Eating Cheap While Abroad
I've been on the go a lot this last year: I lived in Dublin for four months, accompanied my family to Israel, and made it to plenty of other points on the globe. But no matter which city I was in, I still had to eat. I learned a few tricks to keeping myself comfortably fed on the go, without breaking the bank.
Pack a Lunch
I bet you looked at 'pack a lunch,' and laughed. How can you pack a lunch while living out of a suitcase or staying in a motel room? But everywhere, from Cardiff, Wales to Tel Aviv, Israel have grocery stores, and most even have cheap little markets with fresh produce. Even if you'll only be around for a few days, toss a couple of staples in your backpack and skip restaurants all together! As long as you don't pick anything that needs refrigerating, you're safe.
I had the opportunity to go to Spain with my grandparents when I was a kid. I had two years of introductory Spanish, but, between the three of us, that was it. My grandfather managed to find a bakery in every town we stopped in, and could usually find a farmer's market of some sort, too. We ate bread and apples, often with some cheese, and I don't think I ever got bored of it. It wasn't even an issue of frugality — we could just see more if we weren't stopping for a meal every couple of hours.
I've managed to get myself invited along on cheap evenings out with the locals. Even though I hadn't been around long enough to learn which restaurants and bars were significantly cheaper, my local friends always knew the places to go. It's no good to just ask for recommendations, unfortunately. Most people will just point you towards the obvious tourist traps, especially if you don't speak the local lingo so well. I think a lot of them think that they're doing you a favor — making sure you can get a meal where someone speaks English.
It works in English-speaking countries, too. By hanging out with fellow college students on a trip to Oxford, I managed to get myself invited along to their version of the cafeteria on someone else's meal plan. Their food was much better than the typical American college's, too!
Order the Soup
I was able to stretch my food budget in Ireland by ordering the soup, and I've been able to use the same technique in a lot of places. As long as you enjoy chowders and stews, you're set! Most restaurants will add in bread, and I've never been hungry after a good-sized bowl of soup and some bread.
I try not to ask what's in soup anymore, though. I was in Doolin, Ireland (population 500) and in dire need of some lunch. The cheapest thing on the menu was seafood chowder. I ate a huge bowl, and it was delicious. Afterwards, I made the mistake of asking the ingredients. The waitress gave me an odd look — turns out that scraps of just about every item on the menu made it into the chowder.
Greasy is Okay
If you walk as much as I do when you're traveling, you'll burn the calories from that greasy kabob off the cart. I realize it's not the healthiest thing in the world, but it works for a quick, cheap meal. As long as you don't restrict your diet to greasy street food, you'll survive. And I think a lot of those barely identifiable meals on a stick can be pretty tasty.
In Jerusalem, I always make a point of visiting the nearest falafel and shwarma stands. My money goes far, and I get what may be my favorite meal in the world.
I hope these tips help you on your next trip, and if you've managed to stretch your euros, pounds and pesos on your meal plan, I'd love to hear how.