Mmmm eating. Possibly one of my all-time favorite activities. And one of the best ways to keep costs down is to eat a budget while traveling. Now that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to eat off the Dollar Menu at McDonald’s every day. But eating cheaply can help save a lot of money, which you could use to stay at a nicer hotel, buy that museum ticket, or hey…eat more food.
No judgment. I’ve been there.
If you’re looking to eat cheaply on your trip, here are some great ways to eat on a budget while traveling!
How to Eat on a Budget While Traveling
Research ahead of time
I am a chronic planner. Before every trip, I scour the internet and read dozens of articles about my destinations. Many websites offer valuable insight about food and budget eats around the world. Even I have a few. (Anyone headed to Italy soon?) By simply googling “Cheap places to eat in X” you can often find lots of suggestions on places to go that will help you eat on a budget while traveling.
Delicious cansoncelli in Bergamo, Italy! The cheapest I could find.
TripAdvisor Cheap Eats filter
I have a strict love/hate relationship with TripAdvisor. You have to take their reviews with a grain of sand because people are statistically more likely to report bad experiences over good ones. However, I really like using TripAdvisor for their food recommendations. If you go to www.tripadvisor.com/restaurants and type in your destination, it will bring up tons of information. But, if you scroll down, you can choose to only see those categorized as “Cheap Eats”
These delicious hot dogs are highly rated on TripAdvisor!
Bring something from home
If you are traveling to a location that is known for having more expensive food (i.e. Iceland) you may want to consider packing some food items from your home. Things like pasta, ramen noodles, rice, and dry soup mixes are lightweight, cheap items that you can bring and eat on your trip. You’ll just want to make yourself aware of the food procedures at customs. Some countries don’t allow you to bring in certain foods.
On my way to Europe, I brought a bag of bagels on the plane with me. They lasted several days into my trip and made it so I didn’t have to spend money on expensive airport food or worry about finding food right when I got to Brussels.
Free hostel/hotel breakfasts
Eating on a budget while traveling doesn’t get any better than a free breakfast! Many hotels and hostels offer a free breakfast when you stay with them. I make it a point to try and find places to stay that offer free breakfast with their nightly rate. Then, in the mornings I try to eat a lot and get myself nice and full. That way I’m not looking to buy more food in an hour or two.
However, it is important to do your research. Sometimes staying in a place that offers free breakfast will cost you significantly more than staying somewhere else. In this case, that free breakfast isn’t really “free” and it’s better to go with the cheaper option.
A delicious free breakfast at BaseCamp Bonn in Germany!
Bring a water bottle
Bringing a reusable water bottle can help a ton when sticking to a budget! Buying bottle after bottle of water from the store can really add up. Plus it’s terrible for the environment. Just top up your reusable bottle with water from the tap at your hostel and you’ve saved yourself like $3 that day! Maybe more!
I really recommend this water bottle by LifeStraw. The straw inside filters out 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria and parasites, so you don’t have to worry about whether the tap water is safe to drink!
Keeping hydrated in Israel!
Grocery Shop and Make your own meals
Going to grocery stores and food markets abroad is one of my favorite things to do because it can give you a lot of insight into the country’s culture. By going to the store and buying the ingredients to make your own food, you can save a lot of money, just like at home! Plus, it gives you the opportunity to make food you can eat on the go and save time for more exploring!
A bountiful fruit market in Guatemala
Avoid eating near tourist attractions
You’ll probably hear this tip all over the interwebs, but it is very true. Many restaurants that are in close proximity to major tourist attractions are overpriced and serve crappy, inauthentic food. Instead, the usual key is to walk at least 3 blocks away from the attraction before finding a place to eat. You are much more likely to find a place with decent prices and better food, away from the hustle and bustle of tourist areas.
Cheap currywurst outside of the city center in Bonn, Germany
Bakeries are your best friend
I mean, who doesn’t love a good bakery? If you really want to eat on a budget while traveling, you are definitely going to want to hit up a bakery or two. Local bakeries offer breads and pastries, often for less than $1 each. Many will also make things like pizza, sandwiches, and salads that will be super affordable. Whenever I’m looking for super cheap food that will keep me full, I look for bakeries!
This super cheap bakery in Juayua, El Salvador was a highlight of my trip!
There’s Savings in Soup
Another one of my go-to cheap foods is soup. Soup is almost always one of the cheapest items you can get at a restaurant. And you can find lots of places that just sell cheap soups and sandwiches. Plus eating soup is a great way to sneak in your veggies while traveling!
A hearty and warm soup lunch in Ghent, Belgium!
Find a Festival
Exploring local festivals is a really fun way to eat on a budget while traveling. Where there are festivals there is food. Many times you can find stalls handing out free samples of food. Or at least cheap street food you can enjoy. Plus attending festivals and events is a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture.
Enjoying the foods at the Food Festival in Juayua, El Salvador!
When I visited Ghent, Belgium, I followed the sounds of music one afternoon and found myself at a Sikh religious festival. They were all dressed up and singing and dancing. They were handing out free food to everyone and invited me to join. I had a delicious meal of curry, rice, and vegetables with sweet Indian Chai, met some super cool people, and got to learn a little about a different religion! That’s a mega travel win.
So much color and free food at this Sikh festival!
If you are going to eat a big meal during the day, make that meal at lunchtime. Many restaurants offer lunch specials for significantly cheaper than at dinnertime. This lets you fill up on good food at a cheaper price, and you can save money on a smaller meal at dinner.
A delicious and filling Philly Cheesesteak for lunch!
Give yourself some splurge meals
Food is one of the best ways to learn about and experience a new place. If you’ve been good at maintaining your spending, you should definitely treat yo’self to a good splurge meal or two. Go ahead and enjoy that fancy restaurant you read about. Book yourself a unique dining experience, like eating at an underwater restaurant, or one that hangs hundreds of feet in the air! This way you can still experience the destination through its food and enjoy some nicer meals while you travel.
My hubby and I splurged on these decadent pancakes in Sydney, Australia
Eating on a budget while traveling doesn’t mean you have to give up all the fun. By using these tips, you can keep both your belly AND your wallet full!
What are some of your budget-eating tricks?