Wednesday, February 13, 2013

On the Road | Food, Part 2

As I mentioned yesterday, here is the second post about eating on the road, addressing how we saved a few dollars and how we found restaurants to eat at.

How we saved money:

> We knew cities would be where we'd want to spend the most money on eating out, so we would spend less on food when we were in rural areas and National Parks, then splurge at nicer restaurants in bigger cities.

Simple hotel room dinner

> As I mentioned in Part 1, we hardly ever went out for breakfast, which was an easy way to save money. We would stock up on fruit and oatmeal from the grocery store and spend for one week what we'd otherwise pay for one breakfast at a restaurant. Since breakfast is similar at most places (eggs, bacon, pancakes) we didn't feel like we were missing out on much. The times we did go out for breakfast it was to restaurants known for a unique dish.

> When we camped and cooked our own meals we didn't usually buy meat and instead only purchased vegetables and grains, like quinoa and whole wheat couscous. This strategy helped us balance our travel diet and also helped reduce the cost of those meals we cooked ourselves.

> We bought prepped grocery store food often. Generally, the cost of these meals is more than if we cooked something ourselves, but cheaper than going out to a restaurant... basically a good middle ground cost-wise.

Food truck in Austin, TX

> Eating at food trucks is so trendy right now, and for good reason. The food is cheap! And good! In most bigger cities it's easy to find where the food trucks hang out by just doing a Google search.

> Sitting at a restaurant bar to share a meal and, depending on how big the meal is, maybe another side or appetizer is one of our favorite ways to eat out. This saves a lot of money compared to always buying two individual meals. We started taking this approach to eating out a while ago, once we realized we were always eating way more food at restaurants than we actually needed in order to get full.

Pizza and beer sampler at Moose's Tooth in Anchorage, AK

> Share one beer or cocktail. We both love local craft beer and I have a thing for enjoying a drink with dinner when we eat out. Our solution to help with the cost and health implications of this indulgence was to often share one drink, rather than us each always ordering our own. If we went to a local brewery we liked to share one sampler of beer.

> It's usually cheaper to drink beer instead of wine or cocktails (at least in the US). 

> Take advantage of happy hours! We found a lot of spots with great happy hour specials for both food and drinks. Fill up on cheaper bar bites during happy hour and if you get hungry later, just snack on some fruit or nuts. This was a great way to experience pricier restaurants on the cheap. Two of our favorite happy hours were at Michael Symon's Cleveland and Detroit restaurants. Hint: search for "happy hour" on yelp to find popular happy hour spots.

Wine and small plates at Barrel Thief in Richmond, VA

> Some restaurants listed on yelp choose to offer discounts (for example, spend $15 and get $30 worth of food). The yelp app and website make it easy to find the participating restaurants by just entering "offering a deal" in the search bar or selecting the filter/feature of the same name. Non-restaurant businesses also offer these deals!

> Restaurants can also chose to offer a check-in reward through yelp. Basically, you check in and get some type of benefit (10% off your meal, or a free drink, appetizer, dessert, etc.). There is no filter on the yelp app or website for this (that I've found), so just type in "check-in-offer" in the search bar. Non-restaurant businesses also offer these deals!

> OK, if you're skimming this and didn't read the previous two points, READ THEM! They are tips that you can use even when you're not traveling and they apply to savings beyond just eating out at a restaurant.

> If you have the time to commit to searching, sites like Google Offers, Groupon, and livingsocial offer great discounts. We didn't often use these sites for food because it took a lot of time to consistently search in advance, and if we looked on the day we arrived to a city it was less likely that on that specific day they were offering a deal for the particular restaurant or type of food that we wanted to eat. In our real lives, we think these deal sites are awesome and we use them often.

How we found places to eat:

> It was important for us to scope out the best local spots instead of going to the big chain restaurants. We used yelp to search for nearly every meal and, honestly, I don't know how people survived before yelp (first world problems, I know). We have the app on our iPhones and would search for "restaurants," "happy hour," "hipster," "pho," etc. and then filter by the highest rated.

> Our facebook and instagram followers were a lot of help with giving suggestions - that is how we found our favorite bbq of the trip, Rudy's in Austin, TX! I also had a lot of success with reaching out to local bloggers, who went above and beyond with recommendations in their cities. And I can't forget mentioning our guest bloggers and how much their suggestions helped!

> The 36 hours articles by The New York Times were a huge help. Each write-up features a well-varied selection of restaurants for each meal of the day (as well as popular places to grab a drink or to enjoy a quick snack). These articles are also great for giving suggestions of what to explore in the city.

> Meeting locals or asking bartenders for pointers proved to be helpful... they always know the best spots!

Home-cooked dinner in San Luis Obispo, CA

> A few times we didn't have to worry at all about finding a place to eat, but were lucky enough to get fed a home-cooked meal - those were always the best meals!

You can find Food, Part 1 here and to read more about the logistics and insights from our travels, click here!

What about you - any money saving tips or favorite ways to find a restaurant when you're traveling?


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  1. I had never even heard of Yelp!
    We eat gluten free though, so I'm a huge advocate of to find options in many areas!
    I'm a big soup girl, so often my husband will add a cup of soup to his side dishes for an extra dollar and then I'll pick an additional side (baked potato, steamed veggies, etc.) from the menu to eat as my meal. =]

    1. I'm not fully gluten free but I try to eat that way often, so I'm excited to learn about - thanks! And I like your soup + side strategy.

    2. I hope this comment doesn't post a bunch of times, Blogger is being crazy!

      I use that site as such a valuable tool now and I always make sure to add new restaurants when we eat at them! Next time you have some spare time you should go through and add any favorites that aren't on there! It is always helpful to us and I love when people share new places for us to try out!

  2. A agree with buying breakfast from the grocery store! Who needs fancy eggs when they taste the same? Also, my husband and I liked to splurge on pre-made meals at grocery stores on our trip, especially big salads or pre-cut fruit (like watermelon) when we were driving. Then we didn't have to break out the cutting board or be stuck eating apples and bananas!

    One thing I fell in love with is visiting farm stands! My husband and I make the drive from Flagstaff, AZ to LA a couple times a year and when it's the season, they always have tons of fruits and veggies, like 10 avocados for a dollar or a box of apples for a few bucks. It's always so fresh, ripe and delicious and we're supporting local farmers.

    1. Yes, pre-cut fruit is a life saver on the road! We only passed a few farm stands... which is weird, since we did drive a good number of back roads. BUT we did stop to pick cherries once - that was fun!


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