Food can easily become the biggest expense when traveling. It is for me.
But the good thing is, saving money on food is one of the easiest ways to lower a travel budget. Especially if you have a hotel room.
First of all, this isn’t difficult if you follow one or more of these simple tips I’m about to share with you.
And food expenses are much more dynamic compared to other travel expenses. Such as accommodation and transportation, where the possibilities to cut costs are often limited.
Let’s get into it.
📖 Table of Contents
- Tips on How To Prepare Meals When Staying at a Hotel
- 1. Prepare Meals From Home
- 2. Pack Room Temperature-friendly Snacks and Food
- 3. Stock up on Groceries if You Have Access to a Fridge
- 4. If Your Hotel Room Has Has a Kettle
- 5. If You Have Access to a Microwave
- 6. Choose a Hotel Room With a Kitchenette
- 7. Consider a Hostel With a Shared Kitchen
- 8. Take Advantage of Disposable or Travel-friendly Tableware
- Tips on Eating Out for Cheap
- 9. Buy From Supermarkets and Eat Outside
- 10. Have a Picnic if the Weather Allows It
- 11. Choose an All-inclusive or Breakfast-Included Hotel
- 12. Eat Local and Avoid Touristy Areas
- 13. Look Out for Local Restaurant Deals Online
- 14. Choose Lunch Over Dinner or Happy-hours
- 15. Consider Takeaway
- 16. If You’re a Family Choose “Kids Eat Free” Restaurants
- General Tips on How To Save Money on Food While Traveling
Tips on How To Prepare Meals When Staying at a Hotel
1. Prepare Meals From Home
Let’s start with a simple tip.
If you prepare meals from home you take advantage of everything you already have without paying extra.
And chances are you have some food that will otherwise expire before you return home.
Just be aware that most foods shouldn’t be re-refrigerated after being at room temperature for more than two hours.
So only pack what you plan on eating the same day.
2. Pack Room Temperature-friendly Snacks and Food
Now to another easy one.
Despite often thinking of snacks as something we eat between meals, there is plenty of healthy food-like options to choose from such as:
- Fresh fruit
- Nuts and seeds
All these can help you feel full and provide you with sufficient nutrients. And as a bonus, they’re relatively cheap and practical to pack along.
3. Stock up on Groceries if You Have Access to a Fridge
Having a fridge opens up a unique range of foods to enjoy at your hotel.
My personal favorite is non-sugary yogurts. They are filling due to their high protein content. Often contain healthy probiotics. And can easily be combined with other “hotel-friendly” toppings such as fruits, nuts, or seeds.
And all you need to enjoy it is a spoon. I recommend buying a “spork” which can be used for a variety of meals (on the go too) 🥄
Alternatively, ask the hotel if you can borrow a spoon from them.
Another favorite of mine is sandwiches. They are tasty and easy to make.
4. If Your Hotel Room Has Has a Kettle
If cold food is not your thing this tip is for you.
Let’s first take some examples of meals you can make with a kettle:
- 🥘 Camping meals
- 🍜 Noodles
- 🍲 Soups
- 🥚 Eggs*
*To prepare the eggs let them stay in a glass or cup with boiled water somewhere safe. After 7-8 minutes the yolk to be slightly soft. And up to 12 min. after hard-boiled.
While the other meals have spices added, you might want some salt for the eggs. Here you can bring a small bag yourself, or ask the hotel if they have some.
📌 TIP: If you don't have a kettle in your room, remember to check the common areas too. You can also ask the hotel staff if they can help you out. Just make sure they can provide boiled water of 212°F (100°C), and not slightly less hot water from a coffee machine.
5. If You Have Access to a Microwave
While this tip isn’t my favorite I still think it’s worth mentioning.
The problem with microwave food is that most of it needs to be stored in a freezer. So you’d have to eat it shortly after buying it if you don’t have access to one.
And yeah, then you maybe need to get your hands on some tableware too (more about that later).
6. Choose a Hotel Room With a Kitchenette
If choosing accommodation or upgrading to a room that provides a kitchenette isn’t too expensive, then it’s a great way to save money by cooking meals there.
And if you feel like treating yourself, you can also spend the money you save on food by spoiling yourself with a room upgrade.
📌 TIP: If you travel often, I highly recommend subscribing to WayAway Plus for $44.99/year (with my 10% discount using this link) 🤩 This will give you the best discounts and cashback I've ever seen on accommodation of up to 10% (and up to 5% on flights). Plus other members-only benefits too. Meaning you're more likely to find a room with a kitchenette for the same price as one without it considering the discount and cashback from WayAway too.
If you’re not into hostels – remember that a majority of them offer private rooms too.
This means there are no major differences compared to a hotel. Except you often have access to a common kitchen that most hostels provide.
Meaning that you can save a lot of money by cooking meals there.
Keep in mind that the price of a private hostel room versus a hotel room differs a lot. So remember to check whether the price is worth it.
8. Take Advantage of Disposable or Travel-friendly Tableware
No matter the tips you follow on this list, you’re likely to benefit from this one.
Bringing some lightweight travel-friendly tableware will give you more opportunities for eating and preparing food when you’re at a hotel. Such as a knife, cutlery, and plates.
And the good thing is it’s reusable. Meaning you’ll save money compared to the disposable alternatives. It’s also better for the environment. With that said disposables can be the best option if you don’t plan on preparing food that frequently.
Tips on Eating Out for Cheap
9. Buy From Supermarkets and Eat Outside
If the weather allows it, you don’t need to go back to your hotel to enjoy a meal.
Buying food from supermarkets on the go. And then finding a nice bench or other spots to eat is one of my favorite ways to eat when traveling.
And if you remember to bring a “spork” as mentioned earlier, your options will be far greater 🥄
Alternatively, you can ask the hotel for a spoon or fork to bring with you.
10. Have a Picnic if the Weather Allows It
Now it’s time to upgrade the last step.
If the weather really allows it, consider having a picnic somewhere nice. Whether you prefer cooking with a disposable grill or a more simple round of tapas (or both).
Just make sure to follow the local rules for using a disposable grill. It’s not allowed everywhere.
11. Choose an All-inclusive or Breakfast-Included Hotel
If you haven’t booked your hotel yet, consider one with an all-inclusive option or free breakfast.
Though the price will likely be higher, there’s also a chance to find a place that isn’t. Or a good deal that’s worth it.
And if you find somewhere with free breakfast, there’s nothing wrong with asking the hotel staff if you can bring something with you for the day. The worse thing that can happen is getting a no.
12. Eat Local and Avoid Touristy Areas
It’s not uncommon that prices in tourist areas are 2-3 times higher. I’ve recently witnessed this too when I visited the tourist hot stop of Phuket in Thailand.
But it’s not only the price. Eating at tourist spots is a bit similar to eating at airports. They’re similarly overpriced and don’t have to worry as much about your experience due to the high customer turnover.
To find good local spots simply ask your hotel or some locals. Or walk a few blocks from the touristy areas and keep your eyes out for busy places (with locals).
13. Look Out for Local Restaurant Deals Online
If you like to hunt for a good deal, then you have the chance.
This is a great way to save some money you’ll otherwise spend. As long as you’re willing to do a bit of research on the websites first.
14. Choose Lunch Over Dinner or Happy-hours
As you’re might familiar with other types of businesses, there’s sometimes money to be saved if you’re willing to visit outside of rush hours.
The same goes for restaurants that have separate menus or deals during lunchtime. Similar to a happy hour.
To find these you can ask your hotel or some locals. Or take a stroll and go sign-spotting at different places during earlier hours. Just remember to avoid the tourist areas.
15. Consider Takeaway
This is an easy one, yet effective.
And you don’t necessarily have to go find a place on the streets. Locating the most popular takeaway app in the country you’re in is also an option.
Though sometimes you can be limited if you don’t have a local phone number. In that case, consider asking the hotel for assistance.
📌 TIP: Though many apps offer an English version even if you're abroad, there are a few hacks to translate them manually. Simply take a screenshot on your phone while using a foreign app, and upload the image to the Google Translate app. Or use their real-time translate camera feature while hovering over the text you want to translate. Whether it's on your computer or elsewhere. This I figured once I was in Turkey, where the only thing standing between me and the delicious local Köfte rolls was the language barrier. Making me highly motivated.
16. If You’re a Family Choose “Kids Eat Free” Restaurants
If you’re traveling with kids, this is a good way to get my favorite dish also known as free food.
Simply search Google wherever you are using this search command I made for you. Just replace “YOUR CITY” with your current location.
This will show you the places near you, which are likely to offer “kids eat free” deals or similar.
General Tips on How To Save Money on Food While Traveling
17. Drink Tap Water From Reusable Bottles or a Water Filter
This might go without saying, but drinking tap water is one of the easiest ways to save money on your travel food budget.
I’m aware that not all places allow drinking tap water, or taste good for that matter. But using a water filter is a simple way to counter this.
18. Avoid Snacking and Stick To 2-3 Meals per Day
Not only can snacking be expensive, but it’s often unhealthy too.
If you manage to get enough food on your 2-3 daily meals, chances are you’ll be fine with just that.
And depending on how much you like to snack, if you do it several times a day, it can add up over time.
📌 TIP: If you stick to 2 meals per day, having the last meal of the day at a buffet is a good way to get more bang for your buck.
19. Consider Replacing Breakfast With Coffee or Tea
I know that this headline can be a bit controversial, and therefore let me emphasize that I know this tip isn’t for everyone.
I prefer skipping breakfast for a coffee or tea on the days I don’t exercise in the morning. Or if I had a lot of food the day prior and still feel full from it. It makes me feel better and more energized.
Especially coffee can work as an appetite suppressant, and caffeine is a psychological substitute for calories.
20. Don’t Eat at Airports
There are rarely any disadvantages to eating before going to the airport. Or bringing some food to eat there. Except if you don’t have the time.
The prices at airports are often 2-3 times higher. And with very little focus on customer satisfaction due to the high customer turnover.
With that said keep in mind, that it’s still better than eating on an airplane.
21. Stick To Your Budget
If you’re serious about saving money, consider making a budget.
By doing so you know how much you should approximately be spending on food. Which can make it much easier to make the right purchasing decisions.
And if you take out cash, you’ll get an easy overview of what’s left to spend. If you’re on a longer trip, consider dividing the budget weekly or bi-weekly.
📌 TIP: With Budgetyourtrip.com you can find the estimated budget for your location based on your preferred budget category. Though the results can be a bit off from my experience. So to counter this I suggest checking a few additional websites too, and finding an average from there.