How to Eat Cheap On Vacation: Five Proven Ways


Bronze Wordsmith
May 17, 2018
When we go on vacations, trying out specialty restaurants and planning an entire budget for eating out is usually part of the package. However, this can really punch a big hole in one’s overall travel budget. Trying out local delicacies once in a while is fine. But dedicating a huge amount of money for luxurious dining and drinking is impractical (and can ruin your entire vacation experience – trust me on this one).

Fortunately, there are ways to stick to a vacation food budget without that FOMO (fear of missing out) feeling. I myself have had to learn how to tweak my planning and fine tune details in order to truly enjoy my gustatory experience while traveling (and not have to worry about a huge credit card bill when I got home).

So here’s a list of five practical ways on how to save money on vacation meals. It’s guaranteed to be yummy, easy to do, and best of all – thrifty!

eat cheap on vacation.jpg

Take Advantage of Free Meals That Come With Your Lodging

Here’s a really good tip on how to save money on vacation meals – don’t be a snob! By this, I mean if your bed and breakfast accommodations offer a free basic brekky of toast (with butter or jam), eggs, and coffee, by all means, eat it. It’s already paid for, anyway. You might crave a special breakfast since you’re on vacation and want to splurge. But having a different menu every day on your travel can mean hundreds of dollars off your overall budget.

It’s not just breakfast that typically comes free with most vacation lodgings. If it’s your birthday, there’s usually a small cake and a bottle of wine waiting for you in your room! And if there are complimentary snacks in the room like nuts, bottled water, and tea or coffee, consume them. That’s what they are there for, after all.

free meal from lodging.jpg

Use the Kitchen Appliances If They Are Available

If the place you’ve rented out on your vacation has a fridge, a working kitchen, small appliances, and cooking tools, please use them. Preparing (or even just re-heating) your own meals will really make a difference when it comes to your travel food budget. Plus, you won’t have to worry about tipping, gas or commute money to get to a restaurant, service-related taxes, and other expenses that come with dining out.

use kitchen equipment.jpg

Bring Your Own Snacks

Snacks are arguably one of the best kinds of food to bring on vacation. They come neatly packaged, are easy to eat, and won’t make you spend more than you should. Snacks that are sold in special souvenir shops and convenience stores will expectedly cost more because they’re priced for tourists or at least shoppers who are looking for small items to eat. Plus, you can control dietary restrictions if you pack your own snacks. It’s up to you to bring fresh or canned fruit, trail mix, chips, sweets, and if you have kids, their personal favorites that might not be easily available in a strange new place.

bring your own snacks.jpg

Ask Locals Where to Dine

This is one of the best tips I picked up when it comes to how to eat cheap on vacation. Don’t rely on trendy restaurants and “must-eat” places! Too often, food reviewers, bloggers, and critics are paid to give new and bigger establishments a good rating to reel in tourists who want to try some local flavor. And it’s no coincidence that these very places are the same ones that overcharge for the experience of dining there when all you really want is to taste what the place and culture you’re visiting have to offer.

If you want to get a true gustatory experience, go to the locals. Ask around – practically anyone can be a source of a good dining tip. My personal favorites are local grocers, market stall owners, and even roadside eateries. The vendors will likely be familiar with who buys their wares as ingredients for their own menu, and roadside eateries hardly disappoint. They often serve up cheap but tasty meals because you’re paying for the quality of the food, not the ambiance.

If you’re shy about approaching strangers to ask for food advice, go to your hotel receptionist. They can point you in the direction of good and affordable places to eat, especially if they themselves patronize these places.

ask the hotel receptionist.jpg

Use Food Coupons and Gift Certificates

If you’re already a coupon user at home, why pause the practice even when you’re on vacation? If certain coupons you like using are accepted in international or country-wide chains, then it only makes sense to bring them for food or even souvenir shopping wherever you might be. It pays to do a bit of advanced research about the kind of coupons or gift cards you plan to use, of course. But there’s no arguing about the kind of savings you will get if you choose to bring them with you.

souvenir shopping.jpg

The Verdict?

One other tip I would like to insert here would be to carefully plan a dining-out schedule. A lot of restaurants and establishments have special meals like lunch and brunch where they knock regular prices off the menu to encourage people to eat food that isn’t as popular as their dinner items. Or you can check out their takeaway menu and order something to go instead of dining there, so you won’t have to pay for service charges and other fees.

So you see, there are many practical methods on how to save money on food while traveling. The tourism industry has made it seem as if the only way you can eat while on vacation is to order room service, or go to expensive establishments in the area. You don’t have to do these things. You just need to combine some old-fashioned thriftiness with creativity. The result is that you won’t go hungry and be forced to pay for an overpriced (and potentially unsatisfying) meal in a strange place. And whatever money you save can go to other more fulfilling vacation experiences, or even souvenirs if you like that stuff.
Last edited: