Eat like a local to make your trip dollars go further. Let’s explore what eating like a local means.
First of all, in many places, the locals are eating at home. When we travel, we save quite a bit of money by not eating all of our meals out. We rent apartments with kitchens, and we use those kitchens. I frequently joke that we are grocery store tourists, but it’s true. We have probably seen every grocery store within a two mile radius of every apartment we’ve rented.
We love visiting the local stores. It’s so much fun to see what kinds of food they sell. We see the foods the areas are known for just like the locals do. In Barcelona, jamon is a local obsession. When we were in Barcelona, we tried jamon from several grocery stores and markets. (Turns out that we have very unsophisticated palates. We preferred the €1 jamon from the grocery store down the street to the €20 jamon from La Boqueria market.)
I know some people have a strong aversion to the idea of cooking while on vacation. I certainly don’t recommend spending hours in the kitchen, but some simple meals will keep your family happily fed. I’m not cooking anything fancy on our trips. It just seems really silly to pay ten bucks for a plate of pasta with butter for my kid when I can make that for less than fifty cents in our apartment. Simple foods are easy—sometimes we even eat frozen pizza that we find at the grocery store.
Of course we eat out!
We don’t eat all of our meals at the apartment. Locals eat out, too. Part of the fun of travel is trying new foods in new places, and we definitely enjoy that. I research ahead of time to find places that look like can’t miss options. When searching, I usually stick with the least expensive category on whatever site I’m on. There are always expensive places to eat in any city, but we’ve found delicious budget options as well.
Sometimes we do splurge on more expensive meals out, but when we do, it’s intentional and we choose the restaurant carefully. We also prep the kids so that they know they’re having an experience. Our amazing meal at Muriel’s in New Orleans was worth every penny, but we also enjoyed the po’ boys we had at a hole in the wall, off the beaten path dive populated almost entirely with locals (including a random encounter with a high school friend that I hadn’t seen in over twenty years).
In short, we eat well and inexpensively by eating intentionally. After doing research about where we’re going, I have pre-selected options in several parts of the city. When we’re in a neighborhood I know exactly where we might be eating. I usually choose at least a few places in each area, so that we have options.
Picnics can be fun, too
I’ll go into more detail about this one in a future post, but we eat many picnic lunches when traveling. In some cities, inexpensive and delicious food options abound, but in others, it’s harder. Turns out that my kids aren’t huge fans of Catalan cuisine, so they didn’t enjoy eating out in Barcelona as much as they did in, say, Rome. Rather than spending time and money finding food they would eat, we just packed our lunches most days. Having the freedom to stop and eat whenever the kids got hungry was so convenient, and the lunches we ate were incredibly inexpensive. We’ve permanently added picnics to our tool box.
Eating in and having picnics don’t just save you money, they save you time and hassle, too. When your kids are tired and cranky, the last thing anyone wants to do is sit in a restaurant for a couple of hours. Eating in your apartment means that your kid can hang upside down off the chair without you having to worry about decorum. You and your spouse can enjoy a bottle of wine while the kids crawl into their beds with a book or an electronic device. Each trip is different, of course, but we were in Barcelona around Christmas and New Year’s, so it got dark early. It was really nice to go back to our cozy apartment and have a leisurely dinner, then wander back out for dessert.
Don’t let me forget dessert. We ALWAYS try desserts when we travel. We love gelato in Italy, granita in Sicily, and the pastries in Barcelona were incredible. In general, we have dessert at least once a day. Let’s be honest here—that’s what the kids want anyway. When your meals are inexpensive, you can have dessert a couple of times a day and not even notice the effect on your budget.
To sum it up, we have really enjoyed our trips when eat like locals. We cook some meals, eat at inexpensive local options, choose splurges wisely, and always, always eat dessert at least once a day.