Food is the third largest travel expense after transportation and accommodation. You’re going to have to eat every day, otherwise you won’t travel long!
The restaurant is the equivalent of the hotel, but for food.
We often think that travelling is like eating out, probably due to a deformation from the holidays of a few weeks, where we want to indulge ourselves.
However, eating out every day for years will complicate your budget equation.
In this chapter, you will discover all the alternative ways to eat while travelling in a restaurant.
1) Eat like the locals
In countries with a lower cost of living, you will notice that locals eat like you and me. Except in some parts of the world where people are unfortunately starving to death, people eat every day and live well.
Again, if they have lower wages and eat normally, you can do it too, for less than in France. If you want to eat for less, do as the locals do.
Try to answer these questions:
Do they eat at the restaurant? At home? In the street? In shopping malls?
Which foods are preferred? Locally produced rice or imported meat?
Where do they shop? In a hypermarket or a local market?
Observe, ask for and imitate local food behaviours, this will ensure that you don’t spend too much money.
On the other hand, don’t expect to eat like in France.
Each country has its own culinary specialities and to eat as cheaply as possible, you have to eat locally. If you absolutely want to eat imported sausage and camembert, it will be expensive!
When I was in Brazil, I ate rice and beans almost every day, it is the basic food. Accompanied by pork meat and manioc flour, it is the famous “feijoada”. In addition to that, Brazilians eat a lot of fruit and it is very simple to get delicious fruit juices (mango, banana, guava and other fruits unknown in France) for three times nothing.
For example, in France we eat bread every day, it is part of our basic food. In many countries, you will never find a good wand like here, they have other eating habits.
In short, expect some cultural shocks and little discoveries for your taste buds. That’s also the joys of travel.
2) Buy food
What if you bought your food, your raw material, directly instead of going to a restaurant? This is a basic trick, but so important to integrate when travelling.
In France, we all go shopping and then eat or cook at home. You can do the same abroad, it is even highly recommended if you are in a country where the cost of living is high.
Whether in a large supermarket or a small local market, you can always buy food in its raw state.
If you don’t have access to a kitchen, there is a lot of food you can buy and eat whenever you want, like:
Fruits, often delicious, that provide good energy. Special mention to bananas, available all over the world, cheap and full of vitamins!
Vegetables, such as tomatoes, carrots, beets, cucumbers, that you can eat anywhere.
Dried and oleaginous fruits (nuts, almonds…) that make excellent snacks.
Chocolate, cakes or other cereal bars if you are fond of sugar and less “healthy” foods.
Buying bread and sandwiches is always useful for a good lunch.
There are still plenty of foods you can buy that will change depending on the country you are in. The principle is to avoid the restaurant which will be expensive and to favour the purchase of your own food.
It’s like the Holy Grail for cheap food when travelling, cooking when you have access to a kitchen.
By shopping and preparing your dishes, you will be sure to spend a minimum amount of money. It is one of my favorite travel options because it allows me to eat what I want, healthy and cheap food.
In itself, having a kitchen on the move is not that complicated given all the accommodation options available to you. In a youth hostel, apartment rental, private homes or even in some guesthouses, you will have access to a kitchen.
For the most rooted of you who are walking or cycling, the gas/fuel stove option is available!
My favorite recipe around the world is a giant salad. I go to the market, buy lots of vegetables, always find some rice, then add chicken or eggs. We wash all this, cut, cut, cook, season and go!
I remember when I stayed two weeks in a guesthouse in Puerto Lopez, on the Pacific coast of Ecuador. In the morning, it was fruit salad, at lunch I went to a small restaurant with a daily menu at 2€ and in the evening it was a giant salad! I got by at less than 5€ of food per day without any worries.
It is also common to have large meals with several people in youth hostels, often based on pasta!
All you have to do is find other motivated travellers to prepare a good cast, everyone contributes to the cost and generally it is very cheap. Not to mention the food left by the travellers. There are always leftovers or unused food in the youth hostel kitchens. Whether in fridges or closets, there is often a “common” space with food that you can use, you have to know how to enjoy it!
Last tip for tea or coffee drinkers. You can take tea bags or soluble coffee with you, so you won’t have to pay for them in restaurants.
Don’t neglect your cooking skills, even if they are basic they will be very useful and will allow you to spend less on travel.
4) Street Food
Street food, internationally known as “street food” is one of the essential ingredients for cheap food when travelling. Not very widespread in France, street food is common in many countries, especially in Asia.
If you go to Thailand and don’t eat on the street, it’s like coming to France and not eating a baguette. Inconceivable.
Even if in France, we see the fairly recent emergence of street food with the famous food trucks. It has little to do with what can be found abroad. Often less regulated, more messy and more authentic.
As its name suggests, we eat on the street, there is not necessarily anything to sit on and we can eat anything and everything.
There are several advantages to eating street food: the very affordable price, the possibility to immerse yourself in the local culture, to eat tasty dishes, to make the locals work and it’s friendly!
I remember an employee of an inn when I was in the city of Malang, Indonesia.
He always brought back a dish ready for lunch, which looked delicious. While talking a little, he explains to me that it is called “Gado-Gado” a kind of salad made of beans, potatoes, cabbage, spinach, tofu and eggs, all served with a “peanut sauce”.
He tells me where the seller of this delicious meal is. It was just a couple, who were at the corner of a two-street intersection, with a motorcycle transformed into a “mobile restaurant”. There was only one dish, the famous “Gado-Gado” and I can tell you that there was all the time in the world. For 1€, you had a good dish, healthy and ready in 30 seconds. I went back every day during my stay in Malang!
This is just one example among many, but street food can take all forms and especially any type of food.
Grilled meat, noodles, salad, cakes, hot dogs, soups, sandwiches, ravioli, fruit juices… you will find everything! If you have no idea what street food looks like in Asia, type “street food bangkok” in google images to get an idea.