We've only been living abroad for about four weeks, so I can't claim to be an expert on this topic yet, but I do think I've figured out some things that could make someone else's experience a little bit easier. So here are my top six tips for making a grocery shopping trip in a new country a success!
Tip #1: Walk Every Aisle First
The first time you go to the new store in the new place, take the time to walk every aisle. You'll be able to familiarize yourself with how the store is laid out and where things are that you need. Have your list in mind but don't grab anything on this first run, just keep your eyes peeled! The first time we went through the store here we were wowed by the bakery section, and disappointed in the prices of the cheese in the dairy aisle. We reluctantly grabbed the cheapest items we could find (which were not in fact cheap) and put them in our cart. But then, later in the store we found the delicatessen that actually did have inexpensive cheese! So while Joel got some cheese there, I had to go back to the refrigerator aisle and find where to return our initial picks. We could have saved ourselves some time by just doing a quick walk through to see all of our options first.
Tip #2: Compare Prices
While you are doing that walk through, take note of prices and do some comparisons. We were so glad we realized the cheese at the counter was cheaper - it meant we could buy more cheese! (and who doesn't want more cheese?). Hopefully you know what good prices were for things at home, and you can use that as a baseline for what you want to spend. It will take some math to convert kilograms to pounds, and euros to dollars (or whatever metrics are in your new place), but it will be worth it to know if you are getting a good deal or not. We've been excited by things that are far cheaper than we expected (bread!) and have bought less of things that are more expensive than we are used to.
Tip #3: Have a Budget
If you are independently wealthy and never have to worry about money, I suppose you could ignore this tip. But for the rest of us, a budget is important! You don't want to spend all your money on food and not have anything left to explore where you are. We have given ourselves a budget of €10 a day for all food and entertainment - if we buy cheap groceries and save up, then we have money to splurge on a restaurant or a day in the city. If we spend it all on expensive food then we are out of luck for other things. Having a budget keeps us from spending our money frivolously and means we'll be able to travel that much longer! Plus I kind of like that it forces us to deviate from what we would normally buy for groceries - things that are inexpensive are more popular here so that means we are eating more and more like the locals. Of course it's also important to know what is worth splurging on for you - for us it was worth it to spend a little extra to get a really good cheddar cheese!
Tip #4: Try Something New
Don't go into this thinking that you will be able to find exactly what you are accustomed to eating at home, because you will just be disappointed. There are bound to be things that you love that aren't available or that are so high priced it just isn't worth it. When you are taking time to walk through the store and check prices, take note of things that are new to you that are well priced. Perhaps a cereal you've never tried before? Perhaps a cheese or meat you are unfamiliar with? We wanted to get some feta the other day, but noticed the "bulgarian cheese" next to it was significantly less expensive. We asked if we could try it, and the chunk we were given tasted almost exactly like feta. So we bought that and saved ourselves some money! If you have hosts or locals you are friends with, ask them what are grocery staples in the area that you should try. Branch out with your taste buds!
Tip #5: Be Willing to Give Up a Staple
We all have those things at home that are never absent from our fridge our pantry. For us, it was peanut butter and sour cream. These were absolute staples for us - the thing that we would buy more of as soon as our supplies showed any sign of being low. At home I ate sour cream pretty much every day - I love it with salsa on my eggs in the morning. Joel had peanut butter pretty much every day, whether in a morning smoothie, on a pb&j, or just as a snack. In Cyprus however, dairy items are super expensive and so is peanut butter (I've heard this is the case for pb in most of Europe; it's a very American food). So I've managed to live without sour cream, and Joel is surviving on just a tiny jar of peanut butter. It takes some adjustment to give up those staples, but we decided neither of them were worth busting the budget.
Tip #6: Go To More Than One Place
This tip will be harder to follow if your transportation is limited or if there aren't a lot of options around you, but if you can, check out more than one place for your groceries. Our first big trip our hosts drove us to the big store in town, so we stocked up on everything. Later we realized that we could get our fruits and veggies cheaper at the fruit market only a half mile away, and that bakery items were often cheaper at the bakery around the corner. So now we just get our meat and cheese at the big store, go to the market for fruit/veg, and go to the bakery for our carbs. It's a bit of pain to go to more than one place, but it makes us walk more (yay exercise!) and saves us money so it's worth it.
So what about you? What staples do you keep in your fridge/pantry that would be hard to give up in a new place? At home do you shop exclusively at one place or go to different places for different items? Do you think you would enjoy grocery shopping in a foreign country or just be overwhelmed? Sound off below!