Food & Beverage / Hints for Happier Travels

7 Budget-Friendly Strategies for Hungry Travelers:

Feed Your Face Without Emptying Your Wallet.

Do you love to travel, but the cost of feeding yourself and/or the family while on vacation makes you lose your appetite? Here are some tips to help keep you and your bank account full.

1. A taste of home: It may sound obvious, but bring as much food as is practical from your own pantry and fridge. This is much easier when taking a road trip, because you can pack a cooler full of drinks, sandwiches, cut-up vegetables and fruit. A picnic is a  fun break from all that time in the car, and far more nutritious than the jungle of fast-food options beckoning you at every exit.

Can’t bring food from home? Try your local supermarket for freshly made, inexpensive subs and other items. The food will be just as good or better, and the price is right.

Although Simon and I try to fly with only as much carry-on luggage as we can get away with, we always find room for granola bars and other non-perishable snacks. These can be life-savers when jet lag makes your stomach growl at the strangest times. Also, airport food is extra-expensive, because they have a captive audience. If you know you will have a long lay-over between flights, bring your own picnic of tasty and light foods. Your stomach and credit card balance will thank you.

2. Adjust your schedule: Whether traveling overseas or to a neighboring state, lunch is likely to be your best bargain. Many restaurants have reasonably priced lunch specials, and if you make this your main meal of the day, you can enjoy a lighter, less expensive dinner. In Madrid, Simon and I were able to find delicious three course meals, which included appetizer, main course, bread, dessert and a choice of beer, wine or nonalcoholic beverage for around $12.

A Plate of Paella from the Menu del Dia in Madrid (©

Fighting off the temptation to take a siesta, we engaged in lots of walkable sightseeing activities for the rest of the afternoon and into the evening. Then we would find a fresh salad, or grocery store tidbits for dinner.

Avoid a la carte restaurants at all costs. The price of ordering each item, such as vegetable, starch and bread separately can be prohibitive. It’s all too easy to order up a reasonable size meal, then go into sticker shock when the check arrives.

3. Bulk up on breakfast: If you have the stomach for a big meal to start your day, you may find yourself able to hold out until dinner with a snack of fruit, granola bar, or, if you’ve been very, very good, ice cream.

Traveling in the U.K. lends itself especially well to this plan, as the average bed and breakfast serves up a giant plate of eggs, bacon and/or sausage, fried bread, sautéed mushrooms, tomatoes and a bowl of cut fresh fruit to get you on your way. Aside from saving us money, the big breakfast enables us to accomplish more during the day, because we don’t have to waste time figuring out where to eat, then waiting for our meal.

4. Take advantage of seasonal produce at local markets: Whether you are staying in a cottage or a hotel, you should definitely check out the bounty available to you near by. If you have access to a small fridge and/or microwave, you’ve got it made.

When Simon, C.J. and I were in Tuscany, we would have sumptuous lunches at small family-owned restaurants while sightseeing, then pick up fresh bread, decadent cheeses, olives, salami,, pickled vegetables and, of course, a bottle of vino to take back to our bed and breakfast. These indoor picnics were just as satisfying and filled with fresh flavors as our mid-day indulgences.

Baguettes in the Barcelona Market Makes a Great Accompaniment to Cold Cuts, Pate, or Cheese (©

This rule also holds true for train and ferry travel. On the high-seed train from Avignon to Munich, we feasted on fresh bread, mushroom pate, sweet red pepper and apples from the Avignon Market. Meanwhile, our fellow passengers were suffering through over-priced, second-rate fare.

A Selection of Cheeses in the Avignon Market Make for a Great Picnic (©

5. Stay away from tourist traps: Barcelona can be pricy when it comes to restaurant dining, even at lunch time. Pricy, that is if you gravitate to eateries located in the many squares around the city. However, if you wander down side streets, you can find restaurants serving the same fare for about a third less than their more visible counterparts. This is true almost anywhere. If the place is high profile, it’s usually high priced as well.

Simon and I found that we could eat light and cheap in Barcelona, or anywhere in Spain for that matter, by frequenting tapas bars. These small plates of such local delicacies as olives, chorizo on crusty bread, calamari, open-face sandwiches layered with an assortment of fish, and vegetables, as well as other goodies. It’s easy to create a meal based on the quantity and type of food you want to eat, and you can try several foods without getting too full.

6. Ask a local: Not sure if that out-of-the-way diner is any good? Ask a hotel desk clerk, shop clerk or passerby. They live and eat there, so are unlikely to steer you wrong.

I once asked the man repairing our hotel room blinds about where he likes to eat, and, later that day, Simon, the boys and I found ourselves chowing down on the best oyster po-boys in New Orleans. Even better, they were a bargain.

In Israel, my cousins knew where to find the best, Romanian, Jordanian and traditional Israeli food imaginable.

Then there were the huge, succulent calamari sandwiches at less than half the usual price in a bar recommended to us by a Madrid tour guide, fresh ceviche courtesy of a Panama City local, and the best enchiladas we ever tasted, a tip from our hotel desk clerk in Sioux Falls. All were found in local haunts, were fresh, and left our budget intact.

Enchiladas at a Small Local Restaurant (Mama\’s Ladas) in Sioux Falls, SD (©

7. Go ethnic: If you and your kids and/or traveling companion are adventurous eaters, you can find inexpensive, low-cost meals at Asian and other ethnic hole-in-the-wall family-run restaurants. Tips #2 and #6 apply here.

While at a travel writers workshop in Denver, Simon, some of our fellow workshop attendees and I discovered a small Asian restaurant close to the hotel, which gave us a variety of tasty options for an affordable price.

These are just a few ideas on how to enjoy your, travel adventures while saving money on dining. No doubt, there are more, and the more you avoid blowing the entire vacation budget on food, the more dough you’ll have left to invest in attractions and activities.

Have your own strategies for saving money on travel food? Let us know in the comments. There is never enough advice on this subject.


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    Maru Charlebois

    Feb 29, 2016


    Thanks for the informative story Penny. All are great suggestions. My favorite budget friendly eating tip is 'Happy Hour'. Many eateries include deals on food prices along with drink specials. Often these are appetizers or small plates, my favorite to mix and match while sharing with companions. I like the earlier hour for an evening meal and 'Happy Hour' is perfect for my appetite and wallet. --MaryGo

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      Mary Charlebois

      Feb 29, 2016


      Oops, typo on my own name

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    Karen Padilla

    Feb 26, 2016


    Yes, it is a timely article as I start planning our next road trip. One thing I learned while on our 32-day road trip was that the meals we had for lunch too huge for 1 person. While I was attending several 3-5 day workshops, we did not eat together. I would bring my leftovers back each afternoon and he ate them the next day. We soon learned on travel days to order one meal and split it for lunch and supper. That way we weren't tempted to overeat or overspend.

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    Dawn Engler

    Feb 12, 2016


    Perfectly timed article. I'll use these suggestions for my 17 days in Anchorage next month.

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      Feb 12, 2016


      Hope you have a wonderful time in Anchorage.

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