Some countries are just meant to be experienced through their food. It's not often that one travels to a country like Japan without sitting down at a sushi restaurant, or travels to England without grabbing a plate of fish and chips. The food that each country is known for is often just as iconic an experience as visiting its national landmarks. However, this can sometimes come with a hefty price tag.
It's not uncommon for travelers to spend hundreds or, for consistent meals out, even thousands, on the food in another country. Food and beverages account for a large part of one's budget but the good news is this: With a few simple tips, it can be easy to stay within a reasonable price range.
Consider The Location
A food budget is almost always entirely dependent on the country in which one is traveling. For example, here are some popular destinations along with the food costs of their most famed dished:
- Japan: The typical cost of a sushi meal can vary from 1,000 to 2,000 yen, which is roughly $8.80 - $17.61 USD
- Italy: The typical cost of a pasta dish in Italy is anywhere from five to nine euros, which is roughly $5.63 - $10.14 USD
- England: The typical cost of fish and chips in London is anywhere from five to seven pounds, which is roughly $6.65 - $9.31 USD
- France: The typical cost of a full meal in France (fresh bread, salad, and a meat entree) is anywhere from 15 to 25 euros, which is roughly $16.90 - $28.17 USD
- Thailand: The typical cost of a pad thai meal in Thailand is around 50 baht, which is roughly $1.48 USD
- Mexico: The typical cost of a meal in Mexico (rice, beans, meat, and sometimes fresh pico or sauces) is anywhere from 60 to 80 pesos, which is roughly $2.76 - $3.68 USD.
These examples make it clear that budgeting for food is definitely not a one-size-fits-all scenario for every destination. While visitors to France are likely to pay more due to the nature of multiple courses at a sit-down restaurant, countries such as Thailand and Mexico give way to more affordable options thanks to delicious street food and quick-bites. Japan's sushi can vary widely based on the restaurant, the type of sushi served, and the accompaniments that go with each meal. Meanwhile, England's fish and chips rarely change in price, which is similar to the cost of an average pasta dish in Italy because the two are countrywide staples.
Traveler Tips For Saving Money On Food
In addition to doing research prior to visiting a new destination, there are plenty of ways that travelers can save money and are universal regardless of the location.
Avoid Tourist Traps Such As Airport Food
Sure, it might be incredibly tempting to grab a cocktail and a meal at the airport's brand new steakhouse, but it's almost guaranteed that this, alone, with break the budget for the day. With the exception of having access to an airport lounge, the food at airports is usually priced slightly higher because a hungry traveler will likely pay anything to avoid an empty stomach. Rather than paying $40 for a full meal, opt to pack snacks for the airport to avoid going broke before even reaching the destination.
Be Very Specific About Meals Out
Before even getting to a destination, it's helpful to nail down which meals will consist of dining out. Typically, a budget can allow for one meal at a restaurant per day - the cheapest is usually breakfast, with lunch coming in at a close second. Dinner is the most expensive so when at all possible, opt for lunch over dinner, and take advantage of a continental or quick breakfast. Lunch offers the most deals and the most discounts universally.
Breakfast Might Be The Most Important, But It Doesn't Need To Be The Most Expensive
The idea of sitting down for a nice breakfast first thing in the morning almost has a romantic quality to it, but it's not always budget-friendly. In addition to paying for the service, travelers might be misled to believe that they'll try the best food via a sit-down restaurant. Coffee shops, cafés, and street vendors often offer a local, flavorful experience for half the price. For example, dining at one of Japan's Kissaten's is as local as it gets, and is incredibly affordable, and will reassure travelers that they're dining at a family-run community staple.
Free Food Is Entirely A Possibility
In Spain, for example, tapas are practically a love letter to the country's cuisine. In some restaurants and tapas bars, diners will get some 'freebies' when they sit down, including small plates to tide them over. These could include anything from dips to pickled vegetables, and it's a great way to enjoy a late-night or midday snack. Additionally, Istanbul is another place where restaurants might include a very small precursor to a meal such as stuffed grape leaves or hummus.