The “locavore” and “slow food” movements have taken off bigtime in the last decade, but budget travelers have been following them for ages for economic reasons: eating local and drinking local can save you a small fortune.
Sure, there are high-minded environmental and social reasons for consuming what’s produced locally. Less fuel is used, more locals get employed, more of the money stays in the community, fewer preservatives are needed, etc. If you’re on a $30-a-day travel budget though, those things are icing on the cake. The real driver is lower costs.
Almost every country has a group of items that are cheaper because they’re local and not imported. The most prominent are usually include locally grown food items, as well as drinks produced from local ingredients. Here are a few random examples of screaming bargains I’ve found over the years:
Oranges in Portugal
Wine in Eastern Europe
Yogurt in Bulgaria
Coffee in Colombia
Bia Hoi (sidewalk draft beer) in Vietnam
Cashews in the Philippines
Rum in Nicaragua
Vanilla in Mexico
Watermelons in the southern USA
Bananas in Honduras
Any fruit or vegetable in Ecuador
Tea and vegetarian thali meals in India
Beef in Argentina
Sticky rice and mango in Thailand
Fish in Indonesia
Part of the reason I found Portugal so inexpensive on my recent trip is almost everything I ate and drank came from Portugal. Well, apart from the coffee. When I’m in Southeast Asia, I eat Asian food. I don’t order a Jack Daniels when I’m somewhere that makes great rum.
Also look at utilitarian items produced for local household use (like wooden cooking utensils), as well as clothing items made for domestic purchase.
The idea also extends to transportation methods that working class people use. Upper class people and executives shun the metro in many cities for example (including Mexico City), so join the masses and you’ll get from A to B for cheap.
When fuel itself is a local commodity, that may be the greatest bargain of all. Filling up a rental car in the Gulf states or in Venezuela is not going to set you back very much.
What kind of great local bargains have you found in your travels?