3 Ways to Slash A Vacation Food Bill

You’re in an unfamiliar vacation town. Prices are high and cash is low, but hunger calls all the same.

You can’t control when hunger strikes, but with a little foresight, you can take a bite out of the sometimes exorbitant costs associated with restaurants and food at tourist destinations.

Any effort to trim a vacation’s food bill is well spent: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, spending on food and drinks accounts for nearly one-quarter of the cost of a trip. 1 Here are a few ideas to lessen the blow.

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1. Plan your accommodations with food in mind — but not just breakfast.

Before you even leave for vacation, think through some basic strategies for how you’ll save money on food.

One strategy is to choose accommodations that include meals with your stay. The majority of mid-scale hotel chains offer a complimentary daily breakfast. And bed and breakfasts, it goes without saying, almost always include a home-cooked morning meal.

But here’s something you may not have considered. Increasingly, hotels are introducing evening socials, which often include small bites and beverages. For example, all Drury Hotels offer free hot breakfast in addition to a 5:30 Kickback, which includes salads, soups, snacks and beverages. Embassy Suites offers an evening social hour with free snacks and cocktails; the Residence Inn hosts a Mix some weeknights with food and drink.

2. Think beyond restaurants.

While you’re traveling, think of ways to enjoy meals that don’t include sit-down service.

The obvious option is to pick up a few groceries to make some low-cost meals back in your room, if your hotel or rental includes a kitchen, or even just a microwave and mini-fridge.

Check the website of your destination’s visitor’s bureau for any upcoming festivals (potentially with cheap eats), farmers’ markets and more. Food trucks are a great way to eat on the go and are often higher quality than comparably priced fast food.

If you do plan on dining out, there’s no reason you can’t research your options ahead of time in the same way you’d research attractions. Yelp, OpenTable and TripAdvisor can help you map out the best restaurants in your price range.

3. Go for the same deals you’d find at home.

You may already clip coupons and scour deal sites back home before going out to eat, but don’t forget that there are restaurant discounts available while you’re traveling, too. You just have to know where to look.

One way you can save on groceries is by simply using your credit card. Many credit cards offer deals on grocery stores that are full of packable, easy to make meals. Make sure you check for any deals you can take advantage of before you hit the road.

Of course, there are the go-to deals sites such as Groupon and LivingSocial that are always safe bets for discounts. But also check social-media sites for deals on some of the restaurants you hope to visit. Keep checking, too — occasionally restaurants will advertise “kids eat free” deals or buy-one, get-one offers on slower days.

What time and day you eat matters, too. Lunch menus are almost always cheaper than dinner menus, and if you’re willing to have dinner on the earlier side, go during Happy Hour for discounted drinks and apps.

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