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Going Abroad? Here's How to Save Money on Food While Traveling

Isabel Salvosa

Isabel Salvosa

Last updated February 20, 2024

There's much to be said about traveling to enjoy new things, bask in exciting cultures, and soak up stunning views. But arguably, the best part of exploring the globe is experiencing a myriad of new flavors and textures—a rich, piping-hot bowl of Thai tom yum, a crunchy-on-the-outside-but-soft-on-the-inside French baguette, and tender Japanese nigiri dipped in soy sauce and dabbed with a bit of wasabi, just to name a few. 

But even if you pick the cheapest countries to visit, food—along with visa fees, airfare, airport fees, and accommodation—can get expensive abroad. Fortunately, you can still enjoy your holiday. You just need to know how to save money on food while traveling.


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How to Save Money on Food While Traveling Abroad

Before you even get to your destination, however, you need to survive your flight. Since airports tend to charge exorbitant rates for snacks, consider packing your own food for long-haul flights. 

What kind of food should you bring on vacation to save money? As a rule of thumb, don't scrimp on nutrition. Protein-packed snacks,[1] such as seeded bread sandwiches, nuts, trail mix, and granola bars, are the perfect long-lasting food for long-distance travel—they're filling and don't spoil immediately.

Remember to check the TSA requirements[2] before choosing which food to carry for the long journey ahead. Generally, you need to stay within the 100ml limit for liquid or gel food items in your carry-on. If possible, try to avoid liquids such as sauces and salsa altogether. 

Once you get to your destination, here's how to save money on food while traveling abroad: 

🍽️ DIY Your Own Meals

how to save money on food while traveling - diy your own meals

Plenty of hostels, hotels, and bed-and-breakfasts offer complimentary breakfasts and afternoon snacks, so take advantage of that. But if you want to try your hand at cooking instead, pick accommodations that offer access to a kitchen, especially a microwave and a refrigerator.

Check out the foreign produce at the local grocery store or market and cook your own meals—you don't eat out three times a day back home, after all!

Here are a few other tips on how to save money on food when traveling:

  • Go for easy-to-cook meals that don't require any special expertise, such as scrambled eggs, stir-fried noodles, pizza, salad, pasta and tomatoes, and grilled sandwiches.
  • If you're in a hurry or don't trust yourself anywhere near a stove, you can also try local canned goods, ready-to-eat meals, and snacks. Convenience stores in Japan are particularly known for their ubiquity and remarkable range of snacks and microwave meals.
  • Don't forget to bring a bite to eat during long, exhausting tours or excursions. Snacks in such areas typically get more expensive. 
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🍽️ Skip the Fancy Restaurants

how to save money on food while traveling - skip fancy restaurants

If you really want to book a special night out in a restaurant, look outside the touristy areas, where prices are ridiculously jacked up. That said, you don't need to visit a fancy restaurant to get a taste of authentic local cuisines.

You also have plenty of other alternatives if you're looking for options on how to save money on food when traveling.

Here are some of them:

  • Ask locals for their recommendations. You can't go wrong by asking the hotel or hostel staff for their recommendations. You can also browse travel-related subreddits or forums to find more options. 
  • Cafe rates are often cheaper, especially when they offer special deals during lunchtime.
  • Check out well-loved mom-and-pop joints in the area as well. They're a classic for a reason!
  • Instead of grabbing dessert in the same restaurant after your meal, head to the local convenience store to discover local sweets, chocolates, pastries, and ice cream. 
  • On your way back home in the evening, drop by a bakery to buy baked goods at a reduced price. This practice of selling day-old bread is particularly common in Europe, which prides itself on its pastries.
  • Try street food or check out food trucks. It's one of the best ways to fully immerse yourself in a foreign country—not to mention save money on food while traveling. For instance, the vibrant street food scene is part of Singapore's lifeblood—it's even recognized by UNESCO.[3] Pick a busy stall with long lines so you can ensure they serve fresh food. You don't want to spend the rest of your vacation lying in bed with a stomach flu! 
  • Want to avoid tipping? Go on a picnic. Take your blanket, aperitif, and your picnic basket. Enjoy the fresh air, your loved ones' company, and the calming lake scenery at Villa Borghese in Rome, or the breathtaking view of the Eiffel Tower at Champ de Mars in Paris.

🍽️ Drink Responsibly

how to save money on food while traveling - drink responsibly

And by that, we mean don't splurge on overpriced drinks. You can still enjoy yourself abroad without blowing all your cash. Here's how: 

  • Buy drinks at the supermarket or convenience store, where they're sold at cheaper prices than at restaurants or bars. Take note that countries such as Thailand ban small retailers from selling alcohol, while others such as Finland, the UK, and Ireland impose heavy taxes on beer.[4] Remember to drink in moderation. You don't want to waste a portion of your vacation in a hungover daze!
  • Skip the pricier sodas, juice, and shakes in favor of water. These sugary drinks can leave dehydrating effects on the body. Keep yourself hydrated with plenty of water, especially if you're traveling in a humid country or going backpacking. 
  • No matter the country, bottled water can get expensive. You can survive drinking tap water in places like Japan and Singapore, but you can't exactly say the same for others. Bring a water flask and refill as needed at water dispensers in mall food courts. 

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🍽️ Take Advantage of Food Promos

This tip to save money on food while traveling is so obvious, but so easy to forget. Here's how to make the most of food promos:

  • Search for apps or platforms that offer food promos from various establishments. For instance, Eatigo—which is available locally and in countries such as Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, India, and Indonesia—is a restaurant reservation app that offers discounts of up to 50% off.
  • Bring a credit card designed for travel and/or dining. Depending on the card, you can enjoy discounts, rewards points, cashback, and more. Compare some of your best options below and apply via Moneymax:
Credit Card  Annual Fee Dining Features and Benefits
UnionBank Rewards Credit Card 
UnionBank Rewards Credit Card - Aug 2023
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₱2,500
  • 3x rewards points at restaurants
  • 1 rewards point for every ₱30 spend
Metrobank Titanium Mastercard® 
METROBANK TITANIUM MASTERCARD
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₱2,500
  • 2x rewards points on dining
  • 1 rewards point for every ₱20 spend
Metrobank Platinum Mastercard® 
metrobank PLATINUM MASTERCARD
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₱5,000
  • Up to 50% off on premium dining offers
  • 1 rewards point for every ₱20 spend
Metrobank World Mastercard®
metrobank WORLD MASTERCARD
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₱6,000
  • Up to 50% off on luxury dining deals
  • 1 rewards point for every ₱20 spend
HSBC Red Mastercard 
hsbc red
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₱2,500
  • Up to 4x rewards points on dining 
  • 1 rewards point for every ₱20 spend
HSBC Gold Visa Cashback
hsbc gold visa cashback
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₱2,500
5% cashback on dining transactions
Security Bank Complete Cashback Platinum Mastercard
Security Bank Complete Cashback Platinum Mastercard
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₱3,000
2% cashback on dining  
BPI Amore Platinum Cashback Card
BPI Amore Platinum Cashback Card 
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₱5,000
Up to 4% cashback on dining or online food purchases  

 

Related reading: 

Final Thoughts

When traveling abroad, trying out local cuisine is non-negotiable. The trick is to learn how to save money on food while traveling. You need a little extra cash for souvenirs to remember your holiday by, after all. 

To navigate the local dining scene, don't rely too much on the Instagram-famous spots as these tend to be tourist traps. Eat like a local, as they say.

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Sources: 

Before joining Moneymax as its Content Editor, Isabel worked in media and e-commerce for over six years as a writer, content producer, and editor. She specializes in branded content, lifestyle, and entertainment. Isabel holds a bachelor's degree in Communication Arts from De La Salle University. In her spare time, she enjoys reading graphic novels and horror manga and spoiling her cats. Follow Isabel on LinkedIn.

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