How to Pay Less for Food on Vacation

August 22, 2013

foodVacations are expensive, and even though you want to have a good time, there are still ways to save money, many of which that won’t hurt the quality of your trip. One of the biggest areas of potential savings is with food. You need to eat while you are away, but there are ways to pay less for food.

1. Stay at hotels with free breakfasts.

Staying at hotels that provide a free breakfast is a way of eliminating the need to pay for at least one meal a day. Though it’s often thought that a “free” breakfast is anything but free – and yes, we all know that it’s part of the price you pay for the room – but typically, hotels that offer breakfast as part of the room rate are less expensive than those that don’t offer it. In pricier hotels, you’ll not only pay separately for breakfast – or any other meal – but you’ll probably pay a fairly steep price at that. Certainly more than breakfast will cost at McDonalds.

In point of fact, even breakfast at the golden arches will cost at around $25 for a family of four, and if your vacation is a week long, you will spend $175 ($25 x 7 days) just for breakfast. And that’s the optimistic number!

At a typical full service, sit down breakfast restaurant – the kind you’ll usually find in higher priced hotels – will be closer to $50 for a family of four. For a one week vacation you’ll be looking at $350 ($50 x 7) just to feed your family for breakfast.

Obviously, working around breakfast can be a rich source of savings with food on vacation. It’s just one meal a day, but not having to pay for it can make a real difference.

2. Stay at hotels with kitchenettes.

If you can get a hotel room that has a kitchenette, you can make at least some of your meals in your room. This will of course require that you stock your room with groceries and that you spend some time in meal preparation, but any meals you can avoid eating in restaurants will be a substantial savings. This is especially true when it comes to dinner. Unless you will be eating dinner at fast food restaurants, it will be tough to find dinner for a family of four for much less than $50.

That estimate may be too low as well. In many resort areas, restaurant dinners are even more expensive than this. Preparing meals in your room can be a viable alternative that will provide you with a hot meal without having to rely too heavily on fast food.

Worst case, if you can’t get a hotel room with a full kitchen, at least look for one with a microwave oven and refrigerator. Most hotels – even and especially lower priced ones – will allow you to add a microwave or refrigerator to your room either for free or for a very small fee. A microwave and refrigerator will at least enable you to store perishable foods and to do light meal preparation.

3. Bring food for the road.

If you are driving to your destination (or between destinations if you’re going to more than one) you can save money by packing snacks and light meals for the road. Not only will this save money on buying restaurant meals, but it will also enable you to get where you’re going more quickly. Every stop you need to make on the way to your destination – including food stops – will slow your progress.

You don’t necessarily have to have food prepared for every meal you’ll need on your trip. You can prepare to eat half of your meals at restaurants, and the other half with the food you pack for the trip.

Snacks and drinks can be a big plus here too. Many times when you’re hungry, a drink and a light snack is all you need to get the job done. This is especially important when you are traveling. Since you are sitting in a car for many hours, you are generally better off eating light, and even more frequently.

4. Limit the number of meals you eat.

Often when you are on vacation you may not need to eat three meals a day. This is especially true if your vacation is largely sedentary in nature. You may find that one large meal a day, supplemented by two lighter ones, is all you need to cover the food side of your vacation.

A free hotel breakfast, along with a light lunch prepared in your room, and dinner at a restaurant will get you through the day without costing too much. In fact, the money you save on breakfast and lunch can allow for a more elaborate dinner. After all, part of what you want on vacation is to experience the local fare. And it’s fine to do this – but just not spending too much money in the process.

What do you do to save money on vacation? Leave a comment!


Will this article help you save or earn more money? Get others like it simply by entering your email address below. Your email is used only for delivering daily money tips and you can opt out of delivery at any time. Click here to see all your free subscription options.


Kevin Mercadante is professional personal finance blogger, and the owner of his own personal finance blog, He has backgrounds in both accounting and the mortgage industry. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and two teenage kids and can be followed on Twitter at @OutOfYourRut.

All posts by


Comments are closed.