Traveling can be expensive, but with a little foresight, you could take a bite out of the sometimes exorbitant costs associated with dining out at tourist destinations. Any time spent to cut vacation food costs is time well spent: According to a Value Penguin study, Americans, on average, spend over 25% of their total vacation cost on food and drinks during a 4-day domestic trip and 15% of their total vacation cost on food and drinks during a 12-day international trip.1 Here are a few ideas to help lessen the blow.

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. Some hotels may actually offer a complementary daily breakfast. Check out this list of hotels that offer a hot breakfast included with your stay.

Here’s something you may not have considered: more 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 drinks.

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. Not only is this a less expensive option, but you also can avoid the tip you would typically need to leave a server.

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 earn rewards on groceries is by using your credit card if your card offers rewards on all purchases. Be sure you check with your issuer 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 typically safe bets for discounts, but you can 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 of 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 appetizers.

Saving money on vacation can help to make your experience richer. Do your research before you go and enjoy your well-deserved time away.


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