Vacation meals can be expensive! But with vacation meals on a budget and a little planning and creativity, you can enjoy awesome food. Even while you travel, you can spend much less than the average person 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.
11 Ways to Eat Yummy Vacation Meals on a Budget
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 meals we eat at a restaurant. Feeding 7 of us for a meal would cost a minimum of $20 and as much as $80 – if we eat at inexpensive restaurants.
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.
Other sites to help you save on Restaurant Meals include:
- Restaurant.com (discounted meals at 1000s of restaurants)
- LivingSocial (look for local deals)
- Groupon (see #9 below for a special discount code)
You can usually find other coupons for restaurants by looking for local city flyers and coupon books.
3) Keeping Your Food Cold on Vacation
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.
Ice Alternatives: Rather than putting ice in a cooler and watching it melt and make everything soggy in the cooler, we do something different.
We freeze as many of our food items as possible. Things like butter, milk, and lunch meat will keep other things in the cooler cold. We also brought along frozen pre-made meals like stew or chili. All of these things combined keep the other food in the cooler cold. This allows us to eat yummy vacation meals on a budget.
4) Vacation Meals on a Budget with a Crockpot
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) Stopping for Treats
On a driving vacation, as a special treat, we stopped for to pick up bottles of 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. Certainly not a bad way to eat yummy vacation meals on a budget.
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!
Another option for discounted drinks is to stop by a Sonic Drive-In for Happy Hour between 2 pm and 4 pm any day. They discount most of their drinks by 50%. Learn more about Sonic’s Happy Hour.
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) Use Your Car As An Oven on Vacation?
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. Again, another crazy way to eat yummy vacation meals on a budget.
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.
Find deals for the city you’re visiting by using Groupon Website (use the code EXTRA25 to save 25%) or App – make sure you purchase through your Swagbucks account and get between 2 and 5 percent cash back!
If you want to sign up for Swagbucks you can earn up to a $20 bonus here.
10) Drink Cooler in the Car on Vacation
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).
11) Find Hotels That Offer Free Hot Breakfast
If we’re staying in a hotel we look for one that serves a full breakfast, not just doughnuts and coffee.
Below is a list of a wide variety of hotels that provide a free breakfast. Please call ahead to confirm what they are offering – especially with the advent of Covid-19, some hoteliers have stopped serving buffet style and are providing grab and go bags.
|Hotel chain||free breakfast details||brands include|
|Best Western||Breakfast is available at most Best Western locations at no charge. The menu will vary by location, but the menu may include:|
– French toast
– Hot breakfast sandwiches.
|Each Best Western is independently owned and operated. Please call to find out their breakfast offerings.|
|Choice Hotels||Breakfast options include|
– Traditional eggs and bacon
– Comfort Inns (higher cost option) also has a number of healthy options.
|– Sleep Inn|
– Quality Inn
– Clarion Pointe
– MainStay Suites
– Econo Lodge: (Continental breakfast only)
|Country Inns & Suites By Carlson||They serve a rotating menu that includes:|
– Create your own omelet
– Biscuits and gravy
– French toast
– Eggs Benedict
– Bacon, eggs and toast
– Breakfast burrito
|Drury Hotels||Their free breakfast includes:|
– Scrambled eggs
– Fresh fruit
– Self-Serve waffles
– Assorted Pastries.
|Hyatt Hotels||Free Breakfast is only available to World of Hyatt members|
|InterContinental Hotels||Offerings vary depending on which chain you stay at:|
Some of the items available include:
– Egg white omelets
– Breakfast meats
– Cinnamon rolls
– Pancakes from its one-touch pancake machine.
|Holiday Inn Express|
|La Quinta |
(part of Windham Hotel Group)
|Free Breakfast Offerings may include:|
– Fresh fruit and more.
|La Quinta Inns and Suites |
|Marriott Hotel Brands||We’re found that Marriott hotels provide one of the most consistent and nutritious free breakfast offerings. These include:|
– Self Serve Waffles
– Breakfast meats
– Dry Cereal
– Fresh Fruit
– Granola bars
| Residence Inn|
– Springhill Suites
– TownePlace Suites
– Fairfield Inn & Suites
|Windham Hotel Group||These brands offer a continental breakfast, with some offering hot breakfast buffets||– Baymont Inn & Suites|
– Days Inn
– Super 8
– Microtel Inn & Suites by Wyndham
– Howard Johnson
– Wingate by Wyndham
– Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham
Using these 10 different money-saving ideas we’ve been able to enjoy vacation meals on a budget.
Check out our Money Saving Tips page for more food deals to eat on vacation.
For more great vacation ideas, see America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money, and read our vacation chapter!