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How to Eat in Europe on a Budget

“Raphael, are you really going to spend three months in Europe? It’s so expensive” my friends told me when they heard about my plans to stay in the Old Continent for a long period of time. Yes, Europe is expensive and yet, I have found ways of keeping daily costs low, which enables me to have extra money to pay the entrance fees to Europe’s best museums, palaces and castles.

Today’s money-saving topic relates to one of the things I love the most: food. Besides transportation and lodging, food is one of the main expenses that everyone faces in their life as a traveler.

But hey, did you know that you eat like a king for less than 4 euros a day? Here’s 6 tips to do so, each one more extreme than the previous one. Enjoy!

Go to All You Can Eat Buffets

As long as you don’t mind foreign food (in fact, I prefer it sometimes), you can go to immigrant-run restaurants and enjoy buffets for very low prices. In fact, there are some especial places (such as this Pakistani restaurant in Vienna called Der Wiener Deewan) that are run on a pay what you want business model so you can decide how much the food is worth you.

My best advice? If your hostel didn’t include breakfast, you should probably wait until noon and then hit the buffet for a nice brunch (breakfast + lunch). Otherwise, hit the buffet around closing time (15:00) and eat enough food so you won’t have to eat diner that night.

Order Kid’s Meals. Yes, Really

There are certain occasions in life where the only option to eat is to actually seat at a restaurant, either because it’s the only place open near the train/bus station or because it’s late/early and everything is closed off. However, did you know that you can actually order a kid’s meal even if you’re not traveling with kids?

My best advice? Swallow your shame and order the kid’s meal. Seriously. I was surprised in Barcelona by the fact that the kid’s meal at KFC (yeah, I had the cravings for some fried chicken, sue me!) had so many items that would cost me double the price if I ordered them separately. I even got a free toy which I gave away to a homeless kid. You couldn’t believe how happy he was afterwards!

Buy Food at Street Stands

While not as cheap as the ones in Asia or Latin America, street stands are still a very good alternative to taste the local food without spending a lot of money. Probably the cheapest deal you can find in Europe are the many kebab places that are surfacing year after year.

My best advice? Steer away from the street stands located near tourist attractions or the train/bus station. A few streets away from tourist meccas you shall find the street stands where the locals normally eat out. Can you believe you can get a kebab with fries for only 2 euros in Vienna?

Polish BBQ Hell Yeah!
Come on, this is really hard to resist!

Eat Out at Shopping Malls

The food courts of shopping malls are probably my favorite place to eat the local food without the need of going to local restaurants with inflated prices aimed at tourists or local places without an English menu where you have no idea what you just ordered. I especially like the fact that you can always see big photos with the item in question so you just need to point and use sign language in order to communicate.

My best advice? Go to the kilo places at food courts. The way it works is that you put food on your plate and you end up paying depends on how much it weights (so the price per 100 grams for beef is the same as the one for salad). These are very popular in Poland and are the best way to eat the local food while saving money. You can eat like a king for less than 2 euros.

Cook Your Own Meals

Probably the best option in terms of quality and price (as long as you know what you’re doing), this is my least favorite option if you’re traveling solo since you’ll have to carry your own ingredients (cooking oil, spices, salt, pepper) at all times plus there’s always the looming threat of someone at the hostel stealing your precious food. Alternatively, you can buy a baguette plus some ham and cheese with a yogurt for diner but trust me, eating the same every day gets boring after a while.

My best advice? Befriend the people at the hostel and invite strangers to the meal, that way not only are you saving money but also sharing your own culinary treats from your home country. Who wants some epic Mexican food?

Do Dumpster Diving

This is the extreme budget version of how to eat on the cheap in Europe. There are basically two ways of doing this while in Europe: The normal way is to go to supermarkets and bakeries after closing hours and go to the dumpster in order to find food that was thrown away (of course, you should always prioritize packaged goods such as sandwiches since it’s cleaner that way).

My best advice? Go to bakeries before closing time and just ask politely. 9 out of 10 times you will get the food before it’s thrown away to the dumpster plus you can stock up on a lot of items and actually do charitable work by giving them away to the homeless people you will find on your way to your hostel.

Got any more budget saving tips to share when it comes to eating in Europe? I hope you enjoyed these tips and please, do share your own! Safe travels!

5 Travel Tips for Budget Eating
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