The Budget Traveler: A Guide to Dining for Less

When you're visiting a new city or region, sampling the local food is a big part of the experience. However, if you're on a tight budget, you'll need to pay attention to what you order. Can you experience the local cuisine without emptying your wallet? Absolutely! Here are some tips for finding authentic, enjoyable places to dine when traveling on a budget.

Start with street carts.

In many cities, there are street carts and mobile food stands where you can pick up a quick, cheap meal. The food you buy from these carts is about as authentic as you can get since it's often what the locals eat on their way to work, during their lunch hour, or even as an evening snack. In some countries, you may have concerns about food safety, but if the food is being prepared in front of you and is not sitting for too long before being served, you're usually okay. Foodborne illness is more common when food is prepared in advance and left to sit at an improper temperature for too long.

Look for small, simply decorated restaurants.

People often assume that if a restaurant is not big, fancy, and well-decorated, then the food won't be good. But actually, the opposite is often true. Restaurants with the best food don't need fancy decor to advertise; their food alone brings them plenty of business. And since they're not spending a fortune to rent the fanciest space, they can charge less for their meals. Some of the best meals you'll have will be at tiny, hole-in-the-wall eateries that you're tempted to walk right past.

Ask the locals where they eat.

Notice the distinction here. You don't want to ask the locals where they think you should eat. Knowing you're a tourist, they may recommend a touristy restaurant. Instead, you want to ask the locals where they eat. You're more likely to get an authentic, affordable recommendation this way. You can even go so far as to ask where they eat when they're on a budget. They might point you towards an excellent sandwich shop or noodle place that tourists rarely visit.

You can absolutely visit a new city or town and experience the local cuisine without spending a fortune. Little street carts, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and local hangouts serve the most authentic food, and they don't charge tourist prices like the larger, fancier places often do.