Food for the Frugal
Episode #4 of the course A practical guide for budget travel by Damon Dominique, Joanna Franco, and Alyssa Perrott
Now that you’ve sorted out transport and accommodation, today, we’re going to narrow in on one of life’s greatest joys: food.
Even as a traveler on a tight budget, there’s good reason to feel optimistic about the culinary prospects of your trip. Sure, you won’t be embarking on a tour of Michelin-star restaurants, but there are plenty of options that sit between fine dining and alphabet soup. Let’s get to it!
Street Food and Local Markets
Restaurants can demand hefty prices for “authentic cuisine,” but don’t fall for this marketing. Authenticity can be found everywhere, starting on the street.
Street food is a great option for budget travel: You can sample a range of different foods in small quantities, discover delicacies you’ve never tried before, witness the ways in which locals greet and haggle and interact with each other—it’s a culture in and of itself.
Some of our favorite food markets include Budapest’s Central Market Hall (the interior architecture is as delicious as its Lángos and goulash), Amsterdam’s Foodhallen, and of course, Barcelona’s famous La Boqueria. Oh, and every outdoor Christmas market ever—deck the halls with hot wine and Nutella crepes!
Consider supermarkets as opportunities for serious cultural expedition. Locals frequent these much more often than they frequent that candle-lit restaurant you saw next to that famous monument. Plus, you can have so much fun!
Take Japan, for example. In dense metropolises like Tokyo, you can often come across four convenience stores on the same street. If you’ve never store-hopped to stock up on 100-yen sushi, hot chocolate in a bottle, and candy made of shredded fish, add it to your itinerary, stat!
Sharing Is Caring
Sometimes you just want to go to that restaurant and have that pizza. Take a friend along and split it, or share two meals and opt out of purchasing drinks (we’re back to the famous “compromise.”)
Another option is group picnics. Costs are cut by everyone bringing their share of the loot, you’ll get to discover a beautiful park, river, or courtyard, and you’ll be doing it with interesting company. It’s a major must in cities like Paris, New York, and pretty much any park in Berlin during the spring, summer, and fall (basically, any time you’re not at risk of frostbite). Ask around to discover which parks are popular among the locals, and pack a tote bag full of goodies.
If It’s for Free, It’s for Me (And It’s for You Too)
Make sure to capitalize on freebies. If your accommodation offers free breakfast, get up early enough to make the most of it. The OJ, the coffee, the wholegrain cereals, the pancakes—take it all!
Compromise pays off, and you can choose to cash in the reward for all your cost-cutting hacks in the form of food. You passed on that fancy river cruise in favor of a public ferry? Reward yourself with fresh local seafood at the port. You skipped out on a milkshake at lunchtime? Treat yourself to a cocktail with dinner. A restaurant meal of delicious, mozzarella-covered gnocchi always tastes better when you’ve earned it.
Need inspiration to find the best food around? Search for food porn on Instagram using the city’s location tag with a few smart hashtags.
Staying in a hostel? Ask the people working there for recommendations (you’ll probably get a discount out of it too). If you’re couch-surfing or in an Airbnb, ask your host. Ask the person conducting your free walking tour, ask that person on that park bench eating that delicious-looking taco—ask everyone! And don’t forget to ask the internet: It’s flooded with forums on cheap eats, handy listicles, and coupons galore. Our site alone has over 500 articles giving tips about all things cheap travel.
It’s easy to see today’s world as largely homogenized, but the culinary treasures of each city, as well as the ways in which people purchase and consume them, show how delightfully different we all continue to be. If the eyes are the window to the soul, then in travel speak, food is the window to the destination. And there’s no reason budget travelers should be stuck in the middle seat. Get yourself to the head of the table, and bon appétit!
Join us tomorrow for tips on fun, budget-friendly activities you can fill your day with (you know, when you’re not busy eating).
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