How to Spend Less on Food While Traveling

Traveling during the holiday season can be expensive. On their own, the cost of plane tickets, train tickets, bus tickets, fuel, car rentals and hotels can be a real struggle, but the cost of food is an additional financial burden, especially when you’re traveling with children. Airport food and quick stops along the interstate are expensive options for dining, and the bills can quickly add up.

Cutting down on food expenses during holiday travel is surprisingly easy if you’re willing to do a bit of advance planning. Here are six strategies that can help you save money on food while traveling.

[See: 12 Habits of Phenomenally Frugal Families.]

Eat before you leave. No matter what strategies you might be using to save money on a trip, few things are more efficient than simply eating before leaving. If at all possible, eat a simple inexpensive meal at home before departing on your trip.

A full belly will carry you through a significant portion of your travels before you’re inclined to eat. And you’ll ideally get you to your destination before you need to grab a snack. This strategy works very well in tandem with some of the other strategies here. For example, if you’re making a meal to take with you, make an additional meal (with a bit of variety) and eat it shortly before you leave.

Take an empty water bottle and some granola bars in your carry-on bag to the airport. Every person traveling with you should do the same. When you get to the airport and pass through security, fill the water bottle at a water fountain and enjoy the granola bars and water as needed. For most domestic flights, that should provide more than enough calories for you to arrive at your destination without spending money on expensive airport food.

Granola bars are a great inexpensive and small option for a carry-on. Just buy a box or two of the type you prefer at the grocery store before going to the airport.

[Read: How to Feed Your Teen Without Destroying Your Food Budget.]

Stock up at the grocery store before leaving on a road trip. Before you hit the road, stop at the grocery store and pick up some supplies that will make it easy to assemble a simple meal at a rest stop rather than stopping at a restaurant. Grab a loaf of bread, a few sandwich options, a bag of baby carrots and a bag of chips. You’ll spend about $15 and be able to feed a whole family. That’s going to be far cheaper than almost any other food stop you’ll make.

Do the same on the return trip. On your way out of town, stock up and make your own meal at a rest stop.

Take water bottles on a road trip and refill them at every opportunity. Empty water bottles are invaluable on road trips. You can fill them easily at virtually any rest stop you visit and at most convenience stores. Fill up a bottle for each person before you leave, then refill those bottles whenever you have to make a stop.

If you prefer flavored drinks, buy a beverage mix that’s easy to take while traveling and add it to your water when it’s full. Beverage mixes are usually inexpensive per use.

Pack a meal or two for your carry-on bag while traveling on the train or the bus. Travel by train or bus can take a very long time, so packing some food in advance can save you lots of money. Make a simple meal that doesn’t require refrigeration, such as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a small bag of chips, and keep it in your bag until you’re hungry (along with that trusty refillable water bottle).

If the trip is really long, make enough food for multiple meals and eat it as you go. Make three or four sandwiches and take a few granola bars to boot.

[See: 10 Big Ways to Boost Your Budget — Without Skimping on Your Daily Latte.]

Travel at night if possible. A red-eye trip, whether by train, plane, bus or car, is one in which most of the passengers are going to be sleeping throughout the trip, which means they’re not eating. Take a few small snacks along with you (and, again, an empty water bottle) and let everyone settle in for a night of sleep on their way to the family gathering.

When everyone wakes up, you’ll have arrived (or hopefully be close to it), and you’ll be able to skip the expense of eating on the road.

Using these tactics in combination with each other increases your likelihood of making it through holiday travel without opening the wallet for expensive airport or roadside food options.

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