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How to Save Money on Vacation Food!

saving money on vacation food

I love to travel.  love it.

Thankfully the hubs loves it too, and for most of our marriage he has been blessed to work for companies who give several weeks of vacation time to enable this super fun hobby of ours.  :)

We’ve been doing the travel thang since the beginning.  It was Cancun for our honeymoon, Vegas Baby for our fifth anniversary, Bahamas Cruise for our Tenth, and a host of places in between. 

I think we’ve gone on a trip almost every year for our anniversary, and this year we are celebrating at a semi-new destination… Williamsburg, VA!

In honor of our trip and our love for travel, I thought I would share some tips and tricks we’ve picked up along the way… especially saving money on all the FOOD!

I know it’s hard to do. Especially if you are like me and you get in ‘vacation mode’ aka ‘spending mode’ where you are feeling carefree and the money just starts flying out of your husband’s wallet.  :)

We go through our ups and downs with maintaining a careful budget, but right now we are on an “UP” so I’ve done a lot of planning before our trip and we’re deciding what we are going to spend our budgeted money on. 

If I’m on a budget, I’d rather spend more of my budgeted moolah on activities then on eating every meal out.

Plus, there are plenty of times when it is actually MORE convenient to eat IN than OUT.  When you are travelling with small children, for instance, you are often challenged with keeping everyone fed and napped and happy.  It is so much easier and faster when you are bringing the kids in from a morning at the pool or the beach and everyone’s hungry to whip up that sustenance quickly and get it on the table.

And really I can’t be the only parent who doesn’t really enjoy taking our three kids out to eat, right?

We’ll be staying in a condo with a full kitchen, which we REALLY love!  If you don’t have a kitchen that really limits what you can do to save money, but I’ve heard of people that use coolers and crockpots in their hotel rooms and make out great!

vacation kitchen

And really, sometimes you can find great, affordable deals on condos or houses to rent online using sites like travelocity or priceline especially if you’ll be travelling with friends or family and you can split the costs!

Tip #1… Make and Eat Breakfast IN!  You do NOT want to have to wait on everyone {ahem, usually we’re waiting on me sad to say} to get completely ready in order to EAT.  Don’t you find that you get crabby when you are hungry??  Save some sanity and create some instant peace by filling up your belly with some yummy goodness before you have a chance to bite your beloved’s head off. 

Breakfast is easy to make special, and is so much cheaper to make your own than to buy breakfast for everyone too.  I plan to prep and take this Baked French Toast from Pioneer Woman that Laine tweaked and healthified.

french toast casserole

I’ve made this one several times, and it has been a H-I-T!  I have had trouble with the milk mixture spilling out of the pan during our travel, but freezing it ahead of time seems to do the trick. 

Another tip… write the baking instructions clearly on the pan.  That way if someone else is up earlier than you and decides to be helpful, they’ll know how to prepare it!

I’ve also done this Sausage and Egg Breakfast Casserole, but it has never really impressed me all that much, although I fully realize there could be user error involved.  :)

easy-breakfast-casserole{Kevin & Amanda}

After enjoying something similar but much yummier at Sunday School, I begged for the recipe, and I’m hoping I can recreate the goodness.  I’m thinking maybe I need to put the bottom layer in the oven to bake for a few minutes by itself before adding the rest of the ingredients on top since the top seems to burn before the bottom gets done.  :(

We’ll also be having normal breakfasty things like simple Eggs & Bacon and Biscuits & Gravy! 

Tip #2… Save money on your vacation grocery budget by bringing items from your stockpile with you.  If you bought mayo for 50¢ or less, you really don’t want to have to pay $3 for it on your vacation grocery trip do you? Make your menu plan and delegate which items you’ll be bringing with you and which things you’ll wait to purchase when you get there… bread, eggs, and ice cream are three no brainers that are better to buy when you get there. 

bring stockpile

Don’t be crazy about it, and take into account vehicle space and your spouses irritation when you point to 5 boxes and bags of groceries he has to whittle out a spot for. 

Not that I know anything about that, of course.  Ahem!

Tip #3… Prep your meals ahead of time and bring them with you!  I alluded to this already, but it really is SUCH a lifesaver!  I’ve done this SEVERAL times for trips since I started doing my weekly prep a year ago, and it has worked awesomely! We are saving SO much money and TIME by eating IN, but I still feel like I’m on vacation since I’m not having to stand around spending time in the kitchen fixing our meals. It’s definitely the biggest WIN WIN of all.

Prepping meals ahead of time is such a foreign concept to most people, so here’s the gist of it. I am not cooking the meal ahead of time. I am only doing the first several steps of the meal prep. I’m prepping it to be ready to go in the oven or crockpot or stove, which means that all my meals will still be amazingly FRESH and fabulous.

Wanna know how I manage such a stress free dinnertime?  Find out more info on how on earth I do it.


{Did I mention I ♥ it?}

If you choose, you can even freeze your prepped meals to make travelling with them even easier {as I mentioned above}. This way you don’t have to worry about how long they’ll be good in the cooler. Just pack them all in your cooler and put some ice in {or not, depending on how long your drive is} and you’re good to go. 

Tip #4… Pick meals that are fun and worthy of vacation.  I think of this like the meals I try to plan for the weekend especially early in our quest for meal planning.  We were used to eating out every weekend, so in an effort to curb this, I tried to plan more fun type meals so we wouldn’t feel like we were being deprived.  Things like Cheeseburger Sliders, Chicken Fingers, Ham & Cheese Sliders to name a few!

sliders    hamsliders{via Serious Eats }                                    {via Living Unbound}

Remember this is vacation. It’s about having fun and spending time with each other, so make it a priority to think about everyone’s likes and dislikes.  Chris would just as soon eat every meal OUT except for breakfast, but I try to convince him to eat in by offering him meal ideas that appeal to his vacation mindset!

Out of our six night stay, we’ll be eating IN two nights and eating OUT four nights. 

We’re having Asian Chicken Wings and Crockpot French Dip subs for our vacation “in” meals!

asian chicken legs easy french dip subs{via 5 dinners 1 hour}

Don’t forget to bring foil and ziploc bags as well, to ensure your leftovers don’t go to waste.

For our meals out, I logged onto and searched the city we’ll be staying in and found three $25 gift certificates for only $3 each!

They make it sound really awesome, but really these are more of a COUPON than a certificate since there are MANY restrictions and minimum purchases.  If the minimum purchase amount is $35, than you can think of it like paying $3 for a coupon to get a $25 off a $35 meal.  Which isn’t too bad!

Tip #5… Prepare portioned snacks beforehand. Nothing can make grouchy kiddos perk up faster than a a quickly served snack at the needed moment. 

DSC_0195 (2)

Having bags of pretzels, popcorn, or fruit ready to dish out means you won’t be veering off the fun path to try to find some over priced sustenance to keep the cherubs from driving you batty.  

DSC_0086 (2) 2


One last freebie… Remember that you’re there to have fun.  If you are the Frugal Expert, don’t get carried away and make how much money you can save become your purpose. 

If you have the funds available, there is no better occasion to splurge than on vacation!  Sometimes being willing to splurge on your family… happily… can be a very powerful way to show them your love! 

Especially if they know how frugally obsessed you may be.  :)

Check out this great post from Beauty & Bedlam and this one from Annie’s Eats for even more tips on saving $$ on Vacation Food…

I’d love to know your favorite Vacation Tips!  Please share!



*Sometimes I link up at these parties… Weekend Bloggy Link up, Tatertots & Jello, House of Hepworths,Bowl Full of Lemons,Organize & Decorate Everything, Not Just a Housewife, Funky Junk Interiors, Somewhat Simple, Shabby Creek Cottage,No Minimalist Here, Skip to my Lou,Today’s Creative Blog, the 36th Avenue, Thrifty Décor Chick, Home Stories A-Z, Five Days Five Ways, How to Nest for Less, and Someday Crafts. You should check ‘em out!!

36 Responses to How to Save Money on Vacation Food!
  1. Jenny
    March 19, 2012 | 9:00 am

    We always take most of our food when we go to the beach. I hate to get everyone cleaned up, only to have them jump right back into the pool or head for the sand the minute we get back. We only eat out twice, but bring everything already prepared.
    BBQ in the crockpot one night, homemade, frozen lasagna one night, enchilada casserole another, etc. We buy sandwich meat for sandwiches and utilize leftovers for lunches. We have 2 favorite breakfast casseroles we always bring with us. I also make 2 – 3 batches of our favorite cookies, 2 different kinds of muffins, a HUGE container of chex mix and red pepper hummus for snacks. Believe it or not, this actually makes our vacation easier! And we enjoy our 2 nights out so much more.

  2. Sarah Hefner
    March 19, 2012 | 11:18 am

    I love the snack stash idea! I could even incorporate that into home life! :) great tips! Thanks for sharing. Hope you have tons of fun!

  3. Shirley@motivatedmommyoftwo
    March 19, 2012 | 11:52 am

    These are great tips, I am getting to head out on a mini vacation in a couple of months. Def innately going to keep these tips in mind.

  4. Leah
    March 19, 2012 | 11:57 am

    I did the snack stash idea last fall when we went Stateside. Got a box of 100 snack bags and filled a good half of them with goldfish, cereal, pretzels, trailmix, crackers, etc….whatever I had that was small and ‘snackable’ for the kids.

    When we’re actually ON THE ROAD, we save a ton of money on lunches by stopping at a grocery store instead of fast food. We buy a pack of buns, some swiss cheese, and a pack of ham (lunch meat). Sometimes I grab a few apples. I already have chips and juice in the car ,so we end up getting lunch for under $10 for our whole family! Def. beats fast food all the way around- cheaper and healthier!

  5. Rachel
    March 19, 2012 | 6:37 pm

    Fantastic post, and very timely since a lot of us (but not me, unfortunately :) will be on vacation soon!

  6. Ellen
    March 19, 2012 | 8:07 pm

    Love the tips – we always pack breakfast and lunch foods, along w/ snacks, when we travel. We’ve never stayed somewhere that had a stove, so never considered to take prepped meals from the freezer. It’s a great thought, though! SOOOO jealous that you’re in Williamsburg! That’s where we went on our honeymoon and I love it there. So many fun things to see and do! We spent one whole day at the Busch Gardens too – so fun! :) Have a wonderful time!

  7. Kristel
    March 19, 2012 | 9:55 pm

    Renee, you are the Martha Stewart of preparing meals! I so wish I was more like you, but unfortunately, vacation to me means “NO MORE COOKING”….although I do pack a luggage full of snacks for the kiddos….they get hungry a lot! I also pack smaller ones for the travel and take a small cooler with their drinks. I would love to visit Williamsburg someday, seems so historic, I hope you and your family have loads of fun!!


  8. Jasanna
    March 22, 2012 | 10:50 pm

    Thanks for this! Is this something you do when you fly someplace too? I was just curious what you do when you don’t drive and can’t bring all the stuff. :)

    • Renee
      March 27, 2012 | 7:53 am

      I haven’t done when we’ve flown… but we usually don’t fly. If I were flying, I would probably just incorporate what I could when I got there. Go shopping and spend the first afternoon prepping some meals for the rest of the week, etc…
      Definitely harder to manage, but you still can make it work at least somewhat. :)

  9. emily
    March 28, 2012 | 1:31 am

    my mom always did this when we were growing up… she packed ALL out our food. You might think its torture to spend a week at Disney and not eat out once, but it was great.. my moms secret was to pack food we normally didn’t get at home… box Max and cheese, white bread for sandwiches… so for us it was great! We didn’t mind at all that we weren’t eating out.

  10. Christa
    March 28, 2012 | 9:41 am

    Thanks for the tips! I’ve done a lot of these before, but I never thought about making my own frozen foods to take. We always get a place with a kitchen, too, and we love the convenience.

    I never thought to search, either, so I’ll be doing that for our next trip. Thanks so much for the tip!

    Oh, and if you haven’t gone yet, you’re going to *love* Williamsburg. We’ve been there a few times, and everyone (from 5 years to 38 years) enjoyed it.

  11. Gina
    March 28, 2012 | 11:09 am

    These are all really good tips. I do the same things when we go to the coast. I noticed that groceries in Port Aransas were more expensive than at home, so we don’t go to the store there unless we absolutely have to! We always get a condo with a kitchen. We eat out, sometimes, but it’s nice after a looong day at the beach to know what you will have warm and fresh while you lay around in your swimsuit!

  12. kate
    March 29, 2012 | 10:03 am

    We do the same as you! One year we went to Hawaii and the first stop was the grocery store on the way to our place! I even packed ziplocs and some other things in my suitcase so I wouldn’t have to buy a whole box, etc. A kitchen or hotel with free breakfast is a requirement for us! We also pack food for our long driving trips which not only saves money but time (our families live 17hrs away from us!). We have three kids, too and yes, it can be dreadful to eat out. Last week we went on a spur of the moment trip to San Antonio (8hr drive) and I found groupons for food and touristy things and a website that listed where kids eat for free! We used the food groupon for lunch on the Riverwalk- cheaper and better time to bring kids.

  13. Brandi
    April 4, 2012 | 1:28 pm

    Wanted to give you my mother’s famous breakfast casserole recipe!

    She does it all in a large electric skillet. She browns the sausage first. Oil/spray the skillet. The first layer she puts in the electric skillet are the hashbrowns. She lets them brown up a bit, and then flips them. Next she layers the sausage. She beats 12-15 eggs and pours them over top next. Right before it is all done, she tops it off with american cheese and let’s it melt. She serves it in giant squares! Delish!

  14. J Marie
    April 10, 2012 | 12:52 pm

    Great post! We own a timeshare (bought on ebay for $70), and we love being able to prep our own meals. It really saves a lot,and lets us vacation more often. I agree that bringing kids to restaurants can be stressful, not to mention expensive. When we are on vacation, we will often buy frozen family style meals and other convenience foods that we don’t usually buy. But you have some great recipes here. We will have to give them a try.

  15. Jessica aka Traveling Saver
    May 19, 2012 | 5:26 pm

    Hi there-

    I absolutely love this idea- we pack food all the time for vacation! You were able to put into words of my travel philosophies!

    I’d like to share your post on my blog,, where I share money-saving travel tips. I’ll give you full credit, of course!

    aka Traveling Saver

  16. […] Unfortunately, dining out for three meals a day – plus snacks- adds up fast! Renee from the Living Laughing & Loving blog is here to help. She recently wrote about the value of packing food from home to eat on […]

  17. […] It is in the mountains with not very much commercialization so that means we’ll be eating in pretty much exclusively. […]

  18. Nikki
    June 12, 2012 | 10:03 am

    Thank you for the great post. Lots of ideas here. However we do usually go out for breakfast over any other meal time. Only because we have 5 children and breakfast is the cheapest meal to eat out on. Our kids also love breakfast for dinner and that saves money too. :)

  19. Kim Johnson
    October 14, 2012 | 9:36 pm

    Love your site! we love the beach and always do a condo! we use vrbo and save lots of money! I take lots of food with us like tea and coffee! and we eat in a lot! soemtime we grab lunch out get the lunch specials. then do something like hot dogs for supper! Always do breakfast in! I have all teens now. so i can do a big breakfast to last longer!

  20. […] is some super fun tips on How to Save Money on Vacation Food. We l-o-v-e to travel and I loved sharing my tips on how to save time and headache on vacation […]

  21. […] the very beginning, travelling was something both of us really liked to do and we made it a priority to try to get away for our anniversary. Throughout the 13 years, things like March babies and a job as a teacher have […]

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  23. Rayleigh
    February 23, 2014 | 11:36 am

    Food is a big expense when it comes to taking a vacation! That’s why I booked an all inclusive luxury bermuda hotel vacation for later this year. All food is included.

  24. MIKE
    August 18, 2014 | 10:33 am

    This is a great write up. Down here in Key West, FL. It can make a huge difference in budgets when factoring in the high cost of dining out on the island. The option of staying in a vacation rental is give you the chance to cook most of your food at home, in a real kitchen. Check out our selection of great rental homes the next time you head down to old Key West.

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  29. EllenC
    December 19, 2014 | 4:30 am

    This blog was very helpful. We went to Oceanside the year before last. It was the most chaotic vacation I have ever been on. (It was a last minute thing too) but the meal plans were outrageous. We shopped at Walmart and wound up giving half of the food we didn’t eat in the three days time to the neighbors. Hamburger meat, Lunch meat, Hotdogs, Chips, about 3 full boxes of cereal. NOW THAT I KNOW WHAT I KNOW NOW… I will be planning the meals, and we are going to cut corners but have a great time. One things for sure, I wont be looking at my wallet crazy after vacation is over wondering what happened to my money lol. THANK YOU MUCH!!!

  30. Cindy J
    June 23, 2015 | 8:21 am

    when we go to the beach, we always rent a condo. We eat breakfast in for all the reasons you mentioned above. We also eat lunch in, so we can get back out on the beach, unless we are away on an outing from the condo. We eat out almost every night. Sometimes we buy fresh shrimp and cook it in the condo, adding a salad or cook spaghetti, hamburgers or hotdogs. It helps save money to eat at least 2 meals a day in so you can splurge a little at night and still feel like you are on “vacation.”

  31. Mindy
    July 22, 2015 | 5:20 pm

    When we vacation with friends both families will pick 2 nights to cook so you only have to cook twice but you eat in 4 times and then eat out the remainder of the time. It works out great.

  32. Angel
    July 30, 2015 | 11:39 am

    We are a family of 5 and we routinely eat breakfast in on our vacations. Whether it is a fully cooked meal or just fresh fruit, granola or even a PB&J. One additional comment that I had is that we pre-make and bring along alot of bite sized appetizers, like pepperoni flowers, bruschetta, mini-meatloafs. This way when we come back from a long day of hiking, sightseeing, or amusement parks we have a nice little treat to cap off the night.

  33. The Little Tourist
    January 22, 2016 | 10:35 am

    Great ideas!!!
    I especially love the prepared snacks.
    I’ve done this before and it helps A LOT! lol!