5 MIN READ
Why You Should Always Skip This (Unnecessary) Meal While Traveling
The first thing I do when I know I’m traveling to a new city is figure out where we’re going to be eating.
That’s probably not a novel concept. Some of the most popular cities in the country are known almost as much for their food as anything else. Barbeque in Austin. Pizza in New York. Gumbo in New Orleans.
When my BFF and I decided we’d leave the balmy South Florida weather to spend spring break somewhere a bit different this year, Chicago was a unanimous decision.
Everyone we asked who’d been there before said the food was to die for, and the week we were planning to travel just happened to overlap with St. Patrick’s Day. Double win.
(As a side note, if you’ve never been to Chicago for St. Patrick’s Day, it’s certainly a sight to behold. They may not be the only city to dye their river green for St. Patty’s, but I doubt there’s anywhere else that takes it more seriously!)
There were plenty of things that made spending a long weekend in Chicago exciting. I mean, my heart was literally racing taking in the view of the city from the skydeck at the top of the Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower), but nothing was quite as appealing as the food.
Still, eating out regularly over a three-day weekend can easily cost you two things in abundance: money and calories.
There’s no denying we enjoyed some unforgettable dishes, but I learned a valuable (and expensive) lesson that weekend about which meals are worth splurging on and one in particular you should pass on permanently.
Brunch Really Is That Basic
All right. Don’t freak out. I’m not here to tell you that I’m abandoning brunch completely.
What I am going to tell you is that brunch is better off as a treat for weekends at home and not an indulgence while you’re traveling. At least not if you’re planning on going out for dinner, too.
Brunch has taken on a life of its own as an integral part of the week. It’s synonymous with the weekend, relaxation and, for most people, drinking. It’s easy to see why we’d have our eyes on brunch for this weekend getaway.
We landed at two restaurants – one on Saturday and one on Sunday – and I won’t lie. We picked one of them purely on the merits of strong Instagram potential. The reviews were good, but the pictures looked better.
And here’s where it gets tricky. The egg sandwich I ordered with bacon and arugula was good. But it wasn’t that much better than anything I would have had at home. The real standout item on the menu was the appropriately themed St. Patrick’s Day green mimosas (priced at $12 a pop).
Brunch and booze go hand in hand, and those drinks surely did add up. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Drinking is notoriously expensive, and what’s the point of brunch on vacation if you aren’t going to have at least one bubbly drink?
All in for one moderately priced meal and two drinks, I spent $42 on Saturday brunch – more than we did to get to the top of the Willis Tower later that afternoon.
As if I didn’t learn that lesson well enough on Saturday, we made our way out to brunch again on Sunday.
Thankfully, this one turned out to be a little less expensive, but just like the egg sandwich from Saturday, it wasn’t revolutionary by any stretch.
All in all, we spent close to $80 each on brunch over the course of both days. And let’s be clear, that’s a lot of money.
Not to mention the calories (I didn’t bother trying to add them up, I don’t want to know) and the time, that’s a serious vacation commitment.
A Better Way To Breakfast
The thing that makes exploring restaurants and food in a new town exciting is the same thing that makes sightseeing or people watching an adventure. It’s something new in a place you’ve never been.
Thankfully, there are other ways to have breakfast and take in the vibe of a new city without breaking the bank.
On Monday morning, the last day of our trip, we found a great local juice shop and opted for a fresh smoothie with an extra shot of protein. As it turns out, Chicago has more than a few great juice bars, and that smoothie made us feel more energized throughout the day than either of those brunches by far.
For just $10.70 we got to see a different neighborhood, enjoy a great meal and helped make up for the indulgent expenses of the weekend.
Over both days opting for a fresh smoothie instead of a sit-down meal to start the day would have saved us almost $60!
Not into smoothies? Try finding a weekend farmers market or a grocery store instead. You get all the perks of exploring the city, and you’ll likely find a wide variety of inexpensive meals that can be eaten on the go.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you have to swear off drinks (or brunch) altogether to spend smart in a city like Chicago. There are plenty of happy hour specials more than worth exploring that offer drinks at affordable prices.
I don’t plan on cutting out decadent meals from my travels any time soon, but I am cutting out brunch. It’s just not worth the cash – or the calories.
Teri Seals is a writer, traveler and snack-food enthusiast based in Tampa, Florida. Follow her adventures at checkedbagsandchurros.com and see her pictures at @terithegreat on Instagram.