I’ve traveled a lot during the past few years, thanks to a surprising number of technology and appliances trade shows that I cover for CNET. But don’t let the increased number of stamps on my passport fool you: I’m still cheap AF. Hunting for food on an international level has made me double down on my “filet mignon taste, dollar menu budget” motto, especially when I’m in places where that dollar doesn’t stretch as far as I’d like.
What’s fascinating about food culture on an international level is that a lot of the same tricks you can use to find good, cheap food in the US apply to other countries. Here are some tips to take along with you on your next vacay:
Trust the locals. Last year in Berlin, one of my co-workers walked up to some strangers on the street while we were on the hunt for dinner.
“Do you speak English?” Andrew asked.
“Yes,” they said.
“Where’s a good place to eat around here?”
That bold-to-me/natural-to-Andrew exchange led us to Burgermeister, a former public toilet that’s been converted to one of the best damn hamburger joints I’ve ever encountered. Sure, we might’ve eventually found Burgermeister on the internets, but having a local co-sign on the deliciousness affirms food choices. Don’t feel like you have to walk up to random folks on the street, though (notice it was Andrew, not me). Ask around on your social networks to see if you know someone who knows someone who lives in your travel destination.
It’s OK to deviate from your original plans. While I was in Berlin this year for IFA, I told Jon, a colleague from CNET’s London office, that I was about to visit his city soon. His advice when it came to food was to find a pub in which to have a Sunday roast and make sure the meal comes with Yorkshire pudding. Unbeknownst to him, I’d already made reservations for a Sunday roast at a restaurant that looked like it would be right at home on East Market Street here in Louisville. “Any pub worth its salt will have a proper Sunday roast,” he said.
Taking my own advice to trust the locals, I canceled the reservation at the fancy restaurant and found a pub. The meal was simple, hearty and delicious, and it came with a cheaper price tag than my first option.
Hole-in-the-walls are the best. We all know there’s a difference between a place that’s a little shabby versus a place that looks to be violating about a dozen or more health codes. Some of the best food I’ve had on international trips have been in pubs, out-of-the-way cafés and family-owned restaurants that I would’ve missed if I’d been staring at my phone.
Carry snacks to fight off hanger. Listen: Hanger is real, and it is vicious. That’s why I always pack snacks. Yes, I have the purse of a much older woman, but you better believe I keep an emergency Snickers bar on hand. This will save you if it takes a little longer to get to your next meal than you anticipated, and it will keep you from biting the head off your travel partner.
Save money by eating breakfast in your hotel or rental. My husband had the foresight to buy a box of Kellogg’s Fruit ‘n Fibre (two of my favorite things) and milk to keep in our Airbnb. This kept us fed on the days when we weren’t ready to head out super early to find food. Consider some light grocery shopping so you can eat a few meals back at your spot during your trip.
Don’t feel guilty for eating McDonald’s. Sometimes, you’re going to find yourself in a pickle, specifically, hungry and snack-depleted. It’s OK to pop into an American fast-food restaurant for something to hold you over.