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8 Tips to Save Money on Food on Backpacking Trips

Asian food vendor

You've spent forever saving for those precious plane tickets, and now you're heading out on the backpacking trip of a lifetime.

Keeping that trip going for as long as possible and paying for fun activities and excursions is a lot easier if you don't waste money on food.

Check out our list of the best ways to eat well on a budget while backpacking.

1. Eat like a local

Street food is a great way to learn a little about the culinary culture of a place while enjoying a flavorful meal that won't break the bank.

For street food, always follow the crowd. If local people spend a huge chunk of their lunch break waiting for food at a particular vendor, the quality is probably excellent.

Without the high overheads that come from offering customers indoor seating and table service, food trucks and carts can charge a much lower price for their dishes.

Food is no less delicious when you enjoy it from a paper bag.

2. Speak the lingo

A top tip when traveling is to steer clear of places with bilingual menus.

If you are in a non-English-speaking country, but a translated menu is available, chances are that the establishment caters to a tourist crowd — with premium prices for the convenience.

Stick with small family-run eateries with a menu in a local language to enjoy the most bang for your buck.

You can use a dictionary or an app to help you decipher what is on offer. Better yet, throw caution to the wind and ask your server to make a recommendation!

3. Look for the menu of the day

In many countries around the world, local cafes and restaurants offer a dish or menu of the day.

This is a set menu at a fixed price, so you might not have any choice about which dish you eat, but it is always a more cost-effective option.

Some set menus will include soft or alcoholic drinks, bread, and desserts alongside a starter and main, so it might well be the only meal you can manage to eat that day.

4. Pack in the protein

It may cost a little more upfront, but choosing high protein meals is a great way to keep yourself feeling fuller for a longer time.

Eating on a budget can sometimes feel a little repetitive and unhealthy, so splashing out on fish once in a while can help make sure that you are getting all the nutrients you need.

The levels of protein in salmon are comparable to those in chicken, but the Omega-3 content and amino acids make it a more nutrient-rich and filling choice.

5. Create your own bar

All alcoholic drinks are cheaper to buy in small independent grocery stores or local supermarkets than in bars.

Instead of hitting the town, why not organize a party at your pad?

Socializing at your hostel can be a great way to meet like-minded people and save you a little money.

If local laws allow, perhaps you can have a little knees-up with friends on the beach or in the park. But take care to find out whether they permit street drinking where you're going.

6. Hit the market

The chances are excellent that you will have access to kitchen facilities if you are staying in a hostel.

One of the best ways to find affordable ingredients to cook up a storm is to visit the local market. There you will find competitively priced and beautifully fresh ingredients.

Go there to find local fruits and vegetables, as well as meat and eggs. Plus, you can find many locally produced handicrafts.

Markets are often community hubs and real treasure troves of inspiration.

7. Eat breakfast

Speaking of hostels, many offer a complimentary breakfast. It is usually straightforward fare; bread, perhaps local fruit, and maybe some eggs if you are lucky. But a meal is a meal.

Stock up as much as you can to keep you going throughout the day and save having to fork out for expensive restaurants.

8. Take seasonal work

Many backpackers take casual jobs in bars and hostels to pay for their bed and board and to extend their trip.

However, you might find that more interesting opportunities are available that help to feed your tummy too!

For example, in wine-making areas, you can work as a grape picker during the harvest. This will be in September and October in the Northern Hemisphere and around March in the south.

As well as getting paid (and sometimes having accommodation thrown into the bargain), when the work is finished, many vineyards put on a fantastic party for their pickers.

There you can literally enjoy the fruits of your labor and kick back with engaging company.


If you take the initiative, you will find that eating on a budget while backpacking does not mean that you have to compromise on taste.

Hunting out the best street food and great value daily menus will also take you to corners of the world that you might otherwise have missed, so it's a fantastic way to gain new experiences and meet new people too!

Eating where the locals eat really takes you to the heart of a place and its vibe.


This story is brought to you in partnership with Wild Alaskan Company.

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