How to eat cheap when travelling, *boots meal deal not included*

By Natasha Culzac

Budget travelling can be problematic for your belly. Here's our tips to keep the costs low while you still get full up

“Not all who wander are lost”, goes the saying. Well, I’d like to add: not all who travel are minted. For a multitude of reasons you might find yourself scrimping in an airport departure lounge, trying desperately not to succumb to the £20 burger meal but having to because a stale sandwich from WH Smith just won’t cut it.

When you finally arrive you’ve literally got £3 a day to spend on food, so here’s our top tips for eating cheaply while on the move:

Pay-what-you-want restaurants

It does exactly what it says on the tin. Yes, it sounds too good to be true, but pay-what-you-want restaurants can be found across the globe. Make sure you do an online search for your destination. The premise is simple and a lot is based on trust - you shouldn’t mutter something about it being disgustingly inedible while simultaneously licking the plate clean, just so that you don’t have to pay a dime. Like everything in life: don’t take the p***.

Here’s a vegetarian restaurant in Singapore which operates on a pay-what-you-feel basis. The Guardian has listed a few others around the world, while contrary to what most people think of the big smoke, you can even find it in London!


In many British airports there’s an M&S Simply Food shop, in all its yellow ‘reduced’ sticker glory, before security but never after. So to go through security and suddenly remember that you’re famished, is to realise that you might end up paying upwards of £15 for some food. Buy non-liquid foodstuffs from a supermarket beforehand and take it through security for the hours spent in the departure lounge and on the flight.

When abroad, supermarkets are a lifesaver. In an Airbnb or a youth hostel, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t stock up and use the kitchens provided (make sure you stay in hostels that provide shared cooking facilities). Even in a hotel you often get a fridge, so stock it by searching for nearby supermarkets using a smartphone map.

Street food

Obvious, but a good’un. Sometimes the risk of Delhi Belly in whatever corner of the earth you’re in is worth it for delicious street food that doesn’t break the bank. I’ve only ever been incapacitated from street food twice: once was a beef burrito in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, in 2010. I remember it well. I’d only had one bite of it - think of the poor sod who ate the entire thing. The other was in Elephant & Castle, London, in 2013, proving that if you can get it at home, you might as well dive in headfirst abroad.


Research inspo before you travel:

Why not get clued up before you fly out, who doesn't love a bit of organised fun here and there? Here’s a list of some of the top street foods across the world.

Canteens/eat local

Just a hop, skip and a jump from street food are the no-frills, canteen-style outlets found on every continent. They’re great for travellers on a budget and can be characterised by a fairly bare foodhall, minimal decorations and a simple menu of local cuisine. Eat somewhere like here and not only will you save money, but you’ll get a great introduction to the culture and you’ll be helping the local economy.

It also goes without saying that it’s much cheaper to eat and drink the items native to that country, whether it’s the beer, fruit or national dish. Buying internationally imported beer or ordering the burger and chips when the locals eat boiled dumplings is going to cost you.


Who doesn’t love a home cooked meal? Your stomach will be happy and so will your wallet - homestays are great for affordable accommodation and often cheaper food than that bought in a restaurant. In Sri Lanka, for example, I primarily booked rooms that were annexed on to the owner’s own house. Most offered meals for an additional fee, which were always staggeringly delicious, decently-portioned and delivered to your porch - what’s not to love?

Other ways to save

If you must go to restaurants, because you’re on holiday with the in-laws or on a romantic sojourn with your beloved, then keep an eye out for the below, which could help stem the flow of cash tearing through the gaping black hole in your pocket:


Tourism cards: Find out if there’s a discount card for the location you’re travelling to and see if the offers are any good. Many places have them, whether they’re officially run by the tourism board or not. For example, in Croatia there’s the Dubrovnik Card, which aside from giving you free entry to attractions, offers discounts (usually around 10-15%) on restaurants and spas. The Isle of Wight has a card, too!

Lunch specials: As you’re meandering around a town or city, check the boards outside eateries to see if they’ve got any lunch specials such as those that come with a drink or free side.


Deals, deals, deals: Don’t forget that nowadays companies are jumping at the chance to entice us in and often they do this in the form of membership or customer deals. For example - do you have breakdown cover with the AA? If so, you’ve probably forgotten that they give their members a number of benefits including 20% off some restaurant bills. Double-check your union, mobile phone provider, university, employer etc etc, to see whether you have any untapped member benefits.

You can also join a diners’ club, such as TasteCard, which offers 50% off many restaurants in the country, in addition to discounts on cultural activities and days out.

And, of course, there are the online discount marketplaces, such as Groupon and Wowcher. For international coupon websites, try TravelZoo and LivingSocial.

Top Takeaway

Eating while travelling can tear through the lining in your pocket faster than Usain Bolt. It’s really quite depressing. Try to offset this cost by going as low key as you can, making as many packed lunches as you can be bothered to, and eyeing up deals when you need to go swanky. Being the Coupon Queen is cool.

Author bio: Thanks to a journalistic career history and a childhood at Sylvia Young Theatre School, Natasha has her fingers in a few professional pies, doing her best impression of a model and actor as well as personal finance writer. Outside of work she compulsively watches BBC period dramas and constantly lies to herself that this year will be the year she learns French, once and for all.

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