Vacation meals can be expensive! But with a little planning and creativity, you can enjoy awesome food while you travel and you can spend much less doing it. We’ve got lots of ideas for having a great vacation on a budget and it all starts with saving on vacation meals.
Here are 10 Ways to Save Vacation Meals
1) Eat out Selectively
When we fly to a destination and stay in a hotel we save money on food by minimizing the number of vacation meals we eat at a restaurant. Because restaurant meals can be pricey – especially for 3 meals each day, we plan to eat in our room for some meals and then eat once per day. With a large family, this idea can save a load of cash.
2) Restaurant Savings
We’ve used the Entertainment Book for years to save on dining out. They’ve got coupons for hundreds of restaurants from fast food to elegant sit-down restaurants. Buy one for the city you are going to visit on vacation. Entertainment books are steeply discounted just before the start of summer – the perfect time to pick one up for your trip. Not only will you get 2 for 1 and other discounts on meals, but you’ll be able to easily find restaurants (fast food and sit down) near your lodging or touring location.
3) Chillin’ Your Food
When we stay at a hotel while on vacation we always ask for a refrigerator to be put in the room (if it doesn’t already have one). Then we go to a nearby grocery store and pick up fresh fruits, veggies and sandwich makings. You could also purchase an inexpensive Styrofoam cooler at a grocery store and use the free ice machine that most hotels provide. When you leave, if you can’t take the cooler with you, Just give it to a hotel staff member or another guest.
4) Crock Pot Vacation Meals
If your hotel room has a microwave you’ll be set to heat up some in-room meals. If not, we’ve gone so far as to purchase a $5 Crockpot at a local thrift store, and used it to heat up canned stew or soup. Add some rolls and veggies or fruit purchased from a local grocer and you’ll have a balanced and inexpensive vacation meal.
5) Soda and Ice Cream Stop
On a driving vacation, as a special treat, we stopped for soda at a grocery store. We picked 3 different flavors of soda the kids could all agree on and asked the deli counter if they could fill our cups with ice. Of course, we could have stopped at a convenience store and paid $1 for each person to have a 32-ounce drink, but this way we spent about $4 on three 2-liter bottles and had plenty left over for later.
We know that soda isn’t particularly healthy for us, but on vacation, a little deviation from a healthy diet is okay – and a little fun for the kids. By the way, we also picked up a couple of packs of novelty ice cream treats. All told we spent less than $8 and had a delicious summer road-trip treat!
6) Picnic Lunches and All-You-Can-Eat Restaurants
If we’re heading out for a long day of site seeing, we’ll pack a lunch and plan to buy dinner at an all you can eat restaurant (this is especially helpful for saving money when traveling with teens). The nice thing about packing a lunch is you can have a wonderful picnic in a park, on a beach or basically anywhere picturesque that you happen to be driving by. Vacation meals can be frugal and fun.
7) Your Car Is An Oven?
Steve’s dad invented this one. On a long road trip, he took a roasted chicken, that was cut up, cooked and wrapped snugly in aluminum foil, and securely placed it on the air intake on the engine of the car to heat up while we drove. You could also put this on your dashboard while sightseeing. Inventive and ingenious . . . and delicious.
8) Vacation Meal Discount/ Coupon Sources
Look for coupons to local restaurants on Yelp and Trip Advisor. FourSquare can also provide coupons/ discounts when you check in to a restaurant or retail store. Additionally, we look for local travel guides or those tourist brochure stands in hotel lobbies that have discount deals for local attractions and restaurants.
9) Groupon Savings
10) Keep a Drink Cooler in the Car
We always take road trips with a cooler of water, a cooler with refrigerated food and a box of snacks. This avoids needing to spend money at convenience stores when we stop to fill up with gas. Of course if you have budgeted for a treat, then go for it.
The best snacks we’ve found are cut up carrots, cheese and crackers, nuts, trail mix, celery and granola bars. We mostly drink water in the car (this helps avoid sticky and messy spills).
Using these 10 different money-saving ideas we’ve been able to enjoy vacation meals and stay within budget.
For more great vacation ideas, see America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money, and read our vacation chapter!