Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
Money saving tips
What to carry in your day pack
The following food items in your backpack, don’t take up a lot of room but can save a lot of money over time.
Powdered milk: This can be used for coffee and granola for a rapid and cheap breakfast on the run. It’s light and lasts a long time if you keep it air tight and closed up when not in use. Cost is around $3 for 300g of powder that makes 3 litres mixed with plain water.
Coffee: Instant is probably the easiest. $2 buys enough for 25 coffees when you could easily be charged $1 or more per coffee in a café. You can go for ground coffee as an option but you’ll need a filter. We started off with ground, but unfortunately lost our filter along the way. The filter is a wire hoop attached to a fabric filter cone that is reusable. If you can find this, this is definitely the way to go. Unfortunately we could only find it in Honduras to buy even though we know other countries have it so we are now back to instant coffee. The locals also prefer to drink instant so most of the coffee you order is going to be instant. I know this is weird considering how many coffee plantations they have here.
Granola: This is now our go to staple for breakfast. As we are on the move a lot, this is perfect for 6am early starts as it’s easy to make. With yoghurt and fresh fruit this is absolutely delicious. Expect to pay around $2.50 per 500g which is enough for 4-5 portions.
Small Tupperware / Plastic Container: We found many hostels don’t have these, so we are now carrying a small one that holds the above items (this also avoids any spillage in your bag). We use it as a makeshift bowl for breakfast and for storing leftover meals for the next day.
Loaf of bread and a spread: Peanut Butter/Jam/Jelly/Honey. We usually carry around some kind of spread and buy a loaf of bread when we arrive at our new destination or during transit days. With transit days you don’t know when you are going to stop for food, and if it’s a tourist shuttle they may stop at an expensive restaurant. Bread ranges around $1-$1.50 per loaf and spreads can be quite cheap. We recently bought a 650g squeeze bottle of Strawberry Jam for $1 and it will probably last a month or more. Peanut butter can be hard to find cheaply or even at all. On Little Corn Island, Nicaragua it was $11 for a small jar. In Honduras we found it for $3 for a 450g jar.
Find accommodation with a kitchen: Our general rule is if we stay for more than two nights in a location, we try and use a kitchen. There is an abundant supply of fruit and vegetables from the local market. We also found eating out doesn’t provide much nutrition as the foods tend to be oily and fatty so buying food gave us some nutritional intake.
What food to buy when eating in
The general rule is to find out what is locally in season and build meals around them– i.e. avocados, ayote (this is a vegetable similar to zucchini), tomatoes, strawberries, pineapple, mango etc. For example avocados were in season when we were in El Salvador and they were selling them on the bus 4 for 50c. In Nicaragua they are not in season so they are selling them for $2 each.
For fussy eaters, here are some ways to mix up the same ingredients so it doesn’t feel like you’re eating the same thing every day.
Rice: This is one of the cheapest staple items in Central America but it needs to be mixed with other items as it doesn’t really have a taste.
Fried rice: This is really fast and cheap. Buy a small soya sauce and add this to rice and vegetables. The tip is the rice needs to be a day old to dry out so it won’t stick when you fry it the next day.
Tomato rice: Add a pasta sauce satchel for a tomato flavour (~$0.30) with garlic and onion.
Chicken rice: Add chicken/beef/prawn flavouring available in mini packets for $0.10 each.
Beans and rice: On the Caribbean side this is a popular mix.
Coconut rice: As coconuts are abundant on the Caribbean side, add coconut milk or juice.
Noodle stir fry: Use the soya sauce and add this to Asian noodles and vegetables
Pasta: Tomato pasta sauce is abundant here in little individual satchels perfect for a single meal (~$0.30). We usually add as many vegetables as we can to this so it’s a nutritious and cheap meal. When we are near the coast we tend to add fish/prawns as well.
Tortillas: Wraps or tostadas combined with beans and vegetables are cheap and easy. Beans you can buy pre-made in small packages from stores. Vegetables could include onion, pepper, tomato and lime. If you add guacamole to this it’s delicious
Fish: When you’re on an island or near the coast fish with local fisherman is can be cheaper than chicken or other meats. The sad thing is that due to tourism a lot of the fishermen now provide fishing trips or snorkelling tours instead of fishing as they realize there is more money in tourism. You will likely need to ask around for the source of local fish. Add garlic, pepper and cook it in butter. The same can be done with prawns; butter and garlic fresh prawns are amazing.
Eggs: Make an omelet with peppers (capsicum), onion and tomato. This is delicious in a tortilla with rice and beans. Scrambled eggs with the same ingredients are also tasty.
Fresh fruit– If you have a large dinner or lunch, you can mix it up a bit by having fruit for breakfast or dinner.
As we aren’t vegetarians we usually add some kind of meat to the above meals.
Another tip is to work out what the locals eat and copy their recipe. In Guatemala we found pre-made seasoning (kind of like a curry). You can also go to a comedor and buy some of their sauces. In Nicaragua on the Caribbean side Rondon is popular (Seafood curry with coconut milk).
We have had many compliments on how good our cooking smells and the envy of other backpackers, and to think it only cost us a few dollars!
Eating out – Guide to eating cheap
Eat a big lunch and small dinner
The first thing to note is people from Central America generally eat a large lunch and a smaller dinner. When we were trying to find somewhere to eat at night, it was difficult to find anything that wasn’t snack food unless you went to more expensive and generally tourist focussed restaurants. For example in Mexico it was tacos, in Guatemala it was tacos or BBQ meat, in Honduras it was Baleadas, in El Salvador it was Pupusas.
We had to change our eating schedule to match the locals where possible so we weren’t starving by dinner time. In Australia and North America the trend is smaller lunches and bigger dinners, so this took a while for us to get adjusted to.
Our next rule when choosing a place was to follow the locals. To do this you need to work out what time everyone eats as this differs in each country. In Mexico Lunch was 2-3pm while in El Salvador and Nicaragua it is much closer to 12pm. By following locals and eating at popular places, this meant the food was fresher and not sitting out too long. Try to make sure the money is handled separately to the food. Try to eat the local dishes as we have spoken to a few people along the way that got food poisoning from pizza, or hamburgers. Western food that the locals don’t usually cook is almost always more expensive.
Local comedors: These are our favourite. Meals have been ranging from $1.50-$4 including a beverage. Our main go to has been the menu del dia (meal of the day) or tipico. Usually it is a form of chicken or meat with rice, beans, tortillas and usually a salad. Most people will warn you against the salad since it is likely not washed in clean water. Take your chances on what you desire.
Markets: You can also by menu del dia here. Soups, tipico, tamales etc. Food here tends to be cheaper than local comedors.
Street vendors: This differs depending on the country you’re in and even what town or city and what time of day. Mexico – tacos; Guatemala – fried chicken, bbq meat; El Salvador – potato chips with tomato sauce and mayonnaise, pupusas; Honduras – baleadas; Nicaragua – hamburgers, hotdogs, pizza.
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/