Economic Eating On the Road.

First of all, I’m not going to explain where the cheapest places to get vegetables can be found, or how to get the best deals in the supermarket. I’m sure there’s a website for hacking supermarkets but I think this example will highlight how relatively easy it is to eat cheaply when you’re surrounded by expensive options.

Take this typical shopping example in Dublin, the most expensive city in Ireland and one of the most expensive in Europe.

Supermarket receipt

Healthy food shopping receipt

This particular day I needed some basic items to prepare meals for the following days. I didn’t have time to visit the cheapest supermarket so I visited a smaller, corner-store style version of a large supermarket chain. It wouldn’t be the cheapest but it wouldn’t be the most expensive either.
I filled two bags with vegetables, tuna, beans, and some granola. The cashier told me it was the healthiest shopping he’d seen all day. The total came in at under €24.

That’s the price of a couple of pizzas and a large bottle of Coke.
It doesn’t take any genius to realize that the food I’d bought would last me several days and provide me with nutritious meals. How I prepared them would determine how nice to eat they were but that’s another discussion. Here are some tips for eating well but economically while travelling.

Food-related Money Saving Tips

1.   Don’t buy anything in a packet if you can help it.

2.  Don’t buy from the frozen foods section, unless it’s frozen vegetables and there’s no other option

3.  Buy spices, seasonings and healthy oils to give your food some flavour and to create healthy sauces for curries, salad dressings, etc

4.  Try to eat more veg and less things that will stuff you and make you feel lethargic. Breads and noodles are prime examples of foods that don’t have much nutritional value but are considered staples on the road because of their ability to ‘fill you up’. In the long run this won’t do you much good and so they should be used sparingly.

5.  Some meats are expensive or difficult to get in certain countries (Tuna in tins, red meat, pork, etc) so try to eat what the locals eat, and if possible eat organic.

6.  Try, a new startup that offers authentic meals by locals that cater for most budgets. The benefit is that you get to meet people and share experiences. This is ideal for solo travellers

7.  Renting a place like Airbnb can be more expensive but you will then have cooking facilities which can save you a lot of money over a longer term stay.

8.  Use Groupon and other coupon sites to buy discount meals at restaurants and cafes.

9.  Foursquare can be good for specials and first-time check in deals

10.  Expatistan’s cost of living calculator can highlight some basic item prices in your target country so you will have some idea of what to expect when you hit the supermarket. You can also then compare to restaurants and see if it’s possible to eat out more . Try the Nomad List for similar cost of living comparisons.

Cook Your Own Food Restaurant

If you don't fancy preparing food but don't mind getting your hands a little dirty then you could take things a step further and try a restaurant that allows you to cook your own food. Find one that allows you to bring your own wine and you've saved a lot of money and you don't have to wash the dishes. Don't think that you can bring your own food though. These places are not hostel canteens. Many of these restaurants are Asian where it's more customary to receive raw meats to cook to personal choice.
Check Yelp and Tripadvisor for recommendations.

How to save money on food while traveling

I'd recommend eating as much local food as possible if your budget can take it. Nevertheless, if you are travelling through Tokyo, San Francisco, London and Paris you may need to cut back a bit, but part of the travel experience is tasting and smelling new food, ordering in another language, and experiencing new sensations. The ritual of ordering, the expectation of the food being prepared, and the experience of eating like the locals cannot be something you omit if you desire a real travel experience.

Bon Appétit


Blogger, lifelong learner, entrepreneur & musician from Ireland. I've been travelling and living overseas for over 20 years. My mission is to build businesses that allow me to have a simple and independent lifestyle. In the process, I hope to help myself and others with my writing.