Travel Planning

How to eat cheaply on the road

While there are some parts of a trip that are going to be expensive no matter what you do, there are plenty of ways to help cut costs. These tips for reducing your food spend can apply whether you are backpacking around the world for a year or going on a weekend road trip.

  • Buy snacks at supermarkets to carry around. It is often much cheaper to buy a 6 pack of museli bars and have them in your backpack than to stop and buy individual snacks from convenience stores as you feel the need. Depending on your plans for the day a muesli bar can also be an inexpensive breakfast option to tide you over to lunchtime.
  • Get a cooler bag/eski to carry food with you if you are driving from place to place. Most hotel rooms have ice machines and this way you can buy sandwiches or cheese and crackers and have them with you. It also helps to keep your drinks cold. This is particularly handy if you are going somewhere more regional where food can be more expensive, allowing you to stock up where groceries are cheaper.
  • Take advantage of free breakfasts or complimentary snacks. On our USA road trip at least half of our hotels had a breakfast on offer, so we would make sure to fill up in the morning and that way we wouldn’t need as big of a lunch. Most hotels had at least a fruit bowl on offer throughout the day, others put on cheese and wine tasting.
  • Make a rule to have a sit down restaurant meal only once per day – it is much cheaper (and quicker) to duck into a cafe and grab a sandwich, or buy fresh produce from a local market and go to a park with a nice view. Sit down meals can start to add up when you include appetisers, drinks, sides and a tip.
  • Use hotel or travel discounts for nearby restaurants. Quite often hotels will have brochures for nearby attractions which can include some great food discounts. Sometimes if there is an on-site cafe you can get discounts by showing your room key.
  • Take note of daily specials. Places will often have discounts for Cheap Tuesdays or midday dining specials which are easier to take advantage of when you are travelling throughout the week. On a similar note it pays to know if it is a public holiday or special event as they typically attract a surcharge.
  • Find places to eat that are not in the main tourist centres to avoid overpriced food. Often if you go a few blocks away from the big attractions or travel to a less popular part of town you can get better deal (and usually better food!). Alternatively look for grocery stores that sell ready made sandwiches are usually cheaper than a fancy cafe take away fridge.
  • Book rooms with kitchenettes where possible, so you’re able to cook your own meals. We did this on our first night in Amsterdam, and the adventure of trying to buy groceries in a foreign language was half the fun.

What are your top tips for saving money on food while traveling?

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