Food,  Travel

How to Eat Cheap While Traveling

Being a Foodie on a Budget:

One of my favorite parts about traveling is exploring the food scene. Whether that means trying out fun restaurants, breweries, or cafes I love it all! If you’ve taken a vacation before then you know that all of your food purchases really add up. Trips are expensive enough without paying for 3 meals a day. Lucky for you I’ve got the best tips to eat cheap while traveling on your next vacation!

Inexpensive Food Options:

1. Go Grocery Shopping:

Okay, I know this isn’t the magical trick you were hoping for but it really cuts costs and it isn’t as boring as it sounds. Most places will have a grocery store locals swear by that you can’t find anywhere else, in Florida it’s Publix. Every place will have different regional foods to try too. Fun chip flavors, pastries, candies, bottled drinks… Do a little food haul to try food like you live there!

You can also do research to find local recipes and make a traditional meal at your home base if there is a kitchen! Don’t forget to pack some of the snacks you buy for your days out exploring. Trying to find a place to eat while you or a companion is hangry is the worst (and you don’t want anyone feeling faint)!

Cheap food haul in Italy
Snack food haul from a 99 cent store in Florence, Italy.

2. Find Cheap Restaurants:

My favorite way to find cheap restaurants is to search on Yelp and Google. Just type in what you are craving, like pizza or sushi, and filter for one “$” to get the inexpensive options. On Google maps you can just turn on your location and be as specific as “cheap chinese food” or as vague as “cheap food” and it will give you options in your area.

I love Yelp for finding more local spots and seeing people’s photos, reviews, and menu pics. I never go to places if they don’t have reviews (or if they have bad ones). You’d be surprised how many great food spots there are for under $10 a plate! 

In addition to my individual searches I always cross reference to make sure I have accurate hours and locations for restaurants and coffee shops. I’ve found discrepancies in both sites/apps before so I like to double check. When in doubt, call them!

Tofu dish in NYC. Food under $10.
Chang’an Spicy Tofu from Xi’an Famous Foods in NYC.

3. Happy Hour Hunt:

This is one of my favorite ways to eat cheap while traveling. When I go on trips I like to hit actual restaurants for lunch more often than dinner because many places have lunch specials and happy hours earlier in the day. I’ll go out for a real sit-down dinner maybe once a trip for the experience and save the “home” cooking and quick bites for dinner most other nights.

A lot of great restaurants have lunch specials but in general I’ve found that some of the best ones are at sushi places, local breweries (which can have great food and drinks!), and diners. You can usually look on Yelp for happy hour/lunch menus to see what the pricing is like. Lunch specials are usually smaller portioned but cheaper popular dishes and meals around 12-3. For happy hour a lot of locations will have drinks and apps for a great deal around 3-5 (times vary from place to place).

4. Try Street Food:

Repeat after me: Street food isn’t scary.

Seriously. I know the fear of food poisoning has been ingrained in our brain since childhood, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t be careful, but don’t be afraid to branch out. Food trucks have made a comeback! There are food truck events, food stands with quick snacks like roasted nuts and waffles. Especially if you are visiting a big city like NYC where there are vendors on every corner, keep an open mind. Even Orlando and Kissimmee have food truck events and local favorites that you can find on Instagram and Facebook. If you are still nervous but want to try one out, give the vendor a quick google search before you order, a lot of them are pretty official with reviews and everything.

Shaved ice food truck. Cheap food while traveling.
Kona Ice in Kissimmee, FL. Shaved ice and dessert trucks are usually a safe bet if you’re nervous about trying food trucks while traveling!

5. Other Tips:

  • If it’s a birthday trip, check what places have birthday freebies and discounts!
  • Don’t sleep on local fast food, just like local grocery stores, most places have quick service or fast food places that only have locations in that region. You can eat cheap, local, and stay casual for those relaxed vacation days. For example in FL you can go into Publix for a pub sub, go to Tijuana Flats for tacos and cookie dough flautas, or drive through PDQ for a quick meal. Many fast food options are open pretty late too if you need fuel after a late night dancing!
  • Check if restaurants have daily specials. Some places have different deals on certain weekdays, this is great if there is a bucket list place you really want to visit but you don’t want to pay full price. Think Taco Tuesdays or kids eat free on Thursdays.
  • Some places will allow adults to order from the kids menu so if you aren’t super hungry it is a great option. Or if your whole party just wants something smaller get a variety of apps for the table!

So there you have it. My favorite tips to eat cheap while traveling. The key is to plan ahead and have good communication with your travel partners. If you can’t afford to spend a lot on the trip make sure you are all on the same page. Save that money for souvenirs or for your next trip!

Were there any tips or tricks I missed? Let me know your favorite one in the comments!

23 Comments

  • Olivia

    I always go grocery shopping at a local grocery store when I travel! It’s so fun, especially when you’re in a foreign country where you can discover all sorts of snacks and foods you’ve never tried before. Also, your tip for looking out for happy hours is a great one – this saved me quite a bit when I was in Milan.

  • Adriane

    Grocery shopping is absolutely my #1 go to for saving money while travelling, even if it’s only for one meal a day and snacks! Also I’m with you on happy hours 😛

  • Brianna

    Grocery stores are definitely one of the best places to hit up as a foodie on a budget. I’ve also brought a fair amount of souvenirs from grocery stores. Great ideas on how to save money on food while traveling!

    • Sam

      Buying souvenirs at grocery stores is a great tip, the souvenir shops and theme parks charge so much. I live near Disney and the Wal-mart near me has Disney souvenirs for a fraction of the price the parks sell them for!

      • Anwesha

        Great points. I personally like to try local cuisines while travelling and have recently tried my hands on cooking at an Airbnb. It was fun as we didn’t wanted to eat out everyday.

        • Sam

          Having a kitchen is one of the many reasons I love staying in Airbnbs. Making a traditional local dish with your travel crew is fun too!

  • Karen

    I like to stay in places with a kitchen so I can cook some meals. I’m also a fan of local foods and love street food. Some of the best food I’ve had traveling has been the cheapest.

    • Sam

      Same here! Local food is one of my favorite things about visiting a new place, the cheaper it is the more you can try!

  • Emma

    Grocery shopping in a new place, especially a different country, is my favorite thing. I spent ages just walking around looking at all the fun things I can try. My last night in Vietnam I spent a lot in a convenience store on treats to bring back home

  • Michelle

    These are all such great ideas. We love finding accommodations with a kitchen so that we can make some meals on our own. If that isn’t an option, then we try to find a place with free breakfast. 🙂

  • Josy A

    Great post Sam!

    I have to admit, sometimes we do spend a lot on food when we travel, especially when we travel specifically to try some tasty dish (I think living in Japan started me with that as Japanese people LOVE travelling for food.)

    But to make up for those pricey meals, we also love finding the cheap, tasty spots too. Plus I LOVE visiting and seeing what is for sale in local grocery shops. It’s one of my favourite parts of exploring new countries.

    • Sam

      It is nice to splurge on food when you can afford it, there are some amazing restaurants out there! Japan is one of my dream destinations, hoping to go in the next year or two!

    • Sam

      I usually find the best happy hours after I’ve been in a city for a day or two to scope things out. When in doubt, ask a local!

    • Sam

      Yes! We have one in Kissimmee that has like 20 different Spanish food trucks and it’s amazing! A lot of cities will have Food Truck Friday events too!

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