Top Tips to Save Money on Food and Supplies When Traveling
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We’re extreme. So, saving money on food while traveling (or not traveling for that matter) is a task we take very seriously. When we arrive in a new area that we’ll be at for a few days, our first goal is to find the local low cost and discount stores. We’re looking for food stores, as well as drug and retail stores that have the personal hygiene and day-to-day supplies we may need.
The most obvious way to find these stores is Google Maps. However, what do you do if you’re in a new place and have no idea what the local stores are? Even searching keywords can set you off in the wrong direction or leave you missing valuable finds. For example, in Dublin we wanted to find a second hand shop to purchase winter jackets. We searched Google for “thrift store” and came up with hardly any results. We later found out that the local term is not 'thrift store', but instead, 'charity shop'!
Walk the Town/Lay of the land
Walking around the area you’re staying in is a great way to not only get to know the neighborhood, but also to spot local shops. We start day one by heading in one direction and keeping our eyes peeled for all of the local spots. Day two, we head in a different direction. This is also a great way to keep up exercise, since we usually walk 2-3 miles before turning around. We have a general list of stores we make note of:
- Grocery stores: We go inside, make note of the cost of items that we’re likely to purchase (fresh vegetables and fruit, frozen vegetables, oatmeal, etc). We’ll take a picture of items that seem to be priced well, so we can compare prices at another store.
- Drug/Retail Stores: We go inside and make note of the items we’re likely to need (soap, toothpaste, mouthwash, contact lens solution, etc). We take pictures of the items, making sure to get the ounces and cost for comparison at other shops.
- Barber Shops: Sergio gets a cut every three to five weeks, so we spend time looking for the best cost barber. It’s great when the place has a price sheet visible from the window or door, but if they don’t we’ll pop inside and ask. We also take into account the ‘feel’ of the place, is it hip and urban or highbrow and chic?
- Fruit/Vegetable Stands: Some cities have great ‘hole in the wall’ markets. We love these since they’re generally lower cost. Even when found in the affluent parts of town. The downside, is that a lot of markets don’t have prices posted.
- Print Shops: We usually need a place that'll print boarding passes or tickets for us. We have a USB thumb drive that we use for this purpose. The cost of printing at a print shop usually beats the cost of printing at the airport. Remember, most low cost airlines, nickel and dime everything!
Ask a Local
It’s always a good idea to ask a local if you need advice or guidance. In our experience, people are more than happy to help if they can. When getting to a new city, we ask around about the local places. This could be the hotel staff, the owner of the house sit, the Airbnb host or someone on the street.
This method is sometimes hit and miss. When we were in Belfast, we decided we needed to get a set of thermals (more for Shannon’s sake than anything else). We went into an H&M and asked if they had thermals. When they didn’t, we asked an employee where would be a good place to find them. The young girl looked at us blankly, and had no clue. She wasn’t our target audience.
We then went into a discount store, similar to a US dollar store, and Sergio had the fantastic idea of asking there. Sure, it’s a stereotype to ask an older person in a dollar store where to get cheap thermals, but it worked. Two women, asked separately, who looked over 65-years-young, pointed us to Primark. The store is very similar to TJ Maxx or Target. We found $6 thermals and fleece lined leggings. Score!
Choose the Right Neighborhood
Avoid the high-end neighborhoods if you’re after a good deal. Yes, they’re nicer and they’re generally safer, however, you pay a higher price when shopping there. Working class neighborhoods have smaller shops and discount shops that are full of good finds. When we’re looking for a barber or a local market, these are the parts of town we head towards.
If you don’t know where to spot these neighborhoods, you can always ask. However, that can be a bit awkward if not delicately stated. Instead, keep your eyes peeled for ethnic eateries and lower cost hotels, and keep to the outskirts of town.
Most blogs will tell you the standard tips and tricks to saving money on food...
- Stay at a hotel with free breakfast (like a Hampton by Hilton) and fill up on the proteins and fats, avoiding the sugar laden cereals and breads.
- Eat one big meal a day.
- Save your left overs.
- Choose accommodations that have access to a kitchen or small appliances.
- Subscribe to a restaurant deal site or use coupons.
- Pack a reusable water bottle.
- Avoid eating in tourist areas.
- Avoid pricey alcohol beverages.
- Shop at a grocery store.
Going Beyond the Average Tips
These are all great tips and we recommend all of them. However, since we’re all about screw the average, we go beyond this. We follow most of these recommendations but focus primarily on having an accommodation with cooking appliances (fridge, microwave, stove/hotplate) so that we have no need to eat out. We then take it a step further by eating healthy, yet inexpensive food.
Our Grocery List
When we have access to cooking appliances:
- Frozen vegetables. This is a staple for us on the road and at home. No cutting or clean up. Nice and quick to place in a pot on the stove or in a bowl in the microwave. Plus, they’re economical and generally good quality. We prefer a small amount of mixed vegetables (corn, carrots, peas, green beans and lima beans) mixed with a larger portion of low carb, low sugar vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, squash).
- Beans. Inexpensive and filling. Canned works, but if we can find fresh, we’ll cook them so that we can control the salt and sugar added. (We don’t add sugar!)
- Eggs. Again, relatively inexpensive and are a great source of protein and fat. We may have a couple cooked over easy here and there, but we prefer to hard boil them. We boil a batch and then place them in the fridge. They become a great addition to a meal, or a snack when out of the house. They pack well in a bag and really won’t spoil unless you have them in the sun on an extremely hot day.
When we don’t have access to cooking appliances:
- Carrots. A great snack. Easy to grab and can be eaten as they are.
- Fresh veggie pack. If we don’t have access to cooking appliances, we likely don’t have access to utensils either. So we can’t cut fresh vegetables and have to purchase already cut veggies. This can be expensive (relative to un-cut veggies in the produce aisles). We compare the prices of salad mixes, to stew prep packs, to stir-fry packs. For volume, we mix in iceberg lettuce, bean sprouts, or the like. We always keep an eye out for discounted vegetables that are nearing their sell by date (but perfectly safe to eat) to save on cost as well.
- Canned beans. Cans are hit or miss because you have to find the cans with the pull tops, unless you’ve opted to carry around a can opener. Beans are nice and filling and are good even cold and straight out of the can. They're a great addition to the salad we mentioned above.
- It can be a challenge to find canned beans (or anything canned for that matter) without added salt. If we need to, we reduce the sodium by rinsing canned beans before eating them.
- Tomato sauce. Tomato sauce is good as a flavor addition to many types of food. It's great with the two items above, salad and beans. We look for the sauce that has the least amount of added ingredients, especially focusing on as little salt and sugar.
- Soup. We prefer dry soup packs, as they travel better. They don't spill and go through airport security without cause for concern. We simply add hot water to make soup. We’ve also been known to add the dry soup packet ingredients to the beans, salad and or tomato sauce to add flavor and spices. Again, for health reasons, avoid soup with sugar, coloring and preservatives. Also, look for soups that have less salt.
- Oats. Our travel go-to food. Oats are a great value for intersecting calories, nutrition, cost, and convenience at around $0.60-$1.00 a pound. They’re filling, light weight, easy to carry and get through airport security. They can be eaten dry (seriously, just add your sweetener of choice, or not, it’s your call!) or with hot water.
Here are a few value and discount European stores we’ve found so far:
- Dirk (middle of the road prices)
- Albert Heijn (middle of the road prices)
- Tesco (middle of the road prices)
Discount Stores/Dollar Stores
- Euro Giant
- Wilko (home goods)
- Primark (This is where we've found the best values on thermals, socks, beanies, and gloves.)
- Thirft shops, are called “charity” shops
- T.K. Maxx (Apparently the 'K' is the European version. Both T.J. Maxx and T.K. Maxx are owned by TJX Companies.)
Save Your Budget and the Environment
We travel as light and as lean as possible. Yet we're still traveling with reusable grocery bags and produce bags. As soon as we landed in Dublin and made our first stop at a grocery store we purchased 2 small, light weight, reusable grocery bags and 2 produce bags. Along with our HikPro backpacks, we use these for transporting our groceries home from the store. If push comes to shove, we're prepared to leave behind these bags and purchase new ones at the next destination. We do this because it's important to us to use as little as possible. Plus, most of Europe doesn't have plastic bags anyway, and if they do, you have to purchase them. So, why not get a nylon, light weight bag and save the repeated cost and waste?