How to save money on vacation meals and still have a great time

As we enter July we are now in prime time for summer vacations. The best vacations though are the ones that don’t follow us home. By that I mean vacations aren’t so fun when we spend the next several months paying for them.

Meals are one area that can be a real budget buster when it comes to vacations. But wait, you say. I’m on vacation. I want to be able to eat out at some nice places. We’re on vacation. That’s part of the fun. Well, here are some tips my family and I have used to save money in the area of meals and still enjoy ourselves on vacation.

Get a free breakfast

One thing I look for in choosing a hotel for the evening is whether they offer free breakfast. You may be thinking, “Yeah, I’ve seen those hotel breakfasts. A bowl of cereal, a stale danish and cheap coffee. No thanks.” I’ve seen some of those too. Truth is though that many hotels offer a very nice hot breakfast. If you can’t tell by the description what is offered, call ahead before you make your reservations.

Pack a lunch

Take a cooler with you. Pack some sandwiches. Take some fruit or a few snacks. My wife and I have done this on several of our vacations. It saves a little money and is probably healthier than a fast food burger. If you have time you can find a nice park along the way to have a little picnic, or if you are in a hurry you can eat while you are traveling to save some time as well. Here are a couple of tips we have found useful. Take some plastic zip lock bags. If you have ice packs for your cooler you may not be able to re-freeze them on the road. You can fill the plastic bags with ice for make shift ice packs. Also many hotel rooms now come with a small mini-refrigerator. This is a big help in keeping things cool too. The important thing is to make sure you follow food safety guidelines. Getting a case of food poisoning is a sure way to spoil your vacation. As long as you are careful what you pack and keep the important things cool you should have nothing to worry about.

Treat yourself

Now having spent minimally on two meals, you can splurge a little on dinner without busting your budget. Find a nice restaurant and enjoy yourself. Depending on your travel schedule, another way you can save doing this is to make lunch your meal where you splurge and save the picnic for dinner. Most restaurants have lunch menus that are considerably cheaper than the dinner menu.

What if you are staying in one place

If your vacation plans entail staying one place, for example spending a week at the beach, here are some more tips we have used to save on meal expenses.

  • Get an entertainment book for the area. Entertainment books come with tons of restaurant coupons. They are generally sold as fund raisers for local organizations. But you can go to Entertainmentbook.com and purchase one for almost any area of the country. If you watch the web site they often offer deals. At the time I wrote this they were offering a special of $8.99 per book with free shipping. You could easily save that on one meal. Plus, they generally come with other coupons for travel, rental cars, movie theaters, amusement parks, etc.
  • Check out restaurant.com. Typically, Restaurant.com offers $25 gift certificates at a variety of local establishments for $10 or less. Put in the zip code of the area where you will be staying and check out what is available. Just be sure to read the fine print. Some places have minimum purchase amounts more than the $25 you spent on the certificate. It’s still a good deal because you are saving $15 or more, but you want to make sure you understand any special conditions that apply.
  • Subscribe for local deals at sites like groupon.com or livingsocial.com.  These sites provide deals on a wide variety of items. Each day is a different daily deal. Occasionally, they will offer discounts on local restaurants. A side benefit of this is they occasionally offer deals on other local entertainment options, so you may be able to save in other ways on your vacation.

Enjoy your vacation without it following you home

Vacations are fun times and provide opportunities for a lifetime of memories. But they can be a curse if you end up paying for them for months or years after the fact. My wife and I have used these tips to enjoy some great meals on vacation and still stay within our budget.

What tips have you used to save money while enjoying a fun vacation? Please share and let’s discuss.

Photo credit: Wordridden

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