Travel Insider: How to eat cheaply on the road

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)


PHX Insider: Grand Avenue

March is a beautiful time in Phoenix, and not just because of the sunny skies and warm weather. This month features a ton of art and music festivals to celebrate the up and coming culture of the city. This weekend is Art Detour on Roosevelt Row and Grand Avenue, where it is called the DeTour de Grand.

It features open studios and pop-up galleries on the streets to showcase the work local artists are doing. Since the hostel is close by to the art galleries and small businesses of Grand Ave, we decided to share a list of our favorite hang out spots there.    

The Shops at Third Space

This collection of local businesses at the corner of Grand and 11th Ave has it all -- breakfast, lunch, dinner, alcohol, coffee roasted on-site, live music, an art gallery, a tattoo parlor, a barber shop, and even an eyeglass repair shop. And all with a weird-in-a-good-way vibe. The cute little cottage style buildings that surround the communal rustic patio area actually use to be part of an internment camp during World War II. While that's a pretty heavy thought, seeing how it has been transformed into a vibrant and welcoming community hang out spot really makes you appreciate what art and good people can do for a place. 

Just a short walk or even shorter bike ride from the hostel, the shops at Third Space are the perfect place for an afternoon sipping espresso on the patio with new friends or catching up on work on your laptop in the sunshine. All the business owners are super down to earth and great to chat with about the arts scene in Phoenix. And at night, it's a great place to grab drinks and enjoy some local musicians. 

Bragg's Factory Diner

Located in a strip of art galleries and studios across from Third Space, this small cafe is big on charm. Bragg's bakes fresh vegan dessert pies everyday -- everything from Fireball Whiskey Apple Pie to Cherry Cheesecake -- and serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner pies as well. The cafe has a small town rural feel with its collection of old Arizona road maps, classic candies, and standard diner fare. Pie slices are about $3 - $5 each and the flavor options are endless.  

Bikini Lounge 

You probably think Tuesdays are just another boring weekday where there's nothing fun to do after dinner time, huh? Not in Phoenix! Just down the street from the hostel is a wonderful little tiki bar called Bikini Lounge, which hosts a free, funky dance party every Tuesday. Featuring a DJ spinning old vinyl records ranging from funk to cumbia and a cash bar with cheap well drinks and pitchers, it's arguably one of the best nights out in the area.

The party starts just after 10 pm on Tuesdays and gets pretty packed by 11 pm. Oh, and those late night munchies you'll get after a couple hours of dancing? Bikini's has you covered there too with a street food cart set up just outside the entrance serving Navajo fry bread smothered in your choice of either veggies and beans or powdered sugar.

The Winnie

If all your busy traveler activities are starting to take a toll on your mind and body, it's time for a relaxing yoga session at The Winnie. Right next door to Bikini, this dance studio offers $5 beginner and intermediate yoga classes. Sessions run on Saturdays at 10 am, Sundays at 11:30 am, and Mondays through Wednesdays at 6 pm.

(Brought to you by Ally Thibault)


PHX Insider: Cactus League Baseball

For fans across the country, March means baseball is back. After four long months of winter, Spring Training begins to prepare teams for the regular season's start in April. For fans in Phoenix, Spring Training is even better because fifteen Major League Baseball teams play their games here in the Valley of the Sun for a month as part of the Cactus League

Spring Training draws in both die hard fans and newbies to the sport because of its cheap ticket prices. Cactus League games vary in price, but most games offer seats for as low as $8 to $15. And most of the parks have a smaller seating capacity than the major league fields do, which means closer seats and better views of all the action and players. 

The local team in Phoenix is the Arizona Diamondbacks (known as the DBacks) who play their regular season games at Chase Field in downtown Phoenix -- which is easily accessible by public transportation from the hostel. Regular season games begin at Chase Field on April 6th, but until then you can still visit the park and get a tour of it for just $7. Below you can see some photos of the state-of-the-art field during an event for fans last weekend:

During the Cactus League, teams play at 10 different ballparks throughout the metro area. Some are only accessible by car from the hostel, but others can definitely be reached via public transportation. If you are visiting without a car, the easiest parks to reach are:

--Maryvale Baseball Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers 

(Google Map directions)

To get to Maryvale from the hostel, take the #15 bus north towards 19th Ave/Montebello and get off at 15th Ave & Indian School Road. From there, take the #41 bus west towards 59th Ave and get off at Indian School Road & 53rd Ave. The park is a very short walk from there, simply take a right on 53rd Ave and then a left on Maryvale Park St. Total trip time is about 50 minutes. Alternatively, you could rent a bicycle from the hostel and take on the 7 mile ride!

--Sloan Park, home of the Chicago Cubs

(Google Maps directions)  

To get to Sloan from the hostel, take the #17 bus east towards Pima and get off at Central Ave & McDowell Rd. You can also just take a 15 minute walk to Central & McDowell from the hostel. Then, take the light rail eastbound towards Sycamore/Main and get off at Apache Blvd & Price Road. The park is a 20 minute walk north of the station. Total trip time is about an hour and 20 minutes.

--Scottsdale Stadium, home of the 2014 World Series Champions San Francisco Giants

(Google Map directions)

To get to Scottsdale Stadium from the hostel, take the #17 bus east towards Pima and get off at McDowell Rd & Miller Rd. Then, take the Miller Road Trolley towards Scottsdale and get off at Osborn Rd & Drinkwater Blvd. Walk one minute east on Osborn Rd and you'll see the stadium. Total trip time is about an hour and 20 minutes.  

--Tempe Diablo Stadium, home of the Los Angeles Angels

(Google Map directions)

To get to Tempe Diablo Stadium from the hostel, take the #17 bus east towards Pima and get off at McDowell Rd & Central Ave. You can also just take a 15 minute walk to Central & McDowell from the hostel. Then take the ZERO bus south towards Dobbins and get off at Central Ave and Tamarisk St. From there, take the #52 bus east towards 48th St and get off at 48th St & Roeser Rd. From there it is a 10 minute walk east to the ball park. Total trip time is about an hour and 15 minutes.   

Check Cactus League's website to see all the team's schedules and to buy tickets to a game!    

PHX Insider: Arizona Cocktail Week

In honor of Arizona Cocktail Week -- happening now through Saturday the 21st -- we decided to round up a list of downtown spots with the best drinks and atmosphere Phoenix has to offer.

Phoenix doesn’t have one main street packed with rowdy bars like some other cities do -- but it doesn’t need one either. The drinking holes scattered through downtown offer everything from craft cocktails, creative late night food menus, and hip vibes… all minus the pretension.

If you’re in town during cocktail week and want to score the best deals, make your first stop at The Vig Fillmore to buy a cocktail week wristband for $10. Wearing this red bracelet at bars will get you half priced cocktails at several participating businesses. And it ends up paying for itself after only a couple drinks. 

If you come after the week wraps up, don’t worry. You can still get good deals on drinks and food during happy hour! You can reach all these bars easily on public transportation from the hostel or take a little more time to walk to them with some fellow guests to explore Phoenix on your way.

The Vig Fillmore - (606 North 4th Avenue Phoenix, AZ 85003)


Walking down the flagstone path into The Vig’s secluded patio feels like walking around a friend’s house to their backyard garden party. Totally fenced in by warm-colored wood paneling and strings of incandescent light bulbs, the outdoor lounge area has all the comforts of someone’s yard with a touch of urban sophistication -- and, of course, a fully stocked bar.

A square-shaped bar in the center of the outdoor area has TVs to catch a sports game, but the best seats in the house are the cushioned adirondack chairs clustered about coffee tables at the edges of the patio. There is also an area to play garden games like cornhole or bocce.

Enjoy the warm night air and chilled out electro-indie music as you sip on cocktails named after streets and neighborhoods in Phoenix and munch on late night favorites like sweet potato fries or nachos. The Moreland Marg is an especially good option: Your standard margarita jazzed up with habanero-infused tequila for an extra kick of spice. Only for those who enjoy hot and spicy flavors though, the first few sips will definitely make your eyes water.   

Cocktails are normally $10 each, with a different one being featured for half off each night of cocktail week. If you’re curious about any new drinks, just ask the friendly, down-to-earth bartenders. Beers are all $5 or less and glasses of wine range from $7-13 each. Bottles of wine are always half off on Sundays, a great time to round up some new friends from the hostel and sip away a warm Phoenix evening!

The Arrogant Butcher - (2 East Jefferson Street #150 Phoenix, AZ 85004)

The bartender works on serving up the day's special cocktail: Butcher's Blood and Sand.  

For a slightly more upscale option, hit up The Arrogant Butcher for drinks and small plates of fine cheeses and cured meats. Located just across the street from U.S. Airways Center, home of basketball’s Phoenix Suns, and Chase Field, home of baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks, this bar makes for a perfect pre- or post-game spot. Or even a nice place to watch the game if you couldn’t get tickets.

Try to grab a few seats at the bar, otherwise you could be in for a 20-30 minute wait for a table at this popular dinner destination. But even a moderate wait would be worth taking in the Victorian meets modern vibe of the space. Sleek, simple furniture is accented with touches of leather and lace while mixologists in bow-ties shake up quality libations.

Feel like a connoisseur of fine provisions by asking the bartender about the various cheese and meat platter appetizer options. Be warned though, when they say ‘small plates’ they mean very small. If there’s more than two of you or you’re feeling hungry, order a few different plates to snack off of. At $5-8 each, it’s fun to mix and match a few, call it a light dinner and share with a friend.

Cocktails are all about $10, with one being featured for half off every night of cocktail week. Go during happy hour any week of the year (Monday through Saturday from 3-6pm) and you can get select cocktails for only $4! Same goes for happy hour beers, wines, and a few small plates.

Phoenix Public Market Cafe - (14 East Pierce Street Phoenix, AZ 85004)

Okay, saved my favorite spot for last, and although it’s not technically a part of cocktail week this year, they have affordable drinks every night of the year during their 3pm to 10pm happy hour. The cafe is located right next door to the public market that rolls in on Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings, so many of the foods served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner are sourced from the local sellers at the market.

Feel instantly a part of the community as you feast on healthy-yet-tasty fresh food at wooden cafe tables with mini cactus centerpieces. The half open air bar has part indoor seating and part outdoor seating, so no matter where you sit you can catch the gentle desert breeze as you snack and sip your time away. Besides the endless local food options, this is also a good place to try locally roasted coffee, a few Arizona wines, and some beers from Arizona breweries.

While there is a definite hipster vibe with many tattooed and pierced servers and customers, everyone is genuinely friendly with none of the typical hipster pretension or snobbery. And there is still a diversity of customers that come in to complete the community feel, from older couples relaxing with mid-morning espresso to children and families having lunch and bakery treats. There is also community night on Sundays and Mondays from 5pm to 10pm where you can get a three course dinner for only $13 -- a total steal for the quality here.

Cocktails are normally $8, beers are $4, and all glasses of wine are under $9. During happy hour, you can get a pitcher of beer for $5 (yes, you read that right), some wines for $5 or $6, and select cocktails for only $5. The entire wait staff is really friendly and loves to chat about local Phoenix happenings with customers.