July 23, 2014

Saving Money on Vacation (on food)

May24


As I sit listening to the waves crashing, I thought I would share some of my tried and true tips that I wrote last year about saving money on food while vacationing. Believe it or not, one new trick I did this year was to bring a big tub of frozen cookie dough on the road with us. Wow, that has been a treat, and it’s embarrassing to admit that very few made it to the oven, but hey, it’s vacation.

It’s that time of the year when many start making plans for family vacations. It may be as simple as a “staycation,” or you may be fortunate enough to get a whole week away with the family.

The first step every one looks at is their budget. How much can we actually afford for this vacation, while staying with in our means, and not incurring any debt on the credit card? Once that is determined, the next step is to ask, “How can we save money on vacation?”

When I asked on my Balancing Beauty and Bedlam facebook page (you need to like me to join in the fun discussions), what people do for vacations, it was a definite mix of “a little of everything.” A few purists hold fast to eating every meal out, since it’s vacation. Some who won’t eat out at all since the budget won’t allow, and they make sure to rent a spot where there’s a least a mini fridge, but the majority of you do a bit of both.

Just like in our day to day life, the easiest and quickest way to save money on the budget is on food. Now here is where it gets touchy. It’s a vacation, and for many that means not lifting a finger in the kitchen. I can appreciate that, but I thought I would throw out some additional suggestions for saving money on vacation...strictly in the food department.

Ideas for eating out on vacation (or any time):

Groupon

Groupon and Living Social are the main ways our family eats at restaurants these days. If you know your vacation destination, sign up now for Groupon’s daily deals, not only your own home town, but also the city of your trip. Since they only send out one deal a day, you may have to wait to find that perfect fit. Not only will you see amazing restaurants, but also family fun events.

Living Social

Again, I love Living Social. They don’t offer quite as many deals, but the ones the do offer are amazing.

Buy Restaurant.com Gift Certificates

If you’re not familiar with it, I explain it a bit in this post. My biggest recommendation with these gift certificates is to read the fine print. Groupon and Living Social are self explanatory and easy. Restaurants.com has some amazing options anywhere in the US, but just read what you are buying.)

Stop at the Chamber of Commerce/Visitor’s Bureau

As for restaurant and activities coupon booklets. Often, there are BOGO coupons or at a minimum $2 off/per person coupons. If you are at a touristy type place, you will see coupon booklets every where, but often the Chamber will offer something a bit better.

Eat out for either breakfast or lunch.

Prices are typically 50% off the dinner prices, but portion sizes are still the same. If we decide to eat out for dinner, we attempt to make two big meals stretch. We make breakfast/brunch at the condo, and then plan on having a late lunch/early dinner. Since we are feeding such a large group, with many huge eaters, a buffet works well for our family. Prices typically go up at least $5/person after 5:00pm, so we plan head to see when the prices increase, and arrive  in time to receive the lunch pricing.

Research the “kids eat free” restaurants.

Find the days when restaurants give free meals. Typically, it’s buy one adult entree, receive two free children’s’ meals. (Post coming soon)

Tips for saving the most money on vacation with food by eating in your hotel or condo.

This is a sampling of ideas I have used in the past. Pick and choose what works best for you.

Brew my Starbucks at home.

Our trip always begins with a long drive. So I make sure to brew my Starbucks at home, fill our carafe, and then I have unlimited free refills for the entire drive.

If traveling a distance by car, prepare for food and beverages in the car.

A cooler is a must. Pack snacks, trail mix, fruit, veggies, drinks (bring empty cups for filling up with ice at gas stations or you will charged), easy self serve meals – burritos, sandwiches (sandwich meat, bread, cheese, condiments), even some left over fried chicken from the night before works well (eat at a rest area). This keeps everyone from buying junky food at every stop.

Freeze one gallon of milk and use it as your ice pack.

This allows us to have cereal for breakfast our first vacation day, and I don’t have to stress about getting right to the store.

Pack as much as you can to avoid impulse and convenience shopping.

Are there foods that say “vacation” to your children? For mine, it’s packs of Beef Jerkey, Ice Cream, Nutty bars and Swiss Cake Rolls, so we buy them. Yes, this junk food speaks love to them, and so we splurge. It’s vacation and sometimes those special food purchases make the $4 shakes on the beach not as much of a draw.

This year my husband told me to stop packing so much food. He did not want our van full of all food from home, so I stopped at one cooler and the tote pictured above (along with a few miscellaneous bags.) I tried to think through those items that I get for free with couponing. (You know those items that would actually make me hyperventilate if I had to purchase them full price?) I brought those. I bring all our cereal, condiments, cream cheese, sour cream, salad dressing and some snack items I had just stocked up on from an Extreme Couponing week. Then it wasn’t so hard to fill in the pieces once we got to the beach. I admit, I was going to bring bags of french fries that I got on sale and my husband looked at me like, “Seriously? There’s a Walmart a mile from our condo.” He’s right, an extra quarter will not kill me.

I think grocery shopping beforehand vs. once you reach your destination is a matter of personal preference, and depends on the ages of your children.  It’s your vacation, you do what will bring less stress. :)

Bring a Crockpot

Even if you are in a hotel room, you can have the most expensive meal of the day covered – dinner. BBQ Chicken in the crockpot is so simple, roast, soup, so many choices.

Plan meals ahead

With a little forethought, pre-planning makes sure you have packed those little things that add up at the store (which you hate buying again). For instance, condiments and spices you can bring from home when you plan ahead. Make sure you leave a day every 3rd day for leftovers. We have had too many vacation weeks come to a close where great food was left in our fridge, and we couldn’t bring it home. And you know how I feel about food waste. Make a casserole for the first night you arrive.

This is a no stress option. Grab something already made from your home freezer, and throw it in the cooler. Just pop it out of the cooler when you arrive and stick it in the oven.

Buy prepackaged/pre-made foods for the week.

If you are used to making all your food at home from scratch, then buying some prepared foods at the grocer will seem like a total treat, yet is still much more cost effective than eating out. Pans of lasagne, pre-made burritos etc are all easy, quick choices and heat up quickly in a hotel microwaves. Check out the grocer’s deli department for salad bars, sub sandwiches and take advantage of their “homemade” items such as meatloaf, chicken, roasts etc. Again, this is more expensive than making it at your hotel or condo, but much cheaper than eating out. A great option to still feel like you are on a vacation from the kitchen. Since we always rent something with at least a mini kitchen, it’s just not wise for our family to do otherwise, but a reader gave some great ideas for her trip when they stayed flew on a plane and stayed in a hotel. Two things we have never done as a family.

Melissa shared,

“My husband and I took an 8 day trip to Washington DC and spent only $200 in food and things for the kids…everything. We brought as much as we could with us in our suit case. We brought instant oatmeal for every morning, and used the coffee pot for hot water and the cups in the hotel. When we got there we went to a grocery store, and bought a small peanut butter and Jelly and a small cooler to get ice from the ice machine to keep everything good that needed to be cold. We also brought all we could as snacks and treats and such from home and put our lunches together in the hotel before leaving for the day. We then would eat out for dinner, but we went to Subway and other cheaper places for dinner, except for a couple nights. It was so neat to be able to make that trip because I learned that traveling doesn’t have to be expensive if you plan ahead and have a plan.”

So, as an expert on saving money on vacation (especially on food), I know I have missed some things. I will probably remember to add them in a few days, but why don’t you fill in the gaps for me.

How do you save money on vacations with the food budget? Any more tips for eating on a trip?


Comments

  1. I start buying boxed and canned food a month in advance of the vacation, that way it’s not a huge overwhelming shopping trip before the vacation.

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  2. Thanks for these great tips! We’re flying to Seattle in October for a friend’s wedding, and I know some of these ideas will come in handy. Wonder if I could fit my crockpot in my suitcase :)

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    Jen Reply:

    @Diana, HAHA – ok, the crock pot may be a definite stretch. I think the extra suitcase fee might off set the frugal nature of the tip. ;)

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    Michelle H. Reply:

    @Diana, I read a comment on a similar post last year about a reader who went to a thrift store in their vacation city and bought a cheap crockpot to use while they were there, since she was flying and didn’t want to pack it.

    (I can’t remember which site, i apologize)

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    Jen Reply:

    It was actually on here :)Great idea.

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    Sue Reply:

    @Diana,

    You could look at a nearby thrift store for a cheap crock pot and even leave it behind when your vacation it over.

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  3. These are all fantastic tips!

    When we go on vacation, we usually stay at a cottage or villa that is equipped with a kitchen. That way, we can eat in at least half of the time, which saves us plenty of money. When we do eat out, coupons are the way to go.

    Thanks for hosting today.

    Jane
    frugalfineliving.com

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  4. Thanks for the tips, Jen. We do a combination of things. We do eat out some, but we plan for it ahead of time. That makes all the difference.

    Probably one of my biggest blunders was when we went camping in west Texas about an 11 hour drive. We decided leave at night and drive while the kids slept. I had heard that you could get an adapter for your car to plug things into the lighter. So I bought one, mixed up some eggs and sausage and plugged in our crockpot. Thinking it would be fun to have a hot breakfast at a rest stop. The fuse blew at about midnight. We found Walmart and bought some more. We kept replacing the fuse each time it went out – about every hour or so. When we got there we had a crockpot full of liquid egg and sausage! So we had pop tarts for breakfast. Thank goodness for poptarts – which by the way, my children don’t think are real food.
    Thanks for hosting this each week. Have fun on your vacation.

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  5. Great tips…hope you’re enjoying yourself!

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  6. Wow! Great tips! Thanks so much for sharing. Enjoy your vacay!

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  7. I always make our food ahead of time. We stay in a condo at the beach every year, and we cook breakfast and lunch every day. I make lasagna and freeze it before we leave – it helps keep the cooler cold – and it’s ready to use when we are ready for it! I also make chili for hotdogs, and freeze the weiners, pre-patty hambuger meat for hamburgers, make homemade chicken salad and pimiento cheese for lunches. We only eat out twice the whole week, and when we do, it makes it special, and not a dread trying to figure where to go, and not having to wait in line is wonderful! We also take our own drinks if we go shopping or to play putt-putt, that saves a bundle!
    I love the frozen milk idea – going to do that this year!

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  8. Hey Jen, it won’t let me relink. Oh well. Don’t worry about it.

    Food on vacation is a mixed bag for me. I like having a break from cooking, but eating out could mean I end up being sick. So generally we save money by staying someplace where I can cook and eating out only a couple of times. I pack as many groceries as I can before we leave because food is usually more expensive in vacation areas.

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  9. We go to Disney for our summer vacation-and we drive. So, a few weeks or months before, I use my couponing to buy snacks for the car. We also do the Disney Dining Plan-which is surprisingly reasonable and is often free on some of the packages you can book. When we go to the beach, we always eat breakfast and lunch in, and dinner out. Also, we buy gift cards-which are turned into a fuel saving incentive at our grocery store-for stops on the way to our destination.

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  10. We eat in our condo a lot on vacation. That’s a huge benefit of having a condo vs. a hotel, in my opinion.

    I do keep meals really simple, especially for breakfast and lunch, so that vacation is still a vacation for me.

    I also save up our credit card reward points (we are a family that uses them and pays them off every single month) to buy dining gift cards for a free night out.

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  11. Lots of great tips. We went to New Orleans over Spring Break and the food there is a big part of the draw of New Orleans. However, we did pack our our snacks for that trip, ate breakfast in the room one of the mornings and were strategic about where we ate.

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  12. Thanks so much for this post! It was so helpful, esp because my fam is planning to go to Hilton Head this summer. Btw, does anyone know of a good and inexpensive place to stay in HH that has an oven & fridge provided?

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    jen thomas Reply:

    @Christa @ BrownSugarToast,

    Hi- my college roommate rents out properties there. Her email is: susie.oringel@earthlink.net

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  13. We’re going on a short vacation next week – so I started planning yesterday!

    I plan on making scones before we leave – those and fruit will be our breakfast.

    For lunch – we’ll eat out. It’s much cheaper to eat lunches out than dinner, so we choose lunch.

    For dinner – I am bringing a frozen bagged dinner (paid .50 with coupon), leftovers from lunch (I never finish my meals), and then sandwiches.

    Drinks, waters, snacks – will pack all of this from my stockpile.

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  14. We must all be thinking along the same lines. I sat down last night and wrote a post for my blog about purchasing a certificate from Restaurant.com for our vacation coming up next week. I’ve got it scheduled to post on Thursday. Then I read your post today! I’m going to go put a link in my post directing people to come check out your article for more tips after they read my post. Thanks!

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  15. I love love LOVE your new blog design!!!!!!! :-) These are great tips, thanks!

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  16. Great ideas and tips. We like to plan our meals in advance as well. We rarely stop at fast food when driving, I pack a picnic basket and cooler and we plan our stops at Rest Areas. Thanks again for hosting Tasty Tuesday this week, your blog design looks great!
    -Aimee

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  17. I love your tips, we use many of them when we travel. I already posted on Facebook during the discussion. As for trips when we stay in a cottage or beach house we meal plan. Each year for a while we were going with my parents and my sisters family and would all stay together. My parents took care of the cost of the cottage and then we would all decide what we were going to eat and make a trip to Sam’s Club for the junk food like soda, chips, candy bars, granola bars, and general snacks. Then after arriving and unpacking the car the three girls would make a quick trip to the grocery store for milk, cereal, meats, produce and anything we happened to forget. All of the food bills were split 3 ways. There was 1 night where we would go out to eat, usually for seafood but we actually nixed that and made our own low country broil after the first year and it cost way less to buy all of the ingredients than for 10 people to go to dinner. No one minded cooking breakfast or dinner, we generally took turns and lunch was usually sandwich’s. Those trips ended up costing up $100-$200 for a week and everyone got a break from cooking since we took turns. If there’s a larger group and you can take turns cooking it really makes it much more cost effective and everyone gets a break.

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    Jen Reply:

    I’m actually writing a whole different posts on ideas to do for family reunions. :) This one got way too long already. For family reunions, one side of the family does exactly as you described. It makes it so much easier, doesn’t it?

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  18. Thanks for the tips. I heard the Crockpot tip last year, but I haven’t tried it yet. Thanks for the reminder!

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  19. Great ideas! One thing that ends up costing a lot of money on a long trip is drinks. It’s amazing how much buying bottled waters for 6 at a gas station can cost! We are {cold} water drinkers, so we’ve solved the problem by everyone bringing their own water can or bottle that fits in their drink holder in the car. Then we fill up our big drink cooler (with a spigot) with ice and water and fill up our bottles at each stop. It’s easy (and cheaper!) to buy gallon jugs of water and a bag of ice to refill the cooler, and we keep it accessible at the back hatch since we drive a Suburban.

    We also bring some frozen juice boxes in the cooler with the food to help keep it cold and have another option for drinks at breakfast.

    Frozen Go-gurts or yogurt cups also keep well in the cooler and are good for breakfast on the go, just add granola and a banana.

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    Marla Reply:

    We bring a purifying water pitcher & one filter with us on our trips, along with a couple of empty gallon-sized milk jugs. Some areas have the worst tasting (let alone smelling) water! i.e. along the coastlines.
    We fill the pitcher from any faucet, let it do it’s thing, then pour the purified water into the gallon milk jug. This provides us with ‘clean’ drinking water as we travel and no funny taste or smell.

    Those little cup-sized emersion heaters are great too for heating things. Did you know you can boil eggs in a cup of boiling hot water? I do it in our hotel room coffee pot. Great for those ‘free’ protein-less continental breakfasts.

    Growing up I remember a cabin in the woods that had electricity and a sink (with little outhouse out back) where my mom would bring our old popcorn popper. The kind that had 3-parts: heating base, bowl insert, and glass lid. She made delicious scrambled & hard-boiled eggs, hot cereal, and stew in that thing! The electric skillet offered pancakes from scratch and mouth-watering beef stroganoff – she was an amazing and improvising cook!

    Oh, and don’t forget if you don’t have a fridge, keep a small fridge thermometer in the cooler so you can, run down the hall/make a stop at the store, for ice b-e-f-o-r-e the temp starts to rise in that cooler. Better safe than sick.
    And I always carry a bag of Ziplocs and a stacked short ‘tower’ of the same brand of ‘disposable’ containers for ‘leftovers’.

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  20. I loved the vacation my family took to a resort hotel in Branson, MO. We stayed in a cottage that had a kitchen and we were able to cook a few meals there. I always try to have breakfast in my hotel room or pack something in my day bag and eat out later in the day. The savings does add up.

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  21. I’ve done some backpacking (the across-Europe kind, not the camping kind) and developed a set of guidelines to save on food without feeling like I was missing out on local cuisine.

    I do many of the things that you mention, but it is a bit harder because you can’t backpack a cooler around. The first thing I do upon arrival in a new country is to ask around for the grocery store. It is usually a fun international experience to see what is at the store and to shop in a different language.

    For lunch, the rule is that you can’t eat at the museum or attraction that you are visiting because the food is so overpriced. This is a great opportunity to wander away from the touristy stuff and find out where the locals eat. Great places to look for are open-air markets and street vendors because the food is much less expensive and hey, at least you can see right into the kitchen.

    My dirty little secret is that sometimes I just stop at a fast food place to fill myself up on the cheap. I never, ever eat fast food at home, so it is a “treat” (depends on how you look at it). No matter where you are, McDonalds is there and even though it might be more expensive than home, it is usually a comparatively great deal. You can also check out locally-based fast food places for even bigger savings.

    That’s how I’ve propelled myself around the world a couple of times without breaking the bank (or getting a foodborne illness).

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    Jen Reply:

    Love these, Melanie…and oh to live the backpacking life again. Brings back great memories. :)

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  22. We leave for vacation in 2 1/2 weeks, so these tips are timely & perfect. I do have a question for you folks though: Any tips on how to fit it all in the vehicle? We are a family of 6 (including 2 in carseats!) with a minivan & little cargo space… After the stroller, pack-n-play & golf clubs there’s little room for even suitcases! We are staying at a condo with a full kitchen, so we would love to plan ahead & take most meals with us – but where to put it? Any suggestions?

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    Annie~Savor This Moment Reply:

    @Jill, Do you know what grocery stores are in the area? If they are large chains that you usually shop at and know the pricing of, I would say do most of your shopping once you get to your destination, just pack the snacks and drinks and use frozen foods to keep the cooler chilled. A smaller cooler can go under the feet of a child in a carseat or booster.

    I took my 4 kids (2 in carseats) and sister cross-country on a month-long trip in our Suburban and bought a cargo holder for the top of the vehicle. I put only things that had to come out at night in the cargo holder (pack and play, suitcases) and everything that we needed access to in the car.

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    Marla Reply:

    You have ‘got’ to get a roof rack box – these things are the greatest! We do ‘event vacations’ which means our family is usually driving long distance for some fancy family do (graduation, wedding, anniversary, birth, reunion, all of the afore, etc.) and lodging along the way. Sometimes all hotels, sometimes all tent camping, sometimes both.

    Check discount resale stores and online lists for cargo boxes. We don’t keep it on the vehicle all the time, but BOY! Has it saved us a few times through the years. You can put almost anything in these things. We just add bunge cords and ‘inflatables’ if it isn’t packed snug. The inflatables can be deflated and flattened for more space along the trip if need be.

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    Susanne in Georgia Reply:

    We have the same problem, with seven of us in a minivan. One solution we have found: Don’t use suitcases! Use soft duffel bags or even kitchen trash bags that can be tucked in various spaces and under the children’s feet. For one of our trips we bought a soft car top carrier, and that worked great, too.

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    Jen Reply:

    My brother and sister in love have always ascribed to your very packing principal. They do the same thing or they even will use rubbbermaid containers, where as even though they are not flexible, they stack perfectly. We can just claim to have lots of bonding with our seven, right? :)

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  23. Fantastic post! Thanks for all the great info. I totally have that planner, I’ve been using it for years and love it!

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  24. One of our favorite vacations is when we travel 4 hours SE to Central Oregon. We stay in a rental home and do about 95% of the cooking at the house rather than going out to eat. We typically go for 10-14 days (our once a year trip) and so we use the grocery money that would have been used for those few weeks to buy food for the trip. I tend to shop for the main things before we go because the stores where we go are more expensive. But there have been times I’ve waited. I typically don’t buy much pre-packaged, prepared store food, other than things like chips, crackers, maybe muffins from costco….I have pre-made things like taco meat, spaghetti sauce, chili, etc…

    I love cooking but there are def. times where I think I’d love a vacation where I didn’t have to cook a thing (C:

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  25. Such wonderful tips! As a mom of two boys who has spent the past 11 summers traveling with them, I have found no better way to save money on food than by taking an RV vacation. We have our kitchen with us everywhere we go, so we can stock up with all our favorite foods before we leave. It keeps us eating healthier and saves us money. I also appreciate that we don’t have to settle for a mediocre or a fast food restaurant, or stress about finding a place to eat. We just eat in the RV! That way, I don’t feel guilty when we splurge for a nicer place to eat every once in a while. (Also, we take our leftovers home and stick them in our fridge for the next day. Bonus!)

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  26. Amanda Y. says:

    I have a twist to add–what if your vacation is requiring you to fly (specifically overseas)? Any suggestions on watching food costs other than the typical ‘pack a picnic lunch from the grocery store?”

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    Deanne Reply:

    @Amanda Y., Dry mixes are a good idea for international travel. Usually you can find soups, oatmeal, and even rice dishes that only need hot water added. They take up very little space and can be done nearly anywhere with a coffee pot or hot pot. Some are so-so, but many are actually very good. I found that they were better in a thermos. Get your thermos good and hot with some water first, pour out, then add mix and appropriate amount of water and screw the lid on letting it absorb and “cook” for awhile. Tended to let everything get a bit softer so to say.

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    Jen Reply:

    We are going to be going to Guatemala and we are definitely going to take some of those dry mixes. :)

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  27. About 6 years ago, we bought a full-size electric cooler that plugs in to the car’s cigarette lighter. It adapts for household power as well.

    It has certainly been worth the $80 it cost — bringing groceries home from the big town where we do errands, I load up the cooler; on vacation, we don’t ever need to worry if the hotel room has a refrigerator — or fuss with ice; and it even serves as an extra fridge when we have a party.

    Just remember to unplug it if you’re leaving it in the car overnight.

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  28. When we did a road trip to Colorado last summer, we had everything for the first day of car travel packed. For breakfast I baked granola bars and made juice blocks (made with juice and unflavored gelatin, neater than drinking juice in the car for the kids). For lunch we had hot dogs kept warm in the kids’ school thermoses with homemade buns. For supper we had cold pizza. At least it was one less day that we weren’t paying restaurant prices.

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    Jill Reply:

    Thermoses for hot dogs…. that is brilliant!!!

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  29. On vacation and at home in the summer, we Cook Once, Eat Twice. A little creativity goes a long way, and saves time in the kitchen!

    http://memorymakingmomma.blogspot.com/2011/05/ways-to-save-this-summer-part-1.html

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  30. I do many of these same things…great minds! We almost always stay in a cottage or condo that has a kitchen when we travel. I have a set menu for our summer beach week that hasn’t changed much in 10+ years. The meals are simple, the grocery list is already filled out, there is some cook-once-eat-twice built in and I don’t have to reinvent the menu for each trip. If we are taking shorter trips to other places, I just pick meals from the beach list. I can deal with cooking on vacation if I don’t have to think about it.

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  31. So many great ideas! Thanks for sharing Jen! We do always take a cooler at least when we drive and eat our lunches in the car rather than restaurants. We also usually end up with hotels that have free breakfast so we take advantage of that and only need to eat out for dinners along the way.

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  32. Before I moved to a bigger town, we used to love to go to the grocery stores on our vacations! We would cook several nights utilizing products found in their big grocery stores that we didn’t have available at home. I still use that principle when I’m on vacation – find roadside stands for local produce and fish markets, only choose restaurants that feature food you can’t find at home or are a specialty for the place where you are, etc. If I am going to buy food, I want it to be food I don’t usually eat… saving the chain restaurants for nights at home. But if you do eat at chains, you can buy an Entertainment Book for your vacation location… if you wait until summer, they are usually quite cheap.

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  33. These are all great tips! We are planning a cross-country trip next week in our minivan (five kids & two adults :). We are trying to get as many hotels as possible that include breakfast. We are also taking a 7 day cooler and our Keurig coffepot :). My husband has an adapter to plug it into our van; obviously, we love our Keurig! We are taking lots of water bottles and diet soft drinks (my husband’s favorite since he is diabetic). We are taking snacks that will not melt as well. Also, searching for good Groupons and restaurant.coms :).

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    Lynda Reply:

    @Kristi from NC, Two things:
    –Have you checked out http://sixsuitcasetravel.com/? That was a great resource for us when we did our road trip last year.
    –We stayed at a Drury Inn in Colorado Springs. Free breakfast, free supper and cold beverages in the evening, free popcorn, free internet IN THE ROOM, one hour of long distance free each day. The food was good–got repetitive at times, but very kid friendly. Looking at their website, it looks like they have even more locations now.

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  34. lindsay says:

    Amen. We went to Disney after Christmas and we did exactly this. I planned out our meals and either froze & took or pre-purchased 90% of our food before we left. Not only did I get to use coupons and shop the deals before our trip, but I also got to shop in a grocery store that I was familiar with. By planning this way, we also cut down on the amount of “extras” that got thrown into the shopping cart at Walmart. Once I was on vacation, we only spent 30 minutes in Walmart grabbing the bare necessities that we still needed, and it was less than $50. Oh, I also shop the sales for items like- clorox wipes, dishwasher tablets, small laundry soap (or purell sheets), etc. before the trip! And lets not forget paper products- condos never have enough plates, cups and paper towels and it saves me from having to unload the dishwasher 500 times during vacation. Even though I am the mommy, I want to be on vacation too!!

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  35. Michelle H. says:

    We stayed at a Townplace Suites for the first time this past weekend and they had a great breakfast buffet included in the room price. The room had a small kitchen with a big fridge, stove and dishwasher, and there was a gas grill by the pool that was available for guests. It was just the husband and I overnight, so we didn’t do any cooking, but if I was taking a longer trip with the kids I would definitely be doing more cooking. Fill the grill with several different kinds of meat one afternoon, and then reuse it for meals the rest of the week.

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  36. The next trip will be all motels serving ‘continental breakfasts’.
    No matter where we stay/camp I always pack: Produce wash, collapsible strainer, small paring knife/pocket knife or leathertool, full-size roll-up cutting mat, spork, roll of paper towels, roll of tp, small baggies of laundry soap (premeasure at home – so much cheaper!), ss water bottle (holds hot or cold without sweating), cup-size immersion heater, stacking screwtop backpacking spice jars (about size of a quarter, 6 in all, total ‘stack’ under 4″ long), coffee & tea bags, thermos, water filter jug w/filter, gallon jug(s), vinyl/flannel-back tablecloth (use for picnic cloth, tarp, blanket, etc, can dispose of along way if yucky), can/bottle opener, Airborne cannister of quarters (dryer/washer/parking), collapsible backpacking serving bowl, homemade wipes, small spray bottle of bleachwater, soak-up sponge towel (the kind that shrink when dry, can be washed and reused).
    I have made 3-course meals with the above: Soup, salad, hot entree. All from scratch, items purchased from local farmers’ markets and sometimes grocery stores. Since we hate paying sales tax on pre-prepared food we go for the ‘raw’ stuff around the store outer aisles and prepare our own healthy (organic as much as possible) family meals. It’s fun, forcing us to be creative and resourceful! Life’s an adventure and never boring.

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  37. We like to go to local farmers markets in different towns when we’re on vacation. They are great for locally-raised fresh produce, sometimes different things that you can’t get at home. Stock up on fresh fruit and veggies for the condo, maybe buy a bouquet of flowers, check out the crafts, and have lunch or dinner from food vendors at the market.

    Another tip is to join the preferred shoppers club at the grocery store (or use your card if it’s a chain store that you’re already a member of). That way you get the best prices they offer. It just takes a minute to stop at the customer service desk and fill out a quick form BEFORE you shop.

    – Meg

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  38. Hey, that’s a 31 Gifts Large Utility Tote! Don’t you love it? My daughter-in-Love and I are both consultants! I keep mine in the trunk of the car and she uses hers as a diaper bag for the twins for their blankets and such when they come to Gramma’s house!

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  39. Joy Benfield says:

    About 5 years ago we went to Disney World for a total of $1400 for a family of 4 + I had 300 Disney Dollars and 4 $25 gift cards. That paid for all meals, souveniors and park entrances for all the Disney parks. First I found a deal for $1200 for a family of 4 to DIsney that included an off site hotel and 4 park hopper passes for 6 days. The hotel was awesome with a large pool with waterslide and a mini golf that was all included in the package. The hotel also included a full breakfast of coffee, hot chocolate, juices, fruit, poptarts, pancakes, waffles, muffins, bagels, biscuits and usually a hot meat like sausage or bacon. and I had some gift cards for restuarants in the area that I received from mypoints.com and freeride.com that came in handy for dinners out. I also did some bartering for Disney dollars to pay for parking, souveniers and lunch at the park each day .
    We would eat a good breakfast every morning and head out to the park of the day. We had never been to DIsney so we did not know what to expect. So the first thing we had to splurge on was a Autograph book and pen for both kids. Then they were begging for a spray fan which I refused to buy….. seemed like they were $10 or more. That evening we bought 2 at Walmart for $3 each. We normally had lunch around 1 or 2 and stayed at the park until about 6 each night then we would leave and have dinner at a local restaurant or sandwiches in our room. Before bedtime the kids would swim in the pool/waterslide or play mini golf.
    This was a splurge for us but we all had a great time and I think the memories were well worth the money.

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  40. Jennifer Martz Thorson says:

    Thank you for posting this link! I was trying to find this post as I’ve been thinking about our upcoming week-long lake cabin vacation :)

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  41. Rebecca A says:

    When we are spending more than a day on the road, we make a point of finding a Sam’s club near dinner time. We get everyone out and go in and order a pizza (super big one is less than $10) and then spend 15-20 minutes walking around the store to stretch our legs before sitting down in the cafe area to eat. That $10 is enough for our family of five, and leftover slices go in the cooler for later. Not only is it a lot cheaper than McDonald’s, we can get a little exercise without having to try to drag the kids out of a playland and force them to eat. Another plus, their pizza is fantastic!

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  42. Heather says:

    My almost 4 year old son is highly nut allergic, so I tend to pack all of our own snacks, breakfast foods, protein shakes and protein bars for breakfasts and snacks that are safe. When traveling on the airplane, I pack smaller amounts of at least 10 different snacks so I can whip out different offerings to distract him from being bored or whining. On most airplanes, none of the snack offerings are safe for those with nut allergies. I also pack a lot of new little toys and things that I buy on clearance and store up for the same reasons. It is amazing how many moms who travel with little ones don’t do this!

    I also used to stuff a smaller cooler for drinks under the leg space of a carseat, and a bigger cooler in back. I always pack fresh fruit and soy nut butter and crackers. Buy travel milks at Aldi or Sam’s on special. I will have to think if I can think of any more tips.

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  43. Jennybc says:

    I know not every one can do this but it’s an idea worth sharing. My husband travels a lot for work. We have signed up for almost every hotel loyalty card we can. Thankfully, we get to keep the points. He tries to stay in the same “brand” of hotel wherever he goes but that is not always possible. We use the points to pay for our room when we go on vacation. We always make sure we have a kitchenette and usually, the place has complimentary breakfast. The las place we stayed in Washington, DC had a “snack supper.” Now to me, baked chick, vegetables, a starch and dessert is not a snack. Many days we only ate at the hotel. This allowed us to eat a lunch occasionally in the city or to get a treat during the day that we would never do otherwise. But like you say, it’s vacation.

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  44. Rochelle Phillips says:

    Great tips!!! We are planning a vacation in a couple of weeks with two little ones. We are usually a eat out all the time type but I think I will try some of these tips. I never feel good about the kids (2 and 4) eating out all the time!!! We have a trip planned to North Myrtle Beach in September. Anybody have any tips?????

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    Jen Reply:

    That’s where we are right now. :) Love Myrtle, and you can do it on the cheap.

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    Allison Reply:

    @Jen, Would you consider doing a post with tips on how to have a fun, frugal vacation at Myrtle Beach?

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  45. I love reading all of these tips. I am in the midst of planning our vacation right now. Anyway, I don’t have any tips, but I do have a couple of questions. Where can I get the menu planning notebook and the tote you show in this article? Thanks, and I love your blog.

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  46. Had to chime in with our newest vacation bargain tip. We went to Hilton Head the week before Christmas after a business acquaintance of my husband offered us his time share week that he was not going to use. I have since found that people sell their timeshare weeks on craigslist for a drastically reduced price. This was such a gift to us! At this point, we are not able to eat out. I don’t mind cooking but I always dread the rush to the store to get the food when you arrive at the vacation house. After I did it, I discovered that the store (Harris Teeter) DELIVERED groceries!!! The first time was FREE! This was amazing to me. If we get to go on vacation again, I will do my order on line from the sale flyer (with smart phones, this can even be done on the way to destination in the car). It would be so wonderful to arrive at the vacation house and have your groceries arrive a short time later. I hope that this helps!

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  47. Thanks so much for this post! We will be flying with our 3 children, 4 and under in a few weeks… We hope to pack carry-ons and only one check in to help with costs. We have a gluten free child. Any tips on flying with youngsters… and how to help out with food while we are there??? Don’t think we will have room to pack much more than some snacks.

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    Jen Reply:

    The drinks are what really add up and since you can’t bring beverages, I always bring empty water bottles filled with the powdered Crystal Light or what ever your child can drink. Then once you get across the security check in, you can just add water and voila, free beverages without spending so much on drinks.

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  48. Jen, this is just what I needed! We’re getting ready for our vacation and we’ll have a kitchen. The frozen cookie dough and milk are great ideas!

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  49. Thanks for the great tips. I especially like the one about planning your meals. It may seem as though it can’t be done when you are traveling, but it can be. If take a side trip somewhere (an amusement park or a national park), we go to the local market and buy sandwich stuff and fruit and brown bag it so that we don’t have to buy the more expensive food at our destination.

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  50. I use many of these ideas on our trips. I admit, it’s a lot easier now that the kids are moved out of the house, but I made it work, even back in the day. Planning every little item you need for a given meal and bringing a small container of it, saves BIG bucks. Hate buying something like a jar of mayo, and only needing half a cup. Or you pay a lot higher price for a little bitty jar. Not cost effective. One thing I like to do (we rent a rustice cottage on a fishing lake for a week) is to bring my small, non-stick, electric skillet! Awesome for making pancakes, eggs, sausages, frying hamburgers, whatever. The ranges provided are small, and having either the electric griddle or skillet helps SO much. (I may consider bringing a crock pot this year, or buying a used one locally to leave behind. Happy trails :)

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  51. Karen in MI says:

    We are a large family of 9 and have taken trips. We try to stay at Residence Inns – large rooms, kitchens, grills. They will also go grocery shop for you for free. I believe I have only done this one time, but you can specify brands. I usually bargain shop & change menu on the fly :). I have found it easier just to go grocery shop once I get there, my hubby says I pack too much food!

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  52. This yr I brought pre-made and frozen meals from home for our vacation. Certain meals I often make extra of, and freeze for later (those days when I would just want to eat out rather than cook…but hey, we have a good meal, already made in the freezer…yahoo!). I didn’t do anything extra/above what I normally do, time-wise. And so we brought those meals along with us. I pre-packaged a homemade mix for pancakes and for cornbread, and brought them along. It helped a ton! And I felt like I had a break, too, as dinner was just popped into the oven, and I could sit and read while it cooked! Very relaxing!

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    Jen Reply:

    That is such a perfect solution because you are right, you still got the break which is what it’s supposed to be all about. :)

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  53. …also, we rent a house/cabin when we travel, with a kitchen/kitchenette. We often stay in KOA cabins, which cost the same as a hotel room, but we get the ones w two rooms and a kitchen, so we have separate bedrooms and I can cook. They usually have play areas for the kids, so they can get the bugs out of their britches! And we’re not stuck in a room, constantly shushing the kids! They aren’t for everyone, and you have to bring your own linens/bedding, but they are perfect for our family.

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  54. I am one of those people who doesn’t want to do any housekeeping-type task on vacation. As a result, we always go to Vegas on vacation. We know where to eat on a budget of $50/day for two people and eat well (don’t have kids). I don’t know anywhere else we can do this. We also get free rooms from the casinos with moderate play that we would spend anyway. Not really a budget tip I guess, but it works for us! Just found your blog and am enjoying catching up! :-)

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    Jen Reply:

    I’ve heard that Vegas is perfect for a great trip on a fun budget. I’ve never been before but would love to go with my hubby,

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  55. I am planning our 20th anniversary trip…we are six months out. We are travelling to the Pacific Coast in California, starting at the redwoods, working our way down to San Francisco, then Monterey, then down the Pacific Coast Highway, ending up at Sequoia National Park. We will be camping for most of this trip. Since we have to fly to get there, I am packing up a lot of our food supplies (mostly the first three days) frozen. We will be in the campgrounds and will do at least thirty miles of hiking, and I have most of the menu planned!!! I think with any vacation and saving money, the key is planning!!! We have two city days where we will eat out lunch and dinner. Then I will have a grocery stop to pick up items for the last couple of days where we will be in a cabin. Plan, plan, plan. When we go camping, I don’t do anything different than what I would do at home. Some people kill their budgets by buying all kinds of things they don’t normally buy. Have an extra treat or two, but save your money so you can really do something special!

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  56. Emily Adams says:

    We are planning a trip to Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge, does anyone know of a family & budget friendly hotel condo or cottage with a kitchen?

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  57. We use an app on the iPhone called iExit, this gives the restraunts and gas and stores/hotels at each exit of our trip. We also can see the location on a map with regard to each exit and the phone number of all the restraunts. This allows us to call ahead and get sit down restraunt food like good salads or grilled chicken. We call about 20 min befor the exit. Sometimes we sit in the restraunt and sometimes we get it to go if we have the dogs with us. Usually there is enough left over to put in the cooler. This is a real treat since we hate the fast food options. It also tells us if and where a favorite restraunt is if the family agrees to wait til exit —– to eat. I love technology!

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    Jen Reply:

    I love that and wasn’t familiar with that app. Thanks so much for sharing. Pulling it up now. :)

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  58. These are excellent tips! We always do a mixture of eating out and “cooking” while on vacation. I do want a break from actual cooking while we are away, so we take an ice chest with sandwich stuff, pasta salad and chicken salad. I love looking for a farmer’s market when we get close to our destination to pick up local fresh fruits and veggies to enjoy during the week. That usually ends up being a really memorable part of the trip!

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    Jen Reply:

    I LOVE that farmers market idea. THAT would truly make some wonderful memories for sure. :)

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  59. We do most meals in the condo because there are at least 11-12 of us for 2 weeks at Myrtle Beach. I have spreadsheets outlining all meals with associated shopping lists. My vacation treat is to take advantage of Lowes Foods online shopping! I order my groceries before I leave home and even pay the extra $20 to have them delivered to the condo! For the amount of food we purchase, that gives me an extra 2-3 hours with the family instead of being with the millions at the store!

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Trackbacks

  1. [...] Faithful Provisions shares her tips for not wasting food * Beauty and Bedlam offers advice about how to save money on meals while you’re on vacation * Skimbaco Lifestyle writes about enjoying the simple pleasures in life * Savings Lifestyle [...]

  2. [...] out this great post from Beauty & Bedlam and this one from Annie’s Eats for even more tips on saving $$ on Vacation [...]

  3. […] Saving Money on Vacation (On Food) […]

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