One Traveler’s Secret to Eating Well on a Budget

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Food is one of the best parts of traveling. But between the cost of plane tickets, hotel reservations and car rentals, even the most budget-savvy traveler can end up strapped for cash when it’s time for a meal. But you don’t have to shell out the big bucks on Michelin-star restaurants to eat the best a country has to offer. You don’t have to break your budget to chow down on healthy and delicious local fare. One secret I learned on a recent trip to Iceland: Eating well on a budget is all about shopping like the locals.

You don’t have to spend a lot to get a tasty, local experience. In Iceland, there are inexpensive and healthy treats around every corner. You just have to know where to look. Shopping at grocery and convenience stores saved us a lot of krona (that’s the Icelandic currency), and even gave us more time for hiking and sightseeing.

Skyr is one ubiquitous treat at grocery stores across Iceland. This low-fat, high-protein dairy product is Iceland’s version of Greek yogurt. Many mornings on our trip began with some skyr, fruit,and coffee from a convenience store. This breakfast ticked all the boxes: cheap, quick, healthy and packed with nutrients. Skyr also served as a great mid-afternoon snack to power us through hikes.

Rúgbrauð is another tasty, inexpensive (yet difficult to pronounce) Icelandic staple. This dense rye bread is made with healthy whole grains and has a deep fruity flavor. Sometimes, this bread is also known as “geyser bread (hverabrauð)” when it’s cooked in clay ovens that are heated by hot geothermal springs.

Rúgbrauð was easy to find in grocery stores, especially in the north of Iceland. Sandwiches (even just a simple peanut butter and banana) made with rúgbrauð served as part of an easy, inexpensive lunch during long days of driving. But warning: Eat too much rúgbrauð and you may understand how this bread got its nickname, “thunder bread.” I’ll let you use your imagination. 

In the USA, “local” doesn’t always mean low-cost. But in Iceland, choosing locally produced foods is a great way to cut expenses while dining out. Traditional foods made with local ingredients, like lamb and fish soups, are often the least expensive options on menus.

You don’t have to go to Iceland to put these tips into practice. Look for unique low-cost grocery options during all your international travels. And remember, with a little creativity, eating well abroad can always be budget-friendly.