This summer, our family has been on three long trips. The first trip was a family vacation to Southwest Colorado to explore parts we hadn't seen yet. The other two trips involved catching up with our family and friends at our respective hometowns. We knew this was going to cost a lot of bucks, between gas, hotels, and food. So we did what we could to reduce our food cost by eating from groceries instead of at restaurants. Here is what I learned:
1) Most Hampton Inns don't provide a microwave or fridge in the room. Only a few provided a fridge. The few microwaveable meals we brought along didn't get used.
- I had hoped we could check in to our hotel at each place, scope out what amenities the room had, then hit the local grocery, coupons in hand, to let everyone pick their food for their dinner. This only worked the first night on the first trip.
2) Having picnics at town parks with playgrounds or at rest areas can be fun, as well as save a lot of money.
- This is the plan we executed most often, always at lunch. I think there's something mentally acceptable to us all about having picnic-type food for the noon meal.
- There are several things I am glad we brought along for these picnics: a picnic table cloth, clips to keep it attached to the table, disposable plates, zoopals and re-usable picnic utensils, napkins, ziploc bags, water bottles, bottle of dish soap, dish pan, scotch brite sponge, kitchen scissors, rubbermaid and ziploc containers, chip clips, wet wipes, and of course a cooler, armed with gallon-size ziploc bags to hold ice. Most of this fit in a couple of cloth shopping bags which rode in the back of our van.
- Some of the food we bought or brought along and used included: water-flavor packets (like Crystal Light), fresh fruit, yogurt, flavored rice snacks, chips, peanut butter, jelly in a squeeze container, mayo in a squeeze container, mustard, bread, deli meat and cheese, ranch dressing, carrots, green pepper strips, crackers, cream cheese, granola bars, bottled teas and juices.
- There are a few things I brought but didn't use: small Tupperware microsteamer, spatula, can opener, small cutting board and a sharp knife.
3) Clipping coupons and taking them along saved us some bucks. Before we left, I clipped coupons for everything I thought we might possibly buy, including paper plates, dishsoap, napkins, chips, etc. I had also stocked up on some of the above food we brought along using coupons at our local grocery when they were on sale.
4) At some point, you just get tired of eating picnic food and saving money. One day we just gave up and hit a fast food restaurant, but the next day we were back to feeling able to eat from our stores.
5) The less junk food we pack, the less we eat, which makes us feel better as we travel. I tried to pack lots of tasty fruit and veggies and healthy options, and avoided buying packages of cookies. The fact that I had crystal light flavors we all like kept us from purchasing or drinking as much pop or other sugary convenience store foods. There were a couple of times I really craved ice cream though. :)
6) Downtown hotels don't tend to have free continental breakfast, but they do have a mini coffee pot, which means we can have hot tea and oatmeal made from the hot water. We bought some tea, splenda, and instant oatmeal packets, and voila! (Our downtown hotel was charging $10/day for wireless internet as well. We enjoyed a sabbatical from internet access those days.) Thankfully most of our hotel stays were ones that included continental breakfasts. We really like Hampton Inn's with hot options, including Belgian waffles!
7) Some other ideas I discovered in internet searches that I want to try next time are:
- Take a can opener, a can of tuna, and mix together with mayo, mustard and relish for a refreshing tuna salad sandwich.
- Pita bread or tortillas filled with hummus and veggies, or meat and cheese.
- Potato salad or pasta salad purchased from local grocery as a side dish.
- Eating an entire meal at the grocery store deli or kitchen. We did this when I was a kid on some vacations. It's like a buffet, and can be less expensive than a sit-down restaurant, and has more healthy options than a fast-food restaurant.
- Buy a fully cooked rotisserie chicken and a loaf of french bread for dinner.
8) With daily availability of a microwave, we could have had so much more. These ideas are great for extended-stay rooms or suites, or military families like me who will, in the near future, find themselves in the middle of a PCS move and who are getting tired of eating out:
- Steamfresh veggies from the freezer section
- Easy Mac (We did this one evening, but the hotel water we used made the pasta taste weird. I should have used bottled water.)
- Pre-made BBQ pulled pork on buns.
- Pre-made taco meat on tortillas with cheese, tomatoes, lettuce. (Kinda messy, but really good!)
- Tortillas, can of black beans, cheese = bean and cheese burritos!
- Microwaved baked potatoes.
- Canned soups (need to take along containers for heating)
So, overall, we did pretty well saving money on vacation food where we could stand to do so. Maybe you've got some ideas for your next trip that can keep some of your cash where it belongs - in your bank account!