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How to Eat Cheaply Eat Beans and Rice

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Want to eat cheaply? The dry bean experiment —

A travelogue entry on the cost benefits of eating dry beans. Traveling with an electric burner or another cooking device, a pot, and putting the time into cooking a couple loads of beans a week could dramatically lower the cost of travel.

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The crew chief on the archaeology project that I have been working on in the Tonto Forest in Arizona spent 7 years traveling the world.

“I thought that I would just keep going like that forever,” he once told me.

But he got married, took the deep road into archaeology, and became one of the best archaeologist that I have ever worked for.

“Are you feeling the urge to get going again?” I asked him.

“No.”

He just bought a house in Phoenix — his first — and we laughed a little about how a world traveler all of a sudden found himself a local.

The crew chief sometimes asks me about my travels and we compare notes. We had both traveled over many similar tracts of the earth. But I must admit that I feel very foolish when he asks me about food.

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Payson, Arizona, Southwest USA, North America
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
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“Did you ever eat XXXX food in Chile?”

“Did you ever eat XXXX food in Peru?”

I have not yet gotten up the guts to tell him that I eat the same food no matter where I am in the world: beans, chicken, eggs, cheese, rice, bread, noodles, vegetables (read Traveler Food Travel Tip).

Dry beans -- cheap food

Dry beans -- cheap food

I eat these foods because they are the cheapest, and I can often prepare them myself. I have never gotten into dinner table tourism. I eat for the fuel to travel, and I want the cheapest fuel I can possibly find.

In the USA, my wife and I are continuously looking for ways to keep our food expenditures as low as possible, so we keep up the same strategy as we do while abroad: we cook for ourselves — we eat beans, chicken, rice, bread, noodles, vegetables.

We have also began experimenting with dry beans.

In regards to the calorie/ cost ratio, dry beans are perhaps the cheapest food in the world next to rice. But I have always had a slight fear of venturing down the dry bean road. First of all, canned — ready to eat — beans are relatively cheap; second, it takes a long time to prepare and cook dry beans.

I could not determine whether the time/ savings ratio would make dry beans worthwhile. So I bought a bag of dry beans for a buck and put them to the test.

They took a long time to prepare: I soaked them in a pot of water for 8 hours.

They took a long time to cook: even after boiling them for 2 hours they were still only barely edible.

But, in the end, I had an entire pot brimming over with food. An entire pot of high protein, high calorie food for a dollar. My wife and I ate these beans for every meal for three days. I think we got a protein supply for 7 meals out of one dollar. Not bad. To get this many beans out of the canned variety I would have needed to drop at least three or four dollars.

But, really, was ten hours of preparation worth saving a couple of dollars?

A couple of dollars saved a few times a day is the raw inertia to travel the world.

Dry pinto beans soaking

Dry pinto beans soaking

In point, it is my impression that eating dry beans would need to become a habit to make it worthwhile. It would need to be something that I do once or twice a week as a part of my traveling routine. Neither soaking the beans overnight nor keeping them on the burner for two hours would be that much of a chore IF it became a part of my standard operating procedure.

Though I must admit that if preparing dry beans while traveling was something that I only did once in a while, I probably would not do it too often. A little paradox of traveling is that food which takes a long time to prepare is not eaten very often — no matter how cheap it is.

I know that my wife and I could travel through many places in the world and live off of a bean and rice diet for only a buck a day. We carry our own cooking supplies — an electric burner and a pot — as well as put in the preparation time to make our own meals, and using dry beans would allow us to travel even cheaper than we already do.

I am now an advocate of the dry bean. They will not spoil, are relatively lightweight, and, when cooked, will supply a good source of protein and calories for many meals. They can be cooked once or twice a week, and then carried in tupperware containers and snacked on at will for days afterward. They can be combined with rice, noodles, eggs, or vegetables, spiced up, and made into a solid meal.

The dry bean is a good food for traveling, if you are willing to cook for yourself, and eat a little bitter.

I want to keep traveling, I want to go to as much of the world off of as little work as possible, I want to have as many days as I possibly can of walking around foreign cities, talking to strangers, making friends, and being with my small family — so I eat beans and rice.

Vagabond Journey Travel Tips

More about eating cheap while traveling

Traveler Food Travel Tip

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Filed under: Budget Travel, Cheap Food, Food, Save Money for Travel

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3048 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Polis, Republic of CyprusMap