Jul 26, 2016

How to Cut Food Costs While Traveling – U.S. News & World Report (blog)

In a nation as big as the U.S., travel is often a big part of people’s lives. Whether trekking to visit family or friends or simply to enjoy a national landmark, Americans frequently hit the road or fly the friendly skies.

Once you’re away from home, however, one of the biggest financial challenges is food. Without the contents of your cupboard and the convenient tools of your kitchen, how exactly can you avoid spending a fortune on sustenance?

[See: 12 Frugal Ways to Save on Vacation.]

Many people, when traveling, turn exclusively to unplanned restaurant dining and watch the bills add up. The food total after even a short trip can be crushing if you simply eat at restaurants without planning ahead.

On the other hand, if you apply a few smart strategies while traveling, you can trim your food expenses dramatically.

[See: 10 Ways to Save on Food Costs.]

The first – and most powerful – thing you can do is to hit the grocery store as soon as possible. The goal of a grocery store visit is to get basic staples that you can directly eat or prepare with no equipment. Items like bananas and apples are perfect, as are things like bread, your favorite condiment, and some cheese and sliced meat for sandwiches.

Simple meals and snacks like these can fill you up on the cheap. They also can save you time, since you won’t have to stop at restaurants for food, and they’ll keep the cost of convenience store stops at bay.

Another good strategy? Bring a cooler. Fill it up with ice or ice packs before you leave so you don’t have to pay for ice when you’re on the road. With a cooler, you can store perishables, like the aforementioned cheese and sliced meats, as well as beverages. That way, anytime you want a cold drink on the road, you have one on hand without having to stop and pay more for one.

One essential tactic for any trip, particularly if traveling by air, is to bring an empty water bottle. Fill it up at a water fountain once you pass through security. On the road, you can fill it up before you leave.

A water bottle provides you with easy, constant access to cool water, and if you use water fountains, the cost of that beverage is zero. That’s a far better bargain than paying for overpriced sodas or bottled waters at convenience stores.

Some people prefer flavored drinks, so if that’s your fancy, pick up flavor additives at the grocery store before you leave. These can be added to your water bottle and shaken to provide an inexpensive flavored drink, and the containers are small enough to pass through airport security if you’re flying.

You can also pack inexpensive meal-replacement and energy bars. Buy a box of these on, say, Amazon and you’ll pay very little per bar. Toss them in your bag before you go and they can easily replace expensive airport food or fast food on the road. Beef jerky is another great option.

Eventually, however, you will probably find yourself dining at a restaurant. For those inevitable situations, use a bit of restaurant smarts for saving money. Use services like Restaurants.com to find discounts on area eateries. Order water as your beverage. Order a small portion rather than a large one, because you usually can’t take the leftovers with you while traveling, or split a meal with your dining companion. If you’re really hungry, look for a buffet. Simple restaurant tactics like these will keep your bill small while filling up your belly.

If you use all of these tactics in concert, you’ll find that the financial impact of food on your trip’s budget is significantly reduced while your belly manages to remain nice and full the whole trip. It just takes a bit of planning, a cooler and a stop or two at grocery stores to pull it off.

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