How we averaged a daily food budget of $16.29 for 2 in Europe

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Drew and I have been getting a lot of questions about how we keep our food budget so low, so I decided the topic may deserve a post by now.

First I’d like to introduce some of the facts.

  1. We were in Europe about 106 days. From the very beginning of August to about half way through November.
  2. For 82 of those days, the food expenses cover 2 people while the remaining 24 of them account for 3 people as Drew’s mom joined us for the last 24 days.
  3. So…technically our averages are as such:
    Time spent with 3 people (23% of the time): an average of $24.61 spent on food a day.
    Time spent with 2 people (77% of the time): an average of $16.29 spent on food a day.
    graph (1)

Ok so what we’re really talking about is an average of $16.29 spent on food per day for a couple.  (Even with a third person, it’s still only $8.20 per person a day.)  So let’s keep that number in our minds instead.

In Asia stats like this would be a joke and I’d be asking myself why we were spending so much money.  We’re hoping to go back to Asia this spring, so I’ll be able to compare the actual stats then.  But these aren’t stats for Asia they’re stats for Europe, where prices are generally more expensive than the states.

So how do we go about achieving less than 8 and a half bucks per person per day spent on food in Europe?

There are a few factors that consistently contribute to our low food budget, and then a few factors that help, but more sporadically.

Consistent contributors to low food budget:

  1.  Lounge Access.
    One of the major contributing factors to low food budget is the amount of stays for which we have lounge access.  36 of our 106 European days were days spent with lounge access.  That’s 33.9% of the time.
    lounge access
    For us, this tends to mean stays at InterContinentals since Drew is a Royal Ambassador and since PointBreaks give us the ability to book long stays at InterContinentals.  But for a number of reasons, “Royal Ambassador status with IHG” is not what I want to be the take away point.
    Not at all.A.) There are easier statuses to earn.
    (For instance, Hilton Gold generally gets you into a lounge and is a status you can get simply by getting the Hilton HHonors Reserve card.)  Drew just did an article for Frugal Travel Guy about the various ways you can get lounge-access-achieving statuses with different hotel programs.B.)Because Royal Ambassador is “invite only” so it’s not something everyone can go out and implement as a strategy.

    C.) It is one of the least rewarding top tier statuses of all the rewards programs, stating that RA’s are not guaranteed benefits on rewards stays for instance.

    D.) Not to mention, lounge access is not a guaranteed benefit anyway and in fact some hotels communicated that they are discouraged from offering lounge access to RA’s.  So sometimes it takes negotiation.

    Thus, the takeaway point for item number one is not “go get RA status”.  The takeaway point is to be intentional about achieving status with a hotel program (for many of the programs it’s as easy as completing a fast-track challenge of some kind), then collect points with that program.

    DSC_1706  DSC_1707

  2. We eat about twice a day.
    Even with lounge access this is common as many lounges don’t offer a lunch per say.  Some lounges have peanuts (literally) in the middle of the day and little else.We are not starving.  Two meals a day is no biggie and is probably what you’re already doing in your ordinary life.  Sometimes when people go on vacation, they want to go all out but budget travelers should consider not going all out.
  3. Groceries and delis.
    Did you notice how often the stats page says “groceries?”  I make sure to make the distinction between “groceries” and “food & bev” so that people can get an idea of when we’re eating out vs when we’re buying food in a grocery store or corner store. I’ll also mention here that even if we’re not buying food in a grocery store, the alternative is often a little sandwich shop or deli rather than a legit, sit-down restaurant.  I like to say that if you eat budget consciously 80% of the time, you can afford to eat out the other 20%.P.s. there are little sandwich shops, bakeries, and deli-type places all over the place in Europe.DSC_0427

Other sporadic contributors

  1. Kitchenettes
    Speaking of groceries, sometimes we even get lucky enough to have a kitchenette.  Groceries are made all the better by having a kitchen.  Soup, spaghetti, grilled cheese sandwiches….kids’ menu food basically.  And most of the different hotel groups have some kind of suite-type hotels within their brand.
  2. Free Breakfast
    Every now and then we get a rate that includes breakfast, though it’s almost never something we pay for.  Again, since we generally only have two meals a day, we can conquer breakfast like beasts and be fine until dinner time when we can hit up a sandwich shop.Here are ways one can score free breakfast…A.) Status.
    A few mid-tier statuses come with free breakfast, such as: Hilton Gold and Marriott Gold.
    Also remember that Hilton Gold is achieved by getting the Hilton HHonors Reserve card, (not to be confused with the Hilton HHonors (non-reserve) card, which only comes with Silver status.)  And of course, most top-tier statuses come with free breakfast…except…of course…InterContinental

    B.) BRG
    OR you can BRG a room at breakfast rate.  If you’re unfamiliar with what a “BRG” is, you can read my post on using BRG’s, but I’ll explain it briefly here as well.Basically a BRG is when a hotel offers a guarantee that you’ll find the best price for their rooms on their very own sites as opposed to sites like Kyak or Expedia.  Along with this claim comes the promise that if you DO find their rooms cheaper elsewhere, they’ll give you something.  With IHG, you get one night of your stay free, even if your stay is only one night!Occasionally we’ve found lower rates that include breakfast.  Though they won’t accept the competing rate as “the same” if one of the rates comes with breakfast and the other doesn’t, EVEN IF it’s the lower competing rate that comes with breakfast and not the hotel site’s rate.

    So to get your free breakfast on a BRG, you need to make sure that both the hotel’s rate and the competing rate come with breakfast.  (I say free breakfast assuming you’re doing a BRG for an IHG hotel or something, but note that not all BRG promises are the same.  Some give you a discount, some give you a voucher, etc.  Drew’s got a great post on the master guide to BRG’s, which shares as many of the BRG promises as we could find.)

    This concept works with club lounge access too if you can BRG a club room for example, as we did at the InterContinental Dusseldorf.

So there you have it.  As much information as I can think of for the various ways we keep that food budget low.  Now we need to figure out how to keep rental car expenses low. That really did a number on our expenses last month!

12 Comments on “How we averaged a daily food budget of $16.29 for 2 in Europe

  1. Thanks, Carrie, for laying it out for us. We just got back from Malta and Sicily and were spending at least $50/day on food. We only ate one meal a day in restaurants, but found it hard to get even very basic meals for less than 25E for two. We always love when we have access to a kitchen, because the quality of the food in the markets is top notch. I am tempted to put together a basic travel “kitchen” to take advantage of the wonderful produce you see in the markets. Not negotiable is the daily bottle of wine. (10E max, usually 4-7E).

    • Uh oh, I’m headed to Italy in February and I’ve heard the prices are particularly high there :-/.

      When we did go out to eat, we too had a hard time keeping the bill under 25-30 Euro.

      I’m intrigued by the travel “kitchen” idea! If you put one together you’ll have to let me know because I miss cooking as we travel. (I love cooking though sometimes we’re the worse for it, as I’m not a very good cook at all lol.)

      • If you are in Rome when you go to Italy, I highly recommend Pastificio by the Spanish Steps for lunch. For 4 euro, you get a huge plate of fresh pasta, plus free wine and bottled water. Make sure to get there right at 1pm when it opens!

      • Carrie, did you read Tim Ferriss’ latest book on cooking? He talks about a mobile setup he learned to cook on in hotels. Key piece of equipment was a (relatively) lightweight induction burner. I agree, an interesting thing to think about, I’ll give it a whirl myself!

        • I’ve heard about it but haven’t read it. Sounds really intriguing. I suppose I’ll have to choose between the luxury of no checked bags or the luxury of cooking in a hotel! Hmmmmm It’s looking more and more tempting to be able to cook…

  2. Ugh. Lounge food?

    I’d hate to see what you both look like in your 50s with that diet.

    • haha! ya maybe it won’t be such a bad thing when our RA status ends lol. Some of those lounges are ridiculous and I just don’t even want to know what ingredients are involved.

  3. Does Ritz Carleton Rewards Gold Status give free breakfasts at the Marriott’s and/or Ritz Carelton’s? I stayed at a Marriott recently under my Ritz Carelton rewards gold statuts and they never gave me any free breakfast nor informed me..

    • I didn’t know the answer to this off-hand so I had to do some digging and here’s what I found.

      “Can guests belong to both Marriott Rewards and The Ritz‐Carlton Rewards? 
      No, members may only have a primary relationship with one program at a time. Although members elect to 
      have their primary relationship with either Marriott Rewards or The Ritz‐Carlton Rewards, it is possible to 
      change membership from one program to the other by contacting Guest Services.  ”

      From this I gather that your status perks with one do not work with the other. HOwever, if you follow this link you can read more about it and it seems that your Marriott and Ritz Carlton stays will earn towards whichever program you want.

      Hope that’s helpful!

  4. For those of you who will be close to a big box store such as WalMart, or other major discount chain, here is a tip for eating on a rock bottom budget while not having to haul around a “travel kitchen”. These places have a very lenient return policy and a rice steamer makes a fantastic all purpose cooking implement. If you are staying in the same place for a week or more I suggest you buy a really nice one with separate basket inside for steaming veggies, chicken and or fish at the same time the brown rice is cooking. You can get a large bag of brown rice almost anywhere for cheap. Also, if your room has a fridge with a small freezer, bags of frozen veggies are a bargain as well as small portions of frozen fish or chicken. Get some soy sauce or other bottled sauce to season with and two can eat a huge meal for less than 4 bucks with plenty left over. I was in Kauai for two separate weeks this year and ate like a king in my room with minimal clean up. The hotel had a restaurant so we asked to borrow some plates and silverware. You can buy a box of tea bags to make iced tea and grab some limes really cheap. Simply return the steamer at the end of your stay for a full refund.

    • ha! I had never thought of that! Funny how you really don’t need that much for making a good meal.

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