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Let’s face it. Food costs have gone up since last year. I know my grocery bill has risen and I am guessing you’re here because yours has too. Are you asking yourself, “How can I spend less money on food?” Then add in travel and how do you know what to budget for food? Try these tips to save money on food while traveling.
For me, food is a fun part of travel. Trying new cuisines, visiting local diners, and generally not having to cook myself are all treats that go with traveling.
However, I also don’t want to blow my whole budget just on food alone. There are things to see and places to go. Yet we can still have an amazing experience all while saving money on food.
Get a Room with a Kitchen
If you’re a family and especially a family with teenagers, you know how important the kitchen can be. When you book your travel, consider getting a room with a kitchen. This can be through home rentals, hotel suites, rooms with mini-fridges and microwaves.
You can save money on food costs by having some of the things that eat your budget on hand. This can be drinks, snacks, grab and go breakfasts, etc.
If you do a full kitchen, you can eat nearly every meal in and save the most money. I’ll talk about this more below.
Rooms with free breakfasts
Speaking of breakfasts, if you are booking a hotel room, make sure you’re booking one with free breakfast. While breakfast is my favorite meal of the day, I know we can save a lot of money on food by having a hotel free breakfast.
Generally, chain hotels offer free breakfasts, but if you’re looking for unique hotel accommodations, it may be worth digging around to see if you can find one that has free breakfast.
Usually, the added cost, if any, is minimal.
Keep in mind, that COVID-19 policies have changed many hotel breakfast programs, so you may not find the hot buffet style everywhere. However, these hotels know this is an amenities you’re looking for and have created grab and go options. For example, on a recent trip, we were able to grab individually wrapped breakfast sandwiches to heat in our in-room microwave.
Planning meals is not always fun for everyone. However, it is key to saving money on food.
Plan both for meals you’ll make, and what you want to spend dining out.
Know what you have in your rented kitchen or hotel space and plan accordingly. Even if you don’t have a way to heat food, a lot can be made from cold cuts, cheeses, fruits, and snacks.
Plus, as I said earlier, plan drinks, both for the kids and adults. Don’t forget waters. Plunking down $3 for water is not budget-friendly.
Bring Your Own Food
Once you’ve planned ahead, you know what food you need to bring. If you’re driving and doing short trips this is easy. Get your list together and shop ahead of time. Know how much space you may need in the cooler as well as if you have a full-size fridge or an in-room mini-fridge.
When I shop ahead of time to save money on food, I keep those items separately bagged in my pantry and ready to go. I also section off part of the fridge for cold items we need to take with us. We road trip often and know this is a key way to saving money on the road.
Related: What to Eat on Road Trips
Order Groceries to be Delivered
If you can’t take all your food with you, order groceries to be delivered. We’ve done this both at home rentals and at hotels.
You can order from many different places using Shipt or Instacart. You can even plan ahead and schedule your delivery for a specific date and time. Say you arrive at noon, schedule your groceries for 3 pm.
Don’t feel weird ordering groceries to a hotel room. Every time I’ve done this I’ve never had a problem. You may need to meet your delivery driver in the lobby, so grab a luggage cart when you do. Just be sure to give the delivery driver specific instructions as to where to meet you (and maybe even how to get to the hotel.)
Stock up on Sales
If you’re bringing your own food on any trip, it’s worth it to stock up on sales when you see them.
Just like planning out your food above, you may create a space in your pantry marked, “travel food.” Hopefully, this will keep the scavengers in your home away.
You can get sale items when you’re ordering groceries to be delivered as well. If it’s a store outside your area, visit their website and see what the weekly flyer is. Additionally, you can filter by sale items when you’re shopping Instacart or Shipt.
Finally, sometimes there are incentives for buying from a certain category within the grocery delivery system. Just be careful that you will go through all the items you purchase otherwise it might end up wasteful.
Cook Breakfast in the room
We’ve planned meals. We’ve shopped. Now on to more ways to save money on food.
Usually, with a family, everyone wakes up hungry. Unless you also have family members who are up and ready to go, this means you will probably eat breakfast at the hotel or in your room.
Here are a few things you have on hand to cook or make for breakfast that are perfect for travelers:
- individual yogurts
- breakfast sandwiches (microwave)
- cereal and milk – get the shelf-stable milk if you don’t have a fridge
- frozen pancakes
- hard-boiled eggs
Pack Lunches & Snacks
If you’re going to be out touring all day, packing a lunch and snack not only helps you save money on food, they also save you time. There’s no need to take an hour out of waiting in line at a theme park in order to eat when you can just grab a sandwich and go.
Plus, even if it’s a quick service meal, you’re still dropping a lot of cash in a busy touristy area. Having lunch packed in your day bag is a money saver.
The same goes for snacks. No matter what age your kids are, they start to crash and become cranky when they’re hungry. Have snacks on hand so you can keep going.
Here are a few lunch and snack ideas.
- Hoagie sandwiches – regular bread may get soggy throughout the day. Hoagie bread seems to hold up better
- PB&J on rolls. (Think King’s Hawaiian)
- Trail Mix
- Cheese Crackers
- Power Bars
- Dry Cereal mix
- Oranges (Easy to peel tangerines)
- Individually packaged cheese
- Make your own Lunchable with salami and pepperoni and crackers. (Making your own is less costly than buying the prepackaged stuff.)
A lot of the time we eat snacks throughout the day rather than an actual lunch meal. Also, just think of what your kids like to snack on at home and make that a part of your plan.
Eat Lunch Out instead of Dinner
Alternatively to pacing a lunch, consider making that your big meal of the day and eat lunch out. This can be a great way to save money on food. Many places have lunch menus that are cheaper than their dinner menus, often with the same types of food. The portions may be smaller, but seeing as the portion size is out of control at many places, this is okay. You don’t necessarily want to cart leftovers with you when you’re traveling.
We’ve done this before and then snack on food when we get back to the room in the evening. We’ll eat some of the same things we may have packed for lunch, or grab a bag of popcorn and settle in to rest.
Dine Out Smartly
When you do plan to dine out, do it smartly. These are a few of the ways we save on food when we’re dining out in a new area.
- Choose cafes instead of formal dining
- Ask the locals where their favorite restaurant is
- Shop the food markets or street vendors. This can be a fun cultural way to eat as well.
- Go outside of the tourist area
- Search Pinterest for “how to eat cheap in ___.”
That last time is my favorite. This is how I’ve discovered amazing and cheaper ways to eat in NYC. It’s how we found a dumpling place where we filled up for less than $20. It’s also how we grabbed a whole cheesecake in Little Italy for less than a slice at the popular Times Square restaurant.
Eat the appetizers
When you’re dining out, it’s also easy to make a meal out of the appetizers. Even if it’s not your typical tapas kind of restaurant, imagine if everyone in the family ordered an appetizer and you shared family-style.
I know places where you can get a decent size plate of nachos as an appetizer. It can be another great way to sample more.
Skip the Booze – BYOB
I know this is a popular piece of advice for saving money at restaurants. Skip the drinks. Or set a limit.
If you enjoy a nightly cocktail, bringing, or ordering grocery delivery helps save a ton. Usually, for the cost of one at dinner, you can get a six-pack or a bottle of wine.
Even when we want to drink locally, at a winery or brewery, we do try to pop into a convenience store to get a local six-pack. This way we save money and don’t feel like we’re missing out.
Split Courses or Order Kids’ meals
Similar to just ordering appetizers, consider splitting a meal. As a family of four, even if we order 2 or 3 main courses, it’s usually enough to fill us up.
If you can, and if it’s decent fare, order off the kids’ menu. (I would not recommend this if they only serve chicken nuggets or pizza. Come on restaurants, give kids some credit!) However, when my kids were still young enough to eat off the kid’s menu, my hungry pre-teen would want the full adult meal. He would order the kid’s meal, I’d order the adult, and we’d swap.
Pack a Water Bottle
No matter what you’re doing all day, be sure to stay hydrated. Pack a reusable water bottle and refill it throughout the day. If you can re-fill your water from a sink, or even while you’re dining out, you’ll save a ton on buying plastic water bottles.
Worried about the quality of water? Get a water bottle that not only can be refilled, but it can also be sanitized. I don’t go anywhere without my Crazy Cap bottle. You can read my review here, but in short, it sanitizes water through UV light technology.
Find the Deals
We’ve covered a lot so far. Ready to keep going? You can save money on food when traveling by seeking out deals. Now, generally, this is on the places in the touristy areas, but if you have your heart set on a place, this is the way to do it.
Groupon always has deals on dining out. For example, these are the hottest food and dining deals near you. You can click on Groupon and set your search destination for where you’re traveling too.
My other favorite deal app is the Entertainment Coupon Book. Do you remember those? In the past, you may have bought an Entertainment Book and it was filled with coupons for attractions and dining. Now you can download the app, and change the location as many times as you’d like.
It does cost money to buy the book or app. But the savings are worth it. You can do a yearly membership for $19.99 and change cities as often as you like. Or go monthly for $2.99.
Don’t forget to look for discounts. And don’t hesitate to ask. Many places are offering discounts in order to keep the business going.
Think of the following:
- Teachers – That includes you, mom if you’re a full-time homeschooler (not distance learning through their normal school)
- Front Line Workers
- Health Care
Kids Eat Free
Finally, when trying to save money on food, don’t forget to look for the kids eat free deals.
When you’re doing your planning, search kids eat free and add your location. With teenagers, that doesn’t often include them, but there are some places that do include anyone under 18, so it’s worth looking even if you are past that under 12 age restriction.
Did I miss anything? Comment below to tell me how you save money on food while traveling.