When many of us travel, we seek out well known or popular places to eat. I am guilty of this some of the time as well. But if you are in an expensive place, or trying to economize, and eat a little healthier, you do have options.
First, take advantage of the freebies in the hotel. Often breakfast, or at least, a continental breakfast is offered. And in foreign countries, the breakfast is substantial. In the evening, the hotel happy hours often provide cold and hot appetizers, as well as free or inexpensive beverages. If I get upgraded to the club floor, the food often serves as a meal replacement, particularly when the weather is bad outside, or your time is short.
Two things I always carry, make that three. One is a refillable bottle for water, an energy bar or two, and some of my own home made trail mix. While not a meal replacement, it can bridge the gap between meal times whenever necessary, such as plane delays, bad weather, or waiting for a train or bus.
Your next best friend is a local farmer’s market, food trucks, or food court. While these are best found on the west coast, I have found healthy and decent food at food stalls in Russia, South America, and Japan. Any of these tend to be less expensive than “dine in” places.
I tend to gravitate to happy hours when I am on the road. It has two things I like: cheap drinks, and free or cheap food. It also provides another way to meet locals, and get the lay of the land quickly and inexpensively.
But, like you, there are times when I like to sit down at a favorite or well known restaurant. One easy way to economize is to find the “early bird” specials. Or, if that is not an option, I tend to go for a salad, and have a substantial appetizer or side as my main dish. During my travel working days, I would often have two appetizers rather than a big, expensive entrée. Not only do I save some green, I tend to eat less, and feel better after.
If you know me, you know that I do not always dine cheaply, but I do pride myself on dining smartly. While there are no set rules that I follow, I still want to enjoy the culture of the country, while staying relatively healthy, and somewhat economical.
Another go to meal on the road: sushi or noodles. Both are relatively cheap, fast, and ubiquitous. Sushi can be purchased at food stalls, convenience stores, and most grocery stores. Ramen and pho are available anywhere Asian food is available.
This is where street food makes its rather convenient and uber-interesting appearance. It matters not where you are. Just pick the longest line, and you will find the freshest food. I always talk to the other people in line as well. They will tell me what to order, and why it tastes so good. And I may learn a few others things as well!
I was in San Diego for an overnight. My only full meal was a late breakfast on the second day. On the evening of the first day, I went to the happy hour at Oceanaire in the Gaslamp District of San Diego. I had their oysters, grilled shrimp, and two glasses of Champagne. While not inexpensive, I just had a small snack at the ballpark later that evening.
I also discovered that two meals are perfect for most days on the road. I start with a decent breakfast, usually around 8 or 9am. A couple light snacks during the day usually hold me until dinner, usually early as well. Three meals are just too much, unless I walk or use a bicycle sharing service.
Certainly, most of you have secrets to keeping meal costs under control on trips. Many of you do not eat breakfast. Some, like me, have a light lunch. Others must have three meals a day, no matter what. Some of you get carried away with economizing. And others still, want to find every gourmet corner in the world. I assume there are no right answers.