Some people live to eat and others eat to live, they say. I identify with the former category. Food forms a very important part of my daily life and nothing makes me happier than a plate of really good food. I’m also slightly embarrassed to admit that I get easily “hangry”. I’m certain that there are many people like me, but access to food that you enjoy at reasonable prices can be challenging while you’re travelling. Regardless of one being a foodie, every traveller must eat well enough to ensure that they have enough strength to follow through with tightly packed itineraries.
I’ve learnt through mistakes and experiences over the years, and here is a simple yet useful compilation (that’s me showering praise on my own listicle, as usual) of things to do and remember while eating on the move.
1. Eat outside the tourist zone – While this is not always possible, it is often doable if you’ve planned your day well. Food is always at least twice as expensive in restaurants situated within or close to tourist highlights of the town. Moving out of the tourist zone doesn’t necessarily mean you need to venture outside the city limits. A smart Google search will show you places that are in less crowded parts of town and eating in such places is a good money-saving tactic.
2. Find food at supermarkets – This is the most fool-proof way of saving some bucks while still managing to keep your stomach fairly happy. Most supermarkets across the world have freshly made (albeit cold), cheap food on their shelves. The larger ones even have hot food counters and salad bars. So, if you don’t want a proper meal with plates and cutlery, the easiest thing to do is to pop into a supermarket, grab a sandwich or salad and eat on the go.
3. Pack your own meal – For those who would much rather pack something wholesome, this would be the best option. You can always buy supplies from the market and whip up a delicious meal, pack it up (the idea of a nice picnic basket is so comforting) and eat when you find the ideal spot to relax or on the go. Of course, this is only possible if you are staying in an accommodation with a kitchen like an Airbnb or hostels. The great thing about hostels is that people vacating their rooms often leave behind food such as jars of pasta sauce, fruit preserves and spreads etc. for the rest of the guests to use. You don’t necessarily have to buy new supplies, and nothing goes to waste. It’s a win-win!
4. Cafes rather than restaurants – If something advertises itself as a “restaurant”, it tends to be pricey. If you’re not particular about a having a meal that looks like a painting on your plate and are just interested in getting something quick that fills you up, stick to cafés instead. You’d be pleasantly surprised to see that some cafés are quaint, have a great ambience, have “specials of the day” and a lot more than staple sandwich fare. Most cafés offer free WiFi as well, which is a bonus.
5. Snacking – As important as having three proper meals a day is snacking while on the go. Always remember to keep something light in your bag to munch on while you are out exploring or even when you can’t find a restaurant or café to have a proper lunch/dinner. My favourite snack to carry in my bag are granola bars or energy bars. They are wholesome and easy to carry around. You can also pack a box of mixed dried nuts such as almonds and walnuts or fruits such as apple.
6. Drinking Water – If there’s anything more important than eating well during travel, it is keeping yourself hydrated by drinking lots of water. Bottled mineral water can be very expensive but safe drinking water need not always come at a cost. The first thing to do is carry a water bottle with a filter attached. These bottles are lifesavers as it let you fill up water from public taps and filters out any sediments making it safe to drink. However, this is a good option only in countries where tap water is even otherwise potable. If you’re in parts of the world where water is not consumed directly from the tap, even a filter bottle is not a great option. In such cases, the next option is to buy water bottles from supermarkets. If you pick up large bottles, it works out to be very cost-effective. But since large bottles are impossible to carry around, you should buy these on your first day and leave it in your room. You can fill up smaller bottles from these large bottles and carry the small ones with you.
7. Coffee/Tea – When you’re a tourist, there aren’t many “coffee hacks”. I’m always looking for ways and places to get reasonably priced coffee. Most tourist towns will have the staple Starbucks and Costa Coffee, but we all know that these places don’t offer cheap beverages. Mc Café of McDonald’s, on the other hand, is a relatively cheaper option for beverages and is easily available in larger tourist towns. While this may not be always practical, you can also carry a small thermos with coffee that you’ve made using the sachets available in your hotel room or fill the thermos up with coffee from the breakfast dining area of your hotel.
8. Lunch Menus – Sometimes you just desperately want to visit a restaurant that’s rated as a “must-visit” for the fantastic food, décor or simply to look fancy on Instagram, but don’t want to burn a major hole in your pocket while living out this fantasy. At times like these, it’s best to do two things – a. Find out if they have “Lunch Menus”, which tend to be priced lesser than their regular menus; b. Reserve your visit towards the end of your trip so that you only spend the money that you don’t need for any other activity.
9. Apps and websites such as Traveling Spoon or BonAppetour – This is an absolutely fantastic way of sampling the local cuisine and hospitality. These apps connect you with local hosts who invite the guests who have purchased a “meal” to their homes. Not only do you get to eat authentic local cuisine, most times the hosts will also involve the guests in the cooking process. Total fun!
10. Other Points to Remember –
· Eating safe – Trying out the local cuisine from street vendors is usually on many of our travel bucket lists. However, if you’re not careful, you could end up being sick during your trip and there is nothing worse than that. Always ensure that you have a complete understanding of the ingredients used in the dish you want to eat so that you don’t eat something that would cause an allergic reaction. Another important thing to remember is to always eat from crowded street stalls. This way you can be sure that the food is constantly getting made and sold, hence isn’t stale. If you’re someone who does not have a stomach for experiments (no pun intended) like me, but would still love to sample local cuisine, it’s best to avoid street stalls overall and sample the local cuisine from recommended restaurants instead.
· Ask the hotel staff – Hotel staff can often be very insightful and helpful. Therefore, you should definitely ask them for recommendations on places to eat. They often recommend great places that are reasonably priced as well. Also, don’t ask the staff at the reception, it’s their job to direct you to the hotel’s restaurant. You should ask others such as the housekeeping staff or the concierge.
· Take tourism brochures – Always pick up the free tourism brochures available at hotel lounges, train stations etc. It carries a lot of discount coupons of various restaurants and is just an overall handy thing to have with oneself. You should also check for Groupon discounts.
· Student discounts – If you’re a student, always carry your student ID with you and don’t forget to ask the restaurant staff if they offer student discounts. Of course, it is best to avoid asking this question at super-fancy places, unless being greeted with a look of total disgust doesn’t really upset you.
So there you have it – my tips to eat well on a budget while travelling. Bon Appetit!