Olympia – Jan/Feb 2018
Seaside – Jan/Feb/March 2018

Save $ on Food While Traveling

airplane tailsAs the new year gets into full swing, some of us may be feeling a little pinched with holiday spending and nothing can jack up your travel budget like eating out. However, there are a number of easy and delicious ways to save money on food while traveling.


Food in airports is expensive and often not very healthy.

Bring plane food. I’m so surprised every time I board a plane at the number of people who either buy their lunch in the airport or on the plane. Really? Who wants to pay $8 for a “Mediterranean snack plate” that consists of three crackers, two small pieces of cheese and a handful of nuts and olives? Save money by taking along your own lunch. I always pack a lunch on my outgoing flight—usually a bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon, some nuts, sliced fruit, chocolate. I keep it all cold in a little cold bag filled with a plastic freezer bag that I fill the night before with water and make ice. Security may take away your water, but I’ve never been hassled for my ice.

Carry snacks. I also carry snacks along the way so I’m not tempted to buy more expensive food. It’s usually easy-to-carry foods like nuts and dried fruit.

Real Food Travelers Crispy Fruit

Dried fruit snacks like these Crispy Fruit are great for traveling.

Shop food markets. Nearly everywhere you travel you can find food markets. Filled with color, great smells, and inexpensive food, they’re some of the most interesting places to visit. Wherever you travel ask where the food markets are located and load up on wallet-friendly foods.

cambodia, street vendor

You’ll find plenty of delicious foods being cooked on the streets of Cambodia. Photo Yvette Cardozo.

Eat on the Street. Like food markets, street vendors often sell tasty and inexpensive snacks and even whole meals from small carts or food trucks. In the Portland, Oregon, where I most recently lived, there are more than 600 food trucks selling everything from chili to fresh bagels to gourmet meal at bargain prices. In Belize, one of my best food memories is eating spicy potato tacos on a bus we purchased from a woman who brought a sack full of them right onto the bus during one of the stops. In Mexico, I recall super-fresh, slightly charred fish on a stick on the beach. In Florence, I won’t forget the hot chestnuts we purchased and snacked on while strolling the sights. In China, bing, thin, crepe-like wraps filled with veggies and sauces, became my favorite (and oh-so-cheap) breakfast.

Of course, depending on where you travel, you’ll need to take precautions. Look for food that looks freshly cooked. Check to see if the vendor has sanitary conditions to wash dishes and utensils. If the water is questionable, avoid foods that may contain ice or fresh veggies or fruits that have been washed in the local water.

Country Inn Bloomington

Often chain hotels offer free breakfast with the cost of a room.

Cook In. If you look for it, you can often find hotel rooms with kitchenettes or rent a small apartment where you can cook some of your own meals. While you won’t want to cook every meal, being able to cook breakfast or fix a sandwich to take along goes a long way to save money.

Breakfast Included. Some accommodations include breakfast as part of the lodging tariff and that can save you money. Load up and enjoy a big breakfast.

Pack a picnic. Lunch is an easy meal to make a picnic out of. In Italy, at one of the many delis we bought Italian meats, cheeses, and crusty bread for a picnic on the train. The food was cheaper and much tastier than what they were serving on the rails.

Russia Market 5 400x265 - Save $ on Food While Traveling

Fresh produce is readily available in outdoor markets all over the world.

Make lunch dinner. In some places, lunch can be one-half to one-third the price of the same food served at dinner. The portions may be a bit smaller (or not), but lunch-for-dinner is still a bargain.

Split a meal. Maybe you don’t need a full meal all to yourself. What about splitting an entrée with your companion or ordering appetizers as a meal?


Alcohol can add up on your meal ticket.

Go for happy hour. In some parts of the world, like Spain, bar food is excellent and putting together a few small places can make an excellent and inexpensive meal. And happy hour can make it even more budget-friendly.

Get off the beaten path. Areas where tourists gather are hot beds for high food prices. I remember in Venice that menus in the touristy thoroughfares boasted prices that were at least 25% higher than the little cafes just a few streets away.

Forego the booze. An occasional cocktail or glass of wine is great, but if you go hog-wild and have cocktails and a bottle of two of wine with your meal, the cost for alcohol often exceeds the food bill. Limit the amount of alcohol you order or forego the booze altogether to save money. Or look for restaurants where you can bring in your own wine for a small corkage fee.

water bottles

Stay hydrated when you fly by carrying your own water bottles.

Carry your own water bottle. Paying $1-5 for a bottle of water is ridiculous, but, hey, when you’re thirsty you’re willing to fork over big bucks for bottled water. Not only are plastic water bottles bad for the planet, they’re expensive. Carry your own water bottle and fill it wherever there’s fresh, clean water. In Siena, I recall filling my water bottle from a spring that was piped out of an ancient rock wall. Who knows how old this spring was? Perhaps an ancient Roman quenched her thirst at this spring a thousand years before. All I know is the water tasted delicious and it was free. — Bobbie Hasselbring, Editor


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Bobbie Hasselbring

RFT founder and the website's former editor-in-chief, Bobbie Hasselbring has been a travel junkie her entire life. She's been an award-winning writer and editor for more than 25 years and author of the regional food-travel bestsellers, The Chocolate Lover’s Guide to the Pacific Northwest and The Chocolate Lover’s Guide Cookbook.