How To Save Money On Your Road Trip: Eating for Cheap
I LOVE road trips! Watching the country go by outside your rolled-down window is an experience like no other. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing a series of road-trip related posts – sharing our tips, tricks, and ideas to help make your next (or first!) road-trip a success!
As a family of 6, we typically take one larger road-trip each year – sometimes driving cross-country with all four kids in tow – and we LOVE it! One of the questions I get asked a lot is, “How can you afford to travel so often?” Everyone’s financial situation is going to be different, but I’ve learned a few ways we can save money to make our trips more affordable.
Today I’m sharing some ideas to make eating on the road more affordable – because let’s get real, eating out is expensive – especially when you have a larger family.
ALWAYS book hotels that offer free breakfast!
As often as possible, find the hotels that offer complimentary breakfasts (and coffee!) and then load up! Many hotels offer protein and fruit in addition to the typical pastry staples – and that free meal can help keep everybody filled up.
Pack a Cooler and Snacks
About a month before we head out, I start stocking up on snacks to keep in the car. I grab individual packages of crackers, chips, Handi-snacks, Go-Go Squeeze, etc.
We also pack a cooler full of water bottles, soda, and juice pouches.
Having our own snacks and beverages saves a ton of money. Running into the convenience store for drinks and snacks can really add up – so we always make sure to bring our own.
Stop at Local Grocery Stores
Utilize those local grocery stores! We have found a TON of great money-savers using grocery stores across the country. Here are a few of my favorite ways a grocery store stop on your trip can save you $$!!
- Re-stock your ice (and keep that cooler cold!)
- Re-stock your beverages (Grab that CASE of water for the price you’d pay for just 2 bottles at a gas station!)
- Get fresh snacks like fruits and veggies.
- Buy and keep sandwich fixings in your cooler, and only stop to eat at a restaurant for dinner!
- Put together a cheap dinner! Grab a rotisserie chicken, a bag of grapes, some chips, and a side from the deli for WAY less than you’ll spend at even a fast-food restaurant! (Then go find a local park or school playground and eat outside!)
This idea came to me last year – and I still love it. On the road, it feels like you end up eating A LOT of burgers. Why not get pizza? You can get a pizza for A LOT less than the price you’d pay for a bunch of value meals at any burger joint. Use your phone and find a Dominos (or other pizza chain you like) near where you’d like to stop for dinner, call and put your order in, and then pick up a carry-out pizza for a bargain price! (*We have literally gotten an entire large pizza for less than the cost of ONE value meal from McDonalds.)
When Fast Food is All You’ve Got
Driving across the country means that you won’t always be in highly populated areas. Often, you can drive hundreds of miles without encountering a “city.” Sometimes the only choice (for miles!) will be to stop at those golden arches. When you need to stop at a burger place there are a few ways you can save:
- Stick to the Value/Dollar Menu and avoid the meals. If you have drinks in the car, there’s no need to pay extra for the drink.
- Split meals when you can. The 4 items for 4 dollar (or similar) deals could be split between two younger kids or consider swapping out items with another person. You’ll pay less for the two value meals than you would for two of the regular menu meals. Another great place to split is at Subway (or similar sandwich shop.)
- Many fast food restaurants now have apps that offer users special deals, discounts, or incentives.
- Check the kid’s meal prices carefully. In some cases, the kid’s meal may be more expensive than one of the adult meals. (For example, the DQ $5 Buck Lunch is cheaper than any of the kid’s meal choices at our local DQ.)
*Remember that menu prices can vary significantly depending on location. Often when a restaurant is the only choice for miles, the prices will jump (from what you may be used to) – as they know they’ve got you.
Research Local Options
Driving to a new part of the country? Do a little research on a region’s sit-down “chains.” You might find that your family can eat at a sit-down restaurant for less than you’d spend at a fast food restaurant. Look up menus online and get the most (or best) bang for your buck.
Got another tip for eating on the cheap while traveling? Leave it in a comment below! Happy road-tripping!