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Enjoy Vacation Meals On A Budget With Creative Planning

Posted Jun 29 2012 2:00pm

One of the biggest costs when vacationing, other than transportation and lodging, is food. There are reasons why eating every meal out while vacationing isn’t wise; your budget may not allow for it, and, even with a generous budget, food will start to eat its way into other fun you have planned, both time-wise and money-wise. Waiting in line, for instance, every time you want to eat can get tiresome. And, at the best vacation destinations, all the favorite restaurants will have long waiting times.

But, eating on a budget doesn’t have to be boring. No, you don’t have to have a cooler full of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. You can find inexpensive, delicious alternatives with a bit of pre-planning and some imagination.

Lunch With the Locals

Want a huge, money-saving tip as well as a recommendation for tasty food? Ask the locals where they eat. Usually, you’ll find tasty food, good atmosphere, and great prices. Every region has its favorite cuisine, and most cities and towns have a few quaint family restaurants, catering to locals who enjoy a good meal for a good price, no gimmicks, no hype. Follow the locals to these locales and you can’t lose.

Do Your Homework

When you decide on a destination, do the research to find the restaurants and food choices that appeal to you. Sites like LonelyPlanet.com, CitySearch.com, UrbanSpoon.com, and ChowHound.com will give you an idea of affordable, and tasty places to eat in various cities. Search the name of the city you’re visiting to find reviews and blogs that offer more information as well as special offers.

Look for Coupons

Places like Restaurant.com offer coupons and discounts that you can print off and use when you are on vacation. These will help you keep costs down at restaurants, while still being able to enjoy going out to eat. Check out coupon books for the area you are visiting. Try other group coupon sites like Groupon.com or LivingSocial.com to learn about the fantastic deals local restaurants, and other businesses, are offering.

Choose an All-Inclusive Vacation Package

The cost of an all-inclusive package may be worth it. If your family considers refreshing beverages and three meals a day, as well as snacks, an important part of a vacation experience, then you want to consider this option. However, be aware that sometimes ‘spirited’ or alcoholic drinks may not be included. Even so, being able to help yourself to all the cooling drinks and food you want can be a big bonus, especially when you have a lot of hearty eaters.

When considering all-inclusive vacations, don’t limit your thinking. Cruises are a great value. They normally include a lot of amenities. Not only can you eat just about anything you want, just about any time day or night, but most cruises include free activities for kids of all ages, free entertainment for adults, and transportation to exciting ports of call. You’ll also receive, free of charge, wonderful guides to help you choose your excursions, big or small.

Attend Citywide Food Events

A lot of the big cities such as New York City, Boston, Toronto, Dallas, Philadelphia, Puerta Vallarta, Sacramento, and Atlanta have weeks where they celebrate what is considered Restaurant Weeks. This is where, with an entry fee, you can experience excellent meals at a fraction of the cost. There are also competitions to consider, like cook-offs and awards to chefs, restaurants, and even street vendors. Search your vacation destination for these special events for some real good deals, and great cuisine.

Find Fun Food Festivals

Local fruit, vegetables, flowers, meat, fish, or historical events can be enough to spark a festival in many communities. When vacationing in a region that hosts a festival, you are in for a treat. Festivals are a great way to get great food at very little cost. You’ll be enjoying the best of the local cuisine at a very reasonable price, while taking in the area’s ambiance.

Check the area’s tourist bureau for festivals being held during your vacation. There are all sorts of websites ready to offer their knowledge just for searching. Websites like Festivals.com will get you started on the right foot when you’re planning to vacation, and eat, at your favorite destination.

Stay at Home-Style Lodgings For Home-Style Meals

A bed-and-breakfast or similar lodging where a meal is included in the price may be a great option for your vacation stay. Having a nice breakfast can set you up for a good day of sightseeing, and you won’t waste time, or money, stopping for something to eat right in the middle of your fun.

Another option is to stay in a place with a kitchenette. You can save money and time by stocking the refrigerator and pantry with breakfast items, sandwich makings, beverages, and lots of snacks. Another bonus is you can save any leftovers from meals you have at restaurants. The difference between the cost of lodging without a kitchenette and one with a kitchenette can easily be made up in a few days when you consider meals out could cost you hundreds of dollars for the length of your stay.

Start Out With a Full Tummy

When traveling, you want to start out well fed, then have plenty of food to get you where you’re going. Traveling by car allows you to have a cooler on hand to keep packed with filling foods, snacks, and beverages. This will save you time, having to stop to eat, as well as money spent at a roadside restaurant. It will also buy you some time after you arrive; you won’t immediately be looking for a place to eat before you even get settled.

Getting some food into your system is a bit more difficult when flying. Try to eat something before you head to the airport, even if it is too early for your normal breakfast. Having something in your stomach, even a breakfast of a protein bar and a glass of milk, will help you get through the airport without having to stop and spend way too much money on mediocre food. Be sure to pack healthy snacks for the plane, too. Don’t be tempted to buy that overpriced, less than nourishing sandwich on board. Instead, put healthy snack bars, unsalted nuts, and fruit in your carry-on bag. If you’re flying international, especially, be sure to check for the rules about what sorts of food you can bring on board.

If worse comes to worse and you just can’t wait to get to your destination to eat, and you didn’t pack enough to snack on, grab filling packaged snacks from the airport newsstands. Choose chips or popcorn to get you through. And, would you believe beef jerky is actually a low fat snack that’s rich in protein? Yes, you can find snacks that will give you a boost, and keep you going until you land, get settled, and have a real meal.

Quick Bits About Cheap Bites

Another few tips to keep your ‘tank’ full without spending a lot of money on food when travelling:

  • order from the kids menus 
  • eat out at lunch instead of dinner
  • order from the ‘bar’ menu
  • share an assortment of hors d’oeuvres for a meal
  • opt for big glasses of ice water instead of soft drinks or spirits
  • buy food from street vendors (oh, I love dirty-water dogs…yum! Not the most healthiest, but there’s nothing like a street vendor hot dog with kraut & spice mustard!)

When you’re on vacation you want to enjoy not only the sights and events, but the area cuisine, too. Planning ahead and budgeting for meals will help you enjoy a few special restaurants, rather than rushing through a lot of ordinary food places just because you’re hungry. Make the restaurants you visit a memorable part of your vacation.

And on a personal note, my son has on his bucket list to travel the US and participate in food eating contests like he’s seen on Man vs. Food. Now, wouldn’t that be fun?

Until next time, happy travels! 

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