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  • Writer's pictureKirk

How I Travel for Free (Part 4)

Updated: Oct 3, 2023

If you followed my last post in this series (, you'll know my next category expense is meals.

In my opening post I stated the average cost for meals each day for people in the places I visit are around $20 per person per day. Thinking about it more, this is probably pretty low for the average person even in less developed areas. The reason it's too low for most tourists is they don't tend to eat local. I've seen many tourists go to McDonalds in these foreign lands. (What emoji is the "shake my head one?). Also most tourists will drink alcohol which can be expensive since it's imported.

McDonalds overseas is expensive for most countries I visit. And it's even worse tasting than in the USA. People tend to eat what they're familiar with.

Also many tourists want to splurge when vacationing overseas. They tend to eat in more high end places than I do so the avaerage is likely much higher than what I stated.

But I don't even spend $20 per day. For one reason, meals overseas are not that important to me. Everyone is different, I know. To many the meals of the day are the highlights.

One thing I learned from my travels is that people in poorer countries tend to place a higher value on the meal time. I expect because of the lack of resources to enjoy other recreations, it is a central enjoyment point of the day. But probably more so, I believe, it's because the family structure is so important to them that this is a time they can enjoy together.

But for me, the meal is a necessary event. It is a category I can easily reduce my spending compared to what it cost in the USA without sacrificing taste, quantity or quality. So how do I keep it so low?

A couple things:

  1. Take advantage of free food.

  2. Eat local food.

  3. Eat where locals eat

Not only will you enjoy it more, you'll save a bunch over the course of an extended trip as I do. I'll cover in more detail.

Free food

When I say free I mean the free meals your hotel provides. Now if you (God forbid) pay for the hotel, then technically the food is not free. But I don't usually pay for the hotel (I'll cover later). So the food is free!

Many hotels include free breakfast with the room rate. For others it's an additional cost. I only stay in hotels with free breakfast. If you travel a lot and frequent the same hotel brand you earn elite status where breakfast is always (or nearly always free).

I have elite status in most the major brands: Hyatt, Marriott, Hilton, even Choice hotels. If I'm in a city that offers these, that's where I'll stay. But even if you don't travel a lot, you too can have elite status. I'll cover that under the Hotels section later.

Breakfast at these hotels overseas can be quite overwhelming. I mean they can be huge buffets with local and international variety. Or they may be order off the menu. Here's a small section of the buffet at a St Regis hotel where I stayed:

The buffet extended into several other rooms.

My meal strategy when free breakfast is available is to eat a later breakfast than normal. Maybe 9:00 or even 10:00 am. It will be my big meal of the day. After I finish I will not be hungry again until the evening, and even then I don't eat much.

Many times I will take some items back to my room from the buffet. They don't mind at these hotels as long as you don't go overboard. I often take a few items, like ham and bread, to make a sandwich in my room in the evening. Many days my food expenditure is zero. Although it's possible to do this everyday and spend nothing on food, I don't do it everyday. Maybe 25% of the time. I certainly want to try the local food. Besides, I don't always stay in chain brand hotels. In remote areas i eat out more.

There is an additional benefit to having elite status with hotels as it pertains to meals. Many hotels overseas have club lounges free for elite members. It usually offers multiple food items as well as drinks in the evening hours. I take advantage of the club lounge when available.

Eat Local Food

As I already mentioned, eating at McDonalds or any major chain is a no-no. I don't need to travel for that. But I will admit, in the course of a month of travel I do miss a burger and may indulge on occasion.

Chains are expensive overseas in comparison to local food. Always choose the local options which will be fresher, usually (but not always) tastier, and always cheaper.

Eat Where Locals Eat

In many of the countries I visit it's obvious where locals eat. It's out in the open. Street food in Bangkok is famous for a reason. It's delicious! And cheap.

I prefer street food because you can see it prepared in front of you. You can also see the food before it's cooked to be sure it looks fresh.

Here is a local eatery where I ate in Borneo:

Pick your food and they'll cook it for you!

When I eat where the locals eat I spend an average of about $5 per meal. But a seafood treat like the pictures in Borneo above will be higher. Probably $12 on average. There are no taxes or tipping in these local eateries. Tipping is done in the inside restaurants at about 10%.

Breakfast is a bit cheaper as you can get a good local breakfast for a few dollars. Breakfast usually includes rice.

If I were to average my daily meal expenditures over the course of the month I would estimate it to be around $8 per day. But, again I'm not a drinker so if you are, expect your cost to go up. A beer can cost $5 as it's imported.

My monthly budget for meals at $8 per day comes out to $240 per month. Much less than I spend at home eating for a month! So again, I consider travel to be free if I'm spending the same or less than if I stay home.

These are my tips for meals when traveling to the destinations I go. If you're a traveler to Europe, expect to pay more.

Next in this series I'll cover Local Transportation.

Go to part 4:

Parts 6 & 7 will be the most useful information to reduce costs. Hotels and airfare are the most expensive travel items but I'll show you how to pay pennies on the dollar. Please join my blog for this useful information.

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Roger Wells
Roger Wells
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Mike Wells
Mike Wells
20 de jul. de 2023
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Always take advantage of the free breakfast. That was quite a lot of options to choose from. Fill up early so you can go all day. All sound advice from a guy traveling on a low budget

20 de jul. de 2023
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Frugality is an art I’ve mastered while traveling.

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