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How to Save Money on Meals While on Vacation

Guest post by Jenifer from Fit 4 Miracles

We recently made the long trek from Indiana to Estes Park, Colorado, with our five children. Packing us all up and not forgetting anything was like an extreme sport, but the thought of all the fast food and snacks that might hinder our tight budget was even more challenging.

I knew that we would not be able to be perfect (it is a vacation after all), but I wanted to do the best that I could to save money and to feed my family well. So I entered the Don’t-Go-Crazy-on-Vacation challenge armed with a notebook, a pen, grocery store fliers, and my computer.

Non-Perishable Foods

I started planning about three weeks ahead of our scheduled departure and watched the sales over those few weeks. I knew that we would have a kitchen in our cabin in Colorado, so I planned out our meals for each night and gradually filled two copy paper boxes with the dried goods we needed. I also stocked what I could for breakfast, lunch, and snacks.

Fresh/Perishable Foods

Then I made a list of all the fresh or refrigerated items that we would need. I wanted to avoid any higher costs of shopping in the tourist areas so I researched the grocery stores in the surrounding towns. I decided on a Walmart (a gift card we had helped) and bought all of our fresh and refrigerated items there before heading into Estes Park.

Meals on the Road

With the cabin meals tackled, I still had to consider the meals on the road. To help avoid fast food costs we packed a picnic lunch for our first lunch. It ended up pouring rain, but a picnic in the car makes memories, right? We visited family for the first night, and they graciously fed us homemade meals there.

Our 2nd son had his 10th birthday while we were on the road, so before we left I had him pick out where he wanted to eat. He picked his favorite restaurant, Fazoli’s, so I looked it up on-line and found one on our route. I also checked out the menu and specials while I was there to help me estimate costs before we got there.

That left us with just a few fast food meals, which worked out fine, and we had mostly happy campers.

A Few More Tips:

  • Find a place with your own kitchen (Assign clean-up help!).
  • Plan meals ahead of time.
  • Stock/pack food in the weeks before you leave.
  • Watch sales and use that for your vacation stockpile.
  • Research restaurant menus and nutrition before you go.
  • Avoid tourist area grocery stores if prices are higher.
  • Pack picnic lunches for the road.
  • Have fun and don’t forget to treat yourself, too. It’s vacation!

What are your best tips for saving money on meals while on vacation?

Jen blogs at Fit 4 Miracles. She was a teacher in her “previous life,” but is now a stay-at-home mom of five children, ages 2-13. She lives in West Lafayette, IN, where her husband runs a small business. They have always had to be as frugal as possible, but believe they are rich in faith, love, and family.

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80 Comments

  • Donna S. says:

    When traveling by vehicle. We take a plug in cooler. They require no ice. It keeps things like cheese etc. from getting wet from melted ice. We also take a regular cooler. I freeze water to make ice blocks in my flat Tupperware containers to make blocks all around thee cooler. Food will stay nice and cold and the ice holds up a lot longer.If you cover the top of the cooler with a heavy bath towel or blanket it will be even better insulated. I also cook up 20 lbs of bacon ahead of time for sandwiches or to microwave in the motel rooms. I also cook lasagna and freeze it then unthaw and heat. We try to take about 80% of our food for our trips. Much cheaper and you know what you are getting.

  • Laura says:

    A small portable grill makes great grilled hot dogs in parking lots or picnic areas.

  • Kathy Tedrow says:

    We have a larger family (8 children), so hotel rooms get expensive quickly. We have found that it is more cost effective for us all around to rent a travel trailer. We can load up all our belongings and food supplies at the house and we always have “home” right behind us! We paid for a KOA membership to save on our trailer space rentals. Most KOA’s have nice showers and laundry facilities, so we save on space needed by washing clothes every two or three days! Travel trailers can be expensive, and there is a learning curve, but we’ve found some great deals on rentals and have thoroughly enjoyed our last two vacations. We also purchased two large coolers that are rated to keep ice from melting for three days (I think). One we use for extended storage (like a freezer), the other stays in our van and we reload with lunch meat, cheese and water bottles each day. Add in cookies and bread, and we were set! We ate out 2-3 times on our trips, but had a hot supper every night in the camper.😊

  • Jane says:

    We always try to stay in a hotel that provides breakfast or has a kitchen. Breakfast and lunch with kids is always easier and cheaper if you can make your own and then it is a treat to eat dinner out. Sometimes we will do lunch out instead to get the lunch specials.

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