Travel Hacking Workshop Part 3: The Art of Cooking

Invariably the third largest cost in any vacation, beyond transportation and hospitality, is food. Food is that thing we cannot live without; but that doesn’t meant we can’t be strategic about it and slash our overall costs by at least 50%. If you followed our suggestion in Part 2 of the series then you’re probably staying in a gorgeous apartment, perfectly furnished, in the middle of the city, and one that sports an amazing and entirely practical kitchen that will save you a heap of money. Let us see how much money through two separate scenarios involving Mr. Spendy and Mrs. Frugal.

Scenario 1

Mr. Spendy is a cool dude. The only grease he is familiar with is the one he has seen floating on his favorite lobster bisque. Elbow grease? Nah, he is above it all. When Mr. Spendy travels with his wife and child he stays in the best hotels and flexes his financial muscle for all to see by constantly eating out. Whether breakfast, lunch, or dinner, he is willing to pay the price – let other, less fortunate souls do the cooking. At $10 per person for breakfast, $20 per person for lunch, and $30 per person for dinner, he spends a whooping $3400 for a two week vacation with drinks and tips included. With this amount of money a family of two could eat for half a year, but Mr. Spendy can afford it, his credit card interest rate is not that high after all. Besides, he can always work 80 hours upon returning home to make up the difference. He sits back and snickers while posting pictures of delicious looking plates to the family’s Instagram account; showing off is certainly worth the inflated price-point…

Scenario 2

Mrs. Frugal was a teenager during the market crash of 1987. She witnessed the devastating effect that the economic downturn had on her family’s finances, so she grew up cognizant of the importance of saving money and acting responsibly. While at home she brown-bags lunches for her family of three and cooks every afternoon with her husband. While traveling, she purchases fresh ingredients from the local street market, a pleasurable experience she seldom enjoys at home, and quickly puts together delicious fares for her family to enjoy. With the large amount she saves they go out to some carefully curated restaurants and she takes cooking classes to truly absorb the local cuisine. With fancy dinners every 4 days at a cost of $40 per person for her family of three, she spends $800 dollars with tip and drinks included in a two week span. Another $700 pays for the ingredients to cook at home as well as registration for cooking classes. Total cost: $1500. She has no fancy pictures to post on Instagram, but her bank account is plush. After returning home they continue to relive their vacation every once in a while by practicing what she learned in her cooking courses.

So who would you rather be, Mr. Spendy or Mrs. Frugal? Gender switching is allowed, by the way (giggles). Would you rather spend $3400 at random restaurants and go into debt or spend half of that while complementing fancy eats with family activities that promote team-work and health? Simple choice, is it not?

Oftentimes we wrongly assume that a vacation from work is also a vacation from fiscal responsibility and common sense. Not so. You can actually enjoy both and come out way ahead.

During our extensive vacations we have exploited the immense power of in-sourcing and have saved a ton of money in the process. The key is to prepare well and to have a set of quick and simple recipes that you can throw together in under half an hour. If you cook in large quantities you can have it all done in one day and enjoy cheap eats for the rest of the week. Delicious sandwiches, put together at home the night before, can fuel your escapades at a fraction of the cost while also saving time. Take a look at this pasta dish we put together in Vienna in what seemed like a heart-beat…

Tomatoes - Heart of the sauce!
Salami - For an Italian touch.
Onions - Can't exclude our Latin roots.
Delicious homemade spaghetti sauce. Ingredients from local grocery store - Vienna.
Dinner is served! 20 mins preparation + cooking time.

In order to further compound your savings make sure to go off the beaten path. Find restaurants in adjoining streets where the menus have been written with the native language and nothing more. Eating at restaurants close to major sites can be rather glamorous, but also expensive and quite often sub-par. Consider the volume of people flowing through; how much love do you think that chef was able to throw at his concoctions? And believe me when I tell you that cooking is an act of love that transfers to your palate in a myriad ways. It’s a bit like alchemy, except that it converts love of trade into explosions of flavor.

If you happen to be visiting a country where the local fares are dirt cheap, like perhaps Mexico or Thailand, then feel free to ignore my advice. But if you’re visiting England, Switzerland, or Austria, where food prices are rather steep, then help yourself and stash those coins. You’ll thank me later.

What frugal strategies do you employ in the food department while traveling? Any simple recipes you’d like to share? Am I crazy for thinking this way?

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