How To Eat Healthily and Save Money While Traveling

Recently my boyfriend and I decided to forfeit the lease on our apartment, sell our furniture, store our belongings, and pack our bags to travel around the world. It took a lot of guts for us to make this decision, but we figured, if not now, when?

After a long moving-out process and a lot of planning, budgeting, and organizing, we are finally at our first stop—Portugal, where the fish is plenty and the skies seem to be always blue. We are having a blast!

As food lovers, food is always on our mind. We are constantly thinking about what is for the next meal. It is very tempting to eat out for all meals and snacks, but that would likely break our budget. Even if we did have an unlimited budget, eating out constantly would probably not be the wisest for our health because it would make it complicated for us to eat balanced meals (yes, I’m talking about fruits and veggies). Restaurant foods are often made with more oil and salt, which will upset our normal digestion process, especially when you throw in being jetlagged.

We have found these solutions below helpful for staying in budget and keeping on top of our health game:

1. Book an accommodation with a kitchen.
Having a kitchen not only allows you to have access to refrigeration and a stovetop, it will likely encourage you to eat in more than you think. We have booked mostly Airbnbs on our trip, all with a furnished kitchen. Even small kitchens will have the basic necessities to cook a simple meal.

2. Look for local markets.
Local farmers markets or small fruit and vegetable vendors are your ticket to buying the freshest, best produce. Some markets will also have local butchers, fish mongers, and cheese mongers, too. Our first meal from a local farmers market in Lisbon cost just under 7€ ($8.37 USD) and we had more than enough to eat between the two of us. Compare that to our second night where we went to the supermarket and spent 1.5 times what we spent at the farmers market for comparable, but not as fresh or local, foods.

Eating healthily and saving money while traveling.

Our first home cooked meal in Lisbon: green salad, blanched flat beans, bread, cheese from Portugal, canned sardines

You can google or look on TripAdvisor for a farmers market, but you can also ask a local who will probably share some inside secrets. We asked our Airbnb host and the owner of a wine and cheese shop for recommendations, and we haven’t been disappointed yet. This same principle applies for anything else, too – think restaurants, sights off the beaten path, directions, etc.

Mercado da Ribeira in Lisbon

Mercado da Ribeira in Lisbon

3. Find out what is in season and grown locally.
In Portugal, grapes, potatoes, tomatoes, olives, tomatoes, and cereals (wheat barely, corn, and rice) grow easily and in abundance. That means these foods will likely be more affordable and fresher than those that are imported. Of course, always ask the vendor if the greens you’re looking to buy are grown in the country.

Some fun facts I’ve learned so far is that Portugal consumes the most rice out of any European country, sardine season is only from May to October, and pork is widely consumed and used in many dishes. So if you’re a vegetarian, please clarify with your waiter on how certain dishes are prepared. Also, most soups are vegetarian and dairy-free.

4. Eat breakfast in.
I will admit that going out for breakfast or brunch is a treat, but to do it every day can take its magic away. At most places, an affordable breakfast typically consists of pastries, eggs, and maybe cheese or breakfast meats. However, going to the grocery store to purchase breakfast can be healthier and more affordable. Our typical purchase is yogurt and bananas for my boyfriend and museli and soy milk for me. Even though one bag of muesli can be a lot upfront, it lasts for a long time, so in the end it has a large payout. Other ideas include bread with eggs, nut butter, or leftover vegetables from the night before.

5. Save leftovers.
We have naturally fallen into a pattern of eating lunch out and dinner in (most restaurants have a cheaper lunch menu) and sometimes we have leftovers from lunch. Unlike in the U.S., it does not seem to be a custom for customers to take away a doggie bag, but upon asking the wait staff have found us takeaway containers. Our latest box was an empty cream cheese container that was cleaned out – cheers to recycling!

Often our leftovers contain enough protein for dinner, so we don’t have to worry about buying extra protein sources. We usually only have to focus on getting the other food groups (vegetables, fruits, and starches).

It may take a little organization, but it’s totally doable to eat well and stick to your budget. We are still able to explore and try all the foods we want through these strategies and by sharing dishes and snacks. If we don’t get to everything though, it’s good to remember that we can always visit again.