How to eat cheaply (but well) in any country

Food can chew up a massive part of your budget. Some of us love to try local cuisine when we travel. Others are happy to spend their travel dollars on non-eating experiences and just live off instant noodles.

If you do want to try and balance getting authentic, local food with not breaking the bank, here are 5 tips on how to eat cheaply no matter what country you are in.


Eat where the locals eat

Near every major attraction in the world, there is a restaurant full of tourists. Something happens to people when they go on vacation – they go into “lazy” mode. Whatever is nearest will do. Often inferior food at inflated prices. After all, if your clientele is exclusively tourists, they are less familiar with local prices and flavours. They also will never come back, so who cares.

Backpacking is an adventure, not a vacation. If you want to get the best local food at the best price, you need to search out the backstreet restaurants.

So, how do you find them?

  • Ask a local. Stop someone in the street. Ask where locals eat that is cheap? Most people are happy, even proud, to answer.
  • Online research. More and more info is available online. But, beware don’t just go off review by other tourists. If positive reviews are written in the local language, rather than English, thats a good sign.
  • Look for them. Sounds obvious but it is an art form. Wander away from tourist attractions. Look for restaurants that are busy but are obviously full of locals, not tourists.

Street Food


How to eat cheaply - Italian Street Food Panini in Florence, Italy

Italian Street Panini – $3


Street food is a backpacker’s best friend! From 25 cent meals on the streets of India, to $10 steaks in London, the cost spectrum of street food is almost always within the reach of any traveller.

Not only that, in many countries the street food is simply the best example of certain dishes. A street cart that specialises in one or two dishes, and has cooked them all day, every day for years, may mean you get the very best version of a local classic.

Some travellers worry about the hygiene of street food. Check out our 9 tips for eating street food (and not getting sick) for advice on avoiding getting the shits.


Local Markets

How to eat cheaply - Local Markets

Amazing prices at local market in Phnom Penh, Cambodia


Aside from finding street food at many local markets, the other point is that local cuisine is unique because of local produce.

Some ingredients you’d rarely see back home will be available cheap and in abundance. Get some recipes off the internet, make a shopping list and go get your local ingredients. Then head back to your hostel or homestay and use the kitchen facilities to cook up an authentic local feast.

It’s pretty easy to eat 3 meals a day in the vast majority of countries for $5 per person using this method. Plus, you’ll learn some new culinary tricks too.


Food Courts

In countries like Australia, where eating out is normally crazy expensive, food courts at the mall are often the cheapest option and generally have a massive array of cuisine choices. It’s not just all MacDonalds either. In India and the Philippines, along with many other countries, local food is very well represented in food courts. It’s not always the best quality but it is always affordable.


Eat For Free

Making friends with locals or couchsurfing are two good ways to get invited for a free meal at someone’s house. Those home cooked flavours are often the best. So be open to meeting locals, not just other tourists, form a rapport and who knows, you may get invited for dinner.

(NOTE: Some invitations to dinner are scams and you end up with a very large bill at the end. If you have any doubt that an offer is genuine, politely ask if you need to contribute to the meal or bring anything. If the local person becomes agitated or insulted, that could be an indication that it may be a scam)



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About The Author


Tommo is a world nomad, pizza addict and travel pro. A bus ticket and a backpack are all he needs to get by. From kissing a crocodile in Thailand to dancing on tables in Greece, Tommo is living the dream and then writing about it.

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