How To Eat Cheap Around The World

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.

4)

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.

4)

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

6)

4. Steal

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

-Leif

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.


Let Me Know What You Think!

  1. says

    Another nice technique is hitting the food court at a nearby mall! People tend to leave many left overs on there trays just waiting for you! Pop a squat and enjoy yourself some nice left overs. When you finish that plate, scope out the next and repeat :)

  2. Bee says

    ^ Honesty boxes are usually on farms/side of the road, they have the eggs/fruit/bread there for you to take and leave a locked box for you to put your money in as no one is around to ‘watch’ the stall.

  3. Hannah says

    these tips are epic!
    usually you see tips for well off travellers, “try and eat at a roadside cafe instead of restaurants, youd be amazed at what you can save!’ oh would that i could.
    My boyfriend and I live in pretty much the same way all of your tips describe, and we have just relaised the beauty of travel. on a fuckin shoestring!
    1)Buying bread and stealing cheese/chocolate etc. and i dont feel guilty stealing from supermarkets, just never independant shops, although once a really awesome kiwi lady let us off with 2 free fish and chip dinners in new zealand provided we came and paid her the next day which we promised faithfully to do, whilst not looking at each other, and feeling really guilty cos we knew we werent, obviously we didnt enjoy doing that but a free fish and chip dinner is a free fish and chip dinner when you have little to no funds
    2) dine and dash from chain restaurants. pizza hut-sit buy the door. or if you do decide to pay buy one pizza each and one unlimited salad, fill up tupperware boxes under your table and refil your water bottles under the table too! eat half your pizza each, fill up on salad and have them box up your pizza and you have a meal for later
    bin diving, feels a bit scary when in foriegn countries, and ive yet to build up the courage to actually do that but we live off it at home.
    3)buying a gas stove and buying off roadside vendors and the honesty boxes by farms and country houses. (i NEVER steal from honesty boxes or id be dammed in the karma stakes) buy eggs, avocados, tomatoes, fruit, potatoes, and make giant omelletes and salads for next to nothing.
    4)fill up on hostel breakfasts and consider paying more for a hostel that serves breakfast. and steal the rolls for lunch. with your stolen cheese you dont even have to buy bread! pair that with your gas stove omellet, a big tub of fresh strawberries from a roadside vendor and youve got a nice lunch
    5)we always fill our water up at petrol/gas stations, the little tap that is next to the air pressure machine i susually free.

  4. Cruiser says

    Also a good idea, if you don’t plan on getting a steady job..
    Is to get into jail for short times in west european countries.

    For example in the Netherlands being in Jail is like being in a hotel. Actually most jail go-ers over here have better food than the people that struggle with their job to make a living.

  5. Jonathan says

    Got this idea from a rap song (Dead Prez – Hell Yeah) Order delivery food and rob the driver. If your REALLY hungry (and desperate) {Just wanted to add I don’t recommend stealing from anyone, but i would rather be in a jail eating food than lying on the floor dying of hunger.} Also maybe even carry seeds of quick growing edible foods, sit still for a few months… Having an understanding of the local edible plants (and consciously keeping an eye out for them) can help with money and hunger (and knowing the seasons for the plants).

    Not that I really know, but I plan on traveling the world for cheap/free (out of necessity), so I watch a lot of Bear Grylls and Ray Mears (currently downloading a bunch of Ray Mears videos and books). This guide has given me some much needed confidence for cheap/free world travel. Thank you.
    (I also love the http://www.travel-the-world-for-free.com site, great stuff) I hope you finish that book someday. Goodluck with your travels.

    • says

      Haha, thats funny but nuts. I like your second Idea though, sit still for months :) Good stuff dude. Those guys are good role models. Thanks man, I’m going to keep building that site and get some good articles from people who also have experience traveling free. After your trip, maybe you can contribute. Cheers, Leif

  6. Claire Walsh says

    These are excellent techniquies, when I was in Thailand I lost all my cash and litteraly haggled a street food vendor to give me some spring rolls in exchange for a t-shirt I had. xx

  7. Smulen says

    Well, in Norway there is this store called Kiwi. They have a durability guarantee that says; If you find something that expiers today or tomorrow you get it for free! What most people don’t know is that you don’t get the expierd product, but a new one for free! And if they don’t have what you need; the money for the product… In CASH! Also, if you find beer or tobacco products, then you get the cash back, since it’s illegal to give you these for free!

    I spent 25 minutes in a Kiwi store and I found a lot!

    I got cash for theese; 3 six-pack’s of beer, 4 packets of Skruf Potion.
    And this I got a new product; 5 plates of chocolate, a packet of Oreos, 3 packs of Pringles, 300g beef, 3 packs of sliced cheese and a diet coke!

    Though you may have to look for a while, you’ll most likely find something, and you just say that it’s expierd to the cashier and; cashing! Money or free new product! :D

      • Cruiser says

        Hey, I am usually working ona cruise ship, so not travelling alone. however I do visit quite some places.

        I love norway, as also: Whenever you get thirsty…from most rivers and waterfalls it’s perfectly ok to drink the water. the locals even get their water from there instead of from the tap!

  8. Maze McPunklet says

    I’m not travelling at the moment, but whether I’m at home or on the road, I’ve always relied on dumpster diving as means of survival. However, this has come back on me on one occasion. A while ago i was at home and struggling to get by, so to cut some expenses out of day to day life, i went into my local bins every couple of days. However, I would go at night so i never had a good view of what i was doing while in the bin. It’s dark in there. Anyway, I started to get ill. I thought it was maybe because I wasn’t getting enough iron or something. But as i got more and more sick, i ate less. There was a loaf of bread i’d found that hadn’t even gone out of date when i took out of the bin and after 2 days of not eating due to being sick, i went into my bread bin to find that it was all mouldy. It shouldn’t have been. I’d cleaned that bread tub a few days before. So i went to the bin, in daylight, to see what was going on. When i looked in, the bin has gotten mouldy. I mean, really mouldy. Turned out, they’d been delaying pick-ups for the rubbish by an extra few days for the previous weeks which meant all the food at the bottom of the bin had gone rotten, and the bin was more disgusting than usual.
    Like i said, i got ill. Turned out (from eating mouldy foods and inhaling mould spores on a regular basis) I had gotten sinusitis and the infection had spread to my lungs. This explained why i couldn’t breathe. I was proper ill for weeks.

    It hasn’t put me off dumpster diving. But the moral of this story?? If you go at night, take a torch and have a scope of the bin before climbing in. Check the expiration dates on the packets. Be careful of dairy/meat products. Anything vegan is usually fine. Be cautious of anything that looks like it’s been in there for a while. And if it’s raw fruit/veg, try and find a way of washing it!

    Hope you find this story useful Xx

  9. Los Angeles says

    Quick question, how can you tell if the food has bacteria and/or maggots on it? And what are the consequences for eating food like that?

  10. Steph says

    In dowtown Portland (Or) they have these waterfountains on the sidewalks everywhere called ‘The Benson Bubblers’, if you’re down there looking for water.

  11. says

    Many supermarkets have a section near the back with marked-down items that are old or damaged, with the UPC written over with a new price. Cashiers ring up these items using the new price no questions asked, so one can do this for any item.
    If you can find an old CueCat or other cheap bar code scanner you can scan some inexpensive or generic item that you find in the trash and then print new UPC’s on sticker paper to stick onto goods at the market, be sure the description is close to what you are sticking or a sharp checker might bust you. Don’t try this scam too often with the same checker or at the same store in case the management starts looking for you.

  12. says

    Another method is to enter a supermarket armed with shopping bags and a receipt(from said supermarket). Put what you want into a shopping cart. When you’ve got what you want, find a low traffic, low security area(The bedding section, garden center, discount aisle) and put your goods into the shopping bag(s). Then just walk right out(with the receipt in hand). If you’re stopped, hand them the receipt, they usually won’t take the time to check for each item. This works best during medium to peak business hours.

  13. says

    hello guys,
    i ran away yesterday and came home an hour later, it was an decreasing experience and very exciting, i advise everyone to do it!!!!!! i am doing it again tonight for 2 hours this time WOW :O so if i come on the news then you’ll all know where i am. up the top of my street. love you all and safe journeys … p.s i you run away then i’ll meet you in manchester, much love run away friends xxxxxxxxx

  14. says

    I had a friend who would walk into a grocery store and fill up a cart and walk right out. He did it 100’s of times but got arrested 1 or 2 times and had to stay in jail for a few weeks. He also did dining and dashing. Though when I traveled with him we started a system where we got things cheap or for free from dumpster diving and sold on ebay and craigslist. That made enough for us to travel and eat. If your overseas you can often offer to teach english for room and board with a local family. It worked for me a few times. Also if you got some skills with website design or anything else you can offer that to local business for $$$ or food. There are so many options for bartering and making money anywhere one goes.

    • says

      I had a friend who would do the same thing lol. Crazy guy. There definitely are a lot of opportunities to make money and ways to get by so you don’t starve while on the road. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  15. none says

    another option is to eat in the supermarket but do it carefully away from employees so try to sneak it into the restroom. one way is to rip the bar codes off the food and hide it on you.

  16. carebearz says

    i noticed you never mentioned anything about water but ya where i live if you drink from the water in the lakes you get really sick so what do you do ya cant boil the water ethier bc of what you are doing so what would you do for water ?

  17. ICJ - To pay is to fail. says

    I’ve done it many a time.

    Stuck in an airport waiting 24hours for a flight I had no money what so ever I managed to get an English bloke who had just arrived to buy me a meal, I asked him if he had any spare change, explained my plight and he was kind enough to buy me a hot much needed meal.

    I’ve stole countless times, supermarkets are piss easy in europe, europe is very very naive and it’s extremely easy to do.

    • says

      People can be really kind. I found that the more poor the country the kinder the people. I think it’s because they know what it’s like to suffer. I have hit up the markets a few times but every time bad karma would follow me. Birds shitting on my head, people robbing me ect. Any run ins with karma for your self?

  18. says

    I travel around the country, living out of my van for a year for a project I call Leafless Diaries. It’s self-funded, so I’ve been living on the cheap since the start, 8.5 months ago.

    I, at times, will ask restaurants just before close if they have anything they’re going to just throw away. This works well with bakeries of sorts, if they don’t have a deal with a local shelter.

    One thing I’ve been having fun with as of late, and probably something every broke college student knows well, is trying a myriad of concoctions with a protein (such as canned tuna or hot dogs) and condiments. Over my time on the road, I’ve collected a buffet of various condiments, and I’ll tweet or Facebook my meals. And sure enough, I generally have those who have eaten something similar.

    My favorite, however, if you’re really craving a warm meal on a budget, you can opt for asking the local gas station for use of their microwave, OR do what I do, and use your vehicle’s engine. I had a great tasting Thanksgiving meal last year because of this technique. Aluminum can be your best friend. :)

    • Shauna Miller says

      Why not just check with the local government offices. Most areas have food banks or homeless shelters/soup kitchens.

      Bakeries are great. Ask employees when they do their food turn around and ask if they could keep some of their throw always.

      As far as drinks. Find a place that offers free refills. Buy one take away cup and go back to refill.

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