We recently enjoyed a trip to Washington DC, where we visited national sites, celebrated my grandfather’s 100th birthday and visited with relatives.
Although we were so happy to make the trip, we did need to keep costs down in order to make it happen. Since summer vacationing is right around the corner (no really, winter will end someday), I’m sharing some of our tricks to keeping vacation costs in check, particularly if you have a larger family. In Part I, we covered how to keep save on travel, lodging and activites and in Part II, we will cover food.
Keep Vacation Costs in Check: Prepare Your Own Food
As I mentioned in Part I, finding a place to stay that allows you to prepare your own food (at least some of the time) really helps keep costs down, for obvious reasons.
There are other advantages to it, too.
You control the quality of your food. You can serve fruits and veggies and fiber and all those things that keep everyone feeling digestively happy – a huge boost to enjoying your vacation. Eating all your meals from restaurants can take a toll, especially restaurant options that appeal to kids ;-)
You don’t have to wait endlessly with the crowds in restaurants three times a day. You don’t have to keep kids entertained in a restaurant during the wait, the ordering, the waiting for the food to come, the waiting for adults to eat their meals. We actually combine the prep in the rental with dining out. For us, it tends to work best if we have breakfast items in the rental, then have a later lunch out. That saves us from hauling food around all day while site seeing and lets our kids have some “fun” foods or treats. Buying lunch out tends to be less expensive than buying dinner out, so we usually head back to the rental for dinner after our day out. Since we eat lunch later, we can usually get away with a later dinner if that is how it works out. When we do eat out, we try to hit a local spot rather than a chain, so we can get some experience of the local food offerings.
In order to keep dinner prep simple on the trip (it is my vacation too, after all), I have a few strategies:
- Advanced preparation. Since we drive, we can bring some things from home with us. On our last trip, I packed cut chicken in stir-fry sauce, cut stir-fry vegetables, chicken in honey ginger sauce, frozen burger patties and cooked taco meat, all frozen. I made a grocery list of things to buy once we arrived, so we could just stop by a store close to our destination and get the more perishable or delicate foods, like vegetables, berries, buns, cheese, etc.
- Convenience items. I ususally am good about making actual long grain rice or homemade potato dishes, but vacation is a fine time to implement some convenience items like Minute Rice or boxed potatoes. You never know for sure what sorts of pots or pans you may have at a rental, so keeping it simple helps on that front, too. We have usually been able to make due with what we find, even if we have to cook something in two different pots (no large pots) or make our own baking sheet (a few layers of tin foil work in a pinch).
- 30 minute or less meals. Unless it is your thing, most people would prefer to spend less time on cooking while on vacation. I realize there are exceptions, but I also know I am more tired than I think I will be after a full day of seeing the sites. I am grateful when the meal is cooked quickly (stir fry) or tossed into a pan to bake without much preparation (chicken in the honey ginger sauce). Everything you can do in advance is great. Plus, with everything ready to move quickly, it is easier for everyone to work together and not burden just one person with the food preparation.
- Slow cooker. If you have the space in your car, bring a slow cooker. When everyone is getting ready in the morning, you can put your ingredients into the cooker and let it do the cooking for you while you are out vacationing. Simple add ons like instant rice and fresh, cut vegetables or salad can round out your meal in a few minutes when you return.
Other helpful food tips:
- Pack small snacks. A good quality snack bar or baggie of dried fruits and nuts can tide over young or old while you are waiting to get to the next meal. This will help you avoid the impulse popcorn purchase for $5.75 at the museum (ask me how I know).
- If you can, try to allow for some treats (it is vacation after all). At the very least, you can buy some more reasonably priced options at the store and at least avoid the over priced concession stands.
- With six people, I don’t feel like lugging six water bottles around all day. I have found it works well to pack disposable water bottles at our rental, then when those are gone, we put them in the recycling and buy water from there, usually just a couple at a time. This saves us at least $3 a person (1 water bottle each) works well for us. I don’t have to carry six all day long, but we can at least take the edge off of having to purchase all of our water, something that drives me a little nuts.
What did I miss? What sorts of things do you do to save on your vacation and keep costs reasonable while still enjoying yourself?