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8 Tips to Save Money on Food While Traveling

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

Because you have to eat, but you don't have to spend all of your money doing it

multiple dishes of food, noodles, and fruit in Myanmar
An incredible lunch in Myanmar

Many people associate the idea of traveling with “expensive.” You must be rich, have extensive savings, and hemorrhage money to have the time of your life and experience new places. Well, I am certainly not rich, and although it is easy to spend a lot of money traveling (especially in certain destinations!), that does not need to be the case. You do not need to stay in hostels with bedbugs in a seedy part of town or eat one meal a day to keep on budget.  I’m here to fill you in on some easy ways to save money on food while traveling that do not feel deprived or cheap!


One of the easiest things you can do to save money while traveling is to save money on FOOD. Now, I totally believe that trying the local fare is usually one of the greatest and most exciting parts of travel. However, the cost of food adds up very quickly- but there are some easy ways to balance it!


1. Book hotel/hostel that includes free breakfast.

This is a simple way to save money on food. But by “free” I mean there is ONE price for the room, not a price “with breakfast” and one price without it.  Typically, if there is a breakfast offered by the hotel, even if they offer you a discount, it will almost always still be a rip-off. You are paying for convenience. Unless you can take some of the food with you for snacks later in the day, you will usually lose money on this.  However, many hostels include breakfast (which is common in many parts of the world), and in this case, it works in your favor. Eat that free breakfast- a lot of it.

free breakfast of eggs, fruit, bread at Airbnb
A delicious, included breakfast at my AirBnb in Panama

2. Grab something at the local 7-11/ market/ grocery store.

On a recent trip to Tokyo, I enjoyed grabbing a simple breakfast of yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, and various fluffy buns, each morning from the local Family Mart. Cost: $2-3, and it was relatively healthy. Win-win. If you are going to be somewhere for a while, and have a place to store it, you may want to buy/bring a jar of peanut butter. PB toast, PB bananas, PB apples, PB&J… the possibilities are endless, delicious, and cheap. This was one of the best things I bought during a trip to India where my host family supplied only a loaf of white bread, artificial butter, and jam for breakfast each morning. After picking up a jar of peanut butter and a bunch of bananas, every day I could enjoy a much larger variety of breakfast options. And in Iceland, I got a large container of skyr and a loaf of rugbraud at the grocery store for less than $10. I thoroughly enjoyed that as breakfast for a week, instead of the “best breakfast deal in town” at my hostel, which was $16/day.

rugbraud in Iceland
Yummy & cheap breakfast from the grocery store in Iceland

3.  Bring it with you.

This can be a good solution for short trips or airports. I always fly with an emergency packet of instant oatmeal, and usually a single-serving container of peanut butter. Instant oatmeal packets take up very little room and only require hot water, which is usually free and easy to obtain. Smoothie packets/protein/meal replacement powders are also handy at times. Or, you can go with bars of some sort (although I am not a huge fan of these, I think they all taste artificial or are very carb/sugar-heavy).


4. Cook.

In addition to grabbing a simple breakfast from the store, cooking a few meals is also an option to cut back on food costs.  This is something I do very rarely- I am not much of a cook, and I typically enjoy dinner out to be social or try the local fare.  However, if your hostel has a kitchen, a night or two of food from the grocery store can be very cheap, and much healthier. On my trip to Iceland, I had very little interest in overpriced restaurant food similar to what I eat at home, and the traditional fare of fermented marine animals wasn’t really up my alley.  So, I cooked simple meals in the hostel most nights for dinner, and actually made a bunch of friends in the kitchen who were doing the same. This allowed me to save money for the expensive things I wanted to do- like ice climbing on glaciers.

dinner made is money saved
Scrambled eggs + veggies, made in the hostel kitchen. I’m not a much of a cook, but this served it’s purpose well.

5. Make lunch your heaviest meal of the day

Dinner is typically the most expensive meal to eat each day, and has the fewest discount/deal options at restaurants.  However, it is usually easy to find great lunch deals! So, by eating a large lunch for a better price, you can save money on a simpler dinner.  For example, when I was in Paris, I discovered that the Latin quarter has endless options for 3 course prix-fixe meals at lunchtime. Great local food at a great price point. My dinners then were usually simple, such as croque monsieurs, wine & cheese, salad, etc. Also, if you travel solo and are intimidated by the idea of eating dinner at a restaurant alone, you’ll find that many more people do that during the daytime, and you’ll fit right in.


6. Snack.

Maybe you’re not up for a real lunch or dinner because you ate a late breakfast at the hostel, or indulged in an all-you-can-eat brunch. Snacking is the perfect way to hold you over till the next meal. Grab fruit at a market, or try some interesting street food. It’s cheap and just the right amount to get you through.

Japanese snacks
Slightly unconventional convenience store snacks in Tokyo

7. Bring your own water bottle.

Bottled water is expensive and creates a lot of waste. The easiest thing to do is to bring your own water bottle and refill it at your hotel/coffee shop/restaurant. If tap water is not drinkable, buy a large container of purified water (like 1-2 gallons) at a store, and refill your bottle each day.  Although a bit dorky, my favorite water bottle for travel is Vapur. Available in multiple sizes, it rolls up when empty and can fit in any purse or back and not take up any room! At home, I’m in love with my Hydroflask bottle, but on the road I find it to be cumbersome, heavy, and takes up lots of room.


8. Watch your alcohol intake.

The cost of booze adds up quickly. Try to make it to happy hour, or buy drinks at the grocery store or corner market and bring it back to your hostel (if it’s allowed). Side note: if you are going to Iceland- buy alcohol at the duty-free store at the airport after you arrive.  You’ll notice all of the Icelanders are doing that themselves. I have never made a purchase in a duty-free store in my entire life before that trip, but the taxes and prices on alcohol at bars is insane ($10 is a cheap beer in Reykjavik), so do yourself a favor.  I purchased some mini-bottles of wine and had one each night on the rooftop deck of my hostel.


Hopefully this gives you a few ideas to save money on food for your next trip!

More expert tips and tricks for travel can be found here. Happy Travels!

-Jen

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