Friday, June 24, 2011

Taking a Budget Road Trip: Part 3: Food and Drink

The other day, we talked about lodging during a budget road trip.

Today, it's food and drink.

Restaurants will eat up your budget. If you and your travel companion are a couple and you use the same piggy bank -- double ouch.

2008 road trip - Albuquerque

To save restaurant expenditures:
  • Don't order a beverage with your meal. Drink water instead.
  • Eat only one meal per day at a restaurant. Eat other meals picnic-style out of your cooler or from a grocery store deli.
  • Choose breakfast or lunch for most of your daily restaurant meals - they're often less expensive than dinner.
  • In a restaurant with a buffet, look at the table offerings, check the price, then compare both with menu meals. Ordering off the menu is sometimes the more economical choice, both dollar- and calorie-wise.  
  • If you're traveling with someone else, consider splitting a restaurant meal, especially if it's dinner.

    2007 road trip - Las Vegas, NM

    To save money on beverages
    • Many convenience stores discount your coffee if you use your own cup - remember to bring your travel mug from home.
    • Pack your coffee maker and favorite coffee, brew it in your room each morning, then put it into a thermos you've also brought. (Or fill your thermos with the motel coffee.)
    • If you're a soda drinker, pack a 12-can or 24-can box at the start of your trip.
    • Bring your own cocktail ingredients from home. 
    • Pick up beer at a local store.

    2007 road trip - Las Vegas, NM

    To save money on food (other than restaurants):
    1. Don't overstock on the quantity of food for the road. There are grocery stores and other food vendors everywhere. On a road trip, food brought from home gets less appetizing as the days wear on, so you may end up pitching some of it anyway. 
    2. Don't overstock on the specialness of food for the road. I used to splurge a little on food items for the road. I was on vacation, after all. But over time, I realized I didn't want to spend my budget dollars on "special" foods from home. The idea of a road trip is to sample new things  - so better to spend my finite dollars at a special restaurant or shop on the road.
    3. Many grocery stores have pretty good deli sections and quasi restaurants - substitute a visit to these instead of a restaurant. 

    Healthy eating on a road trip: 

    "Healthy eating" and "road trip" --> oxymoron. 

    Road trips and junk food tend to go together.

    To offset the worst damage, here are some tips:
    1.  Avoid packing sweet or salty "car food" such as chips, nuts, and candy. Instead, pack crunchy carrots, crisp celery, sweet grapes, and salty pretzels.
    2. To manage costs and reduce over-indulgence, maintain some of your eating routines. For example, if your usual breakfast back home is oatmeal, bring along oatmeal packets that are easy to prepare in a motel room. (Run water through the coffee machine and mix up the oatmeal in a coffee cup.)  
    3. Save up high-calorie splurges for sampling local cuisines.
    4. There are local dishes you know you want try, but you know you'll hate yourself for later. If you can, say no to regional delicacies such as:

    Navajo or Indian tacos, even if they're made with buffalo meat



    On fast food chains:

    Sure, go ahead and sneer at fast food chains, but before your face freezes that way, know this  --> in some towns, your only choice is between fast food or the home-style diner with food that's all fried, all the time. A reliably tasty, economical, and relatively healthful fast food place is Subway.  You do lose the budget benefit when you add a soft drink and a bag of chips, not to mention a cookie. So buy the sandwich and augment that with a cold drink you've got in your cooler, plus one of the crunchy sides you've got in the car (e.g. carrots, celery, pretzels).    

    Relying on restaurant reviews -- OK in moderation

    The myriad restaurant review sites on the web are a wonderful resource for road trippers. But sometimes we get sucked into an over-dependence on restaurant reviews -- we rely too heavily on others' explorations instead of taking a chance on an as-yet unreviewed place.
    Popular restaurant guides are:

    So is there any fun left? 

    Sure! Part of the coolness of a road trip is trying new foods and regional twists on national stand-bys. It's also kind of fun to have a road trip theme, where you seek the best representation of a regional dish or beverage.  For example, my mother is on the lookout for the best ribs and the best crab cakes wherever she goes. Others seek the finest microbrew or the tastiest pie or the most flavorful pork rind.    

    Next up: Part 4: Packing List

    Go to the Taking a Budget Road Trip page.


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