Some travelers stay in luxury hotels and eat at fancy restaurants while on vacation. Those on a shoestring budget don’t have money for anything so that they are able to stay on the road for months at a time. But if you fall somewhere in between, and have to choose between a nice hotel or spending money on food, I’d recommend choosing food every time.
There are a number of reasons for this.
- The more you spend on your lodging, the further you distance yourself from the people in the place you’re visiting. Why bother to travel if you’re just going to live the same way you would at home?
- If you’re spending any significant time in your hotel apart from sleep, you are likely missing out on something interesting at your destination. And finally,
- Food is such a big part of so many cultures that if you don’t put effort into sampling the local fare, you’re missing out on experiencing an integral part of daily life.
I’ve seen so many budget-conscious travelers cooking pasta with tomato sauce for every meal, and I think about all the opportunities they’ve missed. You don’t need to spend a lot to experience many local traditions! For the cost of that pasta, perhaps you could have purchased an empanada from a street vendor… or maybe boiled and salted quail eggs? Or, for a little more, you could try a cocktail or a microbrew at a local pub. Perhaps where you are right now, there’s a local specialty made from some fruit, vegetable, animal or even insect that you’d never think to try. There’s no better time than now to make that leap. You’ll feel so much closer to the culture you’re trying to understand.
And of course, if you haven’t yet left for your trip, and you’ve budgeted a certain amount for lodging and food, you still have time to adjust your spending. Perhaps you already plan to spend the minimum possible on lodging and the rest on food. I suggest to you that if you can’t afford the local specialties within your food budget, save more money and wait to travel. Another suggestion would be that if you can’t afford an entrée, you can still go in to a restaurant for an appetizer and drink. You’ll get a chance to talk to more local people, and possibly even learn insider tips for where to go for your next affordable meal. In many cities around the world, even the fanciest meals are cheaper than what you can get at a local chain restaurant at home.
You can even take a local cooking class, where you’ll learn the skills to bring the culture home with you. Many hostels and B&B’s are family owned and offer classes like this. Some aren’t publicized. It never hurts to ask. Who knows? You might get the opportunity to cook with three generations of proud women, and then share the meal you made with their family in their home.
But whatever you do, don’t just eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while you’re traveling! You can make those at home. And we all know you’re not going to learn anything about the local culture by talking to yet another German, British, American or Australian backpacker in a hostel kitchen over yet another plate of pasta and tomato sauce!