After lodging and airfare—and sometimes even ahead of it—food is one of the biggest expenses for travelers. Eating out two or three times a day, every day, for an extended period can be cost-prohibitive for the average would-be traveler, especially when the budget has to stretch to feed multiple people. Fortunately, there are ways to find cheap eats no matter where you’re headed—even in some of the world’s biggest, most expensive cities.
And no, I’m not talking about cooking all or even some of your own meals, but rather budget-saving tips that will allow you to experience the local cuisine to the fullest. The nine tips below will help you discover cheap places to eat on your next vacation.
Use Discount Apps to Find Cheap Eats
A few weeks or even months before you embark on a trip, add your destination to all of your flash-sale and e-commerce apps, like Groupon and Living Social. Whenever you see a good dining deal, purchase it and save it to use during your trip. Many sites allow you to view these vouchers offline or even print them ahead of time, so even if you’re somewhere without Wi-Fi or a cell signal, you can still use them. These sites regularly offer deals that can save you anywhere from 10 to 50 percent or even more.
Choose the Right Hotel
I’m not suggesting you dine in your hotel’s in-house restaurant—those are usually expensive and subpar. What I do suggest is booking a hotel that offers complimentary breakfast and/or dining credits or coupons for local restaurants. Many hotels, hostels, and even vacation rentals include either a continental or hot breakfast in their nightly rates without charging more than other similar lodging options. And of course, bed and breakfasts, which are an affordable option in many places, always include breakfast.
Some hotels also partner with local restaurants to offer dining credits as part of package lodging deals. Don’t pass these up if they’re available.
Bonus tip: If the included breakfast is buffet-style, grab a few pieces of fruit or an extra yogurt for snacking on later in the day, and fill up your travel mug or water bottle before heading out.
Look for Local Bakeries
Once you arrive and get settled in, take a walk around the neighborhood and take note of any bakeries that look inviting. Local bakeries usually offer a variety of breads, pastries, sandwiches, wraps, tea, and coffee at affordable prices. A hot coffee and a croissant or small sandwich can go a long way in fueling you up for a day of exploring—whether for breakfast or lunch—and usually won’t cost you much. Plus, if you visit the same place a few days in a row throughout your visit, you’ll notice the same local regulars—and maybe even start to feel like one yourself.
Explore Residential Areas
For good, cheap eats, ditch the pricey downtown restaurants and head to the outskirts of your destination city. Here, in more residential neighborhoods, you’ll often find excellent restaurants and bars that charge a fraction of what you’ll pay near the big tourist attractions. This may require you to walk an extra mile or spend a few bucks on public transportation, but the savings are usually well worth it. Chances are, you’ll also enjoy a much better meal than what’s typically peddled to famished tourists in the more bustling areas.
Ask the Locals
There’s no better way to find cheap eats in your destination than to ask someone who lives there. If you’re too shy to strike up a conversation with someone on the subway or at a bar, you can ask a tour guide or hotel worker. Just be sure to tell them that you don’t want to go where they usually send tourists, since they often give stock answers or suggest places their hotel or tour company is affiliated with. Instead, ask where they eat when they go out. Let them know you’re looking for cheap eats and you want to see where the locals like to dine.
Don’t Be Afraid of Street Food
Every traveler has heard horror stories about food poisoning and the dreaded traveler’s tummy, but the vast majority of street vendors feed hundreds of people every day without a problem. Street food is notoriously cheap and offers some of the most authentic food you’ll find in just about every locale.
To protect yourself, queue up at the busiest cart, since locals won’t wait in line for food that doesn’t have a great reputation and a busy vendor’s food isn’t likely to sit around long enough to go bad. Pack some tummy meds just in case—but chances are, you won’t need them at all, and you may even score an amazing meal for just a couple of bucks.
Visit Farmers’ Markets
In some destinations you’ll have to take to the streets to locate a good farmers’ market, while in others there are markets so famous you’ll come across them when you’re researching sights to visit on your trip. From breads and cheeses to locally grown produce and prepared foods, farmers’ markets offer any number of choices to fill your belly without breaking the bank. Grab your purchases and find a local park or town square to enjoy them in while you people watch.
Stop at a Grocery Store
You probably don’t like the idea of cooking on vacation, but grocery stores are an affordable place to pick up things like coffee, soups, sandwiches, pastries, and other grab-and-go options for a quick, cheap vacation meal. Of course, you’ll also get a peek at how the locals do their shopping, and you’ll likely find a few authentic treats and regional specialties to try out for yourself that you might not otherwise have stumbled across.
Try New Things
Lastly, always be willing to try something new. You don’t have to relegate yourself to eating at the local Mickey D’s outpost every day in order to save money. Armed with an open mind and an adventurous palate, you’ll be able to find plenty of cheap places to eat when you’re traveling, no matter your destination. Just be willing to eat like the locals wherever in the world you end up.
More from SmarterTravel:
- 8 Airplane Food Options You’ll Actually Want to Eat
- 12 Delicious Destinations for Foodies
- 10 Secrets of Ultra-Cheap Travel
Shayne Rodriguez Thompson is the founder of FitMamiLife.com and a freelance writer with expertise in all things travel, food, and parenting.