For many people (this writer included) one of the main joys of traveling is sampling all the culinary wonders of a new cuisine. It can be hard to reconcile a small budget with a big appetite, but with a little creativity, you can stretch your travel dollars and enjoy all the tasty delights a country has to offer, without going over budget.
Create a Budget
Decide how much you want to spend on dining out over the course of your trip, then break it down to an average per-day total. Every day, tally up what you’ve spent and keep a running total. If you go over budget one day, scale back your spending the next.
Score Freebies Where You Can
If your accommodations offer free breakfast or an afternoon wine and cheese reception, load up. The more gratis goodies you eat now, the less you’ll need to spend on food later. If you can snag a few extra snacks (maybe toss a muffin or a piece of fruit in your bag), do so and you won’t have to spend more money if you feel a bit peckish later on.
Staying in a place with kitchen facilities is one of the easiest ways to save money on your dining expenses. Head to the store, buy some bread, meat, cheese, a few eggs, and voila – breakfast and lunch are covered for the week, for a small percentage of what you’d pay eating out for all those meals. You can even head to the market one night, select some local ingredients and wine, and prepare a lovely regionally-influenced meal at home. Every time you prepare that food after your trip, you’ll be reminded of the meal and where you originally ate it.
Balance Splurge with Sacrifice
There’s no harm in spending big one day, so long as you cut back the next to stay under your overall budget. If you scrimp on lunch, put the extra into a nice dinner. And likewise if you have an expensive feast one night balance that out with a lighter, cheaper breakfast from the market or a picnic lunch the following day.
Head to the Market
Shopping at a local food market not only saves you money on eating out, it also gives you a glimpse at local life. Watch residents do their daily shopping while you stock up on ingredients to pack a snack or cook a full meal.
In many European countries, you’ll pay more for a seat. Mosey up to the bar and order there instead (especially at cafes and tapas bars) and you’ll save a few Euros. Eating from take-away counters and street vendors is another great way to sample local cuisine for a small price. From crepes in France to pizza in Italy, you’ll enjoy some of the best food a country has to offer.
Splurge on Lunch
Make lunch your biggest meal of the day. Portions at lunch are often smaller, so the prices are too, but you’ll still get to try the same dishes. If there is a particular restaurant you are dying to try, check to see if they offer lunch service and go then to save money. You’re also less likely to drink much alcohol at lunch, which can amount to considerable savings.
Skip the Wine
Speaking of drinking, to really save money on your dining bill, cut out the alcohol. While wine in many European countries is much cheaper than in the US, it can still add up quickly and take a bite out of your budget. If you are going to drink, drink whatever is local. Imported drinks are always more expensive.
Avoid the Tourist Crowds
Restaurants by major tourist attractions are usually overpriced and not very good. Wander off down side streets in search of places full of local diners and you’ll likely get a better deal. How to tell if a restaurant is geared towards tourists? If waiters stand outside trying to lure you in, if the menu has pictures or is printed in several languages, and if the only sound you hear is English conversation.
Split Your Plates
There’s no rule that says you must order multiple courses. Sure, you want to sample as much as possible, but that can be costly. If you are traveling with a companion, share one appetizer, pasta or salad and one main course between the two of you. You’ll get to try two dishes and won’t overspend.