day instead of the weekend to take advantage of cost-saving specials.
Consider choosing a hotel with a breakfast option, unless upgrading to a continental breakfast or flat-fee buffet will be more expensive than buying breakfast from a nearby café. An oversized breakfast may be enough to skip lunch and have just a few appetizers for an early dinner. Being flexible and creative in your meals, rather than sticking with the traditional American breakfast, lunch and dinner, will allow you to save on food while traveling.
Eat Like a Local
No matter where you are, native foods are less expensive than imported goods. While at the market or restaurant, opt for dishes made with local products, which will often deliver more value.
Touristy restaurants often serve mediocre foods at high-end prices. Ask baristas, servers and bar tenders for their favorite restaurants. They will often have suggestions the guide books and hotel concierge don’t think to mention. Not only are they generally less expensive options, they also serve more authentic, delicious food in many cases. If there is a college nearby, restaurants catering to students will usually have inexpensive menus.
For a real bargain, search out street vendors. Make sure you look for ones that look busy and appear clean and neat.
Eat Like You’re at Home
You probably have tricks for saving money on food at home. Take those ideas on the road to save money on food while traveling.
Shop for Groceries
Take advantage of your accommodation’s mini fridge and microwave for simple breakfasts. Stop at the grocery store (or the bakery, butcher and farmers’ market) for sandwich fixings on the way to the park, beach or even museum. Snacks are also much more affordable if you buy them in bulk from the grocery store, rather than one at a time from convenience stores.
Search for Deals
Just like restaurants at home, restaurants in your destination offer specials. Search coupon and deal sites, and look on restaurants’ social media and website for weekly deals. Subscribe to any email newsletters these restaurants offer as well. Taking advantage of specials may allow you to enjoy a restaurant that would otherwise be outside your budget.