Financially prepping for summer vacation includes budgeting for hotels, flights, gas, and activities. Of course, it also includes an allowance for fun spending on souvenirs and memorabilia.
What you might be forgetting is a vital, undetermined expense of your vacation: food.
Food expenses are one of the most over-looked and under-budgeted aspects of vacation planning. It’s easy to take meals for granted, because at home, you’ve already budgeted for groceries and the occasional take out.
But when you’re away from home, you’re dependent on prepared foods at grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, and hotels. You might have already accounted for eating out at a few special places during your trip, but what about the rest of your meals? You’ll be spending more than you would at home, so it’s an important expense to prepare for — instead of just “winging it.”
Take the time to calculate your food budget.
Just checking the prices of restaurants and food venues around the place you’ll be vacationing will give you a better idea of your potential spending. Do a rough calculation, estimating high to account for differences or last-minute changes in plans. Budget for this amount, and if you come under it, you’ll have more spending money for other things.
Though awareness is half the battle, there are also many ways to reduce your vacation budget for food.
How to Budget for Food on Vacation
When You Want to Avoid Eating Out
- Take advantage of free or included food: If you’re paying for a service already, it only makes sense to take advantage of every aspect of it. Try to stay at hotels that serve continental breakfast, then eat your fill before you leave every morning. Hotel restaurants and room service are notoriously overpriced, so ignore the convenience and opt for cheaper choices. If your flight includes a meal, eat it. It may not be your favorite food — but it’s a meal and you’ve already paid for it!
- Take food with you: This one is obvious, but not always practical. Whenever possible, pack snacks, drinks, and protein bars so you can avoid paying for overpriced venue or amusement park food. Enjoying a picnic lunch can become another part of your adventure. If your hotel has a fridge, shop at a grocery store and use it to provide at least one easy meal a day. Having a fridge also means that dinner leftovers can become tomorrow’s lunch.
My husband and I took advantage of both of these tips on our last vacation, and we ended up only eating out for one meal each day. It was a tremendous savings for us — not to mention that we felt extremely smart and frugal.
When You Eat Out
- Look for coupons and deals online: For those times when you can’t (or just don’t want to) avoid eating out, look up sites and apps that offer coupons and deals for restaurants in the area you’ll be visiting. A few good ones are Restaurants.com, Living Social, and Groupon.
- Share meals and opt for cheaper menu items: Portion sizes at restaurants are usually excessive, so consider sharing a meal with your travel partner. You can also eat a dinner of just appetizers or soup and salad. Drink tap water instead of expensive fountain drinks, coffee, or alcohol.
- Bring your gift cards from home: Vacation is a great time to use up the Christmas and birthday gift cards you probably won’t use otherwise.
Do you try to save money on meals while vacationing? Or do you prefer to splurge on restaurants?