Hot off the Press Traveler's Toolbox
Airfare, accommodations, car rentals and activities are key parts of a travel budget, but one critical cost is often forgotten — food. The cost of meals and snacks can add up quickly whether you’re at a resort, hotel, home stay or vacation rental, and those costs can blow your thought-out travel budget in a matter of days.
But keeping your food costs low and still testing out some tasty local restaurants is always a possibility. These six fool-proof ways to save will help keep your budget on track, so you can enjoy the stress-free getaway you imagined.
The best way to save money on food when traveling is to cut out pricey hotel meals. Hotels often offer overpriced fare that’s not necessarily the tastiest or the most authentic, and three meals a day at your hotel can break a budget in no time. Start your vacation by heading to the grocery store for breakfast and lunch essentials as well as snacks. Even if you don’t have a full kitchen in your hotel room, you can stock up on muffins, cereal, milk, sandwich makings and a number of other items that will keep you from ordering room service in a pinch.
It may not seem like much, but free breakfast can save a family of four well over $40 per day. Paying a few extra dollars for a hotel that includes a meal or two (or even all three) can help you save big in the long run. Keep in mind that staying at a hotel that includes meals doesn’t mean you have to eat every meal on site, and you’ll have more money to spend on authentic dinners out when you want them.
Joe’s Crab Shack and Planet Hollywood can be fun for kids, but keep your visits to touristy restaurants to a minimum to avoid eating over-priced, average meals. Small, locally-owned restaurants or food stands tend to have the lowest prices without hefty service charges, taxes and “westernized” prices.
Not all street food is safe to eat, but as long as you’re seeing your meal cooked fresh, it’s most likely one of the tastiest places to eat in town. Tamales on the street in Mexico, meat on a stick in Thailand and siomay in Indonesia are prime examples of tasty foods available fresh off of a food cart for a fraction of the price of eating at a restaurant. Even better, you can stop by a number of street food vendors to please every member of your family.
Having an overall food budget can become stressful as you count days and chip away at what’s left, and resorts have a way of sucking you into their pina colada and room service lifestyle. But charging items to the room can get out of hand in a hurry. Give everyone in your group a daily budget and factor those budgets into your overall expenses. Don’t forget to remind kids that their budget can carry over into the next day, so they learn to use their allotment wisely.
Avoiding expensive alcoholic drinks entirely will save you big bucks, but if you’re someone who likes to have a few drinks on vacation, it’s best to do it wisely. Most resorts, hotels and restaurants offer happy hours throughout the day to lure in customers with budget-friendly specials. Enjoy your drinks at happy hour, and don’t forget that you can purchase your own alcohol at the grocery store and mix a drink in your hotel room for a fraction of the price.