Food is guaranteed expensive when traveling; and one that can add up. Even those quick snacks or bottles of water that you may purchase between meals, can quickly increase that tally. When you’ve spent a good chunk of your budget on getting to the location and finding a nice place to stay, no one wants to spend just as much on food. Since the cost of food in general is increasing, here are some cost saving ideas my husband and I use when traveling.
Book Accommodations with Breakfast Included
This is first because this is probably the most obvious one. If you are price comparing two places to stay at and they are relatively the same in cost, see if either includes breakfast. If so, that one is your winner. If it's included and you are not typically a breakfast person; become one on vacation. You can always skip lunch if your full. If the price of a meal is included in your cost, take advantage of it!
Photo I took of a breakfast included at a stay at the Inn Boonsboro. Places like this always serve a wonderful and filling breakfast!
If your accommodations comes with a kitchen or kitchenette; consider preparing some meals yourself. Once I spent a week with my in-laws in a rented house in the Finger Lakes region. To save costs, we agreed that each of us would be responsible to cook two dinners for all four of us that week. We also took snacks, eggs, lunch meat, and other item to prepare our own breakfast and lunches. We only ate out twice the entire week because we ended up getting too much food, but we saved a lot of money.
Photo I took below of a kitchen in an Air BnB house we rented when visiting Letchworth Park in New York for a few nights. It was a good size and well stocked, enabling us to easily cook some of our meals.
Use Grocery Stores or Farmer Markets
If we are staying at the same place for a while, I always visit a grocery store when I arrive. There is a good place to stock up on snacks, drinks, and some of those items you may want for those meals you are going to prepare yourself. Also be sure to go away from tourist spots to find where the locals shop. When my husband and I go to Las Vegas, the first stop we make is to a grocery store away from the famous strip. A case of water is the first thing I put in my cart. A case of water costs tends to cost the same as two bottles purchased individually on the strip.
Don't rule out a grocery store as a place to go get a meal. A lot of them now have grab and go options that are cheaper than a restaurant. When we were traveling in Iceland (not a cheap country), we got some great ready to go soups and salads from a small grocery store by our hotel. It ended up costing about half what it would have cost at a restaurant and was delicious.
Farmers Market's (or similar markets) are another great resource. Sometimes we tend to think of the ones close to home but look for them when traveling. Not only can you buy some great food for a great price, you can usually find some wonderful locally made crafts; which make great souvenirs to take home. One of my favorite is the Reading Terminal Market in Philly. Someday I hope to it to an actual European Christmas Market like the one pictured below.
Photo by Alexander Schimmeck from Unsplash.
Eat out Breakfast or Lunch Instead of Dinner
I know all of this stuff about cooking your meals in and eating from a grocery store doesn’t sound fun. What I love about going someplace new is trying some of the local food and restaurants. Don’t deprive yourself of the experience by eating all of your meals in; so consider eating out earlier in the day as opposed to dinner. I find that breakfast (at least in the US) tends to be a relatively inexpensive meal. Lunch usually offers some nice deals as well; and some of the nicer restaurants may have a less expensive lunch portion of a dinner entrée. Again using Las Vegas as an example; the lunch and breakfast buffets are so much cheaper than the famous dinner ones.
Ask Locals Where to Eat
Don’t always trust what someone at the hotel tells you is a place to eat. They may be nice but a lot of them have to give recommendations based on relationships or agreements they have with other businesses. Find a nice local and ask them where a good place is to eat. The locals also know the places outside the touristy spots, and you almost always save money away from the tourist areas.
Food Trucks/Roadside Stands
I am so excited that food trucks are taking off and more easy to find. They offer some great food options! Hawaii is another destination that is known to be expensive when it comes to food, but they have an abundance of food trucks. There are also roadside stands, which are just stationary food trucks. When I was on Oahu the best meal I had came from a run down shack on the side of the road. It was a huge platter of meat, rice, and macaroni salad that could have easily fed two for around $10. I’ve had amazing BBQ at a little shack in Texas that cost only a little more than a meal at McDonald’s. Don’t ever let the look of a place deceive you.
Photo taken by Joana Godinho and courtesy of Unsplash. This reminded me that we love fish n chips. Some of the best we ever had was from a food truck in Iceland.
My husband use to joke I was allergic to sharing meals at a restaurant. I always want to try different things so want to order a second item. The problem is we tend to end up with leftovers that don’t get eaten. I am moving away from that and we are now starting to share meals together. Something my husband and I like to do is order one appetizer and one dinner meal, and then share them both. Then if we are still hungry, we search out an awesome dessert somewhere. When we visited Disney World, we shared almost every meal. It worked out well there, because they have so many great food and snack options. We were able to sample more, especially at Epcot, since we were there for the food and wine festival.
Looking up reviews and places and scoping out menus ahead of time will help. It will give you an idea of what things cost and avoid surprises. Plus you may be able to find out when they do specials; or snag a coupon or Groupon deal. Know how I found those awesome roadside stands in Hawaii? I had TripAdvisor and Yelp apps on my phone and was searching places both before we went and while we were driving around. Those apps are great at helping me on the fly! When we went to San Francisco, before our trip I Googled inexpensive places to eat in the city and ended up finding some wonderful options. I pinned them to a Google map and used that as reference when we were in various locations in the city to what was closest.
I also like to take snacks like protein bars with me when I travel. They are easy to carry around if I need a quick bite between meals. Then I am not buying those expensive snacks. I know people who make their favorite meal items at home and pack them to save costs as well.
If you like your adult beverages while on vacation, a huge cost saver is buying your own alcohol and have your drinks before or after dinner.
Finally I think it's worth mentioning do allow yourself at least one splurge meal. It’s vacation after all, so put a little aside to treat yo’self! I may follow some of these tips to save money, but I still make sure to enjoy a nice and more costly dinner at some point.
If you have your own tips; I would love to hear them!
Final picture from Brooke Lark on Unsplash. I really liked this breakfast photo when searching food photos for this post and wanted to share.