Eating Well on a Travel Budget
When you're traveling it can be difficult to find good food at reasonable prices especially if you happen to be staying in a big city that has an established food and restaurant culture. When you're faced with a budget, you want to try and maximize your enjoyment per buck. If you want to eat well and sample the local cuisine for a budget price, you'll need to do a little research to find that perfect restaurant that offers a balance between quality and price.
First, check with your hotel or hostel and inquire whether breakfast is included in your stay. In Europe many hotels provide breakfast. If you're hotel does provide breakfast, don't skip it in favor for paying for food elsewhere. Some of my most memorable meals were hostel breakfasts that were nothing more that a roll, butter, jam and some coffee with milk. Hotel and hostel breakfasts are also a great way to get to know other guests.
One option for budget eating is to eat at a chain restaurant that you a familiar with, such as McDonald's, Burger King or Kentucky Fried Chicken. You can find a McDonald's about anywhere world-wide. I made my way through Rome using a free McDonald's map that in addition to indicating all the tourist attractions had a mark for every McDonald's in Rome. However, if you want to become familiar with the culture of the country you are visiting, eating at a fast food restaurant is not a good option.
Another option is to buy groceries and make your own food. If you don't have a fridge or hot plate in your hotel room, this option may not be very feasible. Still, you can buy items that don't need to be heated and make a meal out of those. When I was in Florence, a loaf of bread, parma ham and cheese coupled with a Chianti made a very nice picnic that I enjoyed thoroughly. Make sure you try to sample items from the local cuisine.
Eating one or two meals a day from a street vendor or take-out restaurant may also be a good way to still eat great, but save some money. In Paris, I got great ham and cheese sandwiches from a street vendor for lunch. They were delicious, kept me going and didn't break the budget. When I was at a conference in Washington D.C., I discovered a little convenience store that made fresh egg and cheese sandwiches on toast to order. They sold them for only $2.00 and I ate there every morning.
In Rome, I discovered a little take-out pizza shop around the corner from the Pantheon. The restaurant made pizzas on huge rectangular sheet pans and put them in a deli case with a clear glass window. You could order by pointing to the kind you wanted, motioning for how big you wanted your piece (they charge by weight), and asking for it to be heated. Then you happily take your piece of pizza over to the square, sit on the steps and enjoy.
Being friendly with other guests in the hotel, the concierge and the locals, is another great way to discover good food that won't break the budget. Ask a local if they know any good restaurants that aren't too expensive. They should be able to come up with a few good options for you. Make sure you indicate that you want to sample some local cooking. I've even known friends that have gotten themselves invited over to dinner (not that this should be your objective).
Another good way to find inexpensive restaurants is to always be looking for a good place to eat. If you're out visiting a tourist site, stop by a few restaurants and read their menus (usually posted in the window). Even if you are not hungry, you may decide to come back later. I've had better luck with this technique when I'm in an area of the city that is not your standard tourist destination.
Eating in a sit-down full service restaurant is the most expensive dining option, so if you are really on a budget, you may want to limit the number of full service meals you eat. Also, in some countries eating at the counter is less expensive that sitting at a table. By listening to recommendations and doing a little research, you can avoid the expensive restaurants that cater to tourists.
If you're on a budget, you can still eat great during your travels, you just need to be aware of all your food options. Ask around with locals for recommendations. Make sure you know the price before you eat. Most important of all, try new things. Stretch your boundaries and try something that you would never eat at home. After all isn't the reason you travel is to discover something different.
About the Author
Jed Clark is a travel writer, photographer and long-time San Francisco resident. For more travel tips and information about San Francisco destinations, attractions and neighborhoods, visit Zurdo Go - a destination guide to San Francisco.
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