Planning - Budgets - Dining/Food


gelatoFood… I love it.  I am not the type of person who simply uses food to sustain life; food is a pleasure.  So, for me, half the enjoyment of travel is indulging in different foods and experiencing everything that makes that culture's cuisine distinct.  Tapas in Spain, croquette in Holland, crepes and foie gras and brie in France, risotto and pasta and, well, everything in Italy.  This makes budgeting for food on a European vacation a priority for us; we are there to experience the food as much as we are there to see famous monuments and experience the culture.  Considering that a lot of Europe's varied cultures are directly tied to not only the food itself but how it is consumed,  I would forgo every museum in every city just to have a delicious meal of local specialties.

But, that is me.  If you don't care about food that much then fantastic - you have just saved a ton of money!  Don't fret, you can still get a very authentic experience without spending all of your money on food.  The grocery store is a great example - grab a basket and explore!  You can stock up on interesting food for very little money; a picnic lunch or simple provisions for your rental apartment won't cost you much and yet you'll still get something very different than you would at home.  Something as simple as a frozen pizza can be wildly different, and the variety of yogurt flavors will blow your mind.  In general, the grocery prices tend to be very similar to at home so budget accordingly if you plan on eating in.  Restaurants are a different story; just like at home you can have a terrible meal for a lot of money or a fabulous meal for a reasonable price.  Try to avoid overly touristy areas (if you receive a menu in English you know you'll most likely be paying too much!) and ask for a fixed price menu to maximize your money.  (In France it's the menu du jour, in Spain it's the menu del dia, etc).  Typically these types of meals involve 3 courses and a glass of wine for a reasonable pre-set price .  Each course may have 2 or 3 choices and they are all delicious!

Take into account that a coffee with set you back 2-3€ and a very typical breakfast is about 8-12€ per person (this includes coffee/hot chocolate, a baked good, and a glass of fresh juice).  To avoid multiplying that by all members of your family you can easily have breakfast in your room/apartment for very little money; although if you like coffee it will be hard to resist the amazing European brew!  Treat yourself occasionally because it truly is an experience unto itself… sitting at a little table on a Parisian sidewalk sipping your coffee and picking at your croissant - how often does that happen?  Yum.

expectationsLunch can be had in so many ways: a picnic in a park, a quick sandwich from a sidewalk cart, a light lunch in a café or a full meal deal in a restaurant.  What you do depends on how much you're willing to spend and where you happen to find yourself on any given day.  A quick dip into the local grocery store will get you a baguette, some cheese, salami and some grapes for less than 10€ and you can even grab a cheap bottle of wine if you’re so inclined.  Take that to the grassy area beside the Eiffel Tower and you have yourself a pretty awesome lunch!  One of the most delicious sandwiches I've ever had was from a street stand in Paris; brie and some kind of thinly sliced ham on a pressed baguette.  Add on a bottle of water and that lunch cost me 6€!  Two kids could've shared that for an even better deal.   On the other hand, sometimes when you've been out walking and sightseeing you want to take a rest and have a nice, relaxing lunch.  I would estimate 10€ for each of the kids and about 15-20€ per adult in that situation.  You are never rushed and can take as long as you'd like which is really nice and very much appreciated if you're feeling a little weary.

Dinner - now this is where the big differences in budgets can come into play.  Dinner in your apartment will cost you the same as it does at home, and almost every rental accommodation will have everything you need to cook a complete meal.  For an 'authentic' Italian meal why not boil up some fresh pasta and grab some sauce from the corner store?  Add on a loaf of bread and some local veggies and your meal is indistinguishable from the neighbors!  If cooking is out of the question it is easy to find a corner café to have a quick bite (remembering to stay away from all plazas and heavily touristed areas to avoid being raked over the coals!).  However, if you want multiple courses and a long, drawn out experience then you will obviously pay more.  Maybe you do this just once, or maybe you do it every night.  Budget, budget, budget!

Last but not least - beverages.  These innocuous re-hydrators can be a huge budget breaker.  If you ask for water in a restaurant you will very rarely be given (free) tap water unless you specifically ask, and in some countries they won't even give it to you.  Generally you'll be given a small bottle of water that costs the same, or even more, than any other beverage on the menu.  House wine is often cheaper than water, believe it or not.  If everyone wants water then order a large bottle to share or they will try and bring everyone a small individual bottle that costs a fortune.  All travel books will explain the situation and custom for each country as they are too varied to mention here, so flip through some books before you go to get a handle on how things are done in each country.  Buying drinks in a grocery store is obviously cheaper so if you're out sightseeing and get thirsty consider running into a store for a bottle of water instead of sitting in a café and spending a small fortune.  It's not that different from home when you think about it - a drink in a restaurant is obviously more expensive than one you buy from the grocery store regardless of where you are!

As a final note, you know your family's habits best.  If you eat out a lot at home then you'll eat out a lot on vacation.  If you enjoy cooking and think it will be enjoyable to find new ingredients and cook for yourselves then factor that in to your budget.  Various message boards I've googled put an average price of 60-70€ per day per person - but that is for an adult eating out and includes alcohol.  You could easily buy groceries and eat from street carts for 15€/day or have 3 meals a day at fancy restaurants and spend 300€/day - the choice is yours.  Be reasonable in your calculations and don't expect to cook every meal at home just to save some money.  Simply eating breakfast at 'home' every morning and buying your bottled water in the grocery store will save you a lot of money; it won't take long to figure out what is a reasonable amount to spend on food by trial and error.

Bon appetit!


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