The following is a guest post from Shereen Travels Cheap.
Food isn’t like souvenirs. No one goes on vacation without buying it. You have to make room in your travel budget to eat, but there are many ways you can make that part of your expenses smaller. Just because you are trying to save money doesn’t mean that you have to eat fast food or sandwiches for every meal or can’t experience the best cuisine a place has to offer. Below is my top 10 list of ways to stretch your food funds.
- Ask the locals where they eat. Odds are, people who live where you’re traveling don’t eat at the fanciest restaurant in town. You know who eats there? Tourists and people celebrating their anniversaries. The “normal” people eat at affordable dining establishments that are also delicious and serve food from the local area. They are going to want to point you towards some of the city’s gems and impress you because, unlike hotel staff, they don’t get paid for recommending the crazy expensive steakhouse down the street.
- Look forward to lunch. You probably aren’t always frugal. While on vacation, it’s okay to splurge sometimes. If that includes going to a top-rated restaurant that you know is spendy, make reservations for lunch instead of dinner. The food will be just as tasty, but cheaper than at dinnertime.
- Split an entrée. Most restaurants serve you at least twice as much food as you can eat. Don’t be weighted down having to carry around leftovers or feel bad about food left on your plate. Share a main dish with your travel companion. Most hotels will split an entrée for no fee, but even if you have to pay for an extra plate, it only costs a few dollars, which is cheaper than paying for a whole other meal.
- Order an appetizer for a meal. Most appetizers can be plenty to fill you up and can be as little as a third of the price of an entrée. This is also a great option for you if you like to try many different dishes. Order two to three for the same price as a meal.
- Hit up the food carts. Food carts can offer a huge variety of different local and international foods, but can be half the price of (or less) than dining at a sit-down restaurant. With this kind of savings, you can try fare from several carts with no regrets.
- Shop the farmers market. There’s no better way to experience local cuisine and interacting with residents than a visit to the closest farmers market. You will find a variety of food, including meats, fruits, vegetables and cheeses. Purchase enough for lunch and enjoy the afternoon having a picnic in a nearby park.
- Rent a vacation home or stay in a hotel with a kitchen(ette). This is my favorite way to stretch my food budget, because there are so many options. Renting can be a great value over hotel stays if you’ll be visiting for a week or more, plus it gives you the chance to check out the local grocery store. Make many of your own meals and save considerably. I don’t often like to spend money on eating breakfast out, so I love to buy new cereals and pastries I can enjoy in my room.
- Stay at a hotel that offers free breakfast. You don’t realize how much dining out can cost until you go on vacation. A reasonable breakfast can cost between $8-15 per person. If you multiply that by the number of people you’re traveling with and the number of days you’ll be staying, that number can be huge. If you find a hotel in your price range that offers free breakfast, you’ve hit a jackpot of savings.
- Sign up for Groupon. (Note from Cheap: Or other coupon sites.) Groupon.com is an amazing little site that offers daily deals on a wide assortment of things, not least of which is dining. Each day a new offer goes up at a big discount off the regular price. Dining certificates can be purchased quite often and many times I have gotten a half-off gift certificate to a new local restaurant or one just trying to bring in new customers. It works! Sign up at Groupon.com for the destination of your next vacation (they cover many international locations as well as the United States) and eat for less!
- Don’t order off the kids’ menu. If you travel with children, you’ll notice that most kids’ menus seem to have the same small rotation of foods. Obviously, little ones don’t just live on hot dogs, pizza, chicken nuggets and PB&J sandwiches. Not only do they charge an outrageous amount for these “staples” that cost hardly anything to make, but they offer hardly any nutritional value and your kids are likely to eat only half of it before declaring they’re full. Instead, order a meal that you both will eat and share. This saves you money and might get them to eat a vegetable or two.
While there are other ways to save on dining, these have proven to be the most useful for my travels and are my first suggestions to anyone asking how to cut costs on their trip. They are easy to do and will enable you to try a bigger variety of foods, too. You’ll experience more of the city and its people, giving you a greater vacation experience.
Shereen blogs at Shereen Travels Cheap, or find her on Facebook.