We all love to chow down. The real difficulty we face in our cushiony first world lives is deciding what to stuff ourselves full of. We'll always find a way when we're at home and familiar with the food available to us, but when we go abroad that confidence goes out the window. The only thing that's familiar is McDonald's and we all know we probably shouldn't eat that for two weeks straight.
So what are your other options and how can you afford these things? Well thanks to some trial and error, a few flab rolls gained and lost, and plenty of time spent regretting the meals I've had and the poor state they left me in, I know the lay of the land and the options available when eating abroad.
1) Street food.
Amazingly, a lot of street food isn't just hot dogs and burgers deep fried in twelve buckets of grease. Some street food you can get abroad might seem completely random by our standards, but also so, so delicious. The best street food I've ever had was in Sicily. The street food of choice over there isn't chips drowned in curry sauce, but a wonderful thing called Arancini. Arancini is a rice ball covered in breadcrumbs filled with either ragù and peas or mozzarella, cheese, butter and ham. To quote the hip kids, they're totes amazeballs.
The great thing about street food is that it's seriously cheap, but can in a lot of cases actually be much better for you than junk food and a lot more filling. It's not a good thing to live off all the time but, on your busy days when you've a lot to see and do, it'll keep you going.
2) Fast Food.
Fast food is always the safe bet when you go abroad. We know the system, we know what we're ordering and we know what we like. While it's not the worst from time to time, especially when you have a craving you need to fill, or a horrifically bad hangover, it probably shouldn't become your only source of nourishment. It's a cheap and tempting option when you're abroad, but do a little snooping and you'll find that you can get much better food for the same price. Your bowels will thank you later when you're not spending six hours on the toilet begging for mercy.
3) Real Food.
Real food, prepared in a restaurant where they don't own a deep fat fryer, is always a difficult thing to afford when on a student budget. Still, some cuisine available abroad is nothing short of divine, and a wholesome meal from time to time is always a wise investment. The best thing to do is a little research in advance to identify a particular meal you want to try, what it costs and where you can get it. If you're worried about what you can afford, try to work off the principle that you get to eat out about every three to four days.
When you're not eating out, think hostels. If you find the right place, you'll not only get a free breakfast but also access to a kitchen to cook your dinner, whoo. These places might seem a little dearer, but with the added bonus of breakfast and a kitchen, they can save you a lot of money in the long run. It's especially cost effective if you make a group meal and if you do, always offer to cook. That means while everyone else is left to clean up, you can go enjoy your food coma.
A great way to keep all of your vital organs intact and your waistline not being mistaken for a whale at a buffet. It's cheap anywhere you go and even one or two pieces of fruit a day can make a big difference to your diet and well being.
6) Local Markets.
Local markets, particularly in third world or developing countries, are a great place to get good food. Most of the food you get at local markets is locally produced by people with small patches of land. This means nothing unnatural is used to help grow the food. Pesticides and other types of chemicals used to help produce the food can be too expensive for a lot of these people, so the food is 100% natural, even more natural than all the organic food you get at home.
I'm not mad for certain foods, but half of what I ate in Uganda was from local markets. Half of the stuff I'd gotten from markets I despised back home but would gladly devour over there. I had many mouthgasms. It's also extremely cheap because this is where people do their shopping rather then were they get there specialty food to match their new fad diet like at a farmers market. You'll probably get overcharged when they realise you're a tourist, but not by much. In some places though, you can be really sneaky about it and pay someone to do your shopping for you, to avoid being overcharged and it'll still work out a little cheaper.
This is a big thing that a lot of people can overlook when they go travelling. The regulations and laws surrounding food quality and control can vary big time from one country to another. Some of the government bodies in charge of food quality are extremely corrupt, or have an overly relaxed approach to the standards of production and what can be added and used when growing or processing the food you eat. As a result, all that crap added can leave you as sick as a dog. Don't be fooled by terms like 'organic' or 'free range' stamped across the label either, because what that actually means can vary from one country to another.
When I did my J1 I faced this very problem and lost a lot of weight very fast. I was sick a lot of the time and skipping meals far more then I should have been because I just couldn't keep the food down. I was thankfully saved by my job which offered me free food, and the food they served was of an extremely high quality. It was the only thing I could eat and enjoy. Carlos, I owe you my life, I forgot to mention that to you before I left.
It's always smart to do a little research about food quality and standards before you visit a new country, even if it just means you'll know that certain foods should be avoided.