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5 Tips for Eating Abroad on a Budget

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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, learn tips for eating abroad on a budget and determine the best way to finance your next vacation.

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 October 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
  2. Don’t shy away from street food, and eat like a local
  3. Pick up a discounted meal at the convenience store
  4. Share a meal with friends (or strangers)
  5. Bring snacks to avoid making hangry dining decisions

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.

2. 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 your 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.”

5. 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.

How to finance your next international trip

Now that your mouth is watering from all this food talk, you’re probably ready to start planning for your trip. If you’re not sure how to finance your next vacation, check out some of your options below:

Budgeting for a vacation: A simple way to pay for your vacation is to budget far in advance and save up the money a little bit at a time. Yes, this may mean that you have to wait months or even years to take the vacation you want, but it also means you avoid going into debt over flights, accommodations, food and other expenses.

If money is tight, consider ways you may temporarily increase your earnings, such as driving for a rideshare service, babysitting or being a personal tutor. You may also consider small luxuries you can give up until you’ve funded your vacation. The sacrifices you’ll make can translate to a vacation that isn’t burdened by concerns over new debt.

Taking out a travel loan: A travel loan is an unsecured personal loan, which means you don’t have to put up collateral to be eligible and you’d receive the funds all at once. You can get a personal loan for between $1,000 to $50,000 or more. Lenders rely heavily on your credit score to determine your eligibility for a loan. Though subprime borrowers may qualify for personal loans with certain lenders, they’ll be subject to high interest rates, potentially into the triple digits.

If you opt for a loan, aim to borrow the least amount possible.

Utilizing a travel rewards credit card: You might be able to cut your vacation costs by putting travel miles or credit card rewards points toward your trip. This vacation financing option is best for responsible credit card users who don’t mind taking the time to rack up rewards.

You’ll want to pay off your credit card balance in full each month to avoid interest charges. The average APR among new credit cards is 20.59% APR, according to LendingTree data. That could translate to heavy costs if you carry a balance month to month.

Generally, you’ll want to avoid taking out debt for something non-essential like travel and you should never take out debt you can’t repay. With some hard work and discipline, the vacation of your dreams may be within reach ー and you can eat well abroad without taking a bite out of your budget.


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