My spouse and I have very different spending habits, and the way those habits transfer to vacation is no exception. Her spending mentality is eager and joyful. Mine is a bit more reserved and grumpy. Add the excitement and chaos of a vacation, and these differences are just exacerbated.
Over the years we’ve had to learn together how to walk that metaphorical fine line between “It’s vacation! Let’s splurge!” and “We can’t spend a fortune on this one trip!” While there are a variety of ways to save money on family vacations, we’ve found that changes to the way we eat and feed our family while traveling can be a major money saver.
So whether you are a bit more like my spouse, an excited spender, or like me, a reluctant one, I hope you’ll find value in one or two of our learned tips below.
Book A Rental With A Kitchen OR A Breakfast-Included Hotel
This may be one of the most well-known tips to save money on food while vacationing, and that’s fair as it makes a huge difference, in a lot of ways. But let’s break it down. Having access to a kitchen allows you to avoid eating out for potentially all of your meals because you can grocery shop and cook everything in house. There are two major things to consider, though, before taking the kitchen route.
First, how much more expensive is the rental with the kitchen versus without? Second, how much time will you be hanging out in the rental versus out exploring and vacationing? If the lodging with a kitchen is outrageously more expensive or you don’t plan to spend much time there anyway, consider a hotel with an included breakfast instead. The hotel choice will guarantee one comped meal a day for your whole family and will likely save money on the lodging side of things as opposed to the food side.
Grocery Shop At Least Once – And Plan Ahead
I’ve found that grocery shopping and meal planning on vacation is an art, and it takes some practice. The first few times we grocery shopped on trips, I overbought. Since then, I’ve taken some time to really think about which meals we will definitely eat at the rental, and which ones we likely will not. And to prevent over-buying, I get very specific. For example, if I know my two kids will each eat a yogurt the three mornings while we are there, I buy exactly 6 yogurts – no more. I’ve almost always taken a second trip to the grocery store, and I don’t mind because it’s often a nice activity for everyone mid-trip.
Plan For Kids To Split Meals While Out (Maybe Adults Too!)
What is the biggest difference I’ve found between eating out at home and eating out on vacation? Leftovers! I never hesitate to bring leftovers back to my home, but it just doesn’t usually make sense when vacationing. Enter the plan to have family members split meals. When you go into the meal with the mindset that you are not taking any leftovers, your decisions on what and how to order are naturally reprioritized.
You Can Still Have Your Cake And Eat it Too
Remember my spouse being all “Let’s splurge!”? Dessert on vacation is when this really comes out, and I’ve figured out a couple ways to keep the whole crew happy without overspending. The first is to buy your desserts at the grocery store (popsicles and cookies are our natural choice) and set the expectation that everyone can have their dessert when they return to the hotel or rental each evening. The second is to avoid going out to a dessert-only shop (e.g. ice cream shop) by splitting a dessert at the end of your restaurant meal. Scoops of ice cream for a family of four or five can add up fast, and I’ve found ordering a special slice of cake at a restaurant for everyone to split is exciting and ultimately less expensive.
Travel Day Snacks Going AND Returning
Now this is a next-level money saving tip and a fun one to strive for. Without a doubt, packing non-perishable snacks and refillable water bottles for the travel day will save a ton for both air and road travel, but this feels much more manageable at the beginning of a trip than the end. If you really want to step up your money-saving game, plan to buy some return home snacks during one of your grocery trips to prevent that inevitable spending on airport and gas station food when everyone is tired and ready to be home.
Consider All-Inclusive Resorts Or Cruises
If you’re a reserved spender like me, you might want to skip the stress of seeing all the food transactions on your debit or credit card a week after your trip. In that case, book your vacation at an all-inclusive resort or on a cruise. We have done both, and I like this set up a whole lot! You can pay for your entire trip beforehand, and the stress of spending money on food (or worrying about whether or not the kids will eat it!) is ultimately eliminated.
Lastly, Choose Water
I know. This is a stretch, but I wanted to throw it in there anyway. Drinks cost a lot. Like, a LOT. Water is usually free and will probably leave you feeling much better than a fancy coffee or soda. This is a tough one for me, and I stand in solidarity if it feels a little too far for you!
As with all tips and lists, pick one or two and relax on the rest. Happy saving! And more importantly, happy vacationing!