We’ve been on the road for a couple of weeks and thousands of miles so we’ve eaten out quite a bit, which can add up to a lot of money. I wanted to share some tips for saving cash on meals while traveling:
- When leaving home bring a lunch/dinner for your first meal on the road; something that can be eaten quickly to save time. Or bring a picnic to eat at a roadside rest stop.
- Bring drinks and snacks (chips, crackers, nuts, fruit, and veggies) for the car and to supplement meals.
- Bring a cooler to keep beverages and other perishables cool. A smaller cooler is better since you’ll need to carry it into and out of the hotel rooms.
- Stay at a hotel that offers refrigerators and complimentary breakfasts. The refrigerator helps with drinks and snacks and if you’re lucky it will include a freezer. Pop a couple of filled water bottles in the freezer to use for extra cooling. Once they melt they’ll offer cool drinking water. Eating a big breakfast means you can cut back on lunch. A room with a microwave will come in handy for making popcorn or heating up leftovers.
- Plan on eating one big sit-down meal a day. If we eat a big lunch then we usually eat a smaller dinner, or vice versa. For the other meal order light or fast food.
- Don’t order a full restaurant meal for everyone. My kids, even though they’re teenagers, rarely finish their entire meal. My husband or I might order an appetizer or salad and then fill ourselves up with the kids’ leftovers. Consider sharing an entrée with someone. Order a couple of sides instead of an entrée if you’re not real hungry.
- Order water instead of drinks. For a party of 4 this could save you $10+.
- I usually bring some wine coolers along on the road and have one before going out (I’m not the one driving). Alcoholic drinks can really add up.
- Get takeout and save yourself the 15%+ tip.
- Order from the value or $1 menus at fast food restaurants. You can save significantly by ordering multiple value-priced items vs. the bigger combos. For these meals skip the drinks (unless it’s water which most restaurants will supply for free) since you brought your own.
- At sit-down restaurants go for happy hour, when they offer special deals. Sonic Drive-ins are currently offering happy hours from 2-4pm when their drinks are half-priced. We ate at Oskar Blues, a brew pub that offered super cheap deals on appetizers from 3-6pm. We made an entire meal of $3 popcorn shrimp, $1.50 fish tacos, $3 pulled pork sliders (that were almost full sized) and chips and salsa. At Sanford’s Grub & Pub in Rapid City they were featuring $1 domestic drafts since we were there after 9pm. My beer was cheaper than the kids’ soft drinks.
- Travel with coupons from national chains. While our family likes to try new places we don’t have in our own city (Steak ‘n Shake, Hardee’s, Old Chicago), sometimes it’s convenient to visit Chili’s, Ruby Tuesday or TGI Friday’s. Register on restaurants’ websites for coupons. I printed many off before we left home. Many restaurants now offer online coupons that can be displayed on your smartphone.
- Eat breakfast for dinner. (I just had a McDonald’s Fruit & Maple Oatmeal for my dinner.) Many restaurants that serve breakfast only do so during normal morning hours. Some chains serve breakfast items all day and they can be cheaper and more filling than a dinner plate.
- If you have an Entertainment Book be sure to check it for coupons that are good nationally.
- If you’re on the mature side, inquire about any special discounts or deals for seniors.
- Check with your hotel front desk to see if they have any special deals with restaurants in the local area.
- Depending upon when you go you might be able to purchase an Entertainment Book for the area you’re visiting. In the spring and summer these books are deeply discounted and you might even find one for sale on Ebay. You will need to do this well in advance of your trip if you want to be sure you will have it in time for your departure. If you purchase and use it earlier in the year you might be able to resell it on Ebay to recoup some of your cost.
- If you’re going to be staying in one location for a while consider registering for daily deal sites like Groupon or Saveology for coupons that you can use when visiting that locale.
Great idea from Christine:
We try to take our breakfasts with us. Saves time & money. We pack a kettle & fixings to make coffee, buying milk every couple of days.
We have a few great recipes for cake/bread type breakfasts that will keep well, taste great and are nutritious. Think egg bread with nuts/raisins etc. in it. Our favourite is a German cake called Kugelhopf, an enriched yeast bread with nuts & raisins & peel – one cake is enough for 2 people for an entire week!