No Baloney . . . Vacationers Can Enjoy Local Food Experiences Without Busting Their Budgets

Food can eat up a chunk of your spending money while you’re on vacation. But who wants to slice up the fun and excitement of having nice meals at local eateries in the great locale you’ve chosen for vacation? Taking in new sights, sounds, and yes … bites,are all part of the experience.

No baloney (or bologna sandwiches) … you can keep your budget in check while still enjoying some terrific local cuisine. It’ll take some flexibility, open-mindedness, and a bit of effort. Here are a few ideas:

Fine dining at lunchtime

Plan to have one of your meals at that fabulous local restaurant at lunch instead of dinner. While lunch portions tend to be a little less than dinner portions, you’re more likely to pay less for lunch than you would dinner. Look at it this way, smaller portions mean you are less likely to over-eat to a point where you just want to take a nap – or to a point that you pack on too many pounds on vacation, if that’s a concern.

Do check ahead of time with the restaurant. A few fine dining establishments don’t serve lunch.

Keep on truckin’

Sometimes, fine dining opportunities – or simply good eats from a local restaurant – come to you instead of you going to them. Numerous high-end eateries around the country are hopping on the trendy food truck bandwagon and bringing some of their outstanding offerings to the people instead of having the people come to them.

Often times, the trucks park in areas near picnic tables and benches. Or, you can bring a blanket for a picnic at an area park and enjoy your local eats there while taking in the scene.

Visit the website of the restaurant of your choice, if you already have a place in mind. Or call the restaurant. If they have food trucks, they may set times and locations. Those times and locations may either be posted online or available to those who call and ask.

If you are adventurous, give a street food hawker a try. By “street food hawker,” I mean a licensed seller of food who is clearly following good hygiene and food prep practices and service. There are people who wouldn’t dream of going to New York City and not buying a hot dog, pretzel, or falafel from a pushcart food vendor. Many of the NYC locals love these items and find that buying from a pushcart vendor and eating on the streets of the city is part of the experience.

A word to the wise: Look before your buy and eat. Take a little time and observe the food vendor from a distance to make sure he or she is following good hygiene and food prep practices and service. You might even spend a little time chatting with the vendor (but not grilling them about food sanitation practices). If you’ve seen the vendor in practice – and feel comfortable after having a brief conversation with the vendor — and are satisfied with what you’ve seen and heard, go for it! Buy that tasty treat! You will get a feel for local fare and atmosphere while finding an affordable option for a meal or two at different times during your trip.

Enough to get up and go

Unless an upscale local restaurant is known for its unique breakfast meal offerings, you can probably go light or basic on breakfast and save some cash and time versus going to a sit-down restaurant for breakfast. Another option: Ask if your hotel offers a free continental breakfast.

Or, if you have a microwave and small refrigerator in your hotel room, perhaps you can spend a little time at a nearby grocery store and buy filling, no-prep or easy-prep foods, such as fruit, yogurt, instant oatmeal, nuts or raisins, juice, small bottles of waters,and instant coffee (unless you prefer to hunt for your favorite coffee shop while on vacation). Any of those items should provide you with enough get-up-and-go to start your day of fun and adventure, or rest and relaxation.

The fruit, and individually packed nuts and raisins, can be good to take along with you as a quick snack if you need something to fill you up until your next meal. If it’s not too much trouble, perhaps you can bring a small bottle of water with you. Those same snacks and water would cost two to three times as much when you’re out and about enjoying your vacation. So, save some cash. Spend a little time – and a nominal amount of money – and stock up on a small supply at the start of your vacation. Even better, bring some from home.

To see what you can and can’t bring on an airplane (if that’s your mode of transportation), visit your airline’s website or the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) website. If that’s a problem, just make the purchases when you arrive at your destination if you are traveling by plane.

Look for local eateries & bargains

Eating at local, non-chain, sit-down restaurants doesn’t have to be an expensive venture. Do some research online before your trip to figure out some great spots for tasty, affordable local food fare. Smartphone apps will allow vacationers to find and compare nearby great, local eateries with attention to price points.

Or, ask someone when you get there – hotel staff, or area cab drivers or drivers of ride services, people like that – and see what tips they can give you for affordable local favorite food.

“Staff members at hotels tend to be quite knowledgeable about dining and leisure activities in the area, and willing to share this knowledge with customers who are interested in getting a local perspective,” said Chris Rivett, travel expert with HotelsCombined.

Another good option for one or two of your dinner meals: Consider buying takeout from a nice restaurant, getting your beverages somewhere else, and eating in your hotel room. Yes, there are a few fancy restaurants that offer take-out menus. If there aren’t any extra charges slapped on your take-out meal, you will save money by not paying for over-priced beverages and not having to tip – especially if you pick up your order instead of having it delivered.

If you want to unwind after a day of shopping, sightseeing or leisure activities, ordering takeout is much less expensive than room service in most cases.

Coupons & discounts

There is no shame in using coupons at restaurants. Some hotels offer coupons and partially comped meals at restaurants in the hotel or other local spots. Just ask. As long as you as respectful when you inquire, the worse that can happen is that you are told there are no coupons or discount offerings.

If there is a particular localrestaurant you’d like to visit, go directly to their website. Even the nicer, pricier places occasionally offer some specials and discounts to attract new customers.

Smartphone users may have an app that finds great bargains and discountsonmeals.

There you have it: Tips to getting that local flavor when dining out during vacation – without busing your vacation spending budget.

Safe travels … and bon appetite!

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