The Guide to Minimizing Dining Expenses While Traveling Internationally

This is the second part in my series on saving money when traveling internationally. If you haven’t read the first part on saving money on housing expenses while traveling, then check out that post to learn more about our current trip and my goal to spend less than $6,000 while traveling around the world for five months!

Besides accommodations and airfare, food and drink are often the next biggest expense for most people while traveling. Since we’re doing our best to stay on a pretty tight budget throughout this trip, we’ve kept our food costs as low as possible while still enjoying our meals. There are a few primary ways that have really helped us to keep these costs lower when on the go.

  1. Take advantage of free food whenever available.
  • I know this is common sense, but I think it’s worth mentioning anyway since we’ve been able to get a lot of free food on this trip. In the last post I talked about how we’ve strategically used hotel credit card reward points and free nights to keep our housing costs low while traveling in expensive areas. Another benefit of these free stays at various hotels is that they often include a free breakfast buffet. We made sure to take full advantage of these buffets when available to have a big first meal before embarking on whatever adventures we have planned for the day. The selection at these buffets have been really good usually at the places we’ve stayed so far. We have no problem finding healthier options (when we choose to :D) and eating enough to stay full for many hours. Sometimes hostels, Airbnbs, or traditional bed&breakfasts offer free breakfast as well.
  • Another way to get free food while traveling is at airport lounges. To get free access to these lounges, Whitney signed up for an American Express Platinum card before we left the country. Among other benefits, this card gave her a free unlimited Priority Pass for the year with free access to hundreds (thousands?) of airport lounges all over the world, not just for Whitney but for me as well as a guest. Even though the credit card came with a hefty $550 annual fee, it has more than made up for it’s cost with the perks offered, including the Priority Pass, plus: 60,000 point sign up bonus, $200 yearly airline incidental credit, and $15 free Uber credit each month. Knowing it would reap all these benefits was why she agreed to pay so much for it in the first place. We anticipate that the benefits mentioned above will be worth a minimum of $1,200 but likely closer to $1,500 when all said and done, making the $550 annual fee reasonable. In 15 weeks on this trip we have gotten into airport lounges in 11 different airports including: Atlanta, Edinburgh, Dublin, Agadir, London, Berlin, Chiang Mai, Luang Prabang, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, and Kuala Lumpur. These lounges had various amenities, but all included food (some of which was extremely fancy, I’m looking at you Edinburgh) and nonalcoholic drinks, but most included free alcohol as well. Just as with the hotel breakfasts, we take advantage of the free food and drinks and usually take a bottle of water and piece of fruit to go for the plane ride.
  • In total on this trip we’ve gotten almost 20 free meals from hotels and airport lounges so far, which has helped us to save a significant amount of money.

2. Eat fewer meals throughout the day by eating larger portions at each meal.

  • Whitney and I have both been practicing intermittent fasting for about six years now. We started this primarily as an easier way to control our weight during grad school since it was much easier to avoid overeating when confining our eating window to a shorter period of time during the day. After doing a ton of research before starting this eating schedule, I was surprised to find many studies showing improved health and longevity as well. In practice, during our normal daily schedule, this would mean eating only two meals per day often with a snack or protein shake in between; having our first meal around noon and our last meal around 8 PM. While traveling, this is not always feasible so we are more lenient with the timing, but still try to stick to a 16 hour fasting period each day nonetheless.
  • Interestingly enough, in addition to the health benefits and time savings, this has also saved us money while traveling. In the situations above where we get a free meal, that’s basically 1/2 of our total food for the day since we’re usually only eating two meals per day anyway. Eating more at that meal keeps us from having to eat an extra meal later, which has saved us money. Even when we don’t get a free meal during the day, we find that eating two big meals (and occasionally a snack) instead of three or more costs us less. Mostly this is due to us being prone to overeating so when eating three or more meals we usually end up eating more food than at two bigger meals, because with the two bigger meals we get physically full each time.

3. Take advantage of having a kitchen to cook meals when available.

  • One thing that we enjoy about AirBnBs over hotels is that many times they have a kitchen available, or at least a mini fridge and water kettle. When we have the ability to use a kitchen, we take advantage and go to a nearby grocery store to find some ingredients to cook a cheap meal. We can often find food that costs a fraction of the price of a restaurant and doesn’t take too long to prepare.

4. Buy sandwich materials and snacks at the grocery store to save on food costs.

  • Even if we don’t have a kitchen available, we will still take advantage of the cheaper food at a nearby grocery store to get ingredients to make sandwiches. In an expensive city like Dublin, this can save $10 or more between the two of us for a meal when compared to going to a restaurant.
  • On days when we want to have a snack in addition to our normal two bigger meals, we will get fruit or nuts at the grocery store as well, which costs a fraction of the price of buying a snack at a convenience store or street vendor.

5. Avoid expensive restaurants and instead opt for cheaper places or even street food when available.

  • When there is no kitchen available and we don’t feel like eating sandwiches, then we do our best to find affordable food options where ever we are.
  • With so many resources available online now, it’s pretty easy to find good, relatively cheap food in almost any city. We search for “best cheap places in _____” and usually find a fairly priced restaurant with great reviews to go to.
  • We’ve found that in Southeast Asia, street food is often as good or better than many of the restaurants. The restaurants have much higher overhead than the street vendors, and therefore they must charge a higher price (even double sometimes). We look for street food vendors that seem to be pretty busy with locals eating there and in a clean looking area. This usually leads to good food and for a very low price!

6. Avoid buying high priced alcoholic beverages.

  • I know this is a big one for a lot of people. The price of alcohol can add up fast at a pub or restaurant and nearly double your bill.
  • One way that we’ve found to keep costs lower when it comes to drinking is by buying beer or wine at a store to keep in our hotel or Airbnb fridge. We can drink it there before we go out somewhere, or in many countries with no “open-carry” laws, just take it with us. You can also buy cold, single cans or bottles of beer at convenience stores while you’re out and about overseas. They’ll even take the bottle cap off for you and you can walk right out with it!
  • If you’re planning to make a night of hanging out at a bar or pub drinking, try to look for happy hour specials or whatever the cheapest, local drinks are.
  • Avoid tourist traps like Temple Bar in Dublin. The drinks were all upwards of $10, including beer, just because of the name on the building. In an area like Dublin, you can go to any local pub on any corner and probably find a better atmosphere and cheaper drinks!

Summary

Keeping food and drink costs relatively low while traveling internationally isn’t hard with some tweaks to your eating schedule and when planning ahead for meals or drinking. We still eat at nicer restaurants on occasion, and buy drinks out sometimes, but by following the tips outlined above, we have been able to keep our budget in check even with some splurges along the way.

Hopefully one or more of the tips above will be helpful to you on your next international adventure. Thanks for reading and let me know in the comments below if you have any additional ways that you’re able to save money on food while traveling!

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6 thoughts on “The Guide to Minimizing Dining Expenses While Traveling Internationally

  1. $15 free Uber credit each month for the American Express Platinum? What!!! I’m missing out. I didn’t realize that it came with that. I’ll definitely need to review the benefits of my credit cards better.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love ALL your ideas here!! We are about to embark on our post FI mega trip in June. We’ll be through lots of airports and part of it will be through Australia via campervan! I definitely need to get the Amex Platinum. My sister has it and doesn’t travel nearly as much as we do, but she swears by the perks. Definitely adding you guys to my blog reading list!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, I’m jealous of the camper van in Australia! We plan to do something similar, likely in 2020 or 2021 and we’ve talked to a lot of people on this trip that have done it. I like the Platinum a lot but the annual fee can be hard to justify. If you get it, keep an eye out for the 100,000 point offer that pops up occasionally. Whitney and I both got that offer and it’s worth a lot of money in free travel. Thanks for reading!

      Like

  3. We spent a month in Australia and never rented a car (though a camper would be fun). We used Amex points to get our plane tickets (used our card to pay the down payment on our first house – paying the bill at the end of the month – to get points while in a “double points” period) and were able to fly from the states and all over AUS business class w/o spending any cash. I don’t know if this is still true, but at the time Quantas automatically gave access to their lounges if you flew at least business class. We used public transport in each city (Melbourne has a free in-city trolley) and used hotel points for Sydney, by the far the most expensive city on our visit. We also got a prepaid Amex card to use to get cash while traveling since this allowed us to use ATMs and check card services w/o any additional conversion or out of country fees. Our biggest expense was taking the train cross continent, but it was worth every penny to see the outback that way. Outside of that we spent under $1,000 for all food/ lodging/ transport/ experiences/ etc. Plus, Aussies are crazy friendly and we met several who took care of us along the way 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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