5 Ways to Eat Like Royalty When Budget Traveling

Five ways to eat like royalty when budget traveling. Because “lean traveling” should not mean missing out on delicious food!

A white table with Brazilian feijoada with the words "How to eat like a king while budget traveling"

I must admit that when budget traveling the majority of our money is spent on food. This is a predetermined agreement between my husband and I, as we both value great dining.

In fact, the bulk of our travel planning revolves around the food we will eat. We have walked an hour across Singapore to eat in Little India, taken a ferry to an Indonesia island for lunch, and hiked through the woods in Northern Thailand for a cup of coffee. We love to explore a new place through its food and don’t mind spending a little money on it.

“We love to explore a new place through food and don’t mind spending a little money on it. However, a long vacation abroad can get mighty tight on the wallet if every night is spent eating expensive meals.”

Our budget traveling motto is about finding a balance between frugal and lavish, whether it be accommodations, experiences, or food. Below are five of our favorite ways to eat like a king while budget traveling without breaking the bank, or forsaking amazing meals.

1. Research the local food when budget traveling.

A farmer's market in Thailand, a cheap way to explore food while budget traveling.
A farmer’s market in Northern Thailand.

Before leaving for your vacation, do some research on foods typical to the area and what you would like to try. Finding restaurants outside of the tourist areas usually means a little more research but much cheaper prices, and most likely more authentic.

Going to Chicago and want to try the best deep dish pizza? Search the pizzeria that locals suggest that is not on Michigan Avenue. Want the best lomo saltado in Lima? Try searching travel blogs (like Fork in the Road!) and forum sites like Trip Advisor, where local experts post to help travelers.

Having a list of the foods you’d like to try before budget traveling helps you to plan adventurous meals, making sure you get the best food and experiences at the best price.

2. Prepare your own snacks for the road.

One of the biggest ways to save a little moolah while budget traveling is to be prepared. When taking any domestic trip longer than a few days, we always either pack snacks from home or hit a grocery store on the road. When budget traveling internationally, we tend to stay in rented apartments with kitchens so we are able to cook some meals ourselves.

Here are a few tips and tricks to save a little cash while abroad:

Buy water in bulk and refill your own bottle.

When budget traveling internationally, it’s safest to drink bottled water unless you’d like to end up spending half your trip sick indoors (trust me). Having said that, buying individual bottles of water can be costly and is also not sustainable. Our trick is to buy a large jug of water from the grocery store and refill water bottles daily. Water is essential, but you don’t have to break the bank on it…or contribute to more environmental waste than necessary.

Cook meals at your hotel or apartment.

When budget traveling for more than a few days, we almost always book accommodations with a kitchenette to prepare our own coffee and meals. Breakfasts are usually easiest to do ourselves, as we both eat something small like toast with jam and fruit, but we do occasionally make sandwiches or cook dinners if we have the space and tools. We also pack a moka with us for longer trips and buy espresso from the store for our caffeine fix, as our two-espresso-a-day habits can get expensive.

Try local farmer’s markets for fresh local produce.

An easy way to save money and live like a local is to find nearby farmer’s markets. When budget traveling overseas, this is also a great way to explore the area’s produce and get a glimpse of how people in that country eat. Without a doubt, you will find a fruit or vegetable that you’ve never seen before!

Bring fruit, raw veggies, granola bars, nuts, and other snacks with you.

One of the best ways to avoid paying for overpriced food and stave off hunger while in the airport, on the road, and while sightseeing is to be prepared with snacks for when hunger attacks. Fruit is super easy and portable; my go-to are bananas, as they are peelable and therefore a better choice in locales where food safety is a concern. Nuts, small sandwiches, and granola bars are also great grab-and-go bites to keep your belly content until time for your next meal.

3. Take advantage of free breakfasts, happy hours and local specials.

Happy hour outside the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia, a great choice for budget traveling.
Happy hour at the Sydney Opera House.

Doing a little research before leaving can also help you to find the best deals on lower cost meals throughout your trip. Paying $80/night at a hotel with a kitchenette and free breakfast will far outweigh the savings of a $70/night hotel without. Though we usually choose apartments/condos with kitchens when budget traveling for longer periods of time, when we do book hotels we almost always choose one with free breakfast and save upwards of $20/day.

When budget traveling we keep our eyes peeled for happy hour or dinner specials at local restaurants and bars. It can also be helpful to sign up for your destination’s local email deals (such as Groupon or Amazon Local) prior to leaving to find great savings. We once found a Wagyu (Kobe beef) steakhouse in Australia with half off bottles of wine on Monday nights, and enjoyed a more extravagant meal because of our savings.

4. Share to enjoy more.

One of the best ways to enjoy food at a restaurant without breaking the bank, or overindulging, is to share! When eating out for lunch, we will order an entree and a side to avoid overeating–and overspending.

At dinner, we ask our servers how big the portions are before ordering and usually choose either an appetizer or dessert–not both. There have been too many times that our eyes have been bigger than our stomachs, and our wallets. We’re not perfect and still find ourselves ordering too much at times, but being mindful of portions means we can enjoy more for less money…or order another glass of wine.

5. Know when to splurge.

A snail from the Amazon rainforest on a white plate, a lavish meal that was worth breaking the bank while budget traveling.
An Amazonian snail in Lima, Peru.

Though budget traveling can mean forgoing nightly lavish meals, every foodie traveler should know when to accommodate some extravagances. Who would want to travel to Japan without amazing sushi? Backpack through Tuscany and not enjoy a great bottle of Chianti Classico? Not me, that’s for sure!

When planning our trips, I always make room for a few nice dinners out to enjoy the best that our destination has to offer. Most of the amazing traveling memories I have come revolve around a dinner table: our anniversary dinner in Brisbane, Australia, great wine in Chile, and–yes–Amazonian snails in Peru.

While sticking to a travel budget is important, our motto is to balance budget and lavish dining. Remember that these are the memories that will last well after the trip, not the breakfast you spent eating standing in your hotel kitchen. So go ahead, make that reservation and don’t look back!

Kristina Todini, RDN of Fork in the Road cutting vegetables in an outdoor kitchen.

Author: Kristina Todini, RDN

I'm a registered dietitian who believes that food should be good for you AND good for the planet. Join me in taking the "fork in the road" to eat green and live sustainably.

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    • Me too! One of my favorite things to do when traveling abroad is to visit markets and grocery stores. I always find new and interesting foods. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Looks like we eat the same way on our travels. I like to save where I can and then splurge on some meals. Eating great food is part of the fun of traveling!

  • Great tips! Food is such and important part of travel. And I totally agree about finding places off the main drag. Some of the best hidden gems are not so easy to find!

  • I second on the free breakfast, happy hours and lunch specials! And knowing when to splurge. Recently spent a few days in Paris and it was hella expensive, but sharing meals with friends was a huge cost saver, but honestly escargot freaks me out (I don’t mind having a bite though). Also if you’re traveling in Asia, night food markets are life savers! Amazing food for cheap 🙂

    • Such great tips! We live for the Airbnb breakfasts with our hosts or the aperitivo bites during happy hour in Italy. It’s all about easy and affordable meals so you can save up for that big splurge!

  • Food is typically where my money goes while travelling! I love indulging on local specialities and trying new things. You have given some great tips on how to save money!

  • Food is such an important part of travel and you’ve provided some great tips for getting your money’s worth. Totally agree about booking places with free breakfast… it absolutely saves you money in the long run.

  • I like your food philosophy 🙂 In some countries though, the best food is the common one – our Malaysian nasi lemak for example, is nearly always better ‘street’ than fancy. But yeah, some things are better saved up for than to try the mediocre versions!

    • I completely agree. In fact, in some countries (like Malaysia, or Thailand) I found that the street food was much more interesting…and more affordable…than the food in fancy restaurants. The perfect way to eat well on a tight budget!

  • I like your motto. I think it’s really important to know when to get something that’s worth it! I will bop around Europe with bread, jelly, and peanut butter to make sandwiches, but then I’ll have a really lavish meal lolol. Or a nice hotel 🙂