As a traveler with a tight budget, I try to cut costs wherever I can. Staying in hostels and relying on public transport helps, but the next biggest expense by far is food. Eating out at nice restaurants will empty your wallet fast, yet sticking to cheap fast food and convenience store hot dogs will take a toll on your body. So how can you eat healthily and affordably on the road? Here's what I've found works best on my travels.
How to be a Super Saver
The cheapest and most filling food you can find is pasta. At just over a dollar a box, you can't beat the bang for your buck. If you're a solo traveler, you can get a good 4 or 5 meals out of one box. And if you're pooling money with friends, you'll spend even less per meal. Pasta is easy and quick to cook and can be jazzed up just as easily with some tomato sauce, olive oil, or a few vegetables. Look for bags of frozen vegetables at the supermarket if you want to the cheapest produce options.
While McDonald's and other fast food burger joints look like the most affordable meals, you can't live off Big Macs. Once in a while, you'll end up stopping for a quick roadside meal, but making a habit of it will have you feeling pretty gross after a few days. And the dollar menu meals never keep you full for long - sometimes this just makes you eat more meals and spend more money.
Finding Cheap-ish Local Fare
Experiencing local food is one of the best parts of traveling. Look for farmer's markets or street food carts in the area for authentic local food. Some items at these markets, like special cheeses or bakery items, can be more expensive than the supermarket, but generally produce is cheaper and fresher. And the money you put down there goes to real people in the community rather than some soulless corporation, so you can justify spending a bit more sometimes.
Always ask the hostel staff, other travelers, or locals you meet around town at your destination what restaurants they recommend. They can help you avoid the tourist traps or over-priced places and lead you to the real local gems. It can be fun to just wander on your own and stop in a place that looks cool, but you always run the risk of bad food or steep prices. When you want to be sure you're getting the best deal for tasty food, ask around.
Budgeting for a Splurge
Don't skimp out on your food budget entirely. While it's great to save money when you can, food is important and you want to budget enough resources to be able to stay energized for all you adventures. Occasionally, you'll want the ease and deliciousness of going out to a nice restaurant and having a meal made for you.
Eating off the specials menu or looking for happy hour deals will make the price tag of a fancy meal more reasonable. And often in the U.S. a meal at a restaurant is more like the proportion of 2 or 3 meals, so take leftovers back to the hostel with you for tomorrow's lunch.
(Brought to you by Ally Thibault)