Frugal Eats While Wandering (Traveling).

For me, one of the best things about “wandering” or “traveling,” is the opportunity to eat so many incredibly diverse and delicious foods!  I have found that food brings people together, no matter where you are!  Some of my most memorable meals have been in some completely unexpected hole-in-the-wall eateries!  Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and try something new.  A little bit of “culinary-courage” will certainly make for some satisfied tastebuds and some great stories!  Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with going to a 5-star restaurant and spending a small fortune, if that’s what you enjoy.  But there are always less expensive alternatives to the multi-star, multi-$$$$ bistros found in the travel-guides, no matter where you wander!

All travelers know that food can quickly become a significant portion of your travel budget, unless you are careful.  You can eat very well on a limited budget and have an incredible experience at the same time!

Below are a few of my tips for saving money on food while wandering / traveling!

– Bring your own Water-Bottle.
I don’t like paying for water no matter where I am!  For me, something that is absolutely essential to daily life, like water, should not be expensive or difficult to obtain.  Unfortunately, since only a few mega-companies control the global sale and production of bottled water, they also control the price of it!  If you doubt what I say, take a little test.  Go into a gas station store or mini-mart and check the price of bottled water.  I bet you will find that the price of a gallon of water, is almost as expensive as a gallon of gasoline!  How about a movie theater, the price of bottled-water there is certainly more expensive than a gallon of gasoline!  That just seems so wrong to me!  So what’s the solution?  Simple, carry your own empty water-bottle and fill up from public water sources.  When I travel I carry a variety of water filters / water purifiers.  There are numerous UV water purifiers available that easily fit into your pocket or attach to the water-bottle itself!  SteriPen and Camelbak are just a few of the companies that make small UV water purifiers, great for the world wanderer / traveler.  The UV water purifier will kill enough of the bacteria and viruses to make the water safe to drink.  Often when we think we are hungry, we are really just thirsty.  Keeping yourself well hydrated will probably save you money too by you not spending as much money on food!

– Buy Food Where the Locals Shop.
Think about where you shop for food in your normal, daily life.  When you are at home, you probably shop at the same local markets most of the time.  Why, because eating-out all the time can be expensive!  When you travel do the same thing, try to shop at markets where the locals shop.
Even fast-food can be expensive too!  A meal at most fast-food restaurants in the USA can easily cost 6 to 7 dollars.  For me, what you get in the form of quality and quantity at most fast-food joints for a 6 or 7 dollar meal is way too expensive.  Don’t be afraid to go to local farmers markets or supermarkets, no matter where you are.  You can easily find healthy, fresh foods for just a few dollars per meal!

– Try Street-Eats.   
I love food-trucks and street vendors!  They are very popular in many parts of the world and are usually less expensive than local restaurants.  The best Thai-curry I ever had was from a street vendor in Bangkok and cost just a few dollars.  A good sign is when the street vendor serves lots of locals!  Just like you know the places close to home that offer a great meal for a great price, the locals in the foreign country you are visiting know the same thing!  Even if you don’t speak the local language don’t be afraid, most vendors have pictures of the dishes they offer.

– Bring Small Snacks with you, as you Wander.
When I Wander, whether on foot or in a vehicle, I usually carry small snacks with me.  I find that I don’t need 3 big meals everyday.  Usually a nutrition bar or small bag of almonds is enough to hold me over until my next meal.  Ziploc-type bags are great!  Take them with you and use them to bring a snack with you as you wander!

– Check the Web for Local Food Blogs / Expat Blogs Overseas.
Check the internet for local food blogs, you will be surprised how many you will find!  There is great information about local farmers markets and local restaurants for every city I have visited.  When overseas, it’s easy to find Expat-Blogs written in your native language with information about the local food scene!

– Try Making Lunch Your Main Meal.
Most restaurants offer a less expensive noon-time meal compared to the evening meal.  Check prices at local restaurants as you wander and see if you can save money making lunch your main meal of the day!

– Venture off the Beaten-Path.
Don’t be afraid to venture away from the main tourist districts in search for lower priced restaurants.  Restaurants in the high-traffic tourist areas tend to be more expensive!  Locals tend to avoid the tourist areas when they are in search of good cheap eats, so you will probably find a more authentic food-scene in the areas where locals frequent!

– Try to Find a Hotel / Motel with a kitchenette.
Try to stay somewhere that has a small kitchenette.  This way you can easily shop at the local markets and then prepare meals on the cheap!

– Ask Locals for Advice.
Don’t be afraid to ask a local where to eat.  9 out of 10 times you will get great information!  This tip goes for all sorts of information, not just where to eat!  I have found most people want to be helpful to foreign travelers!  Knowledge is power, seek out local knowledge!

Only a few blocks away from where I am staying in Bradenton, Florida is an awesome little Taco-Truck!  Today for lunch, I’m practicing what I preach, 2 delicious chicken tacos for only $3.50!


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Ocmulgee National Monument, 2013.

Even though I have driven south on hwy 75 past Macon, Georgia at least half a dozen times over the past 20 years, today was the first time I stopped for a visit.  I knew Macon played an important role for the South during the Civil War, producing many of the industrial tools needed to wage war.  What I didn’t know, was that Macon at one time was also home to perhaps the largest and most important indian settlement north of Mexico.  Less than a mile east of Downtown Macon, Georgia is the Ocmulgee National Monument.  The Monument is dedicated to a series of indian mounds believed to have been built by the Mississippians, starting around 950 AD.  The Mississippians were different than the Woodland Indians of the area in that they were sedentary and lived primarily by farming.  Corn, squash and beans were just a few of the crops important to their existence.  They brought a more complex way of life to the area, demonstrated by the town they built overlooking the river.  At one time, it’s believed the town had more than 1000 inhabitants living in thatched-roofed huts.  The town was complete with a network of roads, stores, religious buildings and even sports fields.  The earthen mounds also built close to the river, are believed to have been used for political and religious ceremonies.  The mounds were constructed over a period of centuries by moving thousands of tons of earth by hand with only stone tools and woven baskets.  Perhaps the most incredible structure I visited was the “Earth Lodge,” a reconstruction of a ceremonial building probably used for political and religious meetings.  The reconstructed building still has the original clay floor believed to be at least 1000 years old!  What I found fascinating was the fact that some of the same icons used by the Mayans in Mexico and Guatemala have been found in the Ocmulgee “Earth Lodge.”  One icon in particular, the “forked-eye” of the eagle offers proof!  I have always been interested in the idea that many ancient societies, once thought to have developed in isolation, may have actually exchanged goods and ideas with other cultures across oceans, long before historians thought possible!  Perhaps the Mississippians and the Mayans not only knew of one another, but also traded goods and ideas too!  I think as we learn more about ancient societies, we will learn that they were sailing the “oceans-blue” long before Christopher Columbus in 1492!
Above, the Ocmulgee National Monument Visitor’s Center in Macon, Georgia.
The “Earth Lodge” mound in the distance, seen from the Visitor’s Center.
The entrance to the “Earth Lodge” Mound.
The interior of the “Earth Lodge” mound.  The red-glowing hole in the picture is  a fire pit.  The raised portion of the floor is believed to be the form of an eagle.
The largest of the Mounds, the Great Temple Mound.  The staircase  on the left side of the mound will help demonstrate its immense size.
From atop the “Great Temple Mound,” the river is seen less than 100 meters away.

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Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 2013

During the last few months I’ve had some wonderful visits with family in Michigan, Ohio and of course Kentucky!  Visits like these reinforce, to me, the importance of family!  Please don’t forget your family!
I don’t like to overstay my welcome anywhere, and since I suffer from wander-lust…. well… you know… It’s time to do some wandering…….

Earlier this week, the mercury dipped to 15 degrees in Central Kentucky.  Anyone who knows the region, knows that we never seem to get much snow in Central Kentucky… but we do get plenty of ice!  Two days ago when I began this journey it was 34 degrees and raining with a steady breeze.
Almost freezing temperatures combined with wind and rain can only mean one thing…. time to head to Florida!

In January of 2012, I visited Florida for a few weeks and had a really great time, so I decided to go back and see some new sights and some old friends!  During this trip I am going to stop along the way. The usual 15 hours drive from Central Kentucky to Sarasota, Florida may take me 3 or 4 days.

First Stop,
The Great Smoky Mountain National Park, located just a few miles from Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  This time of year seems to be a great time to visit, the Summer vacation crowds are gone and the Winter-break crowds have yet to arrive.  The Cade’s Cove area of the Park was my ultimate destination, about 30 miles from Downtown Gatlinburg and about 25 miles from the Park’s main Visitor’s Center.  I stopped at the Visitor’s Center upon entering the Park and highly recommend it!  It’s perhaps one of the finest I have visited in any of our National Parks!  A short 20 min video explains the history of the region and of course previews all the wildlife you are likely to encounter during a visit.  The 25 mile drive from the Visitor’s Center to Cade’s Cove follows the trace of numerous creeks and rivers as you snake your way up the mountain.  With few visitors at the Park during this trip, finding a pull-off was easy!  I stopped at the Laurel Falls trail and hiked to the falls, the leaves were off the trees, making for some great views of the surrounding mountains!
After a day of driving and hiking… I decided to spend the night at the Cade’s Cove campgrounds.  It’s open year-round and the fee is $17.00 dollars a night.  The Campground is huge, but as I mentioned before, there were few visitors during this trip.  I probably saw no more than 7 other tent campers, and no large RVs!  I’m traveling this trip with my Tacoma and a “tent.”  I love the creature-comforts that “Bertha the Bigfoot Truck Camper” affords me, but I want to be able to go to more remote locations so I opted for the Tacoma and a tent for this trip.  Bertha is enjoying her Winter-break on jack-stands in a storage unit in Kentucky!  With the Tacoma, I can explore a little more off the beaten path but that means I will sleep in the bed of the the truck or in a tent most of this trip!
I am pretty easy to please when it comes to food!  I even enjoy the occasional MRE from time to time, so feeding myself is pretty simple.  I opted for perhaps the simplest of all meals, a package of “Mountain House” dehydrated beef stew.  It doesn’t get much easier than boiling 2 cups of water, pouring it into the bag, zipping it shut and waiting 8 mins…. presto…. a meal.  My only complaint with “Mountain House” is that they are pretty boring…. they need to spice things up a bit!  Don’t worry, I travel with my garlic pepper sauce!  But come-on “Mountain House,” why not put a little packet of spices in your meals like the ramen noodle companies do!?  
When I went to bed at about 10 PM, it was 54 degrees at Cade’s Cove, when I woke up it was 23 degrees!  I am happy to report I was as snug as a bug in a rug!  There was no snow but a slight wind at my campsite and the “Tent Cot” worked very well!  I set it up in about 5 mins,  it kept me off the ground and was quite comfortable!  My first impressions of the “Tent Cot” are great!  I packed up camp and decided to drive the 11 mile Cade’s Cove scenic loop!  Along the way I stopped at a few primitive churches and old homesteader cabins.  The “Loop” is beautiful and a must visit for first timers to the Park!  At about noon I headed back through Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge on my way to Hwy 75, along the way I stopped at the “Smoky Mountain Knife Works.”  It’s probably the largest knife store in the country, if it has a blade, they probably carry it…. another must visit place if you are in the area!  I enjoyed a great, quick, 2 day visit to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, now it’s time to continue my journey south to Florida!  

Mountain view from the road going to Cade’s Cove.
Cade’s Cove area, Great Smoky Mountain National Park.
Recent rains mean full rivers!
Laurel Falls
Cade’s Cove Campgrounds.
Cade’s Cove Baptist Church.
Homesteader Cabin, Cade’s Cove.

        

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A Cleveland Homecoming, 2013.

I have spent the last 2 weeks in the town I grew-up in, Cleveland, Ohio.  Mom is still a Cleveland resident and what better time of the year to have a ‘homecoming’ of sorts than during ‘Thanksgiving.”
I am very fortunate to be able to spend time with Mom!  We have had a great visit, lots of sightseeing and eating-out!  Mom, your Thanksgiving meal is still the best around!  I am so happy your gravy is not watered-down (inside joke).

When I’m in Cleveland, I never miss the opportunity to visit the Cleveland Art Museum!  In my humble opinion, it is one of the finest Museums anywhere on the planet!  I know I have mentioned the Art Museum before on this blog, but I can’t over-emphasize how great a museum it really is!  Did I mention that it is free to visit?  There are not very many world-class museums that are free.  Due to the generosity of many patrons, past and present, the Cleveland Art Museum remains free of charge!
If you don’t know the Cleveland Art Museum, it is well worth a weekend visit!

One thing that I always laugh about when I come home, is that things around town seem to get smaller as I get older.   Distances between places seem to have shrunk too!  Does anyone else notice that?
The hill at the golf-course where my brothers and I would go sledding all winter, must have shrunk to half of its original size!  (The irony was that when school was canceled due to cold, my brothers and I would spend all-day outside in the snow…go figure!)  The metro-park where we had countless family Labor Day picnics shrunk in size too!  The distance I walked to school must have been cut in half, and the elementary school and my childhood home are in the same place they were 40 years ago!  I guess as a child we remember everything being grander, taller, bigger and further away than it really was!
I was disappointed to learn that I didn’t really walk up-hill both ways to school!

Below are a few pictures from my recent visit to Cleveland!

This church is located in the Tremont Neighborhood of Cleveland, it was in the Movie ‘Deer Hunter.’
The Cleveland Museum of Art, 2013.
The Cleveland Museum of Art, 2013.
A light post at the South Entrance of the Cleveland Museum of Art, 2013.
A copy of the “Thinker” at the South Entrance of the Cleveland Museum of Art.
The new Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Cleveland.
The new Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Cleveland.

    

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