Let's face it, we must eat to live! And when on vacation or traveling, eating seems to be part of the whole experience. After all, sampling local cuisine is the best way to understand a region’s culture.. However, food costs while traveling can add up quickly.

There’s no need to sacrifice a great meal while traveling. It is possible to enjoy three square meals a day along with snacks and samplings in between without taking out a second mortgage.

Do your homework

When I finally had the chance to visit New York, the first thing I wanted to do was sink my teeth into was a juicy steak. But while at home in Indiana, I researched the best restaurant to stay within my small budget. If you know you want to sample a specific dish, visit the websites of area restaurants first (or call directly to inquire about daily specials). Sign up for email newsletters and perhaps you will even receive coupons! By knowing this information in advance, it is easier to make wiser financial decisions on vacation.

Be flexible

On a recent trip to Vegas, I knew I had to sample the resort's buffet asap! But when we arrived Sunday morning, I realized the cost of the Sunday brunch buffet is $34.95, but on Monday it drops significantly to only $14.95. Sure the Monday buffet came with a few less bells and whistles, but that was a huge savings! Since I was going to be there the next day, I waited a day and saved money! Restaurants and bars offer more deals during the week to draw customers. Visit higher-end eateries during off-times such as weekdays and even at lunch  to get the same great fare for less.

Be a pack rat

Snacks and drinks add up fast when traveling. Instead of paying $3 for an energy bar and another $2 or $3 for a soda, keep filling snacks on hand like granola or energy bars and dried fruit (these items won't make a mess or spoil). Carry a large purse to easily transport snacks while sightseeing. Pack a reusable water bottle to save money on drinks. Many of today's water bottles keep drinks cold for hours.

Take Advantage of Hotel Perks

Many hotels offer a free breakfast. Aways take advantage of that opportunity! But eat smart, skip the sugary cereal and opt for a filling combination of protein, fruits, and vegetables to avoid becoming hungry an hour later. Before leaving for the day or checking out, look for fresh fruit, water, and granola in the fitness center, healthy snacks at the spa and coffee in the lobby or business center. Hotels are usually stocked full with these freebies, so don't be shy about utilizing them! If the hotel does not offer a free breakfast but has an in-house eatery, ask at the desk for the best deals and if any current specials are available. Also, whether it's a condo, apartment, or a hotel, staying somewhere with a kitchen can do miracles for the budget. Buy local ingredients to cook with and have plenty of snacks and beverages on hand!

When in Rome

While visiting any destination, it is best to eat like the locals. Tourist eateries often have inflated prices. Simply ask locals where the best place is to grab an affordable bite.

Location, Location, Location

This one is a no-brainer but must be mentioned: Avoid hotel room service! That convenience comes at a high cost. Be willing to venture out a little bit and explore, and you will notice that prices drop way down.

Know Your Discount Eligibility

There are so many membership cards accepted at eateries: Students, senior citizens, military members, and certain professions such as teachers, police officers, and firefighters may be given a discount. It never hurts to ask! It can typically save at least 15%!

Join a Rewards Program

Another way to get more bang for your buck is to sign up for a rewards program such as Upromise that pays participants when they eat at participating restaurants (even when dining out of state). If you have student loans or are saving for college, register your debit, credit and dining cards for free. When you make certain purchases, including at restaurants and grocery stores, a percentage is applied to your loans or savings account. You are truly saving for the future when dining!


If this vacation marks a special occasion (anniversary, birthday or honeymoon), be sure to mention it to the server. It can even pay to tell a server it’s your first visit to that restaurant: Several months ago, I told a server that it was my first time at that eatery, and she treated me to an appetizer!

Combine Eating and Tourist Activities

Absorb more local flavor by taking a cooking class, visiting a farmer's market or touring a local winery. Literally sample local flavor while enjoying a meal. Check the visitor’s bureau of your destination city (online, in person, or by phone) to discover culinary tours and other opportunities.


How to Eat Well, Stay on Budget and Still Enjoy Vacation