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Our family loves eating and trying out new places when we travel. Some of our dining experiences, you can read from our restaurant review category. You can consider us the type of travelers that will travel for food. When we went to Walt Disney World, you bet, we attended the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. It was an amazing opportunity to sample international cuisines without having to fly to all of them.
The cost of dining out could easily skyrocket for a party of 4 and up, which is usually the case for family travelers. Food can easily inflate your vacation budget while traveling with young kids present a different set of issues.
For this week, our panel of family travel experts share their strategies and tips on feeding your family while on vacation.
When we travel with a large party, one of our money-saving strategies is to look for a restaurant that can serve family-style dishes. The meals often come in a large serving on a platter. In the USA, the serving sizes of meals are often good for 2 servings. If we don’t end up sharing, we pack the leftovers to go for a later meal in the day. This is especially the case when we book a hotel with a microwave in the room.
Chinese restaurants are notorious for serving family-style dishes. Pizza is another affordable meal that can be shared by everyone.
Annette of Tips From A Typical Mom agrees with sharing a meal. “We also always have the kids share an entree. Most places give you way too big of a serving for just one person. This works for our younger kids, and for our teenage boys, we always make them order something that will keep them full for a long time.”
Regina of Full Time Field Trip adds, “For special, regional food, must-try dishes, we get a couple of orders and share rather than each person getting their own plate. That way everyone gets a taste and none is wasted if it’s not well liked.”
Cook Your Own
“Pick accommodations that have cooking facilities,” suggests Shannan of Captivating Compass. According to her, most hostels have a community kitchen and dining room to share with other lodgers.
Shannan recognizes that using a well-equipped kitchen is always a luxury while traveling. “Cooking for yourself will allow you to splurge on the decadent dessert or local bottle of wine,” she adds.
Kirsty of World For A Girl always tries to book self-catering accommodation. “We find it a struggle eating every meal out with young, energetic and noisy kids. Eating breakfast at ‘home’ not only saves us money but the children always wake up starving and want to eat straight away. Likewise, after a busy day sightseeing, a simple sandwich with some salad makes a relaxing and easy supper.”
For Sarah of Dandelion Seeds, it is about keeping their health risks in check. “Especially since we have food allergies, we always stay somewhere with our own cooking facilities. With that in mind, one of our first stops at our destination is always the grocery store. Sexy? Notsomuch. Practical and helpful? Definitely.” Sarah makes “a list of our favorite meals from home and make the easiest ones while we’re traveling, so we can reserve the bulk of our time for adventures outside the kitchen. I come up with a meal plan and shopping list for the week and buy only what we need (it works our much better financially than impulse shopping and also creates less waste).”
“The more diligent I am about doing this, the more money we save,” Sarah adds. “…and the more impromptu ice cream we can have whenever it calls our name.” She recalls a spontaneous craving and purchasing of ice cream made with fresh lavender picked from the adjacent field in France. Yum!
Bed and Breakfast
“Find accommodation which has breakfast included,” according to Kris of Gadsventures.
Tiffany of Mommy And Me Travels suggests, “If staying in a hotel, find a place with a continental breakfast. Or if you are in an apartment like Airbnb, make your breakfast at “home”. This meal is the most important of the day as it gives you energy to enjoy all of your daily activities. Don’t skip this meal but use the cost effective means available to you for 1 of the 3 meals you will have that day. This will be free or pennies for your morning breakfast budget.”
Bring Snacks With You
Kris of Gadsventure recommends to “Take some of your own favourite snacks or breakfast cereals from home if you are going somewhere foreign for a short vacation.” This is particularly true if you have a picky taste or a strict diet. For example, you might want to pack your approved snacks if you are diabetic, gluten intolerant, and so on.
“Airport snacks can be pricey! We always pack sandwich bags with snacks to munch on while waiting around the airport, as well as for the plane,” says Shannon of Grab My Passport. “We also bring refillable water bottles – just dump them out before going through security checkpoints and refill them once you get into the terminal.”
“If you’re a parent of under-fives, you’ll also know how essential it is to always have snacks with you. Not only does having a Tupperware container full of crackers or dried fruit prevent tantrums and prove a useful distraction but it’s also a lot cheaper and healthier than an ice-cream,” says Kirsty of World For A Girl, a British family travel blogger currently living in sunny Malaysia. She has travelled to over 100 countries including 25 with her young children.
It even works for teenagers. “Food is a huge expense while traveling when you have a large family like mine. Especially with teenage boys,” Annette of Tips From A Typical Mom shares. “So we’ve learned how to cut a few corners. Most of our trips are done in the car so we pack sack lunches and put them in the cooler along with all the snacks the kids will need while traveling. It’s important to only give the kids water to drink so they don’t guzzle down a huge bottle of juice and then need to use the bathroom every hour. Water is boring so they will only drink it when they are thirsty.”
According to Shannon of Grab My Passport, their family also like to pack a cooler bag with sandwiches and fruit, and then pack a reusable shopping bag filled with lots of other snack options, such as pretzels, Goldfish, cereal bars, fruit snacks, etc. “We also pack plenty of water and Gatorade. This helps us avoid grabbing expensive gas station snacks or having to eat unhealthy fast food.”
Sarah of State By State is a full-time RV traveler that has been traveling the US with her husband and three children, ages 11, 9, and 6, for the past 2.5 years. She shares her usual food stash. “Our family spends a lot of time in the car. Driving from campground to campground and also from attraction to attraction. I always pack a bag of snacks before we leave. Having snacks in the car means we don’t have to stop and eat somewhere. Some of my favorite car snacks include: granola bars, grapes, berries, dried fruit, trail mix, baby carrots, sugar snap peas, and applesauce drinks. We also keep an old coffee can with candy in the car. The candy is helpful if we have an extra long car trip or need the kids to calm down in confusing driving situations.”
Keep Meals Simple
“Meals are a very important time for us when traveling – a time to discuss how things are going for everyone, reflect on places we have been and come up with new educational travel blog topics,” shares Deb, a California-based environmental educator, polyglot and mother of two adventurous kids. Her family travel blog World Wise Kid inspires educational discussions around the globe.
Deb shares more insight on their daily menu. “Breakfast is simple: yogurt, fruit and cereal. Dinners are often bread, cheese, and lots of fresh, raw veggies that the kids need to stay strong and healthy. When we have cooking facilities at a hostel or rental apartment, the kids love pasta, rice and potato dishes and these meals save us a lot so we can splurge on the next nice restaurant meal.”
Kris of Gadsventure adds, “Don’t stuff yourself with 3 big meals a day. Make dinner more of a snack after a big breakfast and lunch.”
Try the Local Market
Shannan of Captivating Compass recommends travelers to stop at the local market for fresh ingredients and try a new recipe. “You will make such enjoyable memories in your home-away-from-home while dining in affordable luxury.”
“Where other people enjoy the sights and sounds of a new city, I’m crazy for grocery stores packed full of new-to-me items,” according to Regina of Full Time Field Trip, who enjoys the challenge of preparing meals with whatever is available in a particular market.
Try Non-Touristy Places to Eat
“Street food is cheap and amazing,” says Regina of Full Time Field Trip. “They will almost never take a credit card so be ready with cash. For safety make sure the food is piping hot. We look for food carts with a line. A long line means tasty goodness. Some of our tastiest adventures and best memories were made sampling a variety of street foods”
Tiffany of Mommy And Me Travels recommends finding an off the beaten path restaurant. “These non-touristy places are usually less expensive but also more authentic. We love to ask the locals where their favorite restaurants are located. Normally, the responses will be places that have great food and is extremely budget friendly. Locals usually aren’t paying an arm and a leg to go out to lunch.”
Deb of World Wise Kid shares a similar perspective. “We typically have one big, hot, sit down meal in a nice restaurant or cafe each day. We are selective about where this main meal will be, asking opinions from locals about a family-friendly, non-touristy place that uses fresh, regional ingredients and offers vegetarian options. This meal is a time to observe the culture, connect with the locals and do some journaling or researching our next location.”
Kris at Gadsventure shares an example, “Nasi Goreng is so much cheaper than a Hamburger in Bali!” She also encourages people to venture out. “Prices are higher on the beachfront. All you need to do is go across the road from the beach and you can save half the price on a meal.”
“We are always ready for a picnic. Whether it’s hardy sandwiches or carb loaded pasta, we can eat lunch (or dinner) on the go anywhere,” says Regina of Full Time Field Trip.
“On days out, plan on either bringing lunch with you or stopping at a market to buy local cheese, bread, fruit and chocolate for a European style picnic lunch. Plan ahead by making sure you have a bottle opener and cutlery in your backpack. Find the perfect view overlooking a canal, countryside, cityscape or beach. Then, pamper yourself (and the rest of the family) by trying a fancy coffee or local drink before heading out for the next family travel adventure,” Shannon advises.
Save Money with Coupons
Regina suggests looking into coupons. “Coupons are global. Look for discounts at Groupon, Living Social, tourist boards, those cheesy travel brochures in rest stops, and local blogs that connect you to all types of meal deals. Even in Thailand, we found a Taco Tuesday with half-price tacos”
Nikki of Yorkshire Wonders always check the local voucher sites such as Groupon or Wowcher. “You can pick up some bargains here for meals out (and activities too). It’s also worth signing up to the newsletters of the restaurants you might visit as you are often sent vouchers to use for a free starter or dessert. Try to leave this until quite close to your trip as the vouchers tend to have short use by dates – or use a second email to sign up nearer the time. Also check out the ‘Kids Eat Free’ cards.”
Ask about Specials
“When we travelled around Peru, we saved a ton of money by asking for the Menu del Dia (the menu of the day),” recalls Krist of Gadsventure. “It is a set menu that gives you up to 6 courses for the price of one regular menu item. This would include a soup, a cocktail, appetizer, entree, main and dessert,” she explains. “The key is you have to ask for it though, it is not freely advertised. Remember the Menu del Dia next time you are in Peru!”
Kids Eat For Free
According to Sarah of State By State, another way to save on food while traveling is to find restaurants that offer deals for kids. “Many places offer kids eat free with paid adult entrees. Having three or more kids means you are still paying for somebody, but it significantly reduces the cost. There are many small town places that offer these deals too, not just large chains. Check their website or Facebook page to see what they have to offer.”
Theme Park Food is Expensive
Melissa of Disabled Disney is a disability travel blogger who likes to vacation at Disneyland. She shares her strategy of saving money while at Disney. “While it is the ‘Happiest Place On Earth’, it’s also one of the most expensive places on Earth! But there is hope,” she adds.
“One of the ways we save money is by NOT purchasing food in the Parks! Wait…did you say NOT purchasing food? Yes I did.” Melissa elaborates on her tactic, “Disney allows you to bring in food. So, we bring in snacks, sandwiches like peanut butter and jelly, soda, bottled water, and basically anything we like to eat!”
There is a catch, however, according to her. “The only caveat is NO glass with only a few exceptions. So, we eat breakfast either at the hotel or before going in, bring food and snacks with us, and usually will get a late dinner on our way back to the hotel! And we also get hotels with microwaves and refrigerators because then we can buy some cheap microwave things to keep in our hotel room for food! This means we don’t have to buy food in the Parks! Although we do usually budget for a small meal or snack in the Parks because their food is really yummy.”