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Saving Money on Food While Traveling?

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I don't like to do back-to-back "Ask the Readers", but today I'm going to break the (unwritten) rules.

Our family is going on road-trip vacation soon. We are hopping from hotel to hotel bringing the kids to Sesame Place, Hershey Park, Crayola World, and the Philadephia children's museum.

We are looking to be frugal on this vacation. The idea is to avoid spending a hundred dollars a day on food at restaurants. I'm sure we are going to spend some money on them, but we don't need to eat all three meals at them.

So the question is, "What can we buy in advance and bring with us to make meals?"

I'm going with the assumption that either a refrigerator or microwave would be a nice surprise at the hotels. We tried to research it, but got conflicting information from the pictures on the web and the TripAdvisor reviews. So we'll bring some canned food (it can't hurt), but we can't rely on being able to heat it up. Also, I'm years removed from my college days of microwaving canned green beans as a snack.

Let's also assume that for a week we aren't too concerned about eating healthy. Bringing fruit is a no-brainer, but beyond that everything is in play... even Chef Boyardee. The only thing I'm taking off the table is peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I'm just not a fan.

So far I've been focusing on drinks. It's low-lying fruit. We don't need to pay $2 for a soda when we can bring them. I hit our local warehouse store (BJ's) and found Horizon Milk and Honest Kids juice boxes. It's perfect for the kids as neither require refrigeration.

I also set aside some nutrition bars and peanuts. They are good snacks, but it is hard to build a meal around them.

So what do you think? Any suggestions?

P.S. Road Trip was a greatly underrated movie. I miss those kind of American Pie genre movies.

Posted on August 20, 2015.

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7 Responses to “Saving Money on Food While Traveling?”

  1. Caroline says:

    I’m on a road trip presently! And being vegetarian makes this doubly tricky for our family.

    I make tofu salad or chickpea salad (like chicken salad, but different protein, obviously) and pack that in an insulated bag with an ice pack. Bring some good bread. Then we make healthy sandwiches while on the road. And it doesn’t have to be dressed because all of the pickle, mayo, etc. Is combined already.

    I’d love to see other suggestions for after reaching our destination though. Like you said, the snacks and drinks are the easy part to bring along!

  2. Kathy says:

    This is going to cause frugalistas to go crazy but we don’t worry about saving on food when we travel. The whole point is to leave behind the every day routine. We do set a budget but it is generous and on our trip this summer, we came in under budget without scrimping.

  3. Michele Azuddin says:

    This is really up my alley. We roadtrip all the time as I am so broke I cant pay attention. I recently did a similar trip, we went to the Mutter in Philly then a couple of days in DC. You cant always count on a microwave in the room. If you are driving and can find a little hot pot to boil water from goodwill it might be worth it.

    do you have a Sams or Costco membership? You might not even need one for the food court so you could ask and they might let you in. You can get a hot dog and drink for under $2, Pizza and a drink for 2.50 and then there is the “lunch Boo-fay” They have samples all over the store and enough of them can fill you up. Might be a little bit of a pain with kids but the Hot dog combo cant be beat.

    I always carry a cooler. Dont forget a box of cutlery and plates, bowls and napkins. We buy sodas at save-a-lot for dirt cheap. fill up your ice at your hotel before you check out. We also get a big pack of bottled water for cheap at sam’s.

    We do carry PB&J, Bread, microwave oatmeal, boxed cereal, shelf stable foods, small quantities of lunch meat. My dad loved potted meats and would eat those, I find them salty. Aldi has a lot of lunch stuff for cheap. Applesauce in single serve packs, shelf stable jello. Spaghettios. if you can boil water in a microwave you can make ramen noodles and dress them up with a can of veggies. Possibilites are endless.

  4. JP says:

    Hi! I am from the area. It’s a great trip you have planned. Just one suggestion (as I am not the best lunch-packer to begin with): canned tuna companies make single serve canned tuna salad. So a loaf a bread and a few of those could be an easy meal. There are a lot of great restaurants out here so don’t pack too many meals!

  5. Zee Hamdani says:

    Agreed. When traveling ,the most we do end up spending on is food, especially if we have kids with us.
    I remember as a child when we used to go on road trips our father used to stuff the car trunk with juices, chips and cookies so that if we ever felt hungry other than meal time we could just binge on those.
    Other than that we have car kettles and car mini ovens as well.
    Car kettles work great especially if you are a caffeine addict and require it through out your journey.

  6. Bobk says:

    Recently (a couple of weeks ago) got back from a week long road trip planned to explore New Mexico from Carlsbad Caverns (SE corner) to Farmington (NW corner).

    Re: lodging amenities, we really like La Quinta Inns. First, they are dog-friendly (a must-have – no extra charge for our Lhasa) and secondly, most have mini-fridges and microwaves for minimal or no extra charge.

    First, like Michelle, we take a cooler, packing food for the first day or so and restocking as opportunities present. Water bottles are frozen every night (in the La Quinta mini-fridge) and put in the cooler for the next day.

    Next, I heartily endorse her suggestion re: Sam’s Club and Costco food court meals. Definitely frugal. Maybe nothing special, but we’re talking $2 – $3 per person.

    Then, be sure to take the GPS along. These days most grocery chains have some sort of deli department and often inside “restaurants”. Check to see if they have a section where they set out yesterday’s cold fried chicken, packaged side dishes, or other items – in our region, a lot of Hy Vee’s even have in house Chinese “restaurants” and whatever isn’t sold by COB goes out on the shelf the next day for marked down prices.

    Finally, have a meal out every so often. Preferably not at a chain. We found a really nice grill in ABQ – shout out to Nexus Brewery, we’ll be back – and the prices were very close to chain sit-down restaurants like Appleby’s.

    Most importantly, economize as much as is reasonable, but don’t let it negatively impact HAVING FUN!


  7. Cathy Brown says:

    Travelling means lots of expenses for me but since I am a frugal person and foody too so I got a good tips that how to save my money. I usually browse [Editor’s note: for coupon codes] and get able to save for my food love.

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