When I looked at the damage from my last vacation, I was surprised to see that our meals cost more than our airfare. Yikes! So before our next adventure, I’m bringing back some tried and true ways to save money while eating out.
Cook for yourself
While not much of a break for the chief cook and bottle washer of the household, its undeniable that cooking en-suite saves you money on vacation. Stay at a hotel that offers a kitchenette or at the very least a mini-fridge. We always try to eat breakfast in our room when we can. We stop by a grocery store and pick up fruit, cereal, milk and some disposable cups, plates and cutlery to use during our stay. If you stay in a condo, all those extras are usually provided, but a regular hotel room won’t have bowls and spoons for your morning Cheerios.
Eat 2 meals out, not 3.
My family is usually ruled by its stomachs, and they all need 3 square meals a day or they get owly. My husband is now infamous for the time he claimed he was cranky because “My wife forgot to feed me lunch”. However, it’s hard to fit in time for three meals on holiday when you are getting up hours later than normal and too busy having fun the rest of the time! So don’t bother! Have a large breakfast/lunch, and embrace “Lupper” (late lunch, early supper). And in between we snack!
Buy healthy snacks
Fruit, crackers, trail mix, bottles of water, etc. are all easy to come by at local grocery stores, they keep well and are easy to bring along when you are at theme parks, hikes, or tours. It helps you fight off the hangrys and fills the gap between brunch and lupper.
Get a few unhealthy snacks too.
What the heck, you’re on vacation, so throw in the occasional bag of chips and candy too!
Embrace the kids menu.
While frequently devoid of a great deal of choice, a full meal can be had for a price less than an adult entrée.
Eat a la famille.
With most restaurants offering gigantic portions, it’s easy to order a few entrees or sides, and ask the waiter to bring extra side plates so everyone can share. Its a great way sample a little of everything and leave full! No leftovers to feel guilty about leaving behind either!
Don’t let small kids order their own meal.
My kids always order too much. Discuss what they want beforehand, and determine if the amount of food will be too much/not enough or worse, not likely to be eaten.
Seek out cafes
Smaller independent coffee shops and cafes often have great, filling breakfasts/lunches at very reasonable prices, and you can people watch as the locals go about their day!
Book a hotel that includes breakfast
That’s one meal a day you won’t have to reach into your pocket for!
Embrace Happy Hour!
Many restaurants offer “happy hour” prices for food. We once went to a restaurant where pizzas were $18-24 but if you ordered between 3:30 – 5:30 pm all pizzas were $9.00. Most kids eat early, so it works out well!
Check out email deals
Sign up for Groupon (etc.) deals in the city/place you are planning to visit. Often there will be restaurants in the area running deals you can pre-purchase
Avoid eating at the theme parks
Doesn’t matter which theme park, the food will be overpriced.
But if you do, take advantage of Meal Plans
Some major attractions in the US offer meal plans. You aren’t allowed to bring food into the park and purchasing food in the park can be quite expensive. Some, i.e. Seaworld offers a great program which is all you can eat at select restaurants. Anytime your kids need a drink or snack you don’t need to shell out more money, show the wristband.