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How to Eat Cheaply Eat Beans and Rice

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. Vagabond Journey Travel Tips [...]

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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.

Vagabond Journey Travel Tips

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.


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.

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:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3704 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

13 comments… add one

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  • johnny November 17, 2009, 11:03 am

    I understand and appreciate that weight is a serious concern for most travlers; but if a pound extra won’t kill them consider pressure cookers. They make it possible to cook dry beans and rice in less than an hour. Also make cheap, tough cuts of meat tender and reduce fuel consumption (which saves weight if using alcohol for fuel; doesn’t matter if electricity is your fuel source as that’s weightless). All in all this is an excellent post, I made a list when I was an ultra-poor traveler of all the really cheap food sources and rice and beans were at the top of that list.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com November 19, 2009, 12:43 am

      Hello Johnny,

      You hit a nail on the head here: weight. One of the major advantages that dry beans have is that they do not contain water, and are therefore relatively lightweight.

      I will look into getting a pressure cooker.



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  • Brian P November 17, 2009, 12:38 pm

    Being from New Orleans, a Monday, for me, is for eating red beans. Not that you would ever carry this with you, but you can cook beans amazingly quickly in a cheap pressure cooker. Check out these times!


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  • Mike Crosby November 17, 2009, 6:40 pm


    Are you familiar with solar cookers? Is it possible to carry it with you?

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com November 19, 2009, 12:41 am

      Hello Mike,

      The only solar cookers that I am familiar with are the ones that look like satellite dishes in Western China. And they are big!!! And sometimes take a while to heat up enough to boil water. As far as I know, solar cookers seem to be a good idea, but they provoke too many variables to be relied on. I think you could make one pretty easily though.


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  • baron November 18, 2009, 10:31 am


    Let the beans soak longer and they will cook faster.

    Once you’re on a boat, or RV, you can let those rascals SOAK while you’re moving about. Until then, put a meals worth of beans in a water tight plastic container and stow it your pack. My personal favorite plastic containers are peanut butter jars.

    Just some ideas, your performace may vary.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com November 19, 2009, 12:38 am


      It is a great moment when a good innovation is made out of something obvious. Continuing the utilization of a peanut butter jar is a far better idea than using tupperware.

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  • johnny November 18, 2009, 4:54 pm

    I’m surprised that Brian had the same pressure cooker idea. I looked at the times on the table in his link and was slightly amazed. I trust they are accurate but they must be based on pre-soaking the beans. Using a pressure cooker, I’ve done away with pre-soaking but cook for about 45minutes after pressure builds up and then let the pressure relieve itself of its own accord (which allows the beans to cook for another 15 minutes without any heat source). Regardless its a lot better than the 10hour prep and cooking time you quote.

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    • Wade | Vagabond Journey.com November 19, 2009, 12:36 am

      Yes, a pressure cooker would be good. I cannot say that I have ever cooked anything but rice in one of them, but I am sure that beans would be the same.

      I will definitely consider this. Thanks!

      Walk Slow,


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  • Brian P November 19, 2009, 12:33 pm

    I recall that the link also had pre-soaking times for some bean varieties. In the end pre-soaking may be a necessity, not for cooking times, but because it could be hard to enjoy the company of your traveling companion otherwise.

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  • Simplicity May 13, 2011, 9:52 pm

    I luv beans! The easiest and cheapest way to cook beans is to cook them in the slow cooker overnight – no soaking needed. Cook a lot, freeze in small amounts until needed. In Indian stores you can buy a tiny pressure cooker that might work for you during your travels. Lentils cook faster than beans and are just as yummy.

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  • Jessica September 6, 2013, 9:36 pm

    We eat dried beans nearly every week. I cook them in my crockpot on high for 5 hours with spices, any veggies and bits of meat we have on hand. It makes a huge pot and I can use them in so many ways: Refried beans, taco and burrito filling, soup and beans and rice. It’s an awesome way to save money and eat delicious food.

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