By Amanda Hill

I’m a Texan through-and-through, but I was bit by the travel bug pretty early on. I’d like to think I’m not the average tourist. I much prefer scouring a city to find where the locals hang out. The best find is a hole-in-the-wall, authentic café, rather than the Mickey D’s that seem to follow me around the world.

Last week I took my first trip to South America to Sao Paulo and Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. What an experience! The landscape was beautiful, the people were friendly and the food was amazing. We ate like kings and queens—fresh mango and pineapple every morning for breakfast, a traditional black bean and rice dish for lunch and a never-ending serving of the juiciest steak you’ve ever tasted for dinner.

Sure, we hit a couple of “touristy” restaurants. Montana Grill in Sao Paulo was a carnivore’s dream, with a two-sided coaster of green on one side, red on the other. Green signaled to “keep the beef coming;” red meant “thanks, but I think if I eat one more slice of steak I might explode.” The concept is similar to Fogo de Chao, which also started in Sao Paulo and now has restaurants in Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio, among many other American cities.

As good as Montana Grill was, though, I actually preferred our impromptu stops for coconut water at a stand along Copacabana Beach or the mouth-watering burger and fries that we had at Bibi, a local hotspot.

Although the food was great, my wallet seemed to be leaking money the entire trip. Each meal was noticeably more expensive than what I would have paid back in the Lone Star State. Granted, some of the restaurants were more upscale than my favorite barbecue or Tex-Mex spots back home, but overall, I experienced first-hand just how expensive food can be compared to what we pay in the U.S.

For me, this was just a week of vacation—a trip that I budgeted for and planned for some added expense. But what about the Brazilians who struggle to feed their families at those inflated prices? Even our trip to a local grocery store proved more costly than I expected. It certainly gave me a new appreciation for the relatively inexpensive and plentiful food we have here at home.

My trip to Brazil was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but after a week, I was eager to get back to Texas. My first meal after a long flight—the Czech Stop in West for two homemade kolaches… just $2.58. Home sweet home!