I wrote a post Eat like a foodie when you travel; and since I love to eat, I thought I’d expand on that post with some tips to save money while you do it. If you’re anything like me, the last thing you want to do when you travel is to miss out on the food experience. It can get costly to eat in restaurants, especially when the currency in your destination city is higher than your dollar at home. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy delicious meals when you’re away.
I found some ways to make the most of my money and still eat well. Now I don’t normally get to eat in places with beautiful views like in the picture above, but the food is just as good or sometimes better.
If you’ve read any of my other posts, you know my top travel tip is to plan ahead. When I visit a place, I find out what the local specialties are and research the best restaurants to fit my budget.
If you want to indulge in a specific dish, check out some restaurants’ websites, or contact them to ask about the daily specials. Sign up for alerts to receive restaurant promotions.
By planning in advance, it’s easier to stick to your budget. For example, if you know you want to visit an expensive restaurant one night, plan to eat cheaply on other days.
Your place to stay
If you can, find a place to stay that has a working kitchen. You can buy ingredients to cook some of your meals and have snacks and drinks on hand. If you can’t, try somewhere that offers free breakfast. Find out if they provide fresh fruit, water, or energy bars that you can take with you while you’re out.
Also check with concierge, your host, or the person that operates the place you’re staying in if there are deals for nearby restaurants. If not, ask where they recommend as affordable options.
Take food with you
Buying snacks and drinks can add up fast while you’re out. Instead, go to a local store and pick up some snacks that you can carry with you like protein or energy bars, or dried fruit. These won’t go bad so you can stock up. If you do have a kitchen, make sandwiches or salads with protein that you can eat while you’re sightseeing, on the beach, or for a picnic in a park.
Bring and fill up a reusable water bottle. It will save you lots of money. For coffee or tea, fill up a thermos where you’re staying before you head out.
If you’re driving to, and around your destination, pack a cooler and a portable grill.
Not all days are created equally
A lot of restaurants have daily food and drink specials. Check to see what days you can save money on the food you want to eat. Most days you can find a deal, especially on less busy days like Mondays or during down times.
Some cities also have designated times where they offer tasting menus at good prices at participating restaurants. For example, New York has a lot of food fairs throughout the year, and Toronto has “Winterlicious” (January 27-February 9) and “Summerlicious.” Some high-end to mid-range restaurants across the city offer large discounts on meals. Check your destination place to see if they offer anything during the time you’ll be there.
Eat and drink wisely
High-carb, sugary, and low-calorie meals will leave you feeling hungry in no time. Choose meals that are balanced and filling with a combination of protein, carbs and fruits, and vegetables. It will keep you full longer.
When dining out, split appetizers or meals if you’re traveling with others so you can try a variety of different foods for less. Or, instead of an entrée order several different appetizers.
If you have leftovers, take them with you to eat later!
Many people will advise you to skip alcohol to save money on your meal, but not everyone wants to do that. Part of the experience can be trying a region’s drink specialty. Ask if there are any drink specials or which places will allow you to bring your own. Corkage fees usually apply if you do, but it’s far cheaper to buy your own in a store than at a restaurant.
Important: Check for any hidden costs while dining. Restaurants can charge you for splitting a meal, extra toppings, substitutions, and refills. Some charge for sitting in the dining area instead of the bar if they have one.
Eat where residents eat
Restaurants and bars in touristy spots are usually more expensive than other places. Find out where people from the area eat. Not only will the food cost less, but it might also be more authentic tasting. Some places modify ingredients to appeal to a range of visitors’ tastes.
If you’re heading to a destination that has a college or university, look to eat somewhere around it. They will have more deals since students frequent these places.
Deals and discounts are your friends
Check online for deals and coupons for restaurants, grocery stores, and bars through sites like Groupon and LivingSocial. When you arrive at your destination, you can find coupons and promotions at the airport, bus or train stations, the place you’re staying in, or other locations that cater to visitors.
Before you purchase anything from these sites, check if there are certain days or times blocked, and expiration dates or other conditions.
Many membership cards can save you money, and most credit cards offer advantages and discounts at specific places if you pay with your card. Also, find out if you’re eligible for any discounts, for example, if you’re a student or senior.
Join a rewards program to earn points while you eat. It’s a great way to get free or discounted meals. Research what programs work where you’re heading. Sites like OpenTable give points for booking through them that you can use towards future meals.
If you want to indulge and not have to think about money while you’re away, all-inclusive resorts are a good option. You know the majority of your expenses up front. The food might not give you quite the experience that dining in the area would, but it still works! You can always budget one night to eat off-resort.
Remember: Make sure the resort doesn’t charge extra for some items.
Eating for less comes down to budgeting wisely, searching for deals and your best options, and planning in advance.
What’s your best cost-saving tip for dining out?