One Small Vacation Change Can Save You Big Money

Vacations and quick weekends away can get expensive fast.

It doesn’t have to always end up that way though.

If you simply use this quick tip, you can cut a big chunk of money off of your weekend getaway or full blown vacation.

How To Save Money While Travelling

This tip may seem stupid, but if you really think about it, it has massive potential to save you money. Simply cut back on dining out, or completely eliminate it, while you’re on vacation.

I know that a lot of people love to eat out when they reach their destination. We’ve been programmed to believe it is part of the vacation feel.

Before you completely revolt, the occasional special meal at a nice restaurant on vacation isn’t what I’m talking about. I’m talking about eating out when you get in the car or head to the airport.

The best part about this tip is the bigger the family the more you save.

Your Dining Options For A Road Trip

If you are driving to your destination, stop by the grocery store before you leave for your trip. Instead of spending money on the typical restaurant experience, buy some items you can pack for lunches, dinners and some snacks for in between.

Most people just stop somewhere for a fast meal in the rush to get to wherever they are going. Your fast food options normally include McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King at most interstate exits. These meals can be quick if the restaurants are appropriately staffed. Sadly, that isn’t always the case.

Gas stations are another option but they have very inflated prices due to the convenience fact. Typically, they only carry snacks and lighter meal items. You could easily spend just as much eating at a gas station as you would at a fast food restaurant.

Packing your food is even faster than fast food or a gas station because you don’t have to stop at all.

I always liked to pack peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with Pringles but you can pack deli meat sandwiches in a cooler if you prefer. For drinks, I pick up a 24 pack of water bottles, which is the only time you’ll ever see me buying bottled water. We usually pick up a 12 pack of soda, as well.

Again, the larger the family the more you stand to save. The best part is, I always have leftover drinks to enjoy once I reach my vacation destination so I don’t have to pay the high prices from vending machines or local vendors.

Essentially, I get to save money twice with this trick.

Your Dining Options When You’re Flying

Things can be a bit more complicated in the airport but bringing along food and drink is still manageable. Airport food is very expensive and, unless you like overpriced food, is rarely worth it.

You can easily pack some food in your carry on bag. Unfortunately, drinks are a bit harder because of those pesky security guards. There is a way to get around it. What I do is buy a 1.25 liter bottle of Coke Zero a week or so in advance.

When I am done drinking it I keep the bottle. You can take empty bottles through security and the fill it up with the water fountain on the other side.

Drinks at the airport cost at least double what they are anywhere else so I always bring an empty bottle.

Feel Free To Dine Out At Your Destination

Like I said before, once you reach your destination you’re free to eat out if it is part of the vacation plan. Just avoid fast food options you could eat at home. After all, why spend money doing something you could do at home. You might as well cook.

Personally, I like eating at beachfront restaurants when I’m going to beach. I try to stay away from the major chains like TGI Friday’s because I can go to them at home and it is the same exact experience.

Another Great Way To Save On Vacation Costs

I have one more secret way to save on vacations. My wife and I regularly use credit card rewards, including sign up bonuses, to pay for most of our vacations.

In fact, we’ve taken several cruises for free thanks to these credit card rewards.

If you’re interested and never carry a balance on your credit cards, check out my list of the best sign up bonus credit cards.

Don’t Forget The True Meaning Of Vacation

Vacations should be about experiences and memories. The car or plane ride is rarely one of them. So, save some money next time you head out by stopping by the grocery store before you go.

Not a big fan of dining out? If you really want to save more on your vacation, book lodging with a kitchen.

All you have to do is stop by the grocery store on the way to your lodging destination and stock up on groceries. Then you can cook your meals for much less at your vacation home.

Do you have a travel tip you’d like to share? What do you think about this idea? Let me know if you plan on trying it out!

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About Lance Cothern

Lance Cothern, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, is the founder of Money Manifesto. You can read more about him here or connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest.


  1. I would agree. Eating out can really rack up the bills. We often shop at grocery stores while we travel and make our own meals. If we can cook then we will but otherwise we just eat a lot of fruits, veggies, salads, and sandwiches.

  2. Airport food is expensive, and it’s hardly ever tasty!

  3. I can’t believe how fast this three-day weekend is coming to an end!! My tip is Power Bars! Particularly the Protein Plus ones. Some people hate them, I love them! They are convenient to take with you pretty much anywhere you go and they always fill me up.

  4. I just took a one day trip and blew some serious money. Had I done some more planning I could have significantly cut the costs. I ended up spending over $60 on gas stations stops.

  5. Tackling Our Debt says:

    Everything does add up quickly. If we do a road trip I love packing a homemade picnic for us. If we fly I may pack some snacks but I don’t struggle with drinks. Although airport food is expensive and usually not very good, we do sometimes eat there, depending on the time of day and how long our flight will be. It is still less money than buying food on the plane.

  6. I totally agree. eating out KILLS the budget major! I hate spending so much on water at the airport or for a really crappy salad. But sometimes it happens because planes get delayed… my flights are always delayed and/or cancelled!

    • Delays and cancellations can be a problem for sure. Pack some extra snacks just in case 🙂 Maybe it will hold you over till you can leave the dreaded airport.

  7. It’s ridiculous what they charge for food at airports. I bought a small sandwich and a cookie last month for $15. What a rip off! My mistake was picking things that didn’t have price tags and not wanting to pick something else after being in line for 5 minutes.

    • I think I bought an ice cream once because I was really craving it and it was 2-3x what I’d pay at McDonalds or Dairy Queen.

  8. I agree. I love eating out for dinner, but I always try to bring my own lunches and snacks during car rides. I hate wasting my money on fast food.

    • It is sad when you go out to eat and can’t decide what to get because nothing sounds appealing. That happened to me the other day at a fast food place!

  9. Packing food for traveling is a great idea, as food can be expensive while traveling. I’ve written about the cost of food at airports, where I paid like $12 or so for a sub sandwich. Incredible! Just imagine a family eating, and how much that could cost.

    • It is harder at airports because you can’t predict delays and cancellations but if you know you have a layover definitely pack some snacks or a small meal!

  10. I indulge in eating out when I travel. It is one of the many other reasons I enjoy travel. I do eat out in the airports, and we never pack or cook food while away. We are not saving on food, definitely. 🙂 We try to save on other things such as hotel locations, packing lightly and not paying for the extra luggage, using public transportation, eating out where locals eat and so on. 🙂

    • That is the best part of personal finance. You can choose what to save on and what to spend on! I’m glad you know that you have to make decisions though and not get everything.

  11. I absolutely love using apps like Groupon or Living Social when I am traveling. I’m a college student so traveling is already hard enough as it is.

  12. We go to a water park tourist trap in the middle of winter with neighbors each year (they have indoor water parks too) – we always go in together and get a big condo with a full kitchen. Each family cooks a meal or two and we don’t eat out. It DOES save a ton of money!

  13. We’ve learned well with four kids to always have snacks/sandwiches from home for day trips, vacations and even for long errand-running days. Otherwise it can get expensive very quickly. Great post, Lance!

  14. I’m so with you on saving costs here. I’m not a foodie, and my idea of great food isn’t sold in restaurants, so why not pack my own and self cater?

    Personally I’d rather spend my money on things that matter to me and I get real enjoyment out of, like going to more out of the way wow places, than eating out.

  15. I eat out a lot. When on the road, the McDonalds phone app cannot be beat. I always ask for a senior discount, or a military discount. And it doesn’t hurt to limit your food to only one main meal a day. Three large meals is too much anyway.

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