Think it’s expensive to live in the U.S.? Try living abroad. I’m just back from a 12-day trip to Italy and the UK and I can tell you that it is frightfully expensive to travel abroad.

Museums cost $20 to $25 per person to enter (with a small discount sometimes for younger kids). Gas is $8 per gallon. And a pizza lunch for 4 costs anywhere from $50 to $80. Go to a local trattoria for dinner, and you can expect to pay well over $100 for dinner. Then again, it’s vacation.

We did find some deals and we found that some merchants (who have really been missing American tourists, BTW) who were willing to deal.

For food, the best deals were at the grocery store: 1.5 litres of water for 23 cents, crunchy bread and cheese for a Euro or two, a basket of peaches for 99 cents. We were able to get enough food for lunch for 5 Euros or less. We could have done dinner from the grocery store for maybe 10 Euros or less including pre-cooked chickens, cheese, great homegrown tomatoes, etc.

We did some buying of food at the grocery store. (We had an absolutely amazing fresh cheese with arugula with crusty french bread one day that was simply outstanding.) But we also ate at some delicious local trattorias that were off the beaten track.

In Venice, we found a great restaurant that had a terrific “Tourist” menu. For 14.50 Euros, you got a plate of pasta, grilled chicken and a salad. No cover charge and one bottle of water was included. At another, we ordered the “family” size pizza, which was enough for 6 hungry kids and only cost 13 Euros.

Bottom line: if you want to eat well in Italy, look for the off-the-beaten track restaurants where locals go to eat. You’ll find better food for less money.

Aug. 31, 2008.