You can still enjoy the local food without breaking the bank.
John “Johnny Jet” DiScala, travel expert and founder ofJohnnyJet.com, says if you are fortunate enough to visit cities during their restaurant week, you can eat at some of their best restaurants for cheap. You can also look in the local paper or search for coupons for local restaurants. If your travel dates are flexible, research when these weeks may occur. You may want to visit Maine, for example, during their Lobster Festival, or Austin during their Food and Wine Festival, in order to try the best of their restaurant offerings for a sweet deal. You can also try sites like Groupon, Living Social, ScoutMob, Yelp, etc. Just read the fine print carefully and don’t wait to the last week to use your coupon
If there’s a high-end restaurant you really want to try, DiScala recommends you try it for lunch rather than dinner. Chances are you’ll enjoy the same excellent service and revered food at lunch, but you’ll save cash. Another idea is to enjoy just an appetizer or drink so you have the dining experience without the full expense. Take some time before you visit to check out the social media presence of these restaurants you are considering, as you may find coupons, lunch specials, early bird deals, happy hours, and more.
Instead of dining out, try a cooking class and learn about the local cuisine. You’ll have a fun cultural experience and a new recipe to take home with you! “You can save on cooking classes by using credit card rewards points to pay for your travel activities," says Samantha Brown known for hosting 170 hours (and counting) of travel programming for The Travel Channel on series like Passport to Europe, Asia, and Great Weekends. "The Bank of America Travel Rewards Card, for example, gives you the flexibility to use points on cooking classes and more.”
That complimentary hotel breakfast will go a long way toward keeping you filled up throughout the day. You might even consider skipping lunch and splurging on a good dinner as your only paid meal of the day, says Cynthia J. Drake, whose book Budget Travel Genius is coming out later this year and includes many tips for budget dining and traveling.
Unless you are enjoying that free hotel breakfast, avoid eating in the hotel. “Hotel dining can be extra costly, plus eating at small mom and pops can give you more of a flavor (no pun intended) in the place you have traveled,” says Stefanie Michaels of AdventureGirl.com. “I also find some of my best recommendations by talking to locals versus hotel staff, who often get kickbacks by sending guests to certain restaurants,” Michaels adds.
Katie Goldstein suggests wandering a fair distance from main tourist attractions. “Tourist traps with overpriced, mediocre food are typically what you'll find right near top attractions. Even wandering a couple blocks or down an alley from main destinations will usually uncover authentic and less expensive restaurants where you can then order better food and more of it!” says Goldstein. So many iconic treats are inexpensive: pizza or bagels in New York, coffee in Seattle, croissants in Paris, gelato in Italy. Exploring and finding the corners where these exist is the best way to indulge, and burn some of those indulgence calories in the process.
Street food vendors often sell the best food for a fraction of the price. "Obviously, the best and cheapest route to a bang-up meal on a budget is street food, but you might not be willing to dive into that world depending on where you are and how iron your stomach is,” says Kevin Raub, a travel journalist and Lonely Planet author. Raub usually “just goes for it” with a few caveats: “Is there a line? A long line means the street stall is not only good, but the food turnover is quick, so it hasn't likely been sitting around for hours collecting bacteria. If oil is involved, is it light, clear and clean looking? Or dark and dingy, like it's been there for weeks? Things like that you can do to reduce your chances of getting sick,” says Raub.
Another unique foodie experience that won’t break the budget for travelers is to dine with local cooks through sites like PlateCulture, Feastly, Cookening, and EatWith , says Brown. These sites let you browse and book authentic food experiences from brunch in New York City to chicken vindaloo in a real Malaysian kitchen. Hosts are fully vetted but be sure to check visitor reviews to pick the right experience for you!
Kevin Raub advises paying attention to where the working class eats; that means taxi drivers, construction workers, etc. They usually know where to find hearty meals for little cost; the menu del día in Spanish countries, for example. “In Brazil, you can save two ways: By going to pay-by-weight buffets (be careful, it does add up if your eyes get the best of your stomach!) and by ordering a dish designed for two people and splitting it with three (it's almost always enough for three). In India, consider dhabas, more or less a roadside truck stall, which is undoubtedly the dirtiest place you have ever dared eat, with goats running through the kitchen and monkeys stealing naan! But, the turnover is high and the food is always fresh. Some of the best, home-cooked meals I have ever had in India were at dhabas They cost pennies and I have never been sick from one!” says Raub.
So many cities have really great food markets where you can get a full meal of varying local delights for a song, says travel writer Kristin Luna. “Be extra-cautious — taking two Pepto Bismol tablets a half an hour before every meal while traveling is a favorite health tip I've adopted from a traveling physician.” Markets are always a great option, Raub agrees. Almost every country has big sprawling markets where folks go for everyday items. “Like street food, turnover is high, it's always a bargain, and normally there are some serious Betty Crocker-type old school grandmothers in the kitchen, which means the food is usually damn good!" says Raub.