You can save time and money while traveling by mixing in some out-of-restaurant meals. Many places have great local markets where you can buy prepared foods as well as traditional markets with ingredients to make your own meal. You’ll save money on more expensive restaurant food and will not have to waste time waiting for a table.
In addition, you can get a better experience! We have been to many places where the locals tend to sit outside, eat, and catch up with their friends during their lunch break. (For example, at lunchtime in Zurich, the locals tend to gather on the steps of public buildings and in the park by the lake.) Join them so you can feel more a part of the local scene, do some people-watching, or even meet a new friend. Ask your hotel concierge or another local for a great place to sit and eat. We have picnicked in various places, from steps of beautiful buildings to beaches to gorgeous sprawling parks. (Just be observant and make sure you’re not on private property.) If the weather doesn’t cooperate, you can even eat inside. Many public shopping areas offer indoor steps or tables where you can eat.
As you travel, grab a few extra disposable utensils and napkins when you pick up food, so you’ll have them for picnicking. Store them in a sandwich bag to keep them clean and organized. (We always pack a few extra zipper-seal sandwich bags in our luggage, because they take up virtually no weight and space and are frequently useful.) A flexible lunch bag like this takes up little room in your luggage, can fit in a good size day bag, and takes up little room again once empty. Don’t waste luggage space on an ice pack though – double bag some ice from the hotel to keep refrigerated foods cold until you can eat them. This trick is also handy if you want to try saving restaurant leftovers, but do not have a refrigerator in your room. We also bring a refillable water bottle on our trips. They do take up a little room, but if the tap water is drinkable (check before you leave) the cost savings versus buying bottled water over and over is well worth it. Remember, leftover produce and newspaper bags make handy trash bags.
You may or may not need a picnic blanket, depending on where you’re sitting. We have a very thin, space-efficient linen blanket that we take on certain trips, and a camp towel is also a space-efficient option.
Know any good spots for picnicking in your hometown or around the world?