Apr 8, 2011

How to eat cheaply on holidays

Eating can really make or break your strict travel budget you have imposed on yourself whilst travelling. On one end of the scale there is the dirt poor backpacker who refuses to eat out and exists on baked beans cooked in the hostel’s kitchen. On the other end of the scale is the traveller with too much money and too little sense who finds the nearest tourist hotspot and is happy to pay 5 times the price for average food. I try and avoid being on either end of this scale when I travel – both result in miserable experiences that don’t let you truly appreciate the country’s food. Here are some ideas for eating cheaply while away without sacrificing enjoyment! (and don’t be afraid to splurge now and then on an amazing dinner, you only live once)

Image source

♥ Markets

Local markets are the best place to go for food that is fresh and cheap. It is also a true cultural sightseeing experience, seeing the locals bustle about in their daily life, the smells, the shouting, the unexplained mystery food items. You could spend a whole day here! Need a quick and wallet friendly lunch? Instead of spending 20 euro at the touristy restaurant in the piazza, buy a fresh baguette, cheese and salami, along with some fresh fruit.

An aparthotel with a kitchenette

♥ Your own kitchen(ette)

Getting accommodation with a kitchen/kitchenette means you can prepare your own food for a fraction of the cost of eating out 3 times a day. I strongly advise against cooking ALL your own meals at your accommodation as you miss out on the great experience of eating the local food with the locals. But it’s great to have a kitchen stocked with milk, bread and cereal for a cheap and quick breakfast or to be able to whip up a simple pasta dish at night if you are too exhausted/lazy to go out and eat. As mentioned in a previous post the best kind of accommodation to book where you can cook for yourself includes aparthotels, hostels and someone else’s apartment.


A great local yakitori restaurant we stumbled upon in Osaka. The staff barely spoke English and there was no English menu but through gesturing we ordered a cheap and authentic tasty meal

♥ Eat where the locals eat

Nothing beats getting food advice from a local but if you aren’t fortunate to know anyone (or are too shy to ask!) then it’s worth looking around for a local style restaurant – not only cheaper but more authentic! A general rule is to avoid eating in the piazzas and near tourist sites. Stumble down little alley ways – if there is no English menu that is often a good sign.

Langham Place food court, cheap and tasty and right next to our hotel in Hong Kong! Image source

♥ Eat in an Asian food court

Food court food in Australia is generally pretty drab fare and consists of McDonalds or KFC along with questionable international cuisines. It is a completely different story in Asia, especially in Japan and Hong Kong. The huge shopping malls generally all house great eating on their top levels. The food is delicious, affordable and all the locals eat there. I must have had dinner in food courts in Japan and Hong Kong at least 10 times whilst I was there and was never disappointed. Similarly in Singapore and Malaysia they have “hawker centres” which also are filled to the brim with delicious, cheap and authentic food that the locals love. Please be aware that more often than not there are no English menus, but it’s aways fun to order through pointing and mime :)


Image source

♥ Japanese convenience stores and train stations

I would never dream of eating food from a convenience store back home but the food in Japanese convenience stores is AMAZING. Fresh, tasty, cheap and easy if you’re on the go. Similarly in train stations (particularly the larger Shinkansen stations) you can get delicious bento boxes to take with you on the train. They are cheap and fresh and a great lunch idea.

Do you have any more tips on eating cheaply while away?

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