How To Eat Frugally While Traveling

Honestly, part of the best thing about travel is the ability to try new, delicious foods. But, if you’re traveling somewhere that’s not known for its culinary scene, or you’re spending a lot of time (and money) to even get to your dream destination, you're likely spending a good wad of cash on pretty sub-par airport or gas station food just to get where you’re going!

If that’s you, and you’re hoping to cut costs while you travel so you can spend money on the meals that matter, read on.

First, pack a reusable water bottle

For whatever reason, after September 11th, many of us got so used to not being able to bring water bottles through security, we also somehow turned our backs on empty water bottles too. One of my favorite reusable water bottles is actually flask-like and the size of a small paperback novel, and I’ve even had a bag like a collapsible bottle in the past. It’s small, completely deflates when not in use, and easily saves me $3-6 per day of travel.

Plus, one of the easiest ways to get sick from airport germs is to be dehydrated. So, fill ‘er up!

Next, think through your lackluster meals

What meals are you most uninspired about? These are the meals that you can save the most cash on. Places like the bus stop, the airport terminal, or, if you’re driving, the hours in between cities with nothing but McDonald’s to keep you company–none of this food is good, and it adds up if you don’t plan.

There are some cases where you might not be able to keep perishables on you for long, but if travel allows, you can bring a packed lunch. For something that needs more shelf life before it gets soggy consider bringing dehydrated food like Top Ramen or powder for a protein shake.

For breakfast, oatmeal can be made in a hotel room with a coffee maker, or on-the-go with the help of a barista and a free cup of hot water. There’s also Top Ramen, sans hot water, which already comes in its own receptacle which holds up pretty well in a suitcase. If you want something a bit more upscale, consider making your own custom soup kits in a Ziploc ahead of time.

Of Course, Snacks Are Important

You may not have a fridge in your car or in your hotel room, so you’ll need some snacks that get you going in between meals and can take a beating from travel in your bag. Things that keep really well without refrigeration are crackers, dried meats, dried or dehydrated fruits, nuts and veggies like carrots or snap peas.  Charcuterie boards are totally trendy right now, and luckily yours will be ¼ the price of what you find at the convenience store, and probably better for you. Of course, there’s always good ol’ PB&J.

Most people seem to forget that they can pack just about any snack they enjoy at home, in their suitcase. Granola bars, trail mix, fruit leathers, and meal replacement or protein shakes can be thrown in a bag easily. A bonus of packing your own snacks is that your luggage will have more room for souvenirs should you be inclined, later in the trip–and you save money for said souvenirs.

Related: When You Eat Matters

How To Save On Drinks

The barista at the airport will be your new bestie if you show up with not only a Top Ramen but your own tea bags or instant coffee! If you’re staying in a hotel room, bring some tea bags with you for an afternoon pick-me-up. Long story short, just add hot water.

Other fun things to pack are water additives like Nuun or Mio, they are also easy on-the-go. Nuun tabs are often used by athletes, and since they don’t contain water, they’re carry-on friendly and can dress up the water in your reusable water bottle!

What about expensive booze?

You probably won’t want to bring along a two liter of diet coke, but you might find value in packing even a small bottle of booze (if you are so inclined!) to make a Jack and Coke in your room to pre-game with friends, versus going down to the hotel lobby to kick off the fun. If you’re traveling for a romantic getaway, packing a bottle of champagne will save you time and money depending on where you stay.

Related: How Stopping Drinking Will Make Me $500,000 Richer

How To Save On Dining Out

Chances are you’re going to want to do more than just eat PB&J’s in your room, so a quick tip is to time your meals. Expensive restaurants can be cheaper (and less crowded) if you dine with them for lunch instead of dinner. If you are needing to grab dinner out, see if you can snag a happy hour special or cut costs by having your drinks first at a cheaper location. Finding a favorite local bar adds to the experience and can save big.  Final tip–if you can snag a Groupon Full Disclosure: We earn a commission if you click this link at no additional cost to you. or Entertainment Book Full Disclosure: We earn a commission if you click this link at no additional cost to you. (depending on where you go!) or can book a tour Full Disclosure: We earn a commission if you click this link at no additional cost to you. that includes food using travel rewards, you’ll save a ton! We got several free meals while in Paris by booking champagne/lunch tours and hotels on points that included meals. Everything was still yummy and it was cheap!

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If you really want to maximize your travel rewards check out ChooseFI's free travel rewards course.

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2 thoughts on “How To Eat Frugally While Traveling”

  1. Eating Ramen noodles while traveling guarantees you won’t have enough strength to walk the towns of coastal Italy! Grocery stores in any country or city of the world can provide many cheap tasty meals including cups to just add water, bags of salad kits, pre-made sandwiches, bread and cheese, fruit and packages of ham or cans of tuna. I stay in hotel rooms up to 160 nights a year and if need be can feed two people well/healthy on $12 a day.
    Shannyn: It’s illegal or against airline regulations to drink your own liquor on a plane at least in the US. A flight attendant must open any bottle of alcohol that is being consumed on the plane. Cheap drinks? Have a few or a glass of wine in your room before going out. Eat in neighborhood restaurants, not tourist areas.

    • Hi Mary, thanks for your comment. I truly didn’t know it was illegal to drink your own alcohol on a plane. The article has been edited for this. We certainly don’t want to be promoting anything illegal.

      Your other tips are great as well, thank your for sharing them.

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