Travel with Kids: 5 Ways to Save Money on Food

Raising kids is expensive no matter how you define your lifestyle.  But managing a budget during nomadic travel with kids comes with it's own unique challenges.  We cover some of these in an article about our costs of family travel.

One of the biggest costs during family travel is food. Part of the joy of traveling is experiencing dining out at local places and seeking out "Western" food when you get sick of fried rice and stir fried vegetables. But for full-time nomadic travelers who must stick to a budget, vacation eating must be kept in check.

Western food can be had but at a cost
And since nomads typically don't have access to a kitchen, saving money on food can be difficult.  It comes down to setting your budget and exploring the yummiest way to spend each dollar. Although we attempt to live very simply while traveling with three children, we like good food just like everyone else.

So our daily budget for food is a generous $50, or $1500/month.  It may seem like a lot, and certainly we know other travel families who do it for much less, but $10 per person doesn't go as far as you may think even in South East Asia where food is cheap.

Here's a list of the tips we use to stay on our food budget while traveling with kids:

1. Hotels with Free Breakfast:  Okay, everyone says to do this because it's true, especially the more kids you're traveling with.  If we figure $4 per person, free breakfast is worth $20 each day to us. This allows us to consider better hotels or eat fancier dinners.  Hotels with refrigerators in the rooms is the next best choice as it tremendously broadens the in-room meal options.

2. Limit Number of Restaurant Meals:  We usually limit our restaurant meals to 2 per day.  This includes breakfast at the hotel.  In other words, we eat at least one meal and snacks at our dwelling each day.  If this arrangement gets too expensive depending on our location, we'll get creative for a few days (sandwiches) and only eat out once per day.

Cooking at "home" saves money even for a yummy dish like this
3. Always Have Snack Rations:  We always travel with two grocery bags full of snacks and staples like apples, nuts, bread and peanut butter. As soon as we land in a new locations, we scope out the supermarkets to see if they have Fruity Pebbles (TM), the bar which all supermarket imports should meet but, sadly, few do in South East Asia. Stock up on easy meals and snacks as soon as you get settled and this will prevent the necessity to eat every meal out.

A Bangkok super market
4. Water & Drinks: Whenever we leave for the day we take water with us. Buying small water bottles at convenience stores is easily avoidable. Buy the biggest bottles available and refill smaller ones and it's shocking how much you'll save. We try to limit the kids to one "treat" drink (soft drinks or sugary juices) a day. At restaurants, we always order a large bottle of water at each meal and share it.

Sometimes you just need a "treat" drink!
5. Bring Utensils:  Several lodging options with kitchenettes don't have basic utensils and normal hotels will have none. We carry a few forks and spoons, a couple of plastic plates and bowls, a knife, can opener, garlic press, and a peeler. We also have a small electric teapot for coffee and tea and two coffee mugs (this saves us tons of money because we are coffee junkies). Some travelers bring an electric stove top, pots and pans, and spatulas.  They save a bundle cooking most meals in the room.

Challenges aside, not many lifestyles permit eating out as often as we do. Less cooking and cleaning dishes leaves much more time to enjoy ourselves while traveling. Yet, strangely enough, having a fully-applianced kitchen is something we miss the most about a stationary lifestyle. Whenever we have lodging with a kitchen we take full advantage more out of desire than necessity.

It's a tough life but someone has got to live it:)

Tell us how you save money on food while traveling with kids.

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  1. I am so glad I read this! you gave me the best ideas, I have thought about some of these before, but when you put them so plainly they made perfect sense! we also really miss a kitchen. I recognize the place your handsome son is relaxin-just ate there tonight-xoxo

  2. Ha, yeah we loved those. So much a part of how Laos was so relaxed:) Food seems to be our biggest expense, glad our tips helped!

  3. Some good tips there. Having snacks is always a rule that I follow and drinking plenty of water can curb the appetite although that lost one doesn't always go down to well with the kids when all they want is a big slice of pizza ha!