My husband and I both like to travel, but we’ve never had a large disposal income, so we’ve never had a lot of money to travel. We used to think that a vacation wasn’t a vacation unless we had eaten like the locals and indulged in all of the local foods. The problem with this was that often we ended up spending $50 or more for a meal while on vacation, but we rarely found the meal satisfying. In fact, eating out while on vacation got so expensive for us, especially after we had our first child, that we often had to cut our vacations short because we ran out of money.
Now we have 3 kids, and eating out for every meal while on vacation is not possible. Instead, we’ve learned to save money on food when vacationing so we can vacation longer and see more sites. (Plus, we eat healthier than if we were eating out for every meal.)
We’ve used a number of strategies to do this.
Pick Accommodations with Free Food in Mind
Before our family had food intolerances, we used to pick our accommodations in part based on whether the hotel had a free breakfast or not. If you’re going to stay in a hotel, why not take advantage of a free breakfast, especially if it’s a hot breakfast where the hotel serves eggs, pancakes and such. We estimated we saved at least $10 a day, if not more, by eating the hotel’s breakfast.
Pick Accommodations with The Ability to Cook in Mind
Now that we have food intolerances, we do things a bit differently. We always try to locate a vacation rental by owner (VRBO) over a hotel because most VRBOs have full kitchens complete with a refrigerator, freezer, stove, dishwasher and pots and pans. Fixing simple meals is very easy in a VRBO.
If we have a vacation planned for 5 days or so, about a week before the trip, I freeze several meals. When we leave, I pack the freezer meals in our cooler along with all the other foods we’ll need for the week. If we have a two day drive to our destination, I find that most of the food stays frozen during that time if I don’t open the cooler.
Then, when we’re in the VRBO, I don’t have to cook. Instead, I simply reheat the freezer meals, and we get fresh, hot food. I also sometimes bring along simple foods like hot dogs and Polish sausages, and I simply buy a bag of frozen veggies at a nearby store for a quick meal.
If you don’t want to do all of this preparation in advance or you can’t because you’re flying, you can simply buy food when you arrive at your vacation destination. I don’t like to do this because sometimes finding a grocery store is difficult.
The Crock Pot to the Rescue
I read one blog where the writer said she cooked food in the slow cooker, then wrapped the slow cooker tightly in towels and served the food to her daughter’s team after a soccer game played out in the cold.
I had an ah-ha moment and decided to try that for our next trip. We headed out for our trip to Boston at 2 p.m. I had had a simple meal of carrots, potatoes, and Polish sausage with a bit of chicken broth cooking in the slow cooker since morning. Right before we left, I packed the slow cooker in towels and a box.
Three hours later when we stopped for dinner, we didn’t have to pay for fast food. We just scooped up our meal from the slow cooker, which was still piping hot. We spent less time for our dinner break than if we’d stopped at a restaurant, and we didn’t spend any more than we would have if we had eaten at home. Then, when we were on vacation, I had the slow cooker to also use at our VRBO.
If you don’t want to stay at a VRBO, taking a slow cooker with you is a great way to eat on the cheap from your hotel room. Buy simple ingredients at the store, throw the meal in the slow cooker, and when you return after a long day of sightseeing, your meal will be hot and ready for you.
What are your favorite strategies for saving money on food when on vacation?