My friend asked how she could eat in Europe for $40 a day – she really didn’t think it was possible. With a little attention, it isn’t difficult to keep your food budget under control.
When we traveled in 2012, I wrote down every penny my daughter and I spent on food. We averaged less than 30 Euros per person per day. At that time the Euro was worth about $1.35. Multiplying the amount of Euros we spent times the exchange rate, I get $39.78. The price of food may be a bit higher now, but the exchange rate is much lower. With today’s exchange rate, $40 comes to around 35 Euros, so that would be our “per day” budget.
That’s enough math. Here’s a look at some of my favorite ways to eat well without blowing your budget.
One of the most expensive parts of the food budget is not food—it’s drinks. A $40 per day limit doesn’t include very many adult beverages. If you want a glass of wine or a beer with each meal, you will probably have to increase your budget. Keep in mind, though, that even soft drinks can be expensive in a restaurant – sometimes more expensive than a locally-brewed beer or wine. Water is healthy and safe to drink in nearly all of Europe. Ask your server for tap water—they will tell you whether or not it is available.
Breakfast – If you stay in a bed and breakfast or B&B, your breakfast will not add anything to your budget. Some hostels even include a spartan breakfast. Hotels that charge extra for breakfast rarely give a good deal. If breakfast is not included in your stay, you can eat inexpensively at a local bakery. In all of Europe, even in small towns, bakeries are plentiful.
Lunch – If you have a large breakfast, you might just need a snack for lunch. If you only had a pastry or two, though, you will probably be hungry. You can take advantage of a lunch deal at a nice restaurant where they offer the same meal as they would for dinner, but at a lower price. If you eat a more expensive lunch, eat something less expensive for dinner.
Dinner – If this is only your second meal of the day, you might be able to splurge a bit. One day in Amsterdam, we had a small lunch, so for dinner we could enjoy a Rijstafel (Rice Table). This Indonesian meal included white and brown rice, with about twenty various meat and vegetable toppings. If you eat a gourmet meal for lunch, you’ll want something less expensive for dinner. Consider a salad or a sandwich -many places sell local style burgers – to keep your costs down.
Here are some moneysaving ideas for either lunch or dinner:
- A picnic—Europe has an abundance of markets. Pick up some cheese, bread and fruit and enjoy the view.
- Local fast food—Crepes in Paris, sausages in Munich, or döner kebabs in Berlin. Any of these – and more – are available from a street vendor.
- Eat the local specialties. Freshly-caught seafood is less expensive in coastal areas. Many restaurants offer a prix fixe – a selection of two or three course meals offered at a reduced price.
- Combine dinner and entertainment—dinner concerts are sometimes available. Although they seem expensive, you pay less than if you had purchased the dinner and concert separately.
Once, when we were in Germany, we saw what looked like a chain of street vendors, all displaying signs that said “Schnellimbiss.” When we told our German speaking daughter about the wonderful sausages we ate from the vendor, she just laughed. Schnellimbiss means fast food. The carts were not part of a chain, but instead, were advertising their speedy service.
Remember to figure the average and don’t be afraid to splurge here and there. If you picnic for lunch and supper one day, you can have an elegant dinner in a special restaurant the next day. You will remember both meals as highlights of your trip. (You can read more about my favorite European meals here).
Decide how much you can afford to spend on meals, and then try to stick to the plan. There are many ways to reduce your meal costs, without sacrificing taste or enjoyment. Eet smakelijk! (Dutch for “Enjoy your meal!”).