Thursday, October 1, 2009

Frugal Exploring: Out and About

I hope you are enjoying these posts about vacationing/exploring frugally.  Please feel free to share any tips you have, or let me know if one we suggested will work for you!

G and I did a lot of just getting out of the house and hanging out in different towns while in England.  I call it exploring, but we tended to go to the same places often.  And as one town in particular had several restaurants we loved within walking distance of where we parked, we had to think of how to avoid constantly just eating there.  Sometimes it was as simple as eating before we left and making a point to agree to make coffee or tea once we got home.  Other times we had to get more creative.  

Picnics.  We loved walking around the abbey gardens and when it was nice out, a picnic was a great way to relax, take in some sun (while wearing SPF 30+), and eat cheaply.  Now, nobody would be able to compromise and picnic is the option was an ordinary meal. So we always tried to do extraordinary.  Roasted chicken or salmon with roasted potatoes and asparagus?  G would turn down a restaurant any day for that meals.  Add in a dessert of fresh strawberries and a side of red wine.  This was simple meal that didn't cost too much (usually it was leftovers from the night before, including the wine....although check out your local laws on traveling with an open bottle and if need be, seal well, secure in your trunk and there shouldn't be a problem).  

Here are some more no fail (in my opinion anyways) picnic extraordinary meals:

Cold Pizza.  Whether you choose to make it yourself or order in, bring leftovers to the picnic.  We like thin pizzas with lots of toppings (think sundried tomatoes, Italian meats, sauteed onions, garlic, red pepper, etc).  This and a salad with some wine (or water with fruit slices) would make a wonderful meal.  A dessert of some thin crisp Italian wafers and fresh fruit would wrap this up beautifully.

Sandwiches, but think outside the box.  Roasted chicken, artichoke and grilled onions.  Portobella mushrooms with fresh greens, roasted red peppers, mozzarella and onions.  There are some amazing combos out there....take inspiration from your favorite restaurants!

Cold Mexican food.  We like Tilapia with black beans, red onion, and corn on top.  This would translate very well into a taco if you prefer.  This and a side of guacamole or salsa with tortilla chips and some Perrier with lime.  Bring extra lime, it tastes amazing on the fish!

Soup and salad.  Simple, satisfying, and a bit more unusual.  G and I always bring real plates, bowls, silverware, glassware and cloth napkins when we picnic.  This would make for a beautiful photo shoot if you are into that sort of thing!  And if you bring the soup on a thermos you can do hot soups as well.  In the summer try cold leek and potato, gazpacho, cucumber, or asparagus soups. is sure to have a ton of cold soup recipes, so give them a whirl!

By having a picnic G and I could compromise and grab an espresso at a sidewalk cafe afterwards.  Our favorite coffee place in one town was the Portuguese grocer and deli.  They made delicious coffee, had a couple outside tables (and some inside for blustery days) and we could get 2 espressos for the equivalent of no more than $2....when we first started going there it was actually closer to $1.50 for 2 espressos!  In the town where the Abbey is at, we could grab an espresso at Strada for less than $5 for the both of us, that's after the conversion.  Not something we could do everyday, but a nice treat.  I really urge you to try smaller, non-chain coffee places.  Sometimes they can be more expensive, but if you look for odd places, like a Ethnic grocer that also serves coffee, they are generally serving to a small community (in our case, the guy behind the counter didn't speak hardly any English, but there were a lot of Portuguese people who came in) and the prices are geared for their community.  

If you are on vacation and out sightseeing, try being a European for the day.  Pack a light bag with a whole or partial baguette, some hard cheese, fruit, veggies, salami, and wine.  You can pop a squat on a bench or in a park or on the beach and have a fantastic meal on your budget.  This is a great way to travel.

Have a coffee or tea addiction, and need some constantly?  I feel your pain!  My crazy butt secret?  I carry packets or tea and instant coffee in my purse!  This way all I have to do is grab some hot water at a place and I am good to go.  This isn't as crazy as it sounds.  I am partial to the types of tea I drink, so rather than get stuck drinking Lipton hot tea some place I simply ask for hot water, and then make my own.  At Panera or Starbucks this means you have access to their coffee/tea station and can use their sugar, creamer, and things like cinnamon, but you get the kind of coffee/tea you like for much less.  This is more for on the road, because when I am in a coffee place that is not a chain I prefer to support their small business endeavor.

And finally, out running errands and already have plans for dinner, but are worried the Hungry Monster will kick in and make you cave?  Carry some hard candies or dried fruit in your handbag.  G and I like a french-made hard candy, or Godiva pearls.  I also have been known to pull another crazy and down a packet of sugar (which of course I have in my handbag, I carry raw sugar packets that I pick up everywhere in my purse for my coffee and tea!) to help keep hunger at bay.  Now, it does sound crazy, but because of my screwed up habits my body is mildly out of whack and I rarely get hungry.....but when I do it goes from 0 to 100 quick and I get nauseated if I don't get something in me!

Hope some of these tips and ideas have helped.  I've actually thought about some other frugal things to share a bit later!


  1. If you could teach my husband to actually try, let alone enjoy, most of the food you listed, I would be golden. It all sounds amazing and delicious to me, though, so maybe I can just eat ginormous portions to make up for it :-) Thanks for the tips!

  2. I hear your pain Dunc, my husband is also a picky eater. I blame his mom. I love some of the foods I listed.

  3. Oh I'm so glad that Jesse isn't picky! His eating habits are even more out there than mine! I'm definitely going to try some of this while I'm in Spain!

  4. Lol, I have to say, G was perplexed by the comments, he didn't think there was anything odd in the list. I'll turn him into a little Frenchman in no time!

    When we first got married he wouldn't even eat salad (turns out he hates, and I do to, iceberg lettuce). But eventually I was able to get him to love peas (something he hated before) and try nearly everything I put in front of him. He still isn't a huge fan of olives but will eat them on a thin crust (Italian style) pizza with anchovies and onions. Go figure.

    My advice is to introduce things slowly (and sneakily, like dealing with a child). Mix veggies they normally wouldn't eat chopped up small in things like pasta. They'll never know, until you slowly start making the veggies bigger.

    I had to agree with G though, I didn't think the list was too crazy....I left a lot off. Chicken liver pate with some grapes and a good baguette? Turned out to be divine (I tried it for the first time a few months ago).

    Feel free to e-mail me if you want some more risque choices, or if you ever want a recipe!

  5. Sneaking in your own coffee and tea is just an awesome idea!