Eating Well On a Budget While Traveling
No one says, you can’t have lobster with a view of the ocean while sticking to a tight travel meal budget. Sometimes, getting creative and thinking outside, is the trick to getting more out of your travel meal budget.
Make Lunch The Biggest Meal of The Day
Making lunch the biggest meal of the day is a smart move for a couple of reasons. Restaurants are less crowded at lunch, saving the hassle of making reservations. Frequently identical menu options are just, well, cheaper at lunch.
Our Portland trip proved this theory true time and time again with lunch at Little Bird being my favorite example. Award winning food at a fraction of the price. No wait, no reservation, and no thinking “wait, the bill is how much?!”
Hit Seafood Markets & Picnic Seaside
Like wine, seafood gets a pricey markup. Thankfully, there are alternatives. Most seafood markets will steam lobsters for you on the spot. In Martha’s Vineyard Menemsha Fish Market will steam, crack and even hand over your lobster with drawn butter. With the beach just steps away, it’s the perfect way to set up a seaside picnic.
In Tomales Bay California oysters are kinda boss. Waiting for an hour or two to score a table at the amazing Hog Island Oyster Company not so much. $60 tab definitely not. Get the same exact oysters for about $1 each at the to go counter and opt for a cliff-side picnic instead. Shucking oysters in front of an amazing view is exactly what the locals do, so join them.
Find Restaurants Outside Main Squares
In large cities that attract tourists, never eat in the main square. Time and time again, in Amsterdam, Bruges, even in Haro, Spain we found this fact to be consistently true. Main squares are where tourists stick. Restaurants count on it and charge accordingly. The bigger the city, the higher the markup.
It’s also where you find some of the cities worst food, they don’t have to keep up quality with location bring tourists by default. In New York, it’s Times Square. Paris the Champs Elysées. Venice it’s Piazza San Marco and in Rome, it’s nearly every piazza. Get lost when hungry. Wander away from the crowds when it’s time to eat. A few blocks can make a big difference.
Buy Wine By the Bottle To Drink At the Hotel
Restaurants mark up wine nearly three times wine store prices. That’s $20 to $30 more a bottle which adds up quick. Don’t have to skip that romantic toast. Just try delayed gratification. Siri is surprisingly accurate when asked, “where is the nearest wine store?”
Download the Slow Food App In Italy
The Slow Food organization is a Non-Profit with lofty goals they deliver on. Defending what they call “True Food” made for pleasure, not profit. They promote biodiversity and sustainable agriculture and respect the producers as the custodians of local tradition and land. While the App costs $7.99 the restaurants featured are typically family restaurants and not tourist traps. So in the end, the expense of the app is paid off over one meal.
It’s what we used to scout out Agriturismo spots in Italy where they serve up quality food in quantity!
Pack Ahead for Breakfast In Bed
Anthony Bourdain rather famously panned brunch as the worst meal to eat out saying
“Brunch menus are an open invitation to the cost-conscious chef, a dumping ground for the odd bits left over from Friday and Saturday nights. How about hollandaise sauce? Not for me. Bacteria love hollandaise. And nobody I know has ever made hollandaise to order. And how long has that Canadian bacon been festering in the walk-in? Remember, brunch is only served once a week – on the weekends. Cooks hate brunch. Brunch is punishment block for the B-Team cooks, or where the farm team of recent dishwashers learn their chops.” — Anthony Bourdain Kitchen Confidential
It’s not that all breakfasts are bad. Rather most restaurants are not their best, in the morning. So thinking of this as a place to save, often save both money and disappointment.
While packing, toss in a breakfast bar of choice and consider investing $29 in an AeroPress Coffee Maker. This little investment saves you from my Italian in-laws call dirty sock water that hotel coffee makers supply. We started this tradition in Costa Rica at Hotel Belmar when we realized the view was best from bed.
Don’t Be Afraid To Take It With You
It’s true, there are a few spots in the world where a doggie bag is a no, no. Still, I stand by the notion of no cheese left behind!
While in Oviedo, Spain we saw one of the most surprising hotels and cheese plates on the planet at Tierra Astur. Just look at this! It, was, unbelievable. It was also impossible for two people to finish. By swallowing our pride and asking for a to-go box, we turned one dinner into two additional picnics.
Cooking Saves Hundreds of Dollars a Week
Balancing eating out and eating in on the road is entirely possible. It saves money and perhaps the best part, affords us a few Michelin rated restaurants along the way.
Find a place to stay with even a few minimal cooking options saves a bundle. AirBNB in the US and Booking.com in Europe proved to be our best sources. Breakfast, lunch and dinner for two in restaurants run $100 – $150 easy when ordering drinks. That’s a lot travel of groceries!
That doesn’t mean, staying in the room and watching TV while eating. That wouldn’t be very romantic now, would it! It’s not beyond us to drag a few chairs and a table up to our hotel rooftop to dine seaside. True story, we pulled this off in Leuca, Italy and it literally saved us hundreds of dollars on our travel food budget.
The trade-off for cooking dinner in our Leuca Hotel for three nights was the singular most romantic dining experience I’ve ever had at Michelin pick Porta di Basso in Peschici Italy. Not to shabby eh?!
I’m predicting between American’s growing interest in what goes into the food they eat and the rise in AirBNB’s the retro concept of cooking on vacation will make a comeback.
I say Cheers to that!
There are plenty of other ways to save on travel but when it comes to meals, these are the eight tricks that saved us the most.
Art by Paolo Ferraris Colors, inspired by our rooftop dining in Leuca Italy.