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Katie_H Jun 11th, 2008 09:09 AM

Have your travel dining habits changed due to the economy and weak dollar?
Dining experiences are a huge priority for me when I travel---they trump hotels and attractions for me, which is noticeable when it comes time to writing up any sort of budget for a trip.

Still---that budget doesn't stretch like it used to. What are your tips for good dining on a budget while traveling?

Do you splurge at one marque restaurant on a trip?
Or do you opt for several meals at cheaper spots?

Split plates? Skip dessert? Big lunches?

What's your strategy?

yk Jun 11th, 2008 11:15 AM

Hi Katie -

I love to eat good food, so I tend not to skimp on dining when traveling. Perhaps what I'll do is to eat a cheap lunch (like sandwich shop) and splurge on dinner. One things that works for me is I don't drink alcohol, and DH only drinks beer, so our bill is usually less than most other people just based on the drinks alone.

We'll be hitting NYC for July 4th. What I'll do is check out good restaurants that participate on and go to those using my "free" $25 GC.

Back at home, we've cut down our dining out to just 1 lunch and 1 dinner per week. Also I've been checking out restaurants that offer prix-fixe menus (usually Tues/Weds or Sundays) which are better deals than the usual Fri/Sat a la carte prices.

LowCountryIslander Jun 11th, 2008 11:42 AM

Hi Katie...

My dining experience while traveling "philosophy" seems to be similar to yours.

For me, dining is one of the things I enjoy the most about travel, sometimes even more then seeing the "famous sights"! :)

When traveling I will stay in moderate accommodations (no 5 star places for me). Usually I pick hotels or B&B's that include breakfast in the room price. And then I generally have a very light meal, more like a snack mid-day and save my splurge for an evening meal. This works well for me, because this is also how I dine at home (main meal in the evening).

I also tend to research "to death" restaurant/meal options of the place or places I will be, so I have a really good idea of which restaurants I want to try.

If I am really watching my pennies, I will tend to skip wine or cocktails before I skip a main meal (and dessert...yes, I have a sweet tooth!). Occasionally I will change things up and have a big lunch, but that usually depends on how my day is shaping up.

thursdaysd Jun 11th, 2008 02:54 PM

The food is definitely an important part of travel for me, and I tend to "sleep cheap" so I can eat well. At home I don't eat breakfast, but it's almost always included with the hotel rate, so when I travel I eat breakfast but don't eat much for lunch.

I don't have as big an appetite now I'm getting older, so I usually only have two courses for dinner - but I do still drink wine. I don't have a sweet tooth, so I've never gone in for dessert - I'd sooner have a cheese plate.

On the trip I just finished I ate a lot of panini for lunch! In England I often stop by Pret a Manger for a sandwich or salad - love their crayfish and avocado!!

Katie_H Jun 11th, 2008 03:08 PM

I've found lately that I've been skipping dessert and just lingering over my wine.

kybourbon Jun 11th, 2008 03:13 PM

Drink more wine and you won't notice you aren't eating as much. That's my plan for Italy this fall. Maybe I should write a wine diet book.

thursdaysd Jun 11th, 2008 03:23 PM

Unfortunately, wine is 100 calories per 4 ounce glass.... I cut back to wine only on the weekend for three months, and lost a couple of pounds.

toedtoes Jun 11th, 2008 08:17 PM

Well, I'm one of those who eats to live rather than lives to eat, so my angle is a bit different.

I try to keep my food budget to a minimum during my trips without going hungry. To do this, I usually select one or two nice places to eat on a trip and I do them at lunch rather than at dinnertime. The rest of the time, I do simple foods (Harveys veggie burgers when in Canada), sandwiches at a deli, grocery store or cafeteria, etc.

I also bring granola bars with me on the trip - they work great for the plane ride, and I'll eat one or two in the morning rather than buying breakfast. I try to do a later lunch around 1 - 3 in the afternoon, then I do something light in the evening before heading back to the hotel.

ira Jun 12th, 2008 07:21 AM

Hi K,

Since W promised to send us $1200 (haven't seen it yet) we didn't cut back very much.

I did cut out a daytrip from Zurich to Stein Am Rhein because of the cost (over $110).

We didn't bring back any good olive oil ($18/L and up) this time, but I still brought back 1/2 kg of dried cepes and 1/2 kg of tea. (Some things one just can;t do without.)

If we were forced to, we would:

A: No hotels above 2* in cities and 3* in the countryside

B: Reduce our restaurant bill by 1 fewer nicer places per week.

C: Go in the off-off season.

D: Cut back to every 24 instead of every 18 mos.


tzarinna Jun 14th, 2008 02:37 PM

I've only had a couple of trips so far this year,nothing extravagant. NYC, was a typical overnight trip for me. Dinner and drinks were involved, never even thought about dessert.

Lol, I went camping for my birthday so I suppose that is a true testament to being on a budget due to the changing economy. I did eat very well, it pays to be a woman who cooks and likes to plan every meal. =P

suze Jun 14th, 2008 08:32 PM

My biggest savings tip is because I *love* my wine... So I pack a corkscrew in my checked luggage or purchase one when I arrive & always keep a bottle in my hotel room bought at a grocery store, wine shop, corner store. Huge savings by buying in a store over drinking in bars or restaurants (which I still do, but limit that to a glass or 1/2 carafe of house wine with my meal).

Besides that tip, for food I supplement with meals from the grocery store, making picnics, from bakeries and take-out places. Depend the location, and whether I have a frig in the hotel, but I've gotten quite expert at "collecting" delicious meals.

I get tired of eating in restaurants all the time & get the feeling maybe for me the "dining experiences" are not as high a priority as for you, Katie_H?

I never eat dessert in restaurants but might get an ice cream or sweet later on in the evening if I'm out walking around (which I'd never do at home).

trippinkpj Jun 23rd, 2008 10:46 AM

We do what Suze does, by not getting dessert at the restaurant and getting something small later. Or I may have a latte instead if it's priced reasonably. We take advantage of early bird specials, two for one coupons and larger meals at lunch. Usually don't do a splurge meal. DD and I have ordered appetizers and a salad at a nice restaurant, and did very well price wise.

southeastern Jun 25th, 2008 07:18 AM

We're from New Orleans so we have fantastic food everywhere. When we travel, we like the "mom and pop, neighborhood" places. I think you get a more acturate "flavor" of how people eat in a foreign country when you try these places. When we ate in a marque restaurant in Paris, we decided it didn't hold a candle to New Orleans food. We have also found that in the local places people are friendly, helpful, etc. In Greece, we ate at a traverna that the hotel clerk recommended. The hotel clerk later showed up at the travena to eat, saw us, and sent a crafe of wine over to our table. Nice moments like that are remembered long after the meal. By the way, dinner was excellent and you can afford a dessert too.

Katie_H Jun 25th, 2008 08:11 AM

Suze-- food has only recently become a big priority for me while traveling; mostly because my SO is in the restaurant industry. So his tastes have effected my own.

southeaster--- I completely agree; a trip's most memorable meal for us is rarely the most expensive one; even though looking in advance at the itinerary, it's usually the meal we're most excited about. Mom and pop places make me feel like I'm really on vacation because their uniqueness reminds me that I'm somewhere else.

trippinkpj Jun 25th, 2008 09:46 AM

Katie- I agree with your comment about the most memorable meal not being the most expensive. My fave places in NYC with my trip last fall were Ess-a-Bagel and Hale and Hearty soups. and on a trip to Vancouver over 20 years ago I only remember the name of one place. The Only Seafood Cafe. It was a little counter only seafood place, with very fresh and tasty fish.

NoleNomad Jun 26th, 2008 10:05 AM

While I won't be returning to Italy until 2009, my dining approach then will be similar to that of southeastern and also espoused by Michael Tucker in his book "Living in a Foreign Language: A Memoir of Food, Wine, and Love in Italy" (highly recommended, BTW).

This will include packing picnic lunches with items purchased at stores or, preferably, local markets. Then, finding small, off-the-beaten-path osterie and trattorie for most dinners. If we stay in a farmhouse, etc., we'll probably fix a few meals there.

No Michelin star places for us this time. We will have the house/local wine rather than ordering from a list. As others have said, any dessert will consist of a gelato at a small shop instead of something off the menu.

I'm hopeful this approach will save some money and also reward us with a more meaningful and memorable travel experience.

travelgourmet Jun 26th, 2008 12:46 PM

I just wouldn't bother to travel if I wasn't going to have some great meals while I was there. I do often skip dessert, but this has nothing to do with saving money, and much more to do with the fact that I don't really relish sweets.

As to the original question, I guess the weak dollar has changed our travel dining habits. Currently living in Europe, it means that we come back to visit the US and start feeling pretty rich. Pretty much every meal when we are back in the states becomes a no-holds-barred eating and drinking frenzy.

JBHapgood Jun 26th, 2008 07:46 PM

Despite over two decades of solo travel experience, I have yet to learn how to fully enjoy eating alone in restaurants. So "dining experiences" have never been a priority when I'm traveling alone (which is most of the time).

I usually eat lunch every day at a decent restaurant. I find eating lunch alone is more comfortable than dinner, and it's also cheaper. I have breakfast and dinner either in my hotel room (I try to get one with a fridge, and a microwave if possible) or a picnic from a grocery store. I need to watch my weight, so I really don't need three restaurant meals a day anyway.

My strategy saves dollars as well as calories, so I will continue to use it. But it probably wouldn't be appropriate for a romantic getaway with a Special Someone.

humanone Jul 13th, 2008 08:29 PM

We do two things. Breakfast, unless its included in the hotel or B/B is usually a boring meal, so we take ziplock baggies of protein drink mix to balance the coffee and baked goods that we can have in our room or in a local bar. And then we have picnics. I am surprised when looking back at many trips to Europe that the picnics stand out more than even the best restaurants, probably because they are in interesting places such as a bench outside a castle, popped up on a wall in a parking lot overlooking a great view, or along a canal or in a park.

november_moon Jul 15th, 2008 08:14 AM

Our response to the weak dollar was to go to Asia rather than Europe :) Even in relatively expensive Singapore, we did pretty well. In Bali, our US$ went really far.

Now we are discussing plans for next year - Europe or back to Asia? Hmmmm...

Katie_H Jul 15th, 2008 08:31 AM

Definitely agree on the of my top 3 meals in Paris involved saucisson sec cut with a plastic knife and a fresh hot baguette on a stretch of lawn near Les Invalides.

FainaAgain Jul 15th, 2008 03:00 PM

Big lunch, light dinner, make coffee with cookies in room if breakfast is not included. Lots of snacks from home :)

We are not drinkers, so for us it's easy to skip or minimize wine. Desserts can be skipped, a chocolate bar later will do the trick.

Picnics, if the weather is nice. Fast food instead of expensive restaurants.

Non-food: check local museums for reduced or free admissions, plan your visit accordingly if possible.

FainaAgain Jul 15th, 2008 03:02 PM

Just don't buy "Tiramisu" dessert in a plastic box in Switzerland like I did. It was butter :)) Went well with bread and tomatoes though.

yk Jul 17th, 2008 09:57 AM

Another change I have initiated recently:

I order 2 apps instead of 1 app + 1 entree. Not only helps my wallet, it also helps keeping my waistline from growing.

I also will start skipping dessert. Perhaps just sharing one dessert between 2 people rather than each ordering one.

This is partly due to saving $, but I really can lose some weight as well.

Vicky Sep 16th, 2008 09:58 AM

I love the sweets in Europe but not too interested in food otherwise. Breakfast is my favorite meal and it is nice if included with the hotel cause i can have multiple cups of coffee, plan my day, and go back up to my room to brush my teeth before going out. Lunch - in paris crepes or a baguette sandwich, in italy a panini and gelato. of course sometimes its lunch at a cafe but an omelette and hot chocolate set 2 of us back about $30 at the Cafe Flore en Isle in Paris so don't do that every time. I love popping in a bakery for a snack or in Germany, love the Brezen (pretzel bread). If I have one nice dinner a trip that is fine with me.

SAnParis2 Sep 18th, 2008 06:48 AM

Yes, we have forgone any trips outside of the US this year. Myself, being an unemployed Banker for awhile now, has limited prospects to date (at least anywhere that I would actually consider living). Once I'm working again, we're off to....somewhere. We just got my daughters passport renewed so we are ready to go, Paris is calling.

tzarinna Sep 18th, 2008 08:45 AM

I'm a recently unemployed union electrician, here in DC. So I'd have to say, yes. My travel plans are on serious hold. I'm 489 on the books down at the hall. Not expecting work to pick anytime soon, hopefully after elections. *crosses fingers*

Timlin Sep 19th, 2008 04:12 PM

We're both retired (and sorry to read about the unemployed....that's such a hard spot to be in) and so we have to watch carefully so that our money lasts as long as we do.

We've never been foodies anyway so we have a big breakfast if it's included in our room and then go light the rest of the day.

This time we have an apartment and I intend to do a bit of at home cooking. I'll pack a lunch and we'll grab the tube back home for dinner and then strick out again. From where we are to almost anyplace it's a short ride and I suspect we might spend as much time in a restaurant waiting to be served as we would heading home to eat and watch the news. We'll see how that sounds good in theory but we've never tried it before.

We don't drink so that's not an issue.....a little ice cream while walking about is always a must.

TPAYT Sep 28th, 2008 11:16 AM

Just back from Paris. We didn't know if we would go this year(our 6th trip) because of the weak dollar.

Here's what we did:

Shortened our trip from 2-3 10 days.

Rented an apartment, which we've done before. We love our creature comforts, and you can get a gorgeous apt. for the price of a medium hotel in Paris.

Made coffee and hit the delicious bakeries for breakfast.

Had only 2 pricy dinners.The rest in small bistros we've discovered through the years.

Only took 1 cab the whole time, otherwise walked and took the Metro.

Our other strategy was going back to a place we know and love. We had thought about going elsewhere in Europe(and we will when the $ is better), but returning to a place you know adds days and $ to your budget.

yk Oct 3rd, 2008 03:23 PM

Hi Katie-

Looking back at what I wrote in June, here's more I have to add given DH & I just returned from a trip to France and Belgium:

1) We have cut down on splurge meals. Our most expensive meal on this trip was €88, including drinks.

2) We ate a number of sandwiches and salads from take-away places.

3) We even packed a small picnic snack one day - using the leftover bread and cheese in our breakfast basket at our hotel.

4) Instead of ordering a €35 3-course prix-fixe, I ordered 2 courses a la carte for a little less. Skipping dessert helps us save a few euros and helps me from gaining too much weight.

I have another trip coming up end of this month, a last-minute decision to go to London. I really will be eating lots of cheap food on this trip, and sadly, no Gordon Ramsay for me (can't justify the £££)!

LeaderWorld Oct 3rd, 2008 10:23 PM

Never change or compensate anything with dining habits.. Meal Budgeting on a trip can seem confusing. Buy juice boxes if you have any kids, but I suggest the Capri Sun because others that are in boxes tend to get sogging after being in a cooler for a while. Pack some lunch meat, bread, basically just simple stuff. This will save time and money. While on your trip, $8 per meal is an affordable amount per person. I suggest that if you have a hotel room with a fridge and microwave, take easy prep meals that you can eat for breakfast, or as a late night snack. Buffets are always great money savers. But most definitely, make sure you do have pop, water, juices, etc for your room. Vending machines while on vacation can really dip into your budget. Have a great trip.

mlgb Feb 8th, 2009 08:01 PM

My most recent tip..go to Peru. Good exchange rate and fantastic food. Most of my lodgings included a good breakfast. I avoided the well publicised tourist restaurants after a few mediocre experiences.
Portion sizes in South America are huge...I saw a lot of locals sharing.

I had some excellent meals for $5 to $10 US. Cebiche, Alpaca Loin, great gelato. The one thing that I had to work to find was good coffee.

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