How I Save Money On Food While Traveling

Grand Canyon 2

My family recently went on a week long vacation to the Grand Canyon and that part of Arizona. I shared on Facebook that my family had been gone seven days and only ate out four times. Quite a few of you wanted me to share how we did that.

I finally feel like I have caught up from being gone on vacation and had time to put together what we did and what we ate.

This post contains quite a few pictures and is longer than most of my posts. I think it is the longest post I have written in a long time, but I wanted to get it all in one post.

This post is not meant to be a perfect list that will work for everyone. I know what works for my family may not work for others. We eat things you might not. That is fine. Hopefully you find some of my tips helpful even if you don’t do exactly that same.

I also totally understand that for many people vacations and eating out just go together. You enjoy the treat of not having to cook and to experience the food in the area you are visiting. I get that. I used to be that way. Who wants to cook on vacation?

I know though that for many tight budgets and/or food allergies make eating out a challenge. That is where we are currently at. Several in our family eat gluten free and my daughter as a tree nut, peanut, sesame allergy. Eating out is tough for us, especially with the nut allergies.

Over the last few years I have learned a lot of what works and doesn’t work for us when it comes to food and traveling.

However, most of our vacations either involve seeing family or are just long weekends. This is the first long vacation that we have taken where I did not have a place that I knew I could cook. I was a little worried about how it would go, but it worked out fine. We had a great time and no one got sick or ended up in the ER due to a severe reaction.

I will also add that I know we did not eat the healthiest on vacation. I bought some things that I normally would not buy, but we did eat healthier and cheaper than we would have eaten if we ate out for our meals.

A Few Facts

  • The four places we ate out were Chic-fil-A, Chipotle, and Wendy’s twice.
  • None of the places we stayed at had a full kitchen.
  • All of the places we stayed had a refrigerator, although they did not always work or work as well as they should.
  • We do not have an RV or other travel trailer. We drove a SUV, so I did not have a kitchen with me.
  • A few of the hotels we stayed at did have a free breakfast, but not all of them. The free breakfasts varied from really good to pretty pathetic. The hotels that had a free breakfast were not a good option for my daughter with the tree nut peanut allergy and they did not have great options for those of us that eat gluten free. I did not count those breakfasts as eating out because for the most part, most of us only ate the milk and fruit and the rest of what we ate was our own food. Yes, I will totally carry my own box of cereal or other food into a hotel breakfast area. We do it all the time. Sometimes we get strange looks, but it works.
  • I did not take a crock pot, griddle, or any other small appliance. I know people that do that. I have friends that do. I don’t. I am a little OCD when it comes to hotels. It goes back to my days of cleaning temporary housing and apartments years ago. I know what gets cleaned, or rather doesn’t, in hotel rooms. Washing a griddle in a hotel bathroom sink is something I just can’t do. Well, I can, but I choose not to. I just can’t get over the germs. For those of you that do it, good for you. Sometimes I wish I could. :-)
  • We went to Safeway three times and shopped at the General Store at the Grand Canyon. We could have gone less times, but it was easier to just buy stuff as we needed it instead of having it take up room in the cooler and car.
  • I titled this post how I save money on food while traveling, but for us it is not just about saving money. Saving money on food while traveling is a bonus, keeping our family safe is the motivation and necessity for doing this.
  • Overall my kids have a great attitude about all our food issues, but they are still kids/teens. They did not really complain about the food options because they are used to what we have to deal with. But I will admit that by the last day or two they were a little tired of our food choices. They were ready for something different. Which is why three of the four meals we ate out on vacation were the last three days of the trip.

What We Did

coolers

We have made enough cross country road trips to visit my family that we have the packing for vacation pretty much down. Each person knows how much they can take and we know what will fit in the car.

The two coolers pictured above fit well in our car. We have a system down for where they go and we make them easy to get into. If you travel a lot or are going on a long trip I highly suggest you take time to think about where you pack the food. It needs to be easy to get into.

Trip Snack

I also love using a plastic container for food that does not need kept cold. A plastic file sized box seems to work best for us. I will also use a small box if needed to keep things in one place.

trip snacks

Reusable shopping bags also work okay, but not great for all things. This is a bag I took on our trip and I should have put the chips and a few other things in the plastic box, because they got smashed.

paper products

This is the stash of paper products I took. They went in that shopping bag pictured above. One thing I totally forgot was drinking cups. We took bottled water so I did not really think about it, but we did end up buying a half gallon of milk and some juice, which we needed cups for. I ended up buying some. Which was not a big deal, but something I easily could have packed.

ice containers

I also took a couple inexpensive reusable containers for ice and a package of ziploc bags. When I could I froze water bottles to keep the food in the cooler cold. It works great because it keeps the food cold and as they melt you then have them for cold water to drink.

Most of our hotels did not have a freezer though, so this was not usually an option. But hotels almost always have ice makers that you can use to fill coolers. I do not like the mess that melted ice makes all over the cooler and food though.

My solution to that was to put the ice in a ziploc bag and put the ziploc bag of ice in a plastic container. This way when the ice melts and it is easy to dump out the water and refill it with ice. It also keeps the food from getting wet and soggy.

Now let’s talk about the food.

Pasta Salas

The day before we left my daughter and I made a large pasta salad. We put it in a ziploc bag to make mixing, serving, and clean up easy. I have never taken pasta salad for traveling before, but it worked great and we will definitely do it again.

And the ziploc bag worked great! You could easily mix it all back together when serving. It fit in the cooler well. It was easy to pour onto our bowls and plates without a serving spoon. And when it was gone clean up was a breeze because all we had to do was throw out the bag. So easy!

We ate the pasta salad the first evening for dinner and there was a little leftover for the next day. I wish I had made enough for two full meals because it worked so well. Now, I know pasta salad is not going to hold up for a week or even several days, but for eating the first few days of vacation it is a great meal.

cubed cheese

I also took cheese cubes. I know you can buy cheese cut up like this, but I had a block of cheese already so I just made my own cheese cubes to take. We used it for snacks mainly, but some also added it to their pasta salad.

guacamole

I took some small containers of guacamole. It worked well for not only chips and dip, but also for spreading on wraps. It would have been cheaper to buy larger packages or to make my own, but the small serving sizes worked better I think for traveling.

fruit snacks

I also bought some healthier type fruit snacks. I have never been a huge fan of fruit snacks for my kids, but they do work well for vacation. I did try to get the healthier mainly real fruit ones.

coconut milk

One of my daughters eats mainly dairy free, so I bought some small single serving sized containers of coconut milk for her. She prefers it cold, but it does not have to be kept cold, so it was easy to just keep one or two at a time in the cooler for her to use for breakfast.

cooked bacon

I think all of us agree that the cooked bacon I bought was the best food purchase I made for our trip. It is also one of those items that I never thought I would buy.

We raise hogs. I know what good bacon should taste like. I am picky when it comes to what meat I serve my family. However, we needed quick, easy, filling, protein and the cooked bacon was perfect for traveling. We ate it plan to go with breakfast and we used it on wraps and sandwiches.

When it came to snack type food I took way to much and I know for next time to cut back. I could have easily bought a lot of what I took if we needed it, but at the time I thought I would rather have it and not use it, than need it and not have it.

Mission Gluten Free Tortillas

Here is a list of what we ate. I am probably forgetting one or two things, but it is a pretty complete list.

  • Go Squeeze Applesauce
  • Dried Apples
  • Raisins
  • Tuna Pouches ( We ate these straight from the pouch as part of a meal and also used them on wraps and salads)
  • Little Debbie Muffins
  • Udi’s Gluten Free Muffins
  • Pop Tarts
  • Gluten Free Toaster Pastries
  • Granola Bars
  • Gluten Free Granola Bars
  • Box of Cereal
  • Homemade Granola
  • Fruit Snacks
  • Bread
  • Gluten Free Bread
  • Gluten Free Wraps
  • Cans of Olives ( I did not want to take a can opener so I made sure the two cans I took had a pull tab top. We ate these plain and on salads.)
  • Small Bags of Popcorn
  • Yogurt
  • Coconut Milk
  • Cheese Cubes
  • Lunch Meat
  • Cooked Bacon
  • Guacamole
  • Jerky
  • Bottled Water
  • Milk
  • Sliced Cheese
  • Gluten Free Tortillas
  • Precut Melon and Fruit
  • Bananas
  • Lettuce ( For wraps and salad)
  • Candy
  • Ice Cream Bars
  • Bagels and Cream Cheese
  • Bottled Water
  • Juice
  • Chips
  • Pasta Salad

Our meals were pretty basic. We ate a lot of wraps, sandwiches, and salad for lunches and dinners, but it worked great.

I would love to hear your tips for saving money on food when traveling. What things do you do? What tips and thoughts do you have to add to mine? I am also curious how many of you take small appliances into hotel rooms to save money on food? 

Lynn's Kitchen Adventures

Comments

  1. melissa martinez says:

    Thank you!! we will be going on a cross country trip and would love to save some money!

  2. Wow, I’m impressed! Those are some great tips. I’m not sure if I’ve even seen that bacon before but it wouldn’t have occurred to me to take something like that. The pasta salad is a great idea too!

  3. WiffytoJ says:

    Hi Lynn!
    We just went on a kayaking camping trip in the San Juan Islands. We were gone for 4 full days and ate out twice (once in Friday Harbor and once on the way home at Arby’s.)
    Our situation was different since we were camping but one cool thing is that I froze water in 3 old juice bottles or gallon water containers and they kept our food cold (and gave us ice cold water) until the last day when we had to buy one bag of ice.
    We relied heavily on baking biscuits beforehand, rolls, and cookies and then ate a lot of ramen. We were glad to be home and eat really well but it was really pretty affordable for our family of 7.
    I love your post and hopefully can use a lot of your ideas when we move down south later this summer. :)
    One of these days, I’d love to see the Grand Canyon for myself…
    take care,
    Chris

  4. Thanks for all the great ideas. I printed out your list, modified it & added some ideas of my own. Now, I’ll be prepared with some great food ideas when we go on a trip!

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