Thursday, August 11, 2011

Rationing: Turning One Meal into Four

It does not seem completely plausible to purchase one sandwich and get four meals out of it. But trust me, it's definitely doable, especially when you are a strapped-for-cash traveler with limited space for anything in your backpack. Trekking across various regions of the globe leaves very few options for packing--and eating--extravagantly, so making the most out of something little is imperative.

I know from personal experience that you can jam a whole lot into one backpack, even if you think it is not big enough to carry it all. On my seven-week trip through Europe, I managed to fit two pairs of jeans, four pairs of shorts, 10 tank tops, three cute tops, a dress, 20 pairs of underwear (you can never have enough), eight pairs of socks, five bras, a pair of tennis shoes, flip-flops, a sweatshirt and a rain jacket all into my one bag. And there was still enough room to hold my toiletries, camera, camera charger, outlet converters and all my money, credit cards and passport. So where does the sandwich come into play?

Well, just as I had to take advantage of what little room I had in my backpack, I had to stretch every meal to the limit. That bag of chips we bought on our last day in Nice had to make it through a five hour train ride to Switzerland, a late night check in at the hostel that left little room to eat, and a whole day of sightseeing through the town of Interlaken. A small jar of peanut butter and bag of pretzels was my go-to snack option for a week, not to mention a full meal or two. And that sandwich, well, let's just say one single panini bought in Italy had to survive at least two days, meaning it was my lunch, dinner, breakfast and lunch again. So how do you effectively transform what is considered to be one full meal into four small ones?

Rationing--and one heaping dose of will power. Right from the minute that sandwich lands in your hands, resist the urge to dive right in--as difficult as it may be. Lay it out on a table, grab a knife and cut it into four equal portions. Take one of the pieces to eat right away, and wrap the rest to store for later. Voila! A five dollar sandwich just turned into four meals, meaning you can save $15 for something else. I know what some of you are thinking, "how the hell can one quarter of a sandwich sustain me for a whole afternoon?" It's a fair question. That's where small snacks come in. I found granola bars, pretzels, and trail mix were sufficient foods to nibble on between larger meals. But remember, those need to be rationed, too, because it is not cheap to buy those items in Europe or anywhere else for that matter, so you want to make sure you savor what you have. Also, the more you do this, the easier it will become, your body will adapt to smaller portions, and you will learn to live off mini meals.

For those of you going on extreme travel expeditions with lots of hiking, biking, walking, etc., I recommend not heeding this advice. You need way more food to sustain that level of activity, but there are ways to keep the food spending down even when you have to eat a lot. If you are traveling with friends, split as much as you can, and get larger portions, so you can always store some away for later. If you are staying in hostels with a kitchen, buy items at grocery stores and make your own sandwiches or cook up a big pot of pasta. Trust me, buying a $3 loaf of bread, a pound of sliced meat and some cheese will go alot further than spending $6 on one sandwich.

Of course, I will be the first to admit that there are certain things I refuse to skimp on. And when you travel, you have the right to indulge every once and a while, it is a vacation after all. For me, it was the chocolate filled crepes in Paris--of course, those are tough to save for later anyway, because, well, you can't really store them efficiently. And in Italy, there was no way I could have just one piece of pizza. So I recommend choosing a couple spots where there is a meal you just have to be able to sit down to and enjoy completely. Because what is travel without a little reward?

The art of rationing is definitely helpful while traveling. It helps save money and lightens your load--in more ways than one. And while I would not recommend doing it at any other time--though I just pulled it off this week--it is a good skill to keep on hand for a variety of other circumstances.

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