Making the Most of Study Abroad:

Eating While Studying Abroad

When you’re on your travels, you’re of course going to need to eat. You need food to survive and it’s a pretty important part of local culture. There are a few tricks that I’ve found to help keep food costs down. They’ve saved me a lot of money, especially in countries where local cuisine can burn a hole in your wallet.

1. Eat at a nice restaurant once

Often, the best food is at the most expensive places (although not always). Springing for one nice meal shouldn’t drain your funds, and a good meal after a long day of sightseeing really lifts your spirits. So go get that big bowl of spaghetti and meatballs at a fancy Italian restaurant one night - you’ll be happy you did.

2. Don’t be afraid to eat street meat

It’s cheap and there are going to be vendors on plenty of street corners in most cities. I don’t even want to pretend that I know what every one of them sells, and often times the menu will vary depending on the city. I do know that I saw kebabs on just about every menu. Having eaten them in multiple countries, I can say, in my humble opinion, it’s the best few dollars you’ll spend.

  • A quick note about food safety: In Beijing, many people will sell this type of street meat off the back of their bicycles or carts. Avoid eating food from this type of street vendor, and stick with kiosks and restaurants with proper facilities that follow basic health and safety regulations.

3. Buy food from local grocery stores

You can usually buy a baguette, some lunch meat and some deli cheese for a very reasonable price. In my case, it was about $5. And guess what, that is usually enough for two meals. You probably don’t want to be eating a pepperoni baguette in the middle of Prague, but spending $15 or $20 on goulash every meal isn’t the best way to save money.

4. Use the kitchen in your hostel

This correlates with that last tip. Save money by buying in bulk at the grocery store, and then cook your meals in the hostel. It’s cheap, and it’s probably healthier for you as well. Check with the hostel to see if they have a cabinet of food left over from previous travelers. If someone left a bag of uncooked pasta, buy yourself a can of sauce and you have a meal for 50 cents.

Don’t be afraid to splurge on a good meal once. It’s part of experiencing the culture. But after that, it’s all about eating cheap and saving money.

Plastic Bags and Bottles

Before setting out on your travels, buy a box of 50 Ziploc bags from your local grocery store. They don’t take up much space or add much weight so put about five or ten in your carry on. You can use these plastic bags for the entire week - taking food from the free buffets at the hostel, putting it in the bags, and carrying it with you during the day so you don’t have to buy food for every meal.

Just about all decent hostels will have some sort of breakfast, some better than others. In my case, one of the hostels we stayed at had coffee, juice and water; ham, salami, cheese, and condiments for sandwiches; different cereals and granola; yogurt and fruit; and a big assortment of breads. That’s pretty rare, but in any case, this is what I recommend.

Load up on things like fruits, granola, cereals, bagels and breads – put them in the plastic bags, and then just like that, you have snacks and/or meals for the rest of the day. If you’re in a cold climate and plan on being outside most of the day, you might even want to try making sandwiches since they likely won’t spoil if it’s only 20 degrees out.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. However, do be aware that some hostels will have signs that say “Put food in your stomach and not your lunch bag” or something along those lines. In other words, this method of putting together a free packed lunch may not always be an option depending on the hostel’s house rules.

The other quality item you should remember to pick up is a reusable plastic water bottle. In most supermarkets, you can buy gallon-sized bottled water to keep in your room. So instead of ordering drinks at every meal, or buying a new bottle of water every time you get thirsty, just refill your water bottle from the gallon jug.