Sunday, May 9, 2010

Resourceful Traveling - Food

Another financial challenge while traveling is the cost of food. No matter where or how you travel, food is a necessity!

We try to employ three basic rules of thumb regarding food when we travel:
• Take as much food as we can
• Buy groceries instead of eating out
• Find places to eat out that give us the most 'bang for our buck'

Our least expensive trips in regards to food are trips to visit family in their homes, particularly our parents. Both sets of parents generally plan on feeding us and have already purchased groceries by the time we arrive. We try to help out by bringing foods we know our kids will require (like baby formula, jar food, kid snacks, etc.) because we don't want our families to buy special, specific to us food. We also don't want to have to pay full price for this kid food when we already have it at home in our stockpile and we got a great sale price on it. If we are driving to visit family we will bring along a cooler with things from our fridge to contribute the week’s groceries, too.

Our favorite way to vacation is in a timeshare condo unit where we have a full kitchen. We can significantly reduce our food expense when we have a kitchen to prepare meals for eating in instead of having to pay for a restaurant. We plan ahead, packing as many non-perishable groceries as we can in our suitcases, and buy other meal ingredients at a grocery store when we arrive. My family travels this way all the time and we take it step further and bring our own meat & cheese along in soft-sided coolers. If the meat is frozen solid it usually is still frozen when we reach our destination, even if it’s a six hour flight with airport time on either end.

In January DH and I took our daughters to Disneyland. We stayed in a timeshare with a full kitchen and brought almost all our food. I packed and checked a duffel bag with diapers, crackers, pasta, spices, box dinners, baby food, cereal, peanut butter, jelly in a plastic squeeze bottle, salad dressing etc. I also used lunch-sized soft-sided cooler to bring along 3# of ground beef, a brick of cheese, 1# butter, 1# bacon and a package of hot dogs. We purchased yogurt, bread, produce, and milk when we arrived. We had some friends join us and they brought groceries, too. All told that week DH and I only spent $22 on groceries. Our duffel bag was empty on the way home so we didn’t have to check it and the lunch-sized cooler we used every day for our lunches in Disneyland – which mostly consisted of sandwiches, crackers, & fruit.

The most expensive trips related to food are when we have to stay in a hotel. The first thing we look for in a hotel is obviously price, but a quick second is a complimentary continental breakfast. One meal included in the price of the hotel room is a great way to save on food cost. We also look for a fridge or fridge/microwave unit. This allows us to buy a few groceries including microwave dinners which are much cheaper than eating dinner out! We also find out where the nearest fast food restaurants are and which have $1 menus. If we have to eat in a traditional, dining restaurant we try to share a meal or take home half of our meal to reheat in the microwave. Many times we can find a good restaurant deal or coupons at the hotel or by contacting the Chamber of Commerce ahead of our trip.


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