An expensive meal once in a while on a special occasion is fine, but when you are traveling, especially with a family, it can become overwhelming. You don’t need to spend your vacation budget on food. But your goal should be to spend less on vacation food and more on vacation fun.
For decades, families started out on road trips with a cooler full of sandwiches, veggies, fruit, and homemade baked goods. Picnics were the normal mode of eating on short trips, or for the first day or two of a long trip. This has always been a money saver and another fun experience for the family since picnicking was just part of the fun. Take a cooler full of bottled water or other cold drinks brought from home.
Today, the convenience of fast-food restaurants, buffets, and full-menu convenience stores means road trips are filled with added expenses.
It's time to get back to the good ole days.
We travel quite often. From last-minute camping trips to wrestling tournaments to visiting friends, we have logged many, many miles in the vehicle. Here's how we save on food.
Stopping every few miles for drinks can add up.
If you want something more than “just water” try these flavor drops. They give you a bit of sweet in a healthy way and allow you to avoid more expensive sodas.
Must-Have Meal Components
When you're packing the essentials be sure to make a list and include room for foods.
You might not be able to eat every meal in the car or at the hotel, but shaving off a few meals, and most snacks can add up to big savings (and money spent on fun stuff).
Consider taking things like:
- Bread/rolls/soft tortilla shells (small soft taco shells may great pb&j's!
- nut butters
- lunch meat
- blocks or slices of cheese or cheese sticks
- yogurt (we make our own, here's how!)
- hardboiled eggs
- trail mix (make your own instead of buying)
If you're looking for healthy alternatives here are some awesome healthy travel ideas!
Pro tip: make sandwiches in the morning and bag individual snacks for the kids so there's no fighting.
Pro tip #2: Invest in reusable snack bags and save even more over time on baggies!
Get Local Produce
While you won't be familiar with prices in the area, most local produce stands offer better quality, fresher produce than grocery stores. Stop at a fresh produce market and pick up some healthy snacks to munch on during the day. Fresh fruit is a better option than buying expensive snacks along the way, and a lot better for you.
Pro Tip: Stick with travel-friendly snacks like apples, clementines, grapes, and cherry tomatoes. Bananas and most berries don't hold up well to travel. Save those for when you're eating out of the car.
When you do decide on a meal, don't settle for fast food or a chain restaurant.
Every town has its favorite eating spot. These are usually locally-owned restaurants, where the locals eat on a regular basis. They are, for the most part, inexpensive, since they cater to regular customers. They are normally “family-friendly”, and feature homemade meals, and generous portions.
Ask around when you stop for the night and find out where everyone in town goes for a good meal.
Invest For The Future
If your family travels often consider investing in a few items to help you cook and save money over time.
For example, if you invest in an Instant Pot (I have two Duo 6-in-1 models which are under $80) you can make a pot of homemade or store-bought hamburger helper for less than $6. This makes a quick and frugal meal in the hotel or at the campsite after a long day of travel.
Other items you might consider:
- Propane burner
- Hot plate
- Electric cooler
- Electric skillet
You can pick these up on Facebook Marketplace, yard sales, or thrift stores.
Don't Fall for the Tourist Traps
Avoid buying food and drink at tourist stops. These are notoriously expensive since they are the only options around. Eat before you get to your destination. And, unless you are getting a special discount, avoid expensive meals in your hotel dining area.
Make A Food Budget
The spontaneity of finding a new restaurant or taking an unexpected road trip doesn't need to be squelched by a budget. Rather, when you plan ahead for vacation food spending you'll be able to have fun without worrying about blowing the budget for hotels, gas, or excursions.
You can spend less on vacation food and more on vacation fun by planning ahead and eating smart.
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