Welcome to this edition of Travel Tip Tuesday!
We all know that it now costs a small fortune to travel these days, especially to Europe. Gas prices are up, the dollar is down and you need to take a second mortgage on your house, just to get to your desired destination. And that doesn’t even account for the fun once you get there.
The two biggest expenses after the initial transportation costs will be food and lodging. Today, I’ll be sharing some tips on how to eat cheaply, without sacrificing your experience.
Picnic, picnic, picnic. Visit a local food market and buy some of the best produce you can find. Grab some cold salads, some bread, fresh fruit and pick a glorious spot, sit down and relax and enjoy your meal at a fraction of what a meal out would cost. Don’t just think of picnics for lunch, consider one for dinner as well. I am not talking about eating in your car or anything boring like that. Instead, join the locals on the lawn of the Eiffel Tower, and watch the lights twinkle. It will be a romantic dinner picnic you’ll not soon forget. Or dangle your feet off a less-traveled footbridge in Venice and watch the gondolas float by. Now that’s a picnic!
Consider renting an apartment. This way you can shop for fresh food and make most of your meals at your apartment, rather than eating out every night.
Make lunch your biggest meal of the day. We all know that when eating out, lunch prices are usually less than dinner prices. You may be so full from lunch, that you just need a light snack for dinner.
Order from the prix-fixe menu. When traveling to Europe, always take advantage of the prix-fixe menus. Some places will have a choice of a two-course or three-course prix-fix. Try skipping dessert and go for the two course. Treat yourself, just once, to the dessert, your wallet and waist line will thank you.
Check out the daily special. Often chefs will have one special plate on the menu that changes daily. It should be enough to satisfy you for lunch and you’ll only pay about 10-12 €.
If you do eat out, stay clear of the touristy areas. The prices will be two to three times higher and the crowds will be inevitable. Wander off-the-beaten-path, away from the city center to find better prices.
Always ask the locals where they eat. Notice, I did not say to ask them where to go for a special evening, or a one of a kind experience. That is not what you want when you are on a budget. You want good fresh food at the best prices. Places you won’t find in any guidebook. Locals don’t go out for expensive dinners all the time. So don’t ask your concierge. Try asking your taxi driver, housekeeper, the guy at the post office or the girl at the supermarket. Regular folks. I haven’t been steered wrong yet!
Hit the street food. Food trucks are a fun and inexpensive way to eat on the go. Filling options like crêpes, falafel, lampredotto, porchetta – even pizza al taglio, make a tasty and casual meal, and you might get to try something very creative.
Order the house wine and tap water. These options are much cheaper than soda. All house wines I have had in France and Italy have been better than many expensive bottled wines than I have had in the states. And since tap water is free and very drinkable in Europe, not ordering that bottled water will save you at least 5€ on your bill.
Reuse your water bottle and refill it all day. Parts of France and Italy have fountains that flow with delicious spring water. If you are like me, I drink water constantly. You have to stay hydrated, especially if you’re traveling in the hot summer months. And if each bottle costs you 2€, you could spend upward of 10€ a day, just on water. It’s also good for the environment to reuse those plastic bottles. Go green and save the green!
Sometimes, you just have to eat at that place. Your know that five-star, Michelin or Zagat rated, people-can’t-stop-talking-about-it..place. Trust me, I get that. Really, I do. But, think about this. My guess is, many times, you are going for the experience, as much as the meal. What if, just getting all gussied up and sauntering up to the bar having a drink and an appetizer would satisfy this need. It just might and you will be able to save a boatload, without sacrificing most of the experience.
Share. Does your whole party need to have their own gelato every night? Do you each need an 8€ dessert at that restaurant? Think of the money you will save if you share these things. It may not seem like much, but if your on a two-week vacation, it really does add up!
Choose a hotel with breakfast included. If renting an apartment is not your style, try to stay somewhere that includes breakfast everyday. I found a hotel in Paris that included a wonderful, albeit basic, fresh baguette with butter and jam, fresh OJ and a choice of cafe au lait, tea or hot chocolate. It certainly held me over until I had an early lunch. It saved me about 50€ over the course of 10 days. Bed and Breakfasts are a much cozier and friendlier option and the breakfasts tend to be larger, homemade and can vary from morning to morning. And who knows, you may add a new recipe to your collection, if the hosts feel like sharing.
These things may not seem like rocket science. Most are common sense. But I find that you have to be conscious of your decisions with money. You have to actively put these things into play in order for you to reap the rewards. It just doesn’t happen. Each tip on their own may not seem like a huge money saver, but if you put them all to use, you can really save yourself some coin.
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