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10+ Ways To Save Money On Food When You’re On Vacation

We all need a vacation from time to time, but it feels like they’re too expensive and we can’t afford them. You can. You just have to be a little creative with your budget. To help, we have some Ways To Save Money On Food When You’re On Vacation.

For more help planning your trip, check out all of our travel posts.

A man at a Japanese barbecue at a resort with the words "8 Ways To Save On Food When You're On Vacation" digitally written above him.

Vacations are filled with travel expenses. You pay a bunch for airfare or gas to drive to your destination, and then more for a hotel. And at this point in time, things are getting even more expensive. So the last thing you really want to do when you’re on vacation is open your wallet more than you have to. You still have to eat, though. But it’s okay. There are tons of ways to save on food when you’re on vacation.

This is not to say that you can’t go out to eat when you’re on vacation. For me, one of the most fun parts of vacation is getting to eat all the local foods at restaurants and food trucks that I can’t eat at when I’m at home. And I’m a huge proponent of dining at the tourist destinations.

But if we can save money with a free breakfast at the hotel, we can spend more on a nice meal dinner. Stretching your travel budget leads to balance.

A man standing at the Grand Canyon with the words "How To Travel On A Budget" digitally written above him.

Saving on food is just one way to stretch your budget. For more ways to do so, check out our How To Travel On A Budget post, filled with tons of money-saving tips for your next vacation.

10+ Ways To Save Money On Food When You’re On Vacation

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Did you know that you can get discounts when you bring your own travel mug into coffee shops? Find out where and why you should always travel with a travel mug on

Pack a cooler.

When I was growing up, our annual family vacations were camping every summer. We went with a large group and all the adults would pack coolers with their own food: meats to grill, drinks, stuff for our own breakfasts, etc.

It was so much easier than spending part of vacation putting together a shopping list, finding the local grocery stores, and going grocery shopping. Plus, you could buy what you needed on sale at your supermarket instead of paying full price when you got on vacation.

Because you know grocery stores at tourist spots know they don’t have to have the best sales. I don’t blame them, but I also don’t want to shop at them.

If you’re staying in a hotel, not a campground, you can still pack a cooler. Bring sandwiches from home so you don’t have to buy lunch when you’re on your trip. Pack bottled water or your reusable water bottle because that’s easier and cheaper than having to buy water at the hotel’s vending machine.

Most hotels will have a refrigerator in the room so you can pack your items in it when you get to your room. If not, you can always keep everything in your cooler and use the hotel’s ice maker to keep filling it up with cold ice to keep your food cold.

Kitchen in a hotel.

Cook in the hotel.

Certain hotels have a full kitchen. Yes, full. There are pots and pans, a strainer, utensils, a stove top, and a dishwasher. If you find a hotel like that, you can bring your own ingredients and cook your own meals at the hotel. That way, you’re only spending money on ingredients when you’re in the hotel.

Even better, if you followed our first tip and packed a cooler with food, you don’t even have to grocery shop on your trip.

What’s also great about this is those hotels also have utensils and plates, which means you don’t have to spend money on paper plates or plastic utensils. So that will save you a little more too.

You can do this if you book an Airbnb too. What’s great about some Airbnb rentals is the renters will actually leave ingredients for you, like spices. Those may or may not cost extra to use, so just double check before you open anything.

And you don’t have to only think about making big meals in your hotel or Airbnb. My mom and I stayed at an Airbnb once, bought local peaches from one of the local farm’s food stalls, and made Peach Hand Pies for dessert one night instead of having dessert out in town.

A can of beer on the bar at Bale Breaker Brewing Co.

Bring your own beer.

A great tip is to pack a cooler with beer. That way, you don’t have to buy those at a store, where they’re probably more expensive. And then you can stock the hotel’s fridge with your own beer instead of drinking from the mini fridge or the hotel’s bar.

If you’re not a beer drinker, you can pack a cooler with the drinks that you drink instead. Pack bottles of liquor, soda, or cold coffee.

Of course, you can stop at bars and breweries on your trip, but when you’re relaxing at night watching TV, drinking your own beverages in your hotel room is a lot cheaper than grabbing them at the gas station on the way back to the room (and even cheaper than buying drinks at the hotel’s bar and bringing them up to your room).

An omelet and a hotel key card.

Have breakfast at the hotel.

I’m a big fan of booking a hotel with a complementary breakfast. That way, you can have a meal without an extra cost when you’re on your trip. When you’re booking your hotel, look under the hotel’s amenities for the mention of breakfast. Some will offer a hot breakfast, some a continental, and some won’t offer one at all.

When we booked our hotel in San Antonio, I paid an extra $4.50 a day for us to have breakfast at the hotel. I figured if it was just a coffee and a small plate for that price, we would at least be starting our date at the hotel, not a coffee shop. To our surprise, the cost got us a full, sit down breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant — complete with the best coffee we’ve had in a hotel. It was absolutely worth it, especially when you figure a fancy coffee at a coffee shop would cost basically the same price.

A BLT on a plate with homemade chips on a plate behind it.

Purchase discount restaurant certificates.

If you’re in an area you don’t know, get restaurant recommendations from the front desk or a local friend. Then, head over to and see if there are any discount certificates for those recommendations. If you find one, you can purchase a discount certificate while you’re on vacation, right from your phone. Then, use the hotel’s business center (or ask the front desk, if there’s no business center) to print it.

 Many of them on that site sell $10 certificates for $2, $25 certificates for $5, etc. So by doing a little bit of legwork to find one, you can save a significant amount on your bill.

Wilmington, NC has a site called the Save30Store. The website offers 30% off certificates for many local businesses, including restaurants. There are currently more than two dozen local restaurants in Wilmington with offers. You just claim the offer, purchase it right on the site, and it gets sent to you. It’s a gift certificate voucher that you present when you’re paying your bill. It’s one of the best ways to save on your meal.

Many other metro cities have similar local sites, so a quick Google search before your trip can help you save.

Four women at a wooden booth with food in front of them at a restaurant (The Copper Penny in Wilmington, North Carolina).

Eat lunch out instead of dinner.

Unless you can find a great happy hour deal, dinner is usually more expensive than lunch. So, if you have your heart set on a restaurant, consider eating lunch there instead of dinner. That way, you’ll be able to experience the restaurant for less money than you would spend for dinner.

The portion sizes at some restaurants are so large, so you might end up not being able to finish your meal. Bring your leftovers back to your hotel room, put them in the fridge, and have it for dinner. Now you have two meals for less than the cost of what dinner would have been.

Pecans at Buc-ee's.

Pack snacks.

On our last trip to Japan, Pete and I decided we would just eat and drink everything we wanted and not worry about the cost. I ate my favorite Japanese food (gyoza) seven of the 15 days we were there, and honestly, it still wasn’t enough. Pete ate squid on a stick, drank highballs, and surprised me with my favorite Japanese snack — UCC Coffee and Koalas No March.

But, just to be fiscally responsible, I still packed snacks. I knew that we would be sightseeing quite a bit and we might not be able to stop at a convenience store to grab a bite to eat.

So I packed two non-perishable snacks per day for us. I made sure to pack snacks that traveled well and ones that wouldn’t melt in the Japanese heat. So granola bars, nuts, and crackers were on the top of the list. I carried them in my purse and was happy to have them when we were hungry.

When we go on weekend road trips, I love packing large bags of chips or popcorn that we can snack on when we’re sitting in the hotel room. Honestly, any excuse to have snacks is good with me.

Corn and jalapeno on the grill.

Use the hotel’s barbecue.

During our wedding, we blocked off rooms at a hotel that had a barbecue grill as part of the hotel’s outdoor area. Use of the grill was available on a first come, first serve basis. But luckily, we were there first (and only group) there on the Thursday before our wedding.

So, as our guests were arriving at the hotel, they would join us outside for hamburgers, hot dogs, and drinks. My dad manned the grill, and it was a great way to say hi to people and hang out. Plus, it saved people from having to go out to dinner after traveling all day — and saved them money too.

If you see a hotel with this amenity, it’s not a guarantee that you’ll be able to use it, but honestly, I’ve never seen anyone but us grilling at hotels. We’ve stayed at a few with grills and have always been the only guests to use it.

This is a really good way to dine if you’re traveling with a lot of people too. It’s easier to have everyone find a seat in the hotel’s barbecue area than in a restaurant.

A small bag of fries from McDonald's on a napkin.

Use mobile apps.

Nearly every fast food restaurant has a mobile app now. And so many of them offer discounts in those apps.

Now, a lot of travelers will tell you not to visit chains when you’re on vacation because you can have that food at home. And that’s true. You can. But, if you’re looking for a good price on a quick bite to eat when you’re driving to your destination or if you want to grab an ice cream on the drive back to the hotel, fast food often wins. So download the apps and see what great deals you can find.

Don’t stop with a restaurant’s app, though. Upside, which people know as an app that gives cash back at the gas station, also has restaurant deals.

Open the app when you’re on your trip and you’ll see local restaurants in the area. Click the restaurant, hit “claim offer” and pay with the credit card that’s in your app. You’ll get a percentage back in your Upside account. It’s so easy. And Upside is free to join (which you should do if you’re driving to this vacation so you can save money on gas on your road trip).

Pay with cash.

Some restaurants will charge you a fee for the convenience of paying with a credit card, but won’t charge you that fee if you pay with cash. The cost of the food items on the menu is the same, but you’ll see a fee added onto your bill if you pay with a credit, debit, or gift card (like a VISA gift card, not a restaurant’s gift card).

Now, I don’t think it’s a good idea to carry large amounts of cash on you when you’re on vacation, but paying with cash to save is an option if you really need to stretch your food budget.

Do you have any other tips to save money on food while traveling? Be sure to let us know in the comments.