When you’re traveling in Europe on a budget, it can be challenging to eat healthy meals, particularly when you have a packed itinerary. Sure, some countries are relatively inexpensive and others have readily available organic and healthy food options. It can get complicated, however, when you’re continually on the move and arrive in unfamiliar cities and locales.
Chances are that by the time your stomach is rumbling, you’ll be tempted to turn to the easiest and cheapest thing you come across. And while every country is different, all too often grab-n-go counter service falls into one of several categories: deep fried, smothered in cheese, breaded, dusted in sugar, or drizzled in chocolate.
Sure, vacation is a time to splurge and indulge. If you’re on an extended trip, however, it can be helpful to be intentional about your meal choices if you wish to eat healthy and stay on budget. Here are a few practical tips to follow.
Book accommodations with food in mind
You’re more likely to keep costs low if you prepare some of your own meals while on vacation as opposed to eating out three times a day. Besides, it can be exhausting to have to eat every meal out. Instead of booking a traditional hotel room, consider staying at a hostel with a communal kitchen or booking an Airbnb accommodation with kitchen access so that you have the option to prepare and store food. If you do stay in a hotel, find out if your room is furnished with a mini fridge so that you can store perishable food and leftovers as needed.
Start the day right
When you’re on a budget and short on time, it can be a welcome treat to have breakfast included with your accommodations. The trouble is that not all breakfasts are created equal. While one may offer a buffet of fresh fruit and eggs, another might feature all-you-can-eat empty calories and packaged pastries with sugar as the leading ingredient. Instead of indulging, consider booking accommodations without breakfast and either preparing your own or heading into town for a local meal. You may even save a buck or two in the process.
Plan in advance
Plan in advance by shopping at local markets and preparing portable lunches and snacks that you can bring with you on the go. This is particularly beneficial when embarking on a full day of travel or if you plan to spend substantial time at a tourist attraction with limited food options. If you know your itinerary for the day, you can also research lunch and dinner options the night before based on where you are likely to be. If you want to be really frugal, pick up to-go containers and plastic cutlery that you can wash and reuse for multiple self-prepared meals.
Avoid “Great Value” Offers
It can be tempting to dine at touristy restaurants and cafes when you get hungry, as those options tend to be most readily available. Besides, if you don’t have locals (or Yelp) to guide the way, it’s not always easy to find the off-the-beaten-path trattoria or hole-in-the-wall bistro. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to eat on the main tourist drag, but you’d do well to carefully consider special offers. Unless you’re 6’4” and have an enormous appetite, you may want to pass up offers featuring an all-you-can-eat buffet or multiple-course meal. For lighter eaters, “great value” is code for too much food for more than you would’ve paid anyways.
Consider extending your stay
It’s hard to eat healthy if you have an aggressive itinerary that has you moving to a new place each day. If it is important to you to eat healthy on a budget, consider staying in fewer locations for longer periods of time. In addition to allowing for a more pleasant vacation experience, this will give you more time to familiarize yourself with local food options. Spending more time in one place also makes it easier to purchase food in bulk, since you’ll have several days to consume it without having to pack it up and take it with you on the road.