I write this from my cubicle.

Yesterday, I woke up to the gentle sounds of breakfast being set up on my balcony. You know, the one overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Today, I woke up to the soothing notes of my upstairs neighbor stomping around. You know, the one who gives electric guitar lessons six times a week directly above my bedroom. In other words, I’ve just come back from vacation. The worst.

As I sit here choking down a paper cup of free office coffee and nibbling my morning ration of nuts and raisins, all I can think is how much better life was a scant 24 hours ago. While in paradise, I didn’t have a care in the world. Lying on the beach, staring dreamily out into the bright blue yonder, my usual shit was put officially in perspective. Except for one little thing, of course. I don’t care where I am; I hate spending too much money on food.

At the same time, it’s vacation. I don’t want to miss out on anything or not totally indulge myself. Gorging myself silly sits high atop my vacation itinerary. You know the guy at the resort who starts each day with a horrible looking run up and down the beach? On vacation, my goal is to be nothing like that guy. 

So, how do I indulge my decadent side without offending my cheap side? I’m happy you asked.

1. Eat & Drink As The Locals Eat & Drink
Whatever five star resort you’re staying at, there’s a restaurant serving three-star food at five-star prices. Skip it. I know, I know. It’s pretty. It’s right on the water. It’s super convenient. I get all that. I also get that you’re there to relax, not schlep all over the island looking for a decent fish sandwich. But five minutes spent asking around could save you a bunch of dough, plus give you the most memorable experience of your trip. Remember: you’re surrounded by natives. They’re the ones making your bed and plopping limes into your Coronas. Ask them where they eat, get a few names and pick one. Odds are you’ll wind up dining on some super-fresh, super-cheap cuisine. You’ll get to see some local color you’d otherwise have missed. And you won’t be surrounded by beet-red tourists in Speedos. Win win win.

2. Stick To The Continental Breakfast
As noted above, resort food usually sucks. If you have the option of a Continental Breakfast, especially one delivered to your room each morning, count your blessings and call it a day. If the disastrous chicken curry wrap I ordered on the beach was any indication, these people have no idea how to make an omelet. I don’t even want to see them try, much less spend $18 for the privilege. A pot of coffee, some Danish and fruit, totally gratis? Yes, please.

3. Mix It Up
If you’re anything like me, you think the best thing about vacation is not having to interact with other humans. My traveling companion is one of those people who tacks an international plan onto her cell phone when traveling abroad. In other words, she’s crazy. The last thing I want on vacation is a phone call (and if there’s an actual emergency, I’ll spring for the long distance charges). The second last thing I want is one of my fellow guests trying to chat me up on the beach. And yet…if someone from the resort were to, say, slip an invitation under my door, an invitation involving free sunset drinks and snacks in the main lobby, well then who am I to refuse? Sure, I might have to rub elbows with my fellow travelers, but at least those elbows will be supporting hands holding free food and drinks. In the name of free grub, it’s OK to put your social anxieties on hold.

Those are my three cardinal rules for saving money while still living large on vacation. As is so often the case, it’s a tradeoff. Scrimp when it’s worth scrimping, and you’ll have plenty in your pocket once it’s splurge time. Go ahead. Gorge.

Read the previous installment of Unemployed Gourmand on Food Republic.