I love traveling, but it can get very expensive quickly if you don't have a plan. That's why I like to know where we are going and where we are eating before we ever leave home. If we can save money with some savvy tricks, we can plan our next adventure much easier.
Knowing when and where you are going to be having your next meal might seem like overkill in the planning, but trust me. It will save you time and money if you have a plan ahead. Without it, you might be stuck wandering around looking for food and forced to pay more than you might be comfortable with paying.
TripAdvisor and Yelp are an easy way to plan for meals in any area while in the US and sometimes abroad. Read the menus, plan for special diets, and look at the address on your maps.
We don't travel with small children anymore, but the one thing that I learned from traveling with children for over 20 years is that packing snacks ahead of time saves money.
From making a quick sandwich, snacks, and a treat before I board any flight to making sure I have enough granola bars for each person for each day of our trip, I'm always happier making the extra effort than paying airport and plane fees for something that isn't expensive to make at home.
While you can always bring a sandwich, chips, and even cheese and crackers on your next flight. You should check the TSA regulations for other things like yogurt, applesauce, ect.
Go Shopping instead of Dining
A few years ago we did a cross country road trip with friends. I honestly thought it was going to be crazy expensive to plan every meal in a restaurant. However, we packed our coolers and filled them full of frozen drinks, sandwiches, and stopped at grocery stores to refill with fresh fruit, cheese, and crackers for roadside picnics.
Plan your trip to include a stop at a grocery store. You can easily grab quick meals, snacks, ect. and bring them along with you to your hotel. No need to get fancy, make a fun dinner in bed with a nice bottle of wine, some fresh bread, and brie for two. Some hotels even have a fridge and microwave upon request.
Don't forget your refillable water bottles
You'd be surprised at all of the money you'll save if you don't have to pay for water. Most hotels have free drinking water in the lounge and you should take advantage of it. A good metal container will keep your water cold for hours. Many places will even refill your water for free.
When we went to Disneyworld last summer we were thrilled to find that they were happy to refill our bottles with icey cold water that saved us $4 a bottle.
When we leave the ship or hotel on our adventures we always pack at least one bottle per person and one extra. This saves us money and ensures we have clean drinking water available.
One appetizer and one main dish is enough for my husband and I to both share, and it saves us money. Instead of leaving with extra food that is often forgotten, soggy, or just not as good, we share a light appetizer and a main dish. It's usually plenty of food for us both and we have money left over for a treat later on.
Look for discounts
Before you go, look on Groupon, Living Social, even local coupons. You'll save money and paired with reviews, you'll likely have a better meal than taking a risk at the closest dining option you see.
Eat the free breakfast
Sure, it's often not the best. But many hotels offer a free breakfast that includes fruit, toast, and juice. Take advantage of this free option and fill up. We always snag a banana or apple for later, make a sandwich. We have found a lot of places have peanut butter and jelly available for breakfast for an easy lunch to take with us.
Remember to bring extra sandwich baggies with you.
One big meal of the day
If you plan ahead, you can make it from breakfast, light snack, to a late lunch with cheaper menus. When you can have a late lunch as your biggest meal, you won't be hungry for a huge meal at night. You can end the night with something lighter and cheaper.
Avoid hotel dining
From room service to hotel restaurants, you will pay more for the luxury of not having to leave the hotel. And often, the food isn't very good. Here is another time that you really want to check the reviews. We stayed at the Waldorf in Orlando last summer and while the hotel was wonderful, the food there was the worst and twice as much as the same meal even at Disneyworld down the street. Closer isn't always better.
Ask the locals where to eat
Not only will you have the opportunity to meet someone new and have a conversation, you'll also find where people who aren't on vacation like to eat when you ask locals where they eat. It's often cheaper, better, and not as crowded as the tourist spots and you are sure to have a more authentic food experience.