One thing I’m often asked to write about when it comes to traveling is how to save money on food and drink. It’s a great question and one I will dedicate several posts to answering. Today I’d just like to hammer home one piece of key advice: buy what’s cheap where you are. This may sound like trite and superficial advice, but it’s among my most profound travel wisdom. What exactly do I mean? Well, let’s break it down.
We live in a capitalist society and one of the values we’ve been taught from the time we were small children is “You get what you pay for.” While I’m not saying that’s never true, it’s certainly not true a lot of the time. For example, let’s say you live in Chicago and you take a trip to the local grocery store. You’d probably find that a bottle of wine costs around $12, a big bottle of beer around $2, milk around $1.50, and a 2 liter of coke around 99 cents. Now having seen prices like this your whole life you’ve probably reached the very reasonable conclusion that this reflects the relative value of the products. Coke is poison, milk is reasonably healthy but doesn’t taste great, beer is a cheap way to get drunk and wine will make you talk with a French accent.
The thing is what’s determining the prices here isn’t quality, it’s not even the cost of making the products (as it turns out cows cost more than grapes), rather it’s some hellishly complex series of factors involving taxes, marketing costs, government subsidies and other stuff that gives economics professors goose bumps.
Now what if I told you there’s a store where you’d fine wine that cost 50 cents a liter, beer is 24 cents a can, milk is around $3 and the coke is about $1.50. You’d probably tell me I was homeless guy having a great dream, but no, you’d simply be in Spain.
I'm not saying it's Dom Perignon, but you get the idea...
So what does this all mean? Well, for one thing, it means there are a lot of drunk Americans wandering around Spain, but it also means that when traveling you shouldn’t stick to the “you get what you pay for mentality” rather you should buy what’s cheap where you are. In France and Spain drink wine cheaper, in Belgium drink beer cheaper, in Switzerland eat cheese cheaper, in the US drink coke cheaper, in Thailand… well you get the point.
Now knowing what’s cheap where takes a little travel experience, but in general things are cheaper closer to where they are made or grown, e.g. vodka in Poland, oranges in Florida. Not only that, things often taste better before they make a transoceanic voyage, as I learned when drinking beer served by the same monks who brewed it. Of course, there’s more to buying food than price and location, personal taste has just as much if not more to do with it, and that’s something I’ll touch on in my next post: The World’s Greatest Beer – Coors Light. Until then please share the travel bargains you’ve found. Is tea cheaper in China? What about hamburgers in Hamburg? Let us know!