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One of my weird quirks is that I truly enjoy saving money. It’s actually fun for me to see how thrifty I can be. I wouldn’t exactly call it cheap- but maybe resourceful. It’s almost like a game to me to manage my travel budget and come up with ways to save.

Whenever I audit my trips the one expense I cringe over is food. When you’re traveling, eating out 3 times a day can REALLY add up fast! Also, unlike at home- it’s sometimes difficult to take left overs with you which can lead to a lot of waste.

One of my summer goals is to set a very strict (and aggressive) vacation budget for our trips- and specifically our food. My theory is that the less we spend on food, the more we have to spend on future travel. In making my goals realistic I came up with some ways to cut down on food cost.

Here are 8 ways to not blow your vacation budget on food:

  1. Smart Hotel: When booking hotels for your trip, make sure they offer a free breakfast. We’ve had the option to stay at comparable hotels and chosen the one that costs a few dollars extra because they offer a free breakfast. For us, spending $5 extra on the room will offset the $20+ we would spend to feed our family breakfast. If you’re in a rush in the morning, ask for to-go boxes. Most hotels will gladly provide you with them! Additionally, some hotels even offer free snacks or meals at night. Take advantage of the hotel food whenever possible!
  2. Food Basket: We always take along a basket of hearty, healthy, and enjoyable snacks. Rather than having to stop and make a purchase every time someone is hungry, we are able to “shop” our snack basket. Not only will this save time, but you’ll save a lot of money. To make it special for my kids, I usually let them pick out one unique (ie. something mommy typically says “no” to!) snack from Costco. We save it for our trips and they are always eager to enjoy it.

    My travel food basket is packed full of squeeze apple sauce, PB crackers, fruit snacks and bars. And, of course don’t forget wipes to clean it all up!

  3. Grocery Store: Similar to the food basket, I like to stop at grocery stores throughout our travels. I try to keep fresh fruit (banana, apples or oranges) handy for snacking. I’ve also been known to assemble sandwiches in the car after stopping at a grocery store. As much as I love sandwich shops, that kind of stop really adds up for a family of 4!
  4. Water: I’ve written an entire post on saving money on water (here) so I won’t rehash the whole thing here. I will point out, though, that our family drinks a ton of water, but we avoid paying for it! Again, read the previous post for great suggestions on how we do that. We also only drink water when we eat out. Unless we’re ordering alcohol or if the children’s meals come with drinks, everyone at our table sticks to water. The cost savings are HUGE!
  5. Meal Times: This takes a bit of preplanning (which we aren’t always good at!), but many restaurants offer early-bird specials. Arriving before the dinner rush is a great way to eat a nice meal for a discounted price. Similarly, if you can stagger your meal times and fill in with snacks- eating one big meal out (versus two or three) can really save money too.
  6. Avoid Tipping: And no, I don’t mean at a restaurant where a tip is expected!! But, if you can avoid eating at restaurants with servers- you will see a huge cost savings. There are plenty of great food places (that aren’t “fast food” per say) where you can order at a counter and avoid tipping.
  7. Kids Eat Free: There are also plenty of places were children eat free on various days of the week. While our family isn’t crazy about all the options, we can usually find a few that we enjoy.
  8. Order Smart: When we’re at home I don’t mind having leftovers from a restaurant. In fact, I enjoy it because it gives me an extra meal or two for later that I don’t have to cook! However, when you travel it’s often hard to take food with you. Even if you do have a fridge in your hotel room, the boxes rarely fit. So when we travel, we do our best to order only what our family will actually eat in one sitting. Sometimes that means splitting a couple meals. 

How do you avoid blowing your vacation budget on food?

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