15 tips on how to save money on food whilst travelling
After booking airfares and accommodation, food is another necessary expense that can easily add up when you don’t plan ahead for your holidays.
In saying that though, saving money on food doesn’t mean surviving on cuppa noodles or as tempting as it may be, a visit to the yellow arches every day.
If food is a priority and you don’t want to compromise that experience (and health!), because of a tight budget, I hope some of my tips below helps you find some savings on your travels.
1. Stop comparing prices
Travelling through Asia, I found myself comparing prices with Sydney and continuously saying “oh thats soooo cheap! Lets get one!” If you’re similar to me and get excited over $1 juices (compared to a hefty $8 small sized juice in Sydney), and snacks for 50 cents, you’ll probably also find yourself buying 3 juices and several snacks in one day because its ‘cheap’. Get rid of this mentality because you end up buying more food than you need, and you’ll find that the savings will start to stack up.
2. Visit Uni cafeterias
I’m sure a lot of you can empathise with the struggling uni/college student lifestyle; you know, the one where you live off tuna sandwiches, ramen, rice and curry chickens from the cafeteria, and if you were lucky to have worked extra hours that week, treating yourself to the occasional campus sausage sizzle/bbq fundraisers. Well, point being – universities and college cafeterias can also cater for the budget conscious traveller. My sister in law introduced me to this concept when we were visiting Heidelberg, Germany and thought it was the best idea ever (thanks K!) Get nostalgic and visit nearby colleges and universities for a cheap feed.
If you can’t enter the uni, the surrounding restaurants and bars are usually teeming with cheap food options.
3. Join the 9-5 crowd
Some work cafeterias are subsidised by the company so they are another good option for a cheap feed if they’re open to the public. We tried the Airbus one in Toulouse thanks to a friend who was working there giving us a tour, and in my previous life in the corporate world, I used to have $6 roasts with baked vegetables for lunch at the company cafeteria.
4. Try to avoid restaurants near the main tourist sites
Walk a block or two away from the main tourist sites and strips and you’ll find the prices in similar restaurants are reduced by a significant amount. You’ll most likely be paying for the premium in rent.
If you’re staying at a resort, try to wander outside the grounds for a cheaper feed. Resort restaurants will usually include resort prices too.
5. Book hotel accommodation without hotel breakfasts
Most places will tell you to book accommodation that includes breakfasts to save money, but I tend to avoid this as it usually adds around $40 AUD (or $20 AUD per person as an add on) to the booking per night. Unless the hotel or b&b is one I am really keen on staying in for the location and facilities and happens to offer breakfast, then I will usually pass and opt for a cheap breakfast of banana, croissant and coffee from the local convenience store. Or even better, ask a local where their favourite breakfast joint is.
6. Who needs the Kwik E mart. I do.
Unless you’re a water connoisseur (?!), or live in Sydney and are accustomed to paying $8 for a small bottle, no one really likes paying ridiculous amounts for a glass of water. Avoid the inflated prices and stock up on big bottles from a convenience store to carry around with you when traveling. If you’re in a country where you can drink tap water, do it and refill your bottle.
I’m also a big snacker so convenience stores are perfect for stocking up on local snacks when you get the munchies (especially for waiting in airports and long bus and train rides). Bonus saving points if you buy them from an ethnic convenience store as its usually cheaper than the 7/11s or grocery chain.
7. Happy hour, happy wallet
Some happy hours can include discounted food so it’s a good option if you also want to drink.
If you’re in Doha, El Faro at Marsa Malaz Kempinski have buy one get one free tapas and discounted beverages during happy hour, and W Spice Market offer a free plate of food with every discounted beverage.
8. Learn about the local street food or ask a local
Street food, whether it be in a market, a street side vendor, or a food truck tends to be cheaper than dining in a restaurant. Be it langos’ in Budapest, pastels in Rio, koshary in Cairo, or waffles in Belgium, its best to research a few places to try so you avoid trying it at the first place you see and it ends up being disappointing. Doesn’t hurt to ask some locals where their favourite places are too.
9. Business lunches are a cheap way to eat fancy
Since moving to Doha, I’ve become a big advocate of the ‘business lunch’/’express menu’/’bento box’. You can pick up a 3 course meal for less than 100 QAR, or in Sydney/Brisbane, for less than $40. A bargain when you want to treat yourself and want to be a little fancy.
10. Pair an activity with food and eating
A cooking class is the perfect way to pair an activity and food – you’ll get to learn a new skill, and eat all the food you cook. I recently did my very first cooking class in Goa and am quite hooked!
The markets are also a good way to spend the day browsing, experiencing the local life and offers you a chance to eat cheap. In Toulouse, we would visit the early morning markets to buy a fresh baguette with cheese and cold meats and take it back to our accommodation for breakfast.
11. Half price bread at closing time
Bakeries will usually discount all the perishable items that can’t be sold the next day an hour or two before closing time, otherwise it ends up in the bin or in my first job at a bakery – goat feed for the local fried chicken shop owner. You can pick up some really cheap croissants and bread rolls and hey presto, breakfast the next morning.
12. Follow the labourers
Okay, this may only apply to Doha and perhaps other Middle Eastern cities with a big expat population, but try the restaurants where the labourers eat at as they will usually be very cheap. The restaurants will be quite standard in appearance, but the menu authentic and bordering on home cooking.
13. Fill up
If you happen to have a hotel breakfast included in your hotel accommodation, fill up! Breakfast buffets usually have a good variety of foods, so you’ll get some good nutrition if you stock up on the good stuff like cereals (non sugary ones), oats, yoghurts, eggs, fruits and whole meal breads.
I tend to eat a hearty lunch (lunch time prices are usually cheaper than dinner at the same restaurants too) so I’m usually still satisfied by dinner time and end up only eating 2 meals a day with snacks.
14. Use the kitchenette
I’m not a big fan of cooking during my travels unless its at a cooking class, but if you don’t mind it and if your hotel/apartment has a kitchenette this is also another good way to save some dosh on nosh.
Some hotels also provide complimentary tea and coffee so take advantage of this too.
15. The baked things in life aren’t always free
Some countries offer complimentary starters like bread and olive oil or papadums with chutney while you wait, however some also charge a premium for them. I made this mistake more than once travelling through Italy and America, so make sure you ask first before eating them!