There is a fine art to eating cheaply when discount travel is the goal. This is particularly true in expensive countries. Eating in restaurants quickly becomes ridiculously expensive and on many days you will simply have no choice but to eat that high priced meal. With a little planning, however, you can cut your food budget in half while still enjoying the local flavor.
It's always cheapest when you can cook for yourself rather than eating out, so your first line of defense is to stay somewhere that has a kitchen. If you don't have friends where you have ended up, one of the next best choices is a hostel. Not only are they cheap places to stay, but most of them have kitchens for guests to use. As an example, of the 40 or so hostels in Sydney, Australia, at least 14 of them have a kitchen that guests can use. Also, try to stay at a place that offers a free breakfast.
Grocery stores are your best friend. Even if you never actually cook a meal, you can still get all your breakfasts and lunches from there. Want porridge for breakfast? buy the instant kind then go to any coffee shop and ask for a cup of hot water. Fruits and veggies, some bread and cheese, and a local spread such as humus or tzatziki, makes an excellent plowman's lunch that is incredibly easy to carry and eat while you are traveling on that bus, or walking around the city. With saving so much money on two meals of the day, you won't feel nearly so guilty for splurging on a good meal at dinnertime every so often.
Grocery stores are also great places to grab precooked meals or microwavable meals. Even if your hostel doesn't have a kitchen, they will most likely have a microwave that you can use to heat something up. Huzzah! One more cheap meal. Maybe not the finest of cuisine, but sometimes quick and easy wins out over taste.
Just remember that foods that are cheap in your country aren't necessarily cheap in the country you are in. Peanut butter is cheaper than dirt in North America and seems to be worth it's weight in gold in the UK. Alternatively, I generally have to sell body parts to afford decent wine in Canada while in Argentina they practically give it away. So try to eat the foods that are cheapest where you are traveling.
In this day and age, the cheapest food in a country isn't necessarily the local ethnic food either. I can find cheaper Chinese food in Sydney than I can lamb chops. In fact, it is quite common that the food in out of the way places in ethnic neighborhoods will be cheap. Many times you will be lucky and it will be tasty too! If you do go this route, try to go where the neighborhood locals go; you have a much better chance of ending up in a place that has good inexpensive food.
If you don't want to cook for yourself, there are still cheap eating options. An obvious one, although not a particularly healthy one, is to eat from street vendors. Whether it is the ‘street meat’ sausages in Toronto, Canada, the fabled street kebabs of Oxford, England, or the innumerable sidewalk coffee shops with cheap pastries in Sydney, Australia, as long as you are not trying to buy from people selling in front of an event, your vendors are going to be cheaper than sitting down to a meal in a restaurant.
But sometimes on the road, you just gotta splurge. A particular bar is legend amongst backpackers, or you are just simply craving a steak. The thing here is try to never pay full price. Look for sales! Look for coupons! On any given day, in any given city in the modern western world, there are deals to be had.
If all else fails, pull out your trusty ISIC student card, (you do have one, right?). While not so useful in North America, they are worth their weight in gold in Europe and other destinations for more than just food.
Just remember that experiencing a country is very much about experiencing their food. By all means go cheap, but try to go cheap by eating what the locals eat. You will be glad you did. Going abroad has become quite expensive, so cheap travel options are harder and harder to find. When you do get a great deal on airfare and lodging don't flush the savings down the drain because eating cheaply couldn't be done! Follow the simple tips outlined above to save money. Learn about cheap trips and even last minute travel from Lisa Jenkins, a freelance writer whose material appears regularly on FrugalMonkey.