Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Money Talk: Eating While Traveling

Last week I talked about how we keep our grocery budget in check which is all well and good when we are home but when we're traveling, that's a whole other story.  This was even a requested post, just took me a long time to put enough thoughts together to make it (hopefully) worth while.

We have been on 16 vacations and have done a wide variety of food prep/packing on them.  From absolutely nothing for our cruises (ummm...all you can eat food at all times...) to camping where we had to take pretty much everything with us.  We've packed food for cars, planes, and trains (and boats if we count the Staten Island Ferry).  Besides the cruises, I don't know if there is a trip we haven't packed at least some food, even if it was just snacks.  Of course, like I said above, the amount we pack can vary greatly depending on how we travel and what sort of place we are staying.  It's hard to come up with a set "this is how we do it" when it can change so much and no two trips are the same.

The biggest thing we do:
Book a place with a kitchen OR at least a fridge!  Of course, you could end up paying more for a condo with a kitchen than just a hotel room and that extra cost might be more than you'd spend on food anyways.  BUT we also like the convenience of making some of our own food and it's usually healthier too.  Even just having a mini fridge in a hotel room can make a difference, especially without free continental breakfast.  And I love me some continental breakfast (if we are staying in a hotel we try to book one with that as much as possible). 

No Kitchen
Trips: Las Vegas | New Orleans | Washington DC | Portland & Seattle  | Europe | New York (April 2013) | New York (May 2016)

These are the trips where we have no kitchen available in our hotel/condo/etc. Most of these have been flights which makes packing food harder.  And most of these were "packing snacks" only kind of trips.  We did plan better for our most recent New York trip though and here's how:

Pack non-perishable breakfast foods
We rarely eat breakfast out when traveling, trying to keep it cheaper and easier wherever we are staying.  For the most recent New York trip, we packed almost all our breakfasts.  I made homemade pastries that could survive 4-5 days without refrigeration.  We also brought individual sized juice bottles (which we could recycle right outside the hotel, thanks, New York!) and applesauce squeezies.  Both of which are shelf stable.  Matt would usually put his juice in the ice bucket the night before but other than that, no work needed and no fridge either.  This was our breakfast our first morning on the train and the first two mornings in the hotel.

Once we ran out of pastries (I had planned to buy donuts) we ate the Babka we bought for the last two mornings, along with more juice and applesauce.  It wasn't as cheap as eating our milk and cereal at home but it was much cheaper (and probably healthier) than eating out every morning!  Plus, packable and easy to eat if Luke was sleeping in (which he did...we wore him out).

Pack what you can 
I forgot we did this until we were going through pictures but for our second trip to New York, we did pack our lunches for the train the first day, since even cold meat sandwiches could last ~12 hours without a fridge when in a small cooler bag.  
And then snacks.  Those are dried apples which are a fantastic snack, traveling or not (and that's the water bottle I mentioned in my Amtrak post).  (The pill box is vitamins...back when we used to still take those...) 

We've packed things like granola bars and almonds for flights.  Small snack that don't take up much space.  But without a kitchen, or even a fridge, it's hard to pack food and hard to save on food costs.  Which is why only one trip we've taken since Luke makes this list.

Drink Water
It's such a habit for us to just order water when dining out.  We occasionally buy alcoholic beverages with our meals (very occasionally, maybe once a trip, South Beach and Europe excluded) and rarely buy pop other than gas station fountain drinks for long days of driving.  I could easily count on one hand the number of times we've ordered appetizers in our shared lives and same with restaurant dessert (although picking up ice cream from an ice cream stand is certainly not out of the question).  We've both grown up being frugal, even on rare dinners out, that it's just habit for us to eat and order the same when traveling. 

When We Have a Kitchen (of sorts)
Trips: Hawaii (Oahu Maui) | California | New York (October 2010) | Outer Banks | Miami | TennesseeMichigan | Gulf Shores

Even these can vary widely from a full kitchen in Hawaii, the Outer Banks, and Gulf Shores to camp kitchens in Tennessee and Michigan and not much more than a fridge in California, New York, and Miami.  These trips are easier to pack for and easier to save on food costs.  All of these have been condos/studio apartments or camping which certainly makes this easier.  

Breakfast In
When we have a fridge, at minimum we definitely do breakfast in.  That usually means picking up a gallon of milk and a box of cereal, if we didn't pack any (which we've done on flights and on car trips).  I think every single one of these trips we had cereal & milk for most breakfasts (we did do a few other things when camping).  Hawaii was one of those we packed cereal for, taking 26 mini cereal boxes, enough for every morning we weren't flying.

Pack Lunch
For driving trips (Outer Banks, Tennessee, Michigan, Gulf Shores) we pack almost all our lunch food.  This includes cold meat, cheese, condiments, bread, peanut butter, fruit, chips/pretzels, and cookies.  We've taken coolers on all of these trips and other than cabin camping (Tennessee) have had at least fridges on the other end.  This makes packing lunch very easy and affordable.  It costs no more than home to eat! 

We even packed part of our lunches for Hawaii, taking a jar of peanut butter, a 6 or 8 pack of gatorade, individual sized drink mixes, and more snacks than we could eat.  We bought a loaf of bread on each island and had PB sandwiches for lunch every day.  Matt swore off peanut butter after that (which he still sticks to besides meatless lunches in Lent).  But it saved a ton of money and I'm still amazed we were under the weigh limit for our bags (just barely).

This also makes for easy lunches to pack while out and about, something we've done on almost all these trips.  Even eating PB sandwiches while sitting in the rental Jeep at the end of the Road to Hana.  

Dine Out Twice
On our driving trips we typically plan to eat out twice for supper and the rest at our condo/campsite.  This gives us a little break from cooking and an opportunity to try a few local restaurants, some flexibility of being out and about, without breaking the budget.  These meals out end up being memorable, because they are so few, that I can still remember each one from our major driving trips (Outer Banks, Michigan, Tennessee, Gulf Shores).
Look at that baby Luke!
Bring Back Leftovers
If we have a fridge AND microwave, we'll often eat only half of a meal when at a restaurant and bring back the rest for another night (something I purposely do almost every time I eat out).  We did this in Hawaii, California, New York, the Outer Banks, and Gulf Shores.  I've found that restaurant portions are often too large for me anyways and this helps spread out the cost a little.

Cook In
This is typically very easy meals.  Grilling burgers, cube steak, chicken, etc.  Things that don't take a lot of ingredients or prep.  Things that can survive a long drive in the cooler.  Actually, we probably make most of the same meals on every single one of these types of trips.  

This may have actually been a breakfast but still, cooking while camping.  And I didn't even include a picture of hobos!

In short: we generally pack as much as we can, based on whatever sort of kitchen/fridge/microwave we have available at our destination.  Even without a full kitchen, we can usually make due with just a fridge and in the absences of that, pack things that don't need a fridge for at least breakfast!  Of course there are also times when the food is the experience and we'll definitely indulge:

Proper tea in London, Central Park pretzel, Nutella crepes under the Eiffel Tower, Starbucks at the original Starbucks in Seattle, and macarons in New York  (and I didn't even include things like pancakes from The OC diner on the pier in Southern California or pints in Ireland and probably more!)  It's fun to go new places and try regional and new foods but also really important for us to live within our means in all areas.  I love traveling and seeing new places but if we can do it a little cheaper by some food planning and packing, we're definitely going to do that.

And to leave you with a picture of baby Luke. Just because he's adorable.

How do you save money while traveling?  Did you pack ~10 pounds of food for a flight to Hawaii?  I might be alone in that one...

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