Dear Travelettes,

I have made it a point to avoid all Mc Donald’s, Starbucks or other kinds of fast food chains while on the road. There are few better ways to experience a foreign country or culture than indulging in the local cuisine – and of course getting to know the locals; but then again, what better way to bond than over a good meal or a round of drinks? And since hostel breakfasts tend to offer little culinary satisfaction and endless hours of sightseeing (on foot or by bike, lame tourists bus rides don’t count!) do burn quite a few calories, you should treat yourself to a nice meal at least once a day.

Tight travel budget? No problemo! A nice food fest doesn’t have to cost a lot if you know the tips & tricks of scoring cheap eats while on the road:

Free food

Anyone who has moved out from home knows the magic of those two little words: free meal. These are easier to get than you think. If you’re couchsurfing, you will frequently encounter friendly hosts that take great joy in preparing dinner for the exhausted traveller (you). Just don’t take you host and their home-cooked meal for granted; you can thank them by doing the dishes or whipping up your own specialty the following day.

Know that feeling of trudging a city for hours and being so hungry that you find everything to be only half as fascinating? What has always worked for me is approaching a fruit or vegetable stand and asking for just one banana or one apple. You will almost always get it for free! I hate to see it this way, but it’s one of those cases in which being female can be of great benefit.

fruit stand

If you can scout out a privately-owned café (aka no Starbucks or other chain store but one with a smaller, more intimate feel to it), just go inside and ask whether they have special offers for travellers (tongue-in-cheek). If you manage to strike up a conversation or make them laugh, chances are they’ll throw in a free cupcake next to your caffe latte. One of my friends makes a point out of offering to share a crazy (and often times shamelessly exaggerated) travel anecdote in exchange for a cappuchino – and it’s worked for him on multiple occasions! Generally speaking, you shouldn’t be too serious about this. If it works, good for you! But don’t be discouraged or dissapointed if it doesn’t – just try your luck another time. baclava

While exploring one of the Champs d’Elysée’s smaller side streets, my friends and I once came across a really nice café with decent prices. Just as we had taken a seat and ordered a round of smoothies (we were the only guests at the time), the owner brought a gigantic plate of carrot cake to our table – free of charge! Turns out she was from the UK and delighted to have English-speaking youth in her shop. Another time, I was absent-mindedly wandering the aisles of a supermarket in upstate New York when I came across a big, neon-colored plastic easter egg lying on the shelf next to the laundry detergent. Cluelessly, I brought it to the cash register, where the beaming cashier told me I had won the “Free Ice Cream Sundae” Easter special. Lucky coincidences like these can’t be planned, but they do happen every once in a while, so keep your eyes open for ’em!

The Power of the Picknick

Never, ever underestimate a good picknick! It’s one of the simplest and low-priced ways to eat, wherever you are. If you can’t afford to eat out in Paris because the prices in most restaurants are sky-rocking high, grab a couple of  baguettes, some cheese and a bottle of cheap vin rouge at the next best supermarket and find a nice place to sit along the Seine. During my trip to Greece in the summer fo 2008, I frequently purchased white bread and tzatziki for little over 2 Euros and enjoyed my lunch with this kind of panoramic view:

greece island

A picknick is also a great way to meet other travellers that may be strolling by. My best friend Pia and I once encountered a young gentleman named Ole while sharing a bottle of wine on a grassy hill in Hamburg. He was by far the most upbeat and positively-thinking individual I’ve ever met. Ole joined us for a while and managed to leave a lasting impression on both Pia and myself in these few minutes simply by smiling and telling us a few things about himself. I daresay you don’t meet these kinds of people while chowing down a cheeseburger at Mc Donald’s.

Restaurants and Bars

If you insist on the comfort of a regular sit-down meal, keep a lookout for daily specials or all-you-can-eat-buffets (especially popular for a Sunday morning brunch). Often times, you will get more than your money’s worth of good food and service. Have a look at some of the places Katja recommended in NYC (here, here and here) or some of the other travelette’s suggestions for eating abroad. And remember: fellow travellers are always happy to help. So don’t hesitate to ask for advice, wherever you are!

Tags food