This morning I stepped outside and smelled the flowers in bloom. It is summer and  time to travel.  I’ll be helping you save money on food, souvineirs, attractions and gasoline. I’ll also share how to save time. In all you’ll get 25 tips over the next week.  Check back in every day to see what’s new.

Today let’s talk about food. On the road you gotta eat. The solution often is a restaurant. First you have to find one. Then you may have agree on which one. Finally you have to pay for the food and leave a tip.There are lots of good restaurants out there but if you don’t know the area— and sometimes if you do—it can be like playing roulette.

Here are five tips to give you an alternative to restaurants. Experience, quality and price all determine how enjoyable your meal is. These five tips will help you create a great meal for less money.

Obviously not all the tips are for everyone. But at least they may inspire money saving ideas of your own.

1. Take a cooler

Coolers vary from the Styrofoam ones to huge ones on wheels with little refrigerators in them. Capacity, cost and use determine which one you buy. But make certain you have one since they allow you to bring food or drinks when you travel. A 20 ounce drink bought in a six pack from the supermarket costs at least half as much as one at a gas station. And you can pack a selection of drinks you like. Coolers open other possibilities. Ice cream, yogurt and cold cuts are only a few of the things that can be carried with you.

A cooler serves as a miniature refrigerator or freezer. Not only can you bring things from home you can take things home. This isn’t limited to just leftovers. It means that if you find a great deal on frozen foods when you’re traveling you can take them home as well. (Probably good only if you’re on a daytrip. Oysters and seafood bought in Maine probably won’t make it home to Florida.)

2. Yogurt

Yogurt is a matter of taste, of course. Some people love it and others can’t stand it. Personally I consider to be a near perfect food.

It comes in all flavors and styles. It’s easy on most stomachs. And it travels well. Personally, I’m a big fan of plain yogurt. Unfortunately in this area only two stores sell single servings of plain yogurt at under one dollar per eight ounce container. (By plain I mean no sugar, no flavoring.) Other stores carry large containers of plain yogurt.  Although I buy these I’d appreciate if they’d carry the cheaper “conventional” individual ones. (My mother enjoys taking these for lunch and I had to make the plug.)

3. Grocery stores

Grocery stores are the logical alternative to restaurants. Their shelves hold many things that can be consumed while you’re on the road (or at a picnic bench next to it). Your price range and culinary abilities are your only limitations. Produce, cold cuts, bread and ice cream are only a few of the options available. There are lots of items available that require minimal preparation. There’s the little cans of tuna and chicken salad that come with those teeny spoons and packs of mayonnaise. And in the meat section you’ve got the little packs you send with kids in their lunch. (These are the ones with a juice box, crackers, a spread and a candy bar.)  And for those who want to get it and go most stores have a deli filled with prepared foods ready to roll.

While we’re on the subject of grocery stores I’d like to point out different areas have different stores.  Western North Carolina has Ingle’s, Aldi, Food Lion, Bi-Lo and Harris Teeter. Further south they have Publix and Winn Dixie. And elsewhere they have Safeways. (I’ve actually never been in a Safeway.) And there are smaller chains that carry surplus or merchandise.

Each of these stores have their own specials they run each week. Many have in store specials. When you’re traveling if you stop to grab lunch browse their specials. You may find some really good deals. (Although if you’re from Florida I’d pass on the oysters in Massachusetts. Get thee to a reputable seafood restaurant.)

4. Small appliances

We live in an amazing time. Not only are there a multitude of small devices that make life easier there are an equal number of electrical outlets to plug them into. Coffee makers, blenders, waffle irons, toasters and hot plates are only a few of the things you can carry for a fresh meal. Even microwaves aren’t that big.

Obviously you are limited by what you’re willing to spend, how much room you have and whether you really want to look like a Civil War army on the march. Seriously, though, it it is a great way to get a good meal on the road. For those willing to spend a little most there are appliances that plug into the cigarette lighter.

This is a good place to mention that many rest areas and parks have picnic facilities which include grills. This way you can get a hot meal without buying expensive appliances and relying on electrical outlets. It also allows you to pause for breakfast on your way to Gettysburg without looking like General Lee’s army pausing for breakfast on their way to Gettysburg.

5. Staple food items

Staple food items are the basic one. Cheese and crackers. Peanut butter and jelly. Milk and bread. By carrying many of these even without electrical appliances you can whip up a veritable feast. Each traveler will have their own list of foods but I’m going to suggest one item you might not include. Canned food. Canned food is a great way to carry highly nutritious food at a relatively low cost. Not only is it easy to prepare but there are many options available for preparation. You can heat it, chill it, mix it or just eat it straight from the can. The variety is limitless. Vegetables, meat, fish, dairy, desserts. And this is probably the only good way to get seafood from Maine to Florida.

Of course, if you want to stop at a restaurant, go ahead. You should enjoy your trip. But maybe these tips will help you reassign money to be enjoyed in other parts of your trip.



  1. Pingback: One ($10) or Three ($20) Enjoy the City Books | 4 Real Cheap·

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