Backpacking is one helluva adventure! As well as checking out new cultures, museums, and landscapes, a big part of that adventure is getting the opportunity to taste local and regional dishes in whichever country you’re passing through. Tapas in Barcelona, street food in Thailand, real Korean BBQ in Seoul…there are so many amazing dishes to try!
But the reality of backpacking (and prolonging the adventure for as long as possible!) means sticking to a daily or weekly budget, and one of the areas you can often save a few bucks on is food. When you’re exploring places you’ve never been, it can be a challenge to make sure you have a balanced diet. Often you’re eating out a lot and the quality of food can vary enormously. It can be too easy to max out on carbs and sugar. But you can make conscious food choices to eat more healthily wherever you are. Make your Mum proud and don’t forget to eat your greens!
When you’re booking accommodation, look for hostels or hotels where breakfast is included. Make sure you check out the reviews from other travelers because not all breakfasts-included are the same! Some are minimal white bread and jam affairs, while others put out a huge spread complete with cereals, pastries, fruit and hot dishes. Either way, if breakfast is included in your accommodation price that’s one less meal you have to worry about.
I went to Barcelona last year with a friend and we found the cheapest and healthiest lunches we had were care of the Supermercado (supermarket). Before heading off to the Gaudi Park (Park Güell), we made a beeline for the supermarket to grab a baguette, some cheese, tomatoes, olives, lettuce, maybe some smoked meat, a couple of apples or peaches, and a couple of bottles of water. All for under ten Euros. In addition to getting some lunch supplies from the supermarket, you can also stock up on healthy snacks like packets of nuts and raisins, and fresh fruit.
In Barcelona we also went to the massive fruit and vegetable market (La Boqueria), where in addition to stands selling empanadas, tapas and all sorts of delicious Spanish dishes, we also stumbled upon a really great vegetarian-organic stand that made set meals. The servings were generous for the price and the salads were a welcome change from cheese and baguettes. If you do buy fresh fruit from the markets, don’t forget to wash or peel it before you eat it.
Another good tip is to take advantage of lunchtime specials at cafes and restaurants. When you’re on the go sight-seeing, you often walk a lot more than you usually do in your home city and by the time lunch comes around, you’re suffering from museum-fatigue and really need to re-fuel. If you make your main-meal in the middle of the day, you’ll have more energy for the afternoon’s activities and can just grab a snack for dinner. Avoid the over-priced tourist-trap restaurants and make sure you choose meals with salads some of the time (don’t always go for the deep-fried option!).
Airport food is usually over-priced and often the options aren’t so healthy. If you have time, try and squeeze in a proper meal before you get to the airport (especially taking into account the hours that you’ll be sitting around waiting), or bring your lunch and some snacks with you.
Ordering a hamburger or Western meal in Japan will cost you a lot more than a bowl of Ramen noodles (and it probably won’t taste as good!). Find out what the locals eat and where and order what they’re having.
If you feel like staying in for an evening, grab a couple of drinks at the supermarket or liquor store on the way back to your hotel. This will be significantly cheaper than draining the mini-bar and also cheaper than partying every night at a bar.
Yes, it is possible to order takeaway to be delivered to the hostel or hotel where you’re staying. Just ask the delivery person to call your room number and meet them in the foyer. That way if you’re exhausted after a day of sightseeing, you can rest up with a DVD, blog about your adventures in the comfort of your room, or just hit the sack and catch up on sleep before you head to your next adventure.
One of my best friends who has traveled all over the world says that even if you are on a budget, make sure you have one nice meal in each city so that you get to try good quality, local cuisine. Do a bit of research beforehand to find a couple of good places, or ask at your hotel or hostel for tips when you get to your destination. By treating yourself to a good quality meal now and again, you’ll make the most of your traveling experience and not feel like you’re always watching your budget.