5 budgeting tips for eating in Europe on a trip abroad

Erika Giovanetti

Written by

Erika Giovanetti


November 11, 2019

As a traveler, you want to take in the sights, smells and flavors of a destination. Even if you’re seeing Europe on the cheap, you can still treat all your senses to a culture unlike any you’ve ever experienced.

Read on to find out which European destinations have the most affordable (and expensive) food when you’re dining out and learn tips for eating abroad on a budget.

How much a meal costs in popular European countries

According to Numbeo, a database of user-contributed data analyzing living conditions around the globe, there’s a big difference in the cost of dining out in Western Europe and Eastern Europe. Take a look at the meal prices in these European countries:


Account for exchange rates when planning travel abroad

If you’re planning a trip to Europe, you’d be well-advised to choose a country that uses the Euro instead of going to the U.K., where the British pound is more powerful. Although meals in the U.K. typically hover in the middle price range for European countries, you’ll pay more in currency exchange.

The exchange rate for the dollar to the pound is $1 to £0.77, as of Oct. 18, 2019. You’ll fare a bit better if you travel to a country that uses the euro, which exchanges at a rate of $1 to €0.90.

But if you follow a few money-saving tips, you can score a cheap – or even free – meal in just about any European country.

5 tips to save money while eating abroad

  1. Take advantage of hotel and hostel breakfasts

Your hotel or hostel breakfast may come free with your accommodations. Even more, it may be an authentic and impressive spread that allows you to curb early morning food costs. That’d leave you with more cash for meals later in the day.

In France, a free hostel breakfast could include cheese, ham, freshly baked bread and seasonal fruits. In the UK, you might fill up on a complimentary (or reduced-cost), full English breakfast of fried eggs, black pudding (a type of blood sausage), beans, potatoes, tomatoes and more sausage.

  1. Don’t shy away from street food, and eat like a local

Contrary to what you may have heard, street food can be clean, delicious and quite safe to eat. And as a tourist, you’d be doing yourself a disservice to skip out on vibrantly flavorful, authentic (and cheap) street food.

A good rule of thumb while choosing your street food is to eat at the busy stalls ー especially ones with long lines of locals.

Some more food for thought: City centers attract tourists, which can drive up prices at restaurants, bars and even street carts. When you want to truly experience the cuisine of your destination, eat like the locals do. Don’t be afraid to ask for suggestions when it comes to which neighborhoods have the best food.

Just be mindful of your personal safety as you explore food options off the beaten path. You might ask locals of any unsafe areas you should avoid, for example, before venturing off on your own.

  1. Pick up a discounted meal at the convenience store

If anyone knows how to stretch a budget on a European vacation, it’s backpackers. So, when you’re eating abroad on a budget, take a tip from the backpackers: Scour the nearest convenience store for a sale section. Many will have discounted sandwiches that need to be sold that day.

You’ll want to use your best judgment here, because these discounted meals are typically nearer their expiration date. If it smells or looks weird, avoid it.

  1. Share a meal with friends (or strangers)

You’ll save money if you split a meal with your travel buddies, especially if you can find a way to split just one entree. But there’s an added bonus to splitting meals: You get to try many traditional dishes without having to buy and eat them all by yourself.

You could also try your luck with the EatWith app, which is like Airbnb but for food experiences. The site offers experiences like a private French brunch for foodies, dinner in a Berlin art studio and a Catalan dinner on a sailboat. By shopping experiences ahead of time, you’ll make your travel costs slightly more predictable and easier to budget for.

In the end, you can’t beat an authentic travel experience where you can learn more about the local culture and its people. As Anthony Bourdain once said, “You learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together.”

  1. Bring snacks to avoid making “hangry” dining decisions

It’s easy to forget to eat when you’re traveling. One minute you’re enjoying your morning riverboat ride on the Thames, then you realize it’s 2 p.m. and you haven’t eaten all day. If you’ve packed some snacks from home, like a granola bar or a handful of nuts, then you can stave off your hunger just long enough to eat at an authentic London pub like Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.

Ready to plan your big trip? Get a travel loan, which lets you borrow funds for your overseas excursion without putting up any collateral.

You can also consider taking out a travel rewards credit card and cut your vacation costs by putting travel miles or credit card rewards points towards your trip.