Money-Saving Food and Dining Hacks for the Frequent Traveler or Nomad

Being a full-time traveler is crazy expensive and out of your reach, right? Wrong. I’ve been living full-time out of a suitcase or two since September 2020 — and I’ve been able to (give or take) stay within my budget.

Dining — restaurants and groceries — is one of the biggest categories people spend money on. Since going fully nomadic, I don’t have the same ability to buy groceries in bulk, stock my pantry, and make a ton of meals at home.

But when comparing my overall spending last year to this year, I’ve spent less in 2021 — by about $4,000 or 7%. And even though the year isn’t quite over yet, I’m unlikely to spend that much more!

2020 spending2021 spending (YTD)
$56,140$52,470

How did I underspend as a full-time nomad? For one, my spending has reshuffled — no longer do I have house spending like a mortgage, taxes, maintenance and insurance, I have rental accommodations. Second, I have mastered the art of the travel hack, and I urge you to too. Today, I’m sharing my hacks for saving money on dining. [Check out a previous blog on how to save on rental accommodation.]

Contrary to what you might see on my Instagram stories, I don’t eat out for every meal. To save bucks on the nomad life, I buy groceries and limit eating out to about one meal per day. Whether in the United States or international, I follow the same general rule: two meals at “home” and one out.

My meals at home could be leftovers, grab ‘n go stuff like hard-boiled eggs, or something simple like a turkey, mayo, and avocado wrap. I don’t really need a full kitchen to get my nutrients in, which helps if I’m in a hotel or hostel (and oftentimes, there’s free breakfast)!

Meals out are certainly more pricey than eating at home, but perhaps, not as fun. And for me, my decision to be nomadic was NOT made in an effort to live cheaply and restrict myself, but to live more fully. I try to keep a balance, and save money on dining by following these hacks:

  • Happy hour/lunch specials

I am a queen of the happy hour! Some restaurants have lunch specials where the menu is at a discount, and some also do “happy hour”, usually a couple hours in the afternoon on weekdays to incentivize early diners and drinkers. Check the restaurants’ website for their lunch or happy hour menu, or give them a call if it’s not listed. Happy hour is not as widespread outside the U.S., in some places these small affordable bites are known as tapas.

  • Food delivery: credit card benefits, kids meals, and add-your-own toppings

I’m big on points hacking, and when I signed up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred card last summer, I was delighted to see it came with a free DashPass membership. This means there are no delivery fees to use the platform, and you only pay the cost of the meal, tax, and of course, tip. (Some merchants also offer a discount on your order with the DashPass, or a separate discount if you pick up instead of deliver.) Most of the time, restaurant meals can be split into a couple servings that last more than one meal.

My second hack when ordering food delivery is to order an adult meal and add on a kids’ meal. Kids’ meals are usually discounted, simpler, but still good (plus, what do they know I’m child-free by choice)?

My third hack (I can keep going, people!) is to add my own toppings. Instead of swallowing the $2 to $7 upcharge for protein, I buy staples like canned salmon at Costco and add my protein at home to noodles or salad. New customers can sign up for DoorDash with my referral link and save $10 off each of their first 3 orders.

  • Email list sign-up

Sometimes, restaurants will offer a discount on your first bill when you sign up for their email list. I have an email address I use just for promotions so my inbox doesn’t clog up. The $5 to $10 off coupons are definitely worth it!

  • Groupon

Remember Groupon? I still check it once in a while to see if there are any deals for restaurants or outings I’m interested in. Just be sure to read the fine print to see if there are any exclusions, such as on happy hour prices or alcohol.

  • All-in-one cooking, like a crockpot or an air fryer

In tight spaces like hotel rooms, a crockpot or air fryer can be a great help. I have opted not to get one (yet), but I’ve seen a fellow nomad throw together a health and affordable turkey and vegetable stew that hit the spot and lasted a few days.

  • Meal delivery service

If you’re looking for something a little more elaborate and a little less costly than dining out, consider a meal delivery membership. I’ve had my Marley Spoon meal delivery/cook-at-home kits delivered to my Airbnb rentals — gourmet, home cooked meals (with all the required spices and ingredients!) tend to average $10 a portion! Just be sure your Airbnb is stocked with cookware and kitchen essentials (you’ll need stapes like oil and salt/pepper).

New to a meal delivery program? Shop around! Lots of them offer incentives for signing up (or, give me your email address and I’ll send you a free box of Marley Spoon — while supplies last).

  • MORE credit card hacking

Back to my Chase Sapphire Preferred… (I just LOVE this card!) For one, restaurants and online delivery purchases get 3x the points, and two, there are additional promos you can pile onto the card to earn money back. Offers frequently rotate, so today, there is 10% back at Hungryroot and 15% back on Green Chef (online grocery/meal plans), 10% back at Dunkin, and 5% back at Kroger grocery stores. The card has a $95 yearly fee, but in the 4 months I’ve had it, I’ve earned that much in JUST dining-related points alone plus $25 in cash back promos on dining… and that’s not even counting my travel benefits (the sign-up bonus is FIRE!) I have a few other credit cards, but this one’s my favorite with all the traveling I do. Apply using my personal referral link here so I get a little bonus: https://www.referyourchasecard.com/6/XRAJM5XMJ6

Heads up: Chase isn’t the only credit card doing these cash back promos with certain merchants. My Amex Blue Card has them as well — and even my Wells Fargo debit card is getting in on them too! Selections vary; make sure you download all the apps to your credit cards and log in frequently to view and apply available offers.

Swipe through the Instagram carousel to see examples detailed above.

Some more of my favorite (FREE) tools I use and recommend to track spending and net worth:

  • Mint: budgeting and categorization, trends, spending tracker (If you join with my referral link, I get $10!)
  • Personal Capital: net worth tracker, investment fee checkup (If you join with my referral link, we both get $20!)

What do you think of these hacks? Any other good ones I should know about? Drop a comment!

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