How To Save Money on Food While Traveling

airport

Whenever I visit the airport or hunker down for a road trip I tend to give myself a little more leeway when it comes to buying food out. Actually, a lot more leeway. That means a burger there, a slice of pizza here. Waffles and coffee galore. But a few things have cooled down my enthusiasm for “treating myself” with meals out when I travel, mainly overpriced meals and a general lack of healthy, satisfying options.

Eating out for every meal while you travel can take out a huge chunk from your budget. And there’s no denying that it’s tough to find affordable meals when you’re on the road or hanging out in the airport pre-flight! But with a little planning it is possible to stay on a food budget during your travels this holiday season (or any season).

Here are a few tips to get you started:

Check out local grocery stores

I’ve often equated travel with eating out. It’s strange considering I would never eat out three meals a day when I’m in my home town. But I realized that the more I spend on food, the less I spend on experience, or even future travel. So I started doing what I do at home to save money – I bought food at the grocery store.

The good news is, there are grocery stores everywhereThat includes grocery shopping in (or on your way to) your destination. If you want to save on food, go about it as you would at home. If you’re unfamiliar with an area just ask around! Depending on your lodgings, you can also request a refrigerator in your hotel room to keep anything that you’ve purchased that might go bad. If you’re traveling on the road and have space to add a cooler, you can keep perishables fresh there.

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Scout out lodging with a kitchen

Buying your own food is great. Cooking your own food is even better. Air BnB as well as other apartment renting services can set you up with all the amenities of home and are usually less expensive than even the cheapest hotel. The added bonus of staying somewhere with easy access to a kitchen is your ability to make meals where you lodge. That can save you hundreds on a trip. Purchase the you’ll need for your stay – but don’t overbuy. You won’t need to stock up on a rainbow of spices if you’re only lodging for a night.

Take advantage of perks where you can

I once met a couple who spent $200 on a night for a bed and breakfast but skipped out on the breakfast every morning! You better believe that if breakfast is offered I’m going to take advantage of the opportunity. If you’re worried you won’t like what they have to offer, call ahead and see what you can work out. It’s not just B&b’s either, many hotels offer free breakfast or snacks. Some restaurants allow kids under a certain age to eat for free.

Online tools like Yelp Deals, Groupon and TravelZoo can also clue you into meal deals and discounts. They’re particularly convenient because you can change your city easily, letting you scope out a destinations deals even before you get there. There are tons of special deals and these freebies and discounts can help cut costs.

Pack your own meals

The number one way to save money as you travel is to pack your own snacks and meals. While feasible for most people on a short journey, it can be daunting for anyone facing a long trip. What you’re looking for when you pack your travel-friendly meals is something that’s easy to carry, doesn’t require too much fussiness to eat and can stand in for a satisfying sit-down meal. That rules out some options (have you ever tried to pack a DIY sushi kit?) but gives solid guidelines for other more travel friendly meals. Depending on the length of your trip, you’ll want to take care as to how long ingredients will keep.

A few examples of easy to make and easy to pack meals:

Breakfast

  • Instant Oatmeal with banana
  • Granola/Yogurt parfait
  • Protein bar
  • Bagel, cream cheese, tomato

Lunch/Dinner

  • Whole grain salad
  • Pesto pasta salad with cherry tomatoes
  • Pre-made pizza from home
  • Good ol’ peanut butter and jelly sandwich

Snacks

  • Nuts/ trail Mix
  • Fruit
  • Whole grain muffin
  • Cheese and crackers

If you are going to eat on the go, make a meal of it

Even though it’s a great money saver, it’s not always realistic to pack a full set of snacks and meals for a trip. If you do decide to spend money on food as you travel try to make it a full, satisfying meal. I can’t tell you how many 10 dollar Pringles and peanut M&Ms meals I’ve concocted in my travels. Lets just say enough to remember with a shudder.

If you’re going to buy food, don’t hack together a something made up of individual snack items. A bag of chips, and a coffee, with a scoop of yogurt and a piece of fruit can end up costing more than a heartier and more satisfying meal. While it might seem cheaper when you look at the lower prices of each individual item, it also adds up quickly. Ideally, you’re looking for best value (nutritional and price) which isn’t generally found in the snack section alone.

Bring a reusable water bottle

I know that water isn’t actually in the food category, but it’s definitely something that can cost (or save) you money. Continually buying water bottles at airports or rest stops will cost you big bucks over a trip. A bottle of small water at San Francisco Airport costs a whopping a 3.75! Multiply that by a few and you’re looking at big (and unnecessary) spending.

I never leave for a destination without a trusty, reusable water bottle. It doesn’t need to be fancy, it just needs to be leak free. I fill it up whenever I see an available drinking fountain which means I don’t have to add purchased water to my expense list. Another tip: convenience stores on the road will usually have plain, filtered water funnels out of their soda machine. Most are happy to let you fill up there – just be sure to ask first!

So go ahead, be the envy of your seatmate as they play with their mysterious meat option as you chow down on your pre-packed meal. Saving money while you’re at it is just one of the perks!

How about you – do you have any money saving method while you travel?

Image Credit Thomas Hawk

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  • Kali @ Common Sense Millennial

    These are great tips! Hopefully I’ll be able to implement some of these on my trip overseas next spring – thank you for sharing!

    • Claire Murdough

      Thanks Kali!! Exciting to hear that you’ve got travel plans next spring :)

  • http://twitter.com/jdrch jdrch

    In addition to the above, I suggest:
    1) Always buy at least 2 meals at once. That way you don’t have to worry about where the next meal is coming from later.
    2) Look for cheap meals that have the major food groups (carbs, protein, veggies). Usual winners are: subs, pitas, burritos, and burgers (not as healthy as the preceding 3).

    • Claire Murdough

      Great suggestions! Ordering two meals and stocking up when you find a good deal is such a smart tip. Thanks for the comment!