How to save money on food while traveling

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Marina Sands Bay Hotel Breakfast
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My biggest expenses while traveling are food and entertainment. When you have airline miles and hotel points, the “basics” of travel are taken care of. However, you can’t eat your miles & points, so we need to find ways to reduce the rest of our out-of-pocket expenses when on vacation. Here’s how to save money on food while traveling.

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How To Save Money On Food While Traveling

We’re going to talk about all of the ways that I save money on food while traveling. Yeah, I can be frugal sometimes, but I also want to make sure I’m enjoying the local cuisine and building lasting memories. I don’t want to have the regrets of “aw, man, I should have tried (blank)” when I come back from a trip because I was so worried about money.

The goal here is to save money on food while traveling so you can feel comfortable splurging on the meals and activities that you’ll really value.

Free Breakfast At Your Hotel

There are a couple of ways that you can save money on food while traveling when it comes to hotels. The easiest way is to book a room at a hotel that offers free breakfast to every guest. Two of my favorite hotels that offer free breakfast are Embassy Suites from Hilton and Residence Inn from Marriott. Many other hotels offer free breakfast too, so look around and pick a favorite.

How to save money on food while traveling. Embassy Suites Mandalay Bay breakfast buffet
Breakfast buffet at Embassy Suites Mandalay Bay

Free breakfast options will vary. Many of these hotels offer a bare-bones continental breakfast, while Embassy Suites offers a buffet, hot items, and made-to-order eggs & omelets. Residence Inn will usually have continental breakfast plus a couple of waffle irons. My kids (and I) love the waffles.

You can also avoid the “chain” hotels and book a room at a bed & breakfast. The name pretty much sums it up… for one price, you get a bed and a breakfast. These are usually small, privately owned properties where the owners are probably the ones cooking the meal for you. You probably won’t get much of a choice, but, hey, it’s free.

Maximize Hotel Status

If you have status with hotels, you can often receive free breakfast at the on-site restaurant.

How to save money on food while traveling. Hilton Stockholm Slussen Executive Lounge breakfast
Breakfast in the Executive Lounge at the Hilton Stockholm Slussen

For example, because I’m a Hilton Diamond member when Timmy and I visited Stockholm, we received a free breakfast buffet every morning. This free buffet filled our stomachs and allowed us to concentrate on seeing the sites for hours before we thought about having the next meal.

Book A Room With A Kitchen

One of the ways to save money on food while traveling is to book a room with a kitchen. You can grab some groceries from a nearby store and cook meals that will satisfy both your budget and your taste buds.

Hotel chains like Residence Inn and timeshares will offer a reasonably sized kitchen with enough appliances and utensils to make a meal just like you would at home. Granted, when you’re on vacation, you may want a vacation from cooking.

How to save money on food while traveling. Marriott Grande Vista Orlando timeshare kitchen
Kitchen at the Marriott Grande Vista Orlando timeshare

My wife is no exception to that rule!

What we do is save money by eating breakfast in our room before we head out for the day. Usually, this is some combination of cereal, fruit, eggs, or pancakes. Then we grab lunch as we’re exploring. And dinner will either be back in the unit, out on the BBQs (many hotels & timeshares offer them), or at a restaurant offering local cuisine that comes highly rated.

Meals That Are Part Of The Fun

When you’re planning your vacation, you’ve probably set aside a certain amount that you’ll spend on each activity. You can save money on food by combining your meals and entertainment.

For example, you can attend a dinner theater show or take local cooking classes.

Earn Cash Back When Dining

One of my favorite ways to save money when eating (at home or when traveling) is to use an app like Dosh. With this app, I register my credit cards once, and then I can earn 7-10% cash back when dining at participating restaurants.

Use my link to sign up for Dosh to earn $5 (or more) when you link your first credit card.

How to save money on food while traveling. Dosh surprise cash back square

They have tons of options on the app, ranging from fast food to fine dining. Open the app, search for someplace nearby that seems interesting, and pay with your registered card. It’s literally that simple.

And the business won’t even know that you’re saving a bunch of money… so feel free to use a coupon when paying for even more savings!

Earn Miles Towards Your Next Vacation

Some airlines and hotel brands participate in a program called Dining Rewards. Restaurants that are on this network allow you to earn miles and points in your favorite program when you use your registered credit card at one of their locations.

The cool thing is that you’re double-dipping because you can earn cash back from Dosh and the miles & points through Dining Rewards.

How to save money on food while traveling. southwest-dining-rewards-survey

And a few days after your meal, you’ll receive an email asking you to review your dining experience to earn some additional rewards. It’s a simple survey that takes less than 2 minutes to complete. Free rewards are my favorite kind.

Buy Local Deals

Before you leave on vacation, do a little search on Groupon and LivingSocial to see what deals are available. This works for food and activities and is a great way to uncover places you might not otherwise hear about.

Restaurant.com is another company that offers significant discounts for local restaurants. For example, you can buy $25 off $50 certificates for about $4 during their frequent sales.

Across the country, regional or local sites offer similar deals. Where I live in Orange County, CA there is a company called LocalFlavor.com that offers big discounts on restaurants close by that aren’t available on the bigger sites like Groupon and LivingSocial.

As you probably know, when you buy a Groupon (or voucher from a similar company), you’re saving a bunch of money off the normal walk-in price. These discounted certificates are part of a businesses marketing budget. They hope to earn repeat business, so this may not really be the intended use since you’re only visiting.

However, don’t hold off just because of that. If you have a great experience, I’m sure you’ll be sharing it on social media, which will help the business gain more exposure and future customers from your friends who hear about it from you. And that’s exactly what they hope you’ll do.

Use The “Right” Credit Card

When you pay for your while on vacation, you need to make sure you’re paying for it the right way. Use a credit card that earns cash back or will earn miles & points towards your next vacation. The best cards to use offer bonus points of at least 3x on “dining” categories.

How to save money on food while traveling. credit-card-1730085_1920

And when you register these cards for Dosh and Dining Rewards, you’re getting paid three times… once for the normal rewards from the card, cash back from Dosh, AND travel rewards from your preferred Dining Rewards partner. How cool is that?

Bring Snacks With You

Whether you’re on a flight or out exploring for the day, getting hungry can bust your budget if you’re not careful. I recommend packing some (healthy) snacks in your bag so that you’ll resist the temptation to overpay for a snack when you’re “Hangry”.

I like this method because you can choose to eat along the way at places you want to try instead of picking the first place that will satisfy your hunger. So many times in the past, we would stop into something close by, have a so-so meal, then 15 minutes down the road we found a place that would have been absolutely delicious.

That’s why we started packing snacks… so we could be mindful of our spending and with what we put in our bellies.

PS: Snacks are also a must with kids. Their stomachs aren’t as big, and they burn way more calories than us adults, so they need food more frequently than we do. And they aren’t always willing to wait before hitting a DEFCON Level 3 meltdown because they’re hungry.

The Bald Thoughts

By using these simple tips on how to save money on food while traveling, you can easily stay within budget on your next trip. And the best thing is that most of these tips are available to everyone, even if you aren’t an advanced traveler with high-level hotel status.

Which of these tips would work best for you? Please let us know in the comments below. And while you’re at it, share your favorite tip or saving money on food while traveling.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. we sometimes order in from grubhub and it’s more than enough for one meal – the refrigerator and microwave at residence inn help stretch it out over a couple of days

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