Backpacking in Europe for two weeks was exhilarating, freeing, and inspiring, but on the road my body definitely took a beating. By the end of my trip I’d undergone drastic altitude changes, climbing the highest hills to sitting beachside on the Mediterranean. Temps varied from scalding hot during the day, to windy and chilly at night. My lips were sunburned and chapped, my feet were chafed by my sandals, and my skin was a deep brown from hours and hours in the sun. My somewhat regular sleep pattern that I acquired in Italy was totally thrown out of balance on the road. I never got a full 8 hours, and probably averaged four or five hours at most per night, after dancing at the discotec. Occasionally I’d sneak a few winks on the beach, plane or ferry.
Don’t get me wrong—I had the time of my life and would highly recommend everyone take a solo trip at some point in his or her lifetime. However, after four days of late nights, early mornings, minimally clean showers and my super tight budget, I felt grungy, exhausted and just plain unhealthy. As soon as I arrived on Santorini I decide I needed to change things, especially when it came to food, or I’d burn out really quickly…
When you’re traveling it’s easy to get into the, “I’ll never be back here so I might as well try every type of food in sight” mindset. Trust me, this is lethal. Before I knew it I had WAY too much gelato and had packed on a good five pounds. It’s always more expensive to eat healthily but if you do it right, you can stick to a tight budget and eat healthy.
10 Tips on Eating Healthy for Cheap in Europe
- Supermarkets are underrated. I bought a little paring knife and used that to cut fruit, meat, cheese and bread. It was really helpful because I could sort of “cook” for myself without having to spend a lot and make a big mess.
- Buy small amounts of cheese. When you buy cheese try to find a supermarket that has a cheese/meat counter. Look for the cheapest kind and ask for a few slices (enough for a day). Most supermarkets have prepackaged cheese but this often expensive (a few euros) compared to the fresh cut cheese (less than a euro for five or six slices). Plus cheese spoils and I didn’t travel with a cooler so you only need a little at a time.
- Buy a loaf of fresh bread for less than a euro. This can last you a few days and goes great with a jar of jam in the morning for breakfast or with cheese and sliced meat for dinner.
- Snack on fresh fruit and veggies from local markets (almost every city has them). Most local farmers and vendors will charge a few euro per kilogram but if you only get a peach here, and a cucumber there you’ll be spending less than a euro a day. Plus fruit and veggies are filling and give you the good kind of energy to keep going.
- Treat yourself to a real meal once in a while. Supermarkets are great and you save tons of money in retrospect, but after awhile you’ll get sick of the same old same old. I tried to eat out at least once in every city I visited to get a feel for the food, meet some locals and not go crazy from jelly sandwiches.
- Switch it up. In Barcelona I had tons of fun at the markets getting foods I hadn’t eaten in Greece or Italy. I bought fresh squeezed coconut juice for a euro, roasted nuts and dried fruit and avocados. Be creative.
- Ask your hostels and the locals for good bars with happy hours and deals on cocktails and beer. Most bars will give you a free welcome shot but after that drinks get really expensive. Lots of clubs have workers with flyers walking around so snag some of these for free entrances.
- Pace yourself with drinking. Alcohol has lots of calories. It’s easy to lay on the beach, have a few beers during the day, then go out at night for a few drinks at the club, and before you know it you’ve doubled your calorie intake for the day.
- Don’t eat when you’re not hungry and don’t stress about the next time you’ll have to eat. Not once did I have trouble finding a supermarket and if you buy a bunch of food ahead of time you’ll have to carry it, you’ll get sick of it, and chances are most of it will end up in the garbage. Take it one or two meals at a time.
- Don’t be too anal about your eating and budget either. You’re traveling for pete’s sake. Savor the food, enjoy the drinking and relax about it because it’s easy to become calorie-crazy and that’s not good.
Above all, just remember to take it easy! You’re switching climates and pushing yourself more than normal so allow your body time to adjust to different temps, time zones, types of food, and probably a huge deficit in sleep.
Happy healthy eating!