If you want to learn how to eat cheap or even free while backpacking, you must have an open mind and a sauce made of hunger. It’s really not as hard as you may think and you might actually form some habits, though not always legal ones, that could save you loads and keep you on the road longer.
In this guide I will teach you the techniques that will enable you to cut your food costs and prolong your adventure indefinitely. The first section will covers some simple ways to save. The second part will introduce some strategies, albeit unorthodox ones, that could potentially eliminate your food expenses all together.
How To Eat Cheap Around The World
Though these tactics are fairly obvious, they are often overlooked.
1) Buy Food At Supermarkets
If you’re traveling in the western world, the supermarket is always your cheapest means of sustenance. The best value backpacker meals generally include bread, butter, cup of noodles, eggs and cold cuts. When buying your next meal you should always contemplate how many calories (units of energy) vis a vis the price.
2) Buy At Street Markets
In most developing countries, the local street market is always locally priced and the best place to buy eggs, fruit, produce and meats. Street Markets are also often home to traditional hole in the wall restaurants where you can chow a hot dish for cheap. Just remember, if it tastes funny, like poop or rotting meat, spit it out.
3) Eat Street Food
Street food is always low-cost and delicious. It also provides a nice introduction into the local cuisine. There’s no better street food in the world than that in South East Asia. For the cheapest food stalls be sure to get off the main tourist roads. With all local food in developing countries, be sure the meat is cooked well and nothing has been bathing in the sun too long. Check out How To Avoid Travelers Diarrhea.
3) Never buy food in Tourist Traps
Train stations, attractions, bus stops, hotel restaurants, Prices here tend to be 30-40% higher than the rest of the world.
5) Eat Less
People from the US, UK & AU in particular have been raised on 3 glutonous meals a day.
How To Eat For Free
These next methods are reserved for the traveler whose not afraid to get a bit dirty or .
1. Go Dumpster diving
Every market has very strict regulations when it comes to aging produce and meat. In the result, they are forced to dispose of myriad edible foods. Most of the time, these products still haven’t reached their expiration dates. What does this mean for you? If you’re willing to jump on in that dumpster, you may just find your self in Zagat heaven. Well, not quite that nice but nice enough if you’re starving. While you’re in the dumpster, carefully selecting and gathering food, keep on the look out for additional items that you might be able to resell or recycle. Flowers, cans, and bottles are always good finds. If you aren’t able to sell the flowers on the street, you can always use them to try and pick up a girl or guy, provided you’ve showered recently.
The next approach in your quest for complementary dishes is in some ways, depending on your perspective, a bit more unsanitary than the last. How could it be more unsanitary than getting up inside a dumpster you ask?
2. Enjoy The Leftovers
In some ways it isn’t as bad though because the food is still luke warm and you can chose which peoples leftovers you want to eat. Just wait till they place their unfinished plate on the rack in the corner and help your self! I would try and be discreet about this method though if you want to avoid a mix of sympathetic and disapproving stares. In the end though, you will really be amazed with what you can walk away with. I once managed an untouched hot dog and a full plate of fries at a restaurant on a ferry. One of the best days of my journey!
Nothing says class like somebody who just grabbed a handful of fries from your plate while you were looking back at the homeless guy peeing on the side of the restaurant. And guess what, you can be that somebody. In fact, when the hunger pains become unbearable, you just might have to. The best way to do this is to ask to use the restaurant bathroom. Then on the way in, swipe some food in a napkin from an un-cleared table. I probably don’t have to mention this, but discretion is advised.
3. Ask Restaurant & Cafe Owners
for their leftovers or expired foods. Many times these owners will be kind and let you help your self. And if they are really nice, they might even treat you to a proper meal. Similarly, you might even find a meal in the offer of a friendly local whose invited you to his/her home. These are often the best meals because the food is traditional and never in short supply.
4) Raid The Maids Carts
If you’re really hungry and in need of a quick pick me up hotel maids carts are never in short supply. Simply sneak into a nice hotel, head up to the top floor (where the suites are) and search for a cart. Here you’ll often find
5) Save Condiments
This is the least advisable option and should only be utilized as a last resort. Karma is real and when you steal food, more times than not you will end up with diarrhea or with several birds pooping on your head. True stories.
To sum up, if you’re not too strapped for cash, shop smart and eat less. If you’re starving, be savvy, hit the dumpster and stay positive, you never know when you might run into an old friend for the first time.
Good luck and safe travels
Ps. If you have ever utilized these techniques or have some of your own, I would love to hear about them. Feel free to post below.