5 Ways to Save Money on Food During Family Vacations

Guest post Dawn of Choosing Real

No matter where you are traveling, everyone has to eat — there is no way around that. However, with some advanced planning, you can save a lot of money on food and still have a great vacation the whole family will enjoy.

Here are 5 ways my family chooses to save money on food during family vacations.

1. Find a hotel that offers free meals.

Many chain hotels offer a free continental breakfast, or even a full complementary breakfast. My family tends to seek out hotels that provide a full complementary breakfast.

We are fans of staying at Drury Hotels. These hotels include a full breakfast plus an evening “kick back” dinner as part the hotel price. From our experience, Hampton Inns usually have a good breakfast as part of the hotel price, too.

The food offered by hotels is not exactly healthy food, but being able to save money on food for our family of four is a nice benefit.

2. Pack some of your own meals.

It is not always practical to stay at a hotel that offers free meals. Hotels that have restaurants on site generally will not offer a free breakfast option. Plus, you still have to plan for lunches and dinners.

When packing meals, it is a big help to have a hotel room with a microwave and refrigerator. If you don’t know if you will have a refrigerator, you can pack a cooler and plan the meals that must be kept cold for early in the trip.

Check ahead of time to see if the places you’re visiting allow you to bring in outside food. While you might not be able to bring a cooler into the zoo, you may be able to bring in water bottles and outside snacks and leave the cooler in the car.

I enjoy saving money by packing picnic lunches. Here are some meal options I have successfully packed for family vacations.

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches

I love Crystal’s tip to freeze PB&J sandwiches in bulk. I make a bunch of sandwiches ahead of time and think about how many days we want to eat PB&J during our trip (usually no more than 1 or 2 meals).

Ham and cheese sandwiches

I usually plan ham and cheese sandwiches for our first picnic lunch of the trip so there is no risk of the meat going bad from getting warm.


If you don’t mind eating cold spaghetti (my kids sure don’t mind), this is an easy meal to put in individual, stackable containers in a cooler and eat with forks at a rest stop while traveling.


If you’ll have access to a microwave, you can cook oatmeal for breakfast in the hotel room, and it is a filling start to the day. I have made family-sized oatmeal packs by mixing 2 cups quick oats, 2 tbsp brown sugar, and 1/2 tsp cinnamon in stackable containers. I also packed frozen strawberries in the cooler and bananas to slice into the oatmeal.

To cook the oatmeal, I pour an oatmeal pack into a 4-cup glass measuring cup and fill it the rest of the way with water and cook for about 3 minutes in the microwave. Then I served in individual bowls in our hotel room and stirred in strawberries and bananas. Just don’t forget to pack dishes.

Easy Sides

Individual applesauce containers travel well. Aldi often carries organic, no-sugar-added applesauce in different fruit flavors that I love to stock up on for summer. Grapes and sliced carrots in containers and served family-style also work great for picnics.

I never would have planed eating a picnic lunch in a parking lot, but looking at this picture and remembering that we did, makes me smile.

3. Pack plenty of snacks.

If packing a cooler is not your thing, at least pack your own snacks. This will keep you from making a last minute stop you don’t really need when everyone is getting hungry and cranky.

For long trips in the car, I like to pack flavored rice cakes, raisins, and graham crackers for snack options that don’t require a cooler.

For the times we are out and about walking, I like to pack individual snack packs in plastic baggies that I can fit in my purse. I’ve done this with peanuts and raisins and also walnuts, dried cranberries, and dried bananas. I love these options because the nuts give an energy boost and the dried fruit provides sweetness that feels like a treat.

4. Pack extra water.

If you and your family are staying well-hydrated, you will be less likely to feel like you have to buy extra snacks while traveling. We all travel with water bottles next to us in the car. Then we will refill our water bottles at drinking fountains when we stop at rest areas along the route.

I often look ahead of time to see if places we plan to visit will allow us to bring in our own water bottles. I like to freeze larges bottles of water a couple of days before our trip and use those to keep the cooler cold.

As the bottles of ice begin to melt, we can use those to replenish our water bottles when we need to.

5. Choose restaurants with intention.

You don’t have to prepare every meal — after all, you ARE on vacation!

We tend to pack lunches and snacks, and then visit local restaurants for our evening dinners. We like to look for family restaurants ahead of time that will be near the sites we are visiting.

Chances are we will not be returning to that city for a long time. Because of this, we like to seek out restaurants in the area that are unique to the area and get great customer reviews. We don’t normally visit chain restaurants unless it is a chain we don’t have close to home.

What are some of your favorite ways to save money on food during family vacations?

Dawn is a wife and working mom of two. She blogs at Choosing Real, where she helps busy moms balance the chaos of everyday life so they can provide healthier meals and healthier homes for their families. She believes making healthy choices shouldn’t be a sacrifice.

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