Eric and I love to eat out together when we travel. It’s been a major part of our trip plans since 2011, when we took a weekend trip to New York City together and planned the entire thing around our meals. We had amazing donuts from Doughnut Plant, mac and cheese from S’Mac, noodle soup from Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodle, burgers from Shake Shack, and gelato from Grom. It was a blast.
Since then I’ve loved making food a big part of my travel, but I’m still on a budget and I like to eat cheaply. Here are my tips on how to do it!
1) Choose some places in advance. Pinterest, Yelp, and other sites make it so easy to find places to eat in the cities you’ll visit. I like to pick a bunch and plot them on my map so if we’re hungry we can quickly consult it and have an option at hand. If we find somewhere not on the list, that’s great – but I’ve had some unpleasant experiences being hungry in the middle of the day and not being able to find anything til mid-afternoon, which makes me grumpy and throws off our eating schedule for the rest of the day. A small problem in the grand scheme of things, but one easily mitigated by having some ideas in mind and plotted on a map. This also helps us pick places with the right price range for us (usually up to about $10 per person per meal) without having to do a lot of on-site currency conversion.
2) Try local cuisine, but don’t be afraid to branch out. I’m really really excited to eat a ton of pierogi in Poland, several dozen pretzels in Germany, and to try some authentic Czech cuisine in Prague, but I’m open to other, less “traditional” culinary experiences as well. Eric really likes pho, so we’ve found a place we’d like to try in Prague, and neapolitan pizza is one of my favorite things ever, so we’ve found that as well. It’s great to try local cuisine and I would highly recommend it, but there’s no shame in trying something else sometimes. This is particularly true if you’ll be in the same place for a week or more – plenty of time to do both!
[Unless you’re in Naples, Italy, in which case I absolutely demand that you eat as much pizza as possible from Pizzeria Gina Sorbillo, where the most amazing margherita pizza I’ve ever had (seen below) was only 5 euro. L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele is also incredible.]
I have strong feelings about consuming as much pizza and gelato as possible if you’re in Italy. Otherwise, it’s your trip! Eat what you want!
3) Go to grocery stores. This is obviously great if you’re renting an apartment or if the hostel has a kitchen and you’d like to cook, but even if you’d prefer to eat out the whole time, it’s still a ton of fun to wander grocery stores and see what you can find. And you’ll need some snacks, of course. One of my favorite YouTube channels is emmymadeinjapan, where she tries treats from different countries. I’ve made lists for Prague, Poland, and Germany, and I’m excited to browse the grocery stores and try to find something new to try. It’s also just fun to see what they offer, and to compare prices.
If you are on a strict budget, or if you’re about to hop on a train, grocery stores are great for a cold meal. Sometimes there are excellent prepared sandwiches, but on my backpacking trip in 2011 I once bought just a head of lettuce and some feta cheese to make myself a salad of sorts, and my friend and I went through several bags of clementines on our train trips. Again, try something new!
I picked up these drinks in a grocery store in Füssen, Germany (I think it was a Lidl). The one on the right was strawberry-watermelon-lime and it was something like drinking a watermelon jolly rancher. Intriguing, and I’d love to find it again.
4) Carry a bottle of water. Many restaurants in Europe do not serve tap water, and so they charge for bottled water instead. I prefer to drink water with my meals, so I like to bring a bottle with me. Typically I’ll buy a bottle from the grocery store. Individual bottles are very cheap – about 40 euro cents when I was there in 2011. You can also carry a reusable bottle, though it can sometimes be hard to find a place to refill it. Somewhere like a museum is usually a good bet – if you’ve paid admission anywhere, be sure to fill up your water bottle before you leave! Some cities also have clean outdoor drinking fountains – there were several in Rome and Florence that I saw.
5) Ask a local. When I visited Lucca, Italy with a couple of my roommates, we climbed a tower there and asked the man at the admissions desk for lunch recommendations. He pointed us to the Trattoria da Giulio, where we had phenomenal food in a lovely local atmosphere. Don’t be afraid to ask!
6) Document it. I have three ways to keep track of what I eat: I take photos of it, I journal about it, and I write it down in my daily purchases log. All of these help me remember what it was, where it was, and how much it cost. I try to keep track of the signage, sometimes the address and menu, and of course the food itself. This comes in handy for recommendations and repeat visits – and blog posts!
That’s all for food travel tips. Next up is a series of posts on packing, one of my favorite things associated with taking a trip.