Save Money on Food and Drink While Traveling

Budget travel expert Matt Kepnes tells you how to see the world on $50 a day, meals included


At last, a real budget-conscious guide about how to save money while traveling, written in concise, friendly prose. Author Matt Kepnes, or Nomadic Matt, definitely penned How to Travel the World on $50 a Day: Travel Cheaper, Longer, Smarter, for the frugal rover. In fact, he’s one himself.

Leaving his MBA and desk job, he discovered globetrotting and decided to make it into his living. This is a man who has been there and really wants to make it easy for you to get there, too. Travel guides glut the market, but this one soars into the sky while keeping you grounded with useful tips. It never feels too jam-packed and is always relevant.

You might think of the book as a traveling coach of sorts who offers everything from how to acquire the right type of around-the-world ticket to simple advice about the purchase of backpacks.

"I created this book as a way to help people travel better," offered Kepnes. "I wanted them to understand that travel doesn’t need to be expensive and that you don't have to be afraid to take the leap and see the world."

His advice on food and drink, a major quotidian expense on the road, is simple but necessary.

Nomadic Matt’s book is a paramount read for long-term travelers who want to get organized and inspired while doing it. "Action is character," said Aristotle, and Kepnes is clearly acting on his traveling whims and evolving them into laudable passion.

Take a look at this excerpt from chapter 12, "Saving Money on Food and Beverages":

After accommodations, food is going to be your next largest expense. After all, people need to eat. You can eat cheap canned beans throughout the world if you really want, but if you’re looking to actually enjoy the local cuisine, try these methods instead:

Cook Your Meals
A week’s worth of groceries is cheaper than a week’s worth of restaurants. I generally find that when traveling, I spend about $60–50 USD per week on groceries, as opposed to $20-plus per day at restaurants. That’s a reduction of 70 percent in food expenses. Even if you are simply going away for a two-week vacation, consider cooking some of your meals. Food costs add up quick—a snack here and a dinner there and you’ll be wasting a lot of money on food. The majority of hostels, guesthouses, and shared apartments have full kitchens where you can cook your meals. (They provide the pots, pans, and utensils too!) Even if you are staying at a hotel without a kitchen, you can still prepare your own food by making sandwiches. However, I recommend trying to stay in a place with kitchen facilities so you can cook some of your meals and reduce your expenses still further.

While we all love to travel to try new food, you don’t always need to do so by eating at a restaurant. Supermarkets are a good place to learn about the food of a culture. How people eat, what 90 they eat, and what they don’t eat tells much about how they view food, life, and health. In America, our emphasis on big, quick, and easy shows that we aren’t foodies as a culture. Food isn’t as important as speed. We eat a lot of fast food, prepared meals, and on-the-go food.

Going to the supermarket tells us a lot about the place we visit. What kind of food do people like? What are the local delicacies? You see a lot of fish in Scandinavia, lots of different meats in Austria, packed shelves of wine in France, and a wide vegetable and cured meat section in Italy. In Bangkok, you see a lot of prepared meals with rice. In Australia, it’s skewers ready to be thrown on the BBQ. All around the world, the emphasis on food is different.

Lunch Specials
In many parts of the world, especially in Europe, you can dine on dinner menus at lunch special prices.  The “plate of the day” is the best bargain in the world. For example, while I was in Barcelona, I went to eat at the seafood restaurants near the beach. However, dinner was around $50 USD. Yet coming back the next day for the lunch special allowed me to get the same meal for only $20 USD. Another destination that is great for this is Singapore. Singapore is a very expensive place by Asian standards—food here can cost as much as it does in the United States. Yet restaurants here have fixed menus for lunch that cost between $10 USD and $15 USD as opposed to $25 USD for dinner. In England, pubs provide set meals for as low as $10 USD.

Sadly, there is no one website where you can find all the restaurants in the world that offer lunch specials. They vary from city to city and region to region. What you can do other than wander aimlessly around the city in hopes of finding a place (though I have done that) is to ask the tourist office or the staff at your hostel/hotel if they know where to find lunch specials. They are usually very aware of food deals.

Excerpt courtesy of Penguin Books


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