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by Apr 14, 2016

Travel Meals Intro

Rumor has it that some people forget to eat meals.  Those are probably the same people who work-out as “me time” and look forward to their yearly cleanse.  I personally know people like that (don’t worry, I won’t put your names… you know who you are).  I admire those people like crazy, but seriously I can’t even imagine it.  I exercise because I really like food and because I hate spending money on new clothes when the perfectly good ones in my drawers just don’t fit…  Sometimes I wish that I didn’t love food so much, but truthfully, a significant amount of my mental energy is spent thinking about the next meal (or snack or drink).  Even when we are home!  I come up with new things that cost as little as possible and the kids often say, “So mom… this stew good… probably one of those things we will never have again because you made it by cleaning out the fridge, right?”

One of the absolute greatest parts of travel is trying new places to eat.  It is tasting the best of the region!  It is embracing the culture!  It is not making the food myself!  or cleaning it up!  The diet gets put on hold.  Routine is changed and we get to try all sorts of new and exotic things (that I didn’t make!).  Giving up that part of travel would be a hard pill to swallow, but if I want to be able to afford to travel, I need to find a way to be frugal and show at least some self-discipline.

So, the second most effective tool to getting more out of the travel budget is on food.  When on the road, most people don’t eat well.  Donuts for breakfast.  Lots of stops at fast food chains to save money (that still end up being $30).  Emergency ice cream runs after hiking (and 4 ice cream cones add up to another $30).  When we do eat well, the price for that meal is tripled…  Not to mention the very necessary glass of wine / shot of Jameson due in large part to the massive saturation of togetherness and family time.

Here are tips from someone who loves a good meal:

Meals Scoop:

Eat 2 Meals & Snacks — works fantastic.  Not sure why everyone doesn’t do it when on the road.

  • Breakfast – Free breakfast at the hotel or cheap breakfast out or buy a coffee cake at the grocery store (for $3)
  • Snack – Have some fruit, nuts, or granola as hungry
  • Lupper – (Lunch + Supper) – Eat a late lunch / early dinner out, at the perfect place
    • Often restaurants have lunch specials that will save tons of money
    • Eating at the heat of the day avoids the worst of the sun and crowds
  • Dessert – dessert or snack in the evening when wandering around town (often ice cream) or a bowl of cereal back at base camp

Share!  — Splitting larger meals or take-out is a great way to lower the food expense.  Ordering Chinese, Thai, pizza, pasta, soup, salads, huge deli sandwich, stew, goulash!  The options are endless…  The best thing to do is pull out dishes from the day-pack!  Eat  with a scenic view!  or at the hotel, campsite, VRBO, or in the car!

Buy a Bottle — Avoid buying individual drinks.  Buy a bottle (of water or soda or wine) and pour each person a glass in their travel cup (I love our travel stainless-steel pint glasses because plastic always tastes funny to me, especially when the plastic gets warm from being in the daypack.   It is nice to have distinctive travel cups/plates/silverware so everyone washes their own).  Besides, nobody really needs their own supersize soda– and a bottle of wine is so much more reasonable than buying a glass. 🙂

YELP!  — Our family goal is to NEVER go to a chain restaurant that we could go to when we are home.  Meaning, when in Canada, we can go to Tim Hortons & the Swiss Chalet, but not McDonalds or Starbucks.  People visiting Chicago could go to Portillo’s, but not Subway.  Support local business and give them a try!  Usually we Yelp $ & $$ when in an area and pick what we feel like we have a taste for (and check that food poisoning is not the norm).  We have never regretted this.  We’ve eaten out of many taco buses, sushi from an alley, fish-fry from an old trolley and the best BBQ ever from a gas station with a line around it… all for less money than KFC… and (knock on wood) we’ve never gotten food poisoning.

Groupon — A frugal friend reminded me to add Groupon!!  She is so right!  There are often awesome deals for local restaurants and activities!  Try to check in advance because not all groupons are available immediately.

Camping Adjustments —  Our first camping trip we enthusiastically planned meals.  We carted around a grill, propane burner, pots, a percolator, knives, and spices.  I dreaded every single meal.  The coffee was filled with grounds.  The food never tasted good, there were bugs and bears and smoke.  The clean-up at a cold spigot or in the bathroom after a full day of hiking when I just wanted to be watching the sunset over Lake Jenny is what really pushed me over the edge (that and the rotten potato).  I like cooking! even at a VRBO!  and I love camping… but with the wisdom of the ages, we eat out at the heat of the day and only have simple snacks, fruit, nuts, cereal, sandwiches, and obviously wine and cookies, at the campsite.  You will thank me someday for this bit of very sound advice.

Miscellaneous Meal Advice, Tips, Randomness, and Minutia:
  • Bringing powdered lemonade / gatorade / ice tea saves money and avoids getting tired of water
  • When on the road, look ahead on the internet for restaurants or risk eating at gas stations
  • Gas stations don’t often have good food (except Okie Joe’s  BBQ in KC — MUST GO)
  • Plan the next food stop before the gang is starving and cranky.  Seriously
  • Plan on treats.  No need to be stuffed at every meal, there will be taffy or gelato or a fruit stand to enjoy
  • Share the treats!  Buy a quart of ice cream for $5 – split between everyone’s travel bowls!
  • Even at restaurants, don’t be afraid to share meals; just tip like everyone got their own
  • If picky kids — bring PB&J sandwiches, don’t settle on a place just because they serve chicken nuggets
  • Eventually, kids will be excited to try new things too, especially when they get sick of PB&J
  • Speaking of kids…  A handle of Tito’s is generally cheaper than 2 bottles of wine (just sayin’)
  • Buying local wine to taste the region sounds really fun… until Utah.  Don’t buy Utah wine… and…
  • Don’t order pizza in San Fran Chinatown or chicken salad at a wild west steak house — When in ROME!!

Thai With a Kick

Yes… I might have accidentally taunted the chef by saying we “Love when things are hot!”


Yes… we’ve had donuts as the only dinner option on vacation, and it was pretty epic (note to self– Topeka Kansas has NOTHING open on a Sunday night at 7pm)…

Can You Imagine?!?

The greatest little Himalayan Restaurant.  On the Oregon Coast.

Sometimes Gas Station Food isn't too Bad

Especially when it is Okie Joe’s BBQ.  Get the Z-man.  Or the burnt ends.  Or anything!

And we've eaten out of a bus

Actually, we’ve eaten out of a lot of buses.  But this one is a favorite.  Fish-fry right on the Sound is the best.