The Best Travel Tip I Ever Learned

The following is a guest post from Simple Island Living, as part of the Yakezie Blog Swap. I wrote a post on the same topic at Simple Island Living, so make sure you head over there after reading this to see my post.

I am a huge foodie. My husband and I love food and wine almost more than anything else. The money problem we run into when traveling, therefore, is how not to blow everything on food. And as everyone knows, traveling and eating is a pricy endeavor - even for people who don’t like eating at $100/plate restaurants. For instance…

A family of 4 goes to Jack in the Box. Everyone gets a value meal - at a whopping $7 per person after taxes. That means that they spent $28 for 4 greasy burgers, 4 overcooked fries, and 4 large sugary sodas. Ouch.

Which leads us to the best budget traveling tip I’ve ever learned:

Don’t be scared of the words “fine dining.” Going to a chain restaurant, or a non-fine dining restaurant doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be saving money.

We went to Whistler one time with a bunch of my brother’s friends. One was a single mom, who brought her 2-year old son with her. The first night, she wanted to go to the Keg Steakhouse for dinner - upscale family dining. We thought, ok sure. The steaks there averaged $20-30, the sides around $5. The cheaper entrees were between $18-20. It wasn’t a cheap meal - my husband and I together paid probably $75 for the two of us (with our drinks). My brother’s friend spent around $50 for her and her son. It wasn’t cheap, to be sure, but because it was a chain, because it was labeled as an affordable steakhouse, she was happy paying the prices.

Then, a couple nights later, when everyone was pissed off at everyone else because the entire group was a wishy-washy mess, my husband decided to choose a place to eat. We choose a fine dining restaurant with a great wine list and awesome reviews, and I looked over the menu to make sure there were affordable entrees for everyone, as well as vegetarian options for our vegetarians. But as soon as we got there, my brother’s friend threw a hissy fit. She was livid at my husband for choosing such an expensive restaurant. The entree prices were between $20-30, with cheaper options running $10-20. It was the exact same price as the Keg, but because it was labeled as fine dining, she refused to see that. She sat in stoney silence for the reminder of the meal, and made a big deal out of fixing herself a sandwich when we got back to the condo.

Why was one restaurant seen as being too expensive and the other was seen as being affordable when they cost the exact same price?

People always wonder how my husband and I can afford to eat out so much. They assume we’re spending thousands on dining out. But we don’t. We like to taste food, and when we go out instead of 2 entrees, we get 1 salad and 2 apps, sometimes just 1 app. At (tops) $10 each, our food bill totals $15 a person. That’s about the same price as the Olive Garden.

So when we travel, we always remember the girl who was furious at having to pay the same price for a fine dining restaurant as the restaurant she choose. Obviously we want to stay in our budget, but we want to enjoy our life too. Therefore, we employ the following rules:

1. When we see a restaurant that looks like it’s out of our price range, but is something we want to try, we look at the menu and scan the prices. Look especially at the appetizers. Most places give you bread - bread and an appetizer is more than enough food for the average person.

2. We sit at the bar. Bars are quick serve, and we won’t feel forced to sit for long periods and have the whole she-bang. When we’re done, we can leave. Remember that waiters in fine dining restaurants are given tables by the number of guests they serve - so if you know you’re going to be spending less than the average check, just go to the bar. Don’t make that waiter give up two lucrative, high-paying customers for your couple appetizers. You want to do this for yourself as well as the waiter - because they are going to give you sub-par service when they find out they’ve been seated a $30 tab and not a $150 tab like they were expecting. (Just speaking the truth from a former waitress’s perspective).

3. Utilize happy hours. They exist for a reason, and are often some of the best deals that a traveler on a budget can hit up when visiting a strange city. Plus, you get the added benefit of mingling with locals, who might point you in the direction of something interesting

4. Finally, don’t be scared of menu prices, make them work for you. If you’re in a region known for its seafood, and you’re on a budget, look for a seafood appetizer. Instead of a salad, you could get 2 sides of vegetables - sometimes a dish of some wild, local, delicious mushrooms or some beautiful local tomatoes will cost half to a third the price of a salad. The seafood is still highlighted, the local vegetables are still highlighted, the food is still divine, the portions are just smaller.

We’ve done this at fine dining establishments all over the world. It’s important to us to have great food and great drink - but still stay within out budget. I mean, how else could we afford to taste through the world?


Make sure you head over to Simple Island Living to check out my Best Budget Travel Tip.



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  1. Great tips! Food eats up so much of our travel fund.

  2. I like to check out the menus of every restaurant I go to. I also ask the servers to pack up half of my meal if the portions are large - that way I can save the other half for the next meal and not overstuff myself. I also never order soft drinks at restaurants - just water (if I am being good) or wine (if I feel indulgent).

    • Those are good tips as well. I usually won’t go into a restaurant if they don’t have the menu posted outside the door (when I’m on vacation)

  3. Perception is reality. Once an idea is fixed into the brain, it’s hard to dislodge. Sitting at the bar with a glass of wine and a couple of appetizers is a great way to scout out a restaurant.

    • Also a great way to sample what they have to offer. Sometimes the appetizers are more interesting then the entrees.

  4. Thanks for the great tips. I used to enjoy watching Rachael Ray’s $40 travel show, and she utilizes some of these tips. You can have good food that fits within your budget. Thanks for demonstrating that.

  5. Its all about perception. I am sure that at Keg, riches do not usually come because of their branding as ‘affordable’. The middle class go to fine dine there seeing the catch line.

    • So it’s middle class trying to eat nicer? I actually have never heard of this restaurant, must not be in the Midwest.

  6. I like that some restaurants now offer “small plates.” It’s great to get enough to eat and not have to pay through the nose!!!

    • I agree (sorry for the late reply - stupid Akismet got me again). Thanks for stopping by!

  7. I love that you guys are doing a Yakezie Blog Swap!

    The only way I go fine dining is when I’m with a client. Otherwise, I just feel bad paying so much!

    • The swap was fun. I like to do it when I travel and consider it part of the experience. Luckily through my day job I get treated to dinners in nice places. My wife gets jealous because I’m usually too frugal (cheap) to do it on a regular basis with her.

      Thanks for stopping by Sam!

  8. I know fast food portions in the US are MASSIVE. Is it the same at restaurants? I’ll admit, I personally prefer ethnic flavours (which handily are generally cheap) to fine dining. But I would be more inclined to pay fine dining prices if I got value for money. When I go to “Euro” restaurants I’m always disappointed at the size of a main dish and usually leave dissatisfied.

    • The more expensive the restaurant, the smaller the portions. But, most places deliver large portions, and if they don’t, they will fill you up on bread and salad.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  9. Great tips! When I travel I eat inexpensive local foods in one day, and the next day I eat at a local fine dining restaurant I can find. That way I have tried both extremes of what their local foods tastes like. Street foods are not really bad you know, as long as you eat where the locals eat.

    Travelling and eating different local food is so much fun.

    • I agree - eat where the locals eat. Street food is usually a nice experience. I wish we had more of that in my hometown. Thanks for stopping by!

  10. I guess that’s one area my wife and I will actually spend our money on.. good food. Id rather spend $50 on a decent meal than $20 on grease and sugar. With that said, we tend to save extra money and budget our food expenses when traveling.

  11. I would better rent a small flat in town where I’m going to travel and cook by myself. It’s easy to cook something easy and fast. So, it will not cut off time for your rest.

    • I like to do that too. Currently researching some flats in Paris and Switzerland for the summer. Good to see you again Alex!

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