How to Save Money on Food While Traveling in the US

Although traveling may not be on your priority list right now, at a certain point you’ll be looking for a vacation, which means you have to be prepared. If you’re lucky enough to work from home during this health crisis, the silver lining is that you can lower some of your monthly expenses and save more money to prepare your dream vacation, once it will be safe to travel again.

However, if you still want to do a low-budget trip for you and your group of besties or your family, there are various ways to save money daily in the United States. Here is how to eat smart and cheap while traveling so you can enjoy some souvenirs and small gifts without going over the budget.

Apartments and guest houses are more convenient than hotel rooms

Cooking while you’re on vacation may not seem ideal but it is the easiest way to save money, especially when you’re abroad or traveling with your group of friends or a big family.

Renting an apartment is also more convenient than staying in a hotel room because you have the whole place to yourself, and that usually includes a fully-equipped kitchen. (See vacation rental prices here.)

Even if you’re not a fan of cooking, you may still get a better deal making your own breakfast than serving the same thing at a hotel. Plus, you get to wake up anytime you want and you won’t be forced to get dressed and socialize with people at 6 AM.

Choose restaurant chains when you’re on the road often

If you have a planned trip and want to take advantage as much as possible in your spare time, you can take one of the meals to go from an affordable restaurant chain. You have hundreds of options available on all main highways and major roads, so stopping for a quick bite will fuel your body with enough energy to keep going without spending a fortune.

When traveling, we recommend cooking a healthy and satiable breakfast that will boost your energy levels without requiring a pre-lunch snack. If your tummy is full of goodies early in the morning, you’ll spend less time worrying about where you’ll stop for lunch.

Therefore, a quick stop at a hamburger fast-food restaurant or grabbing some of the Colonel’s delicious chicken won’t take more than $7-$10 per person out of your pocket and will provide the necessary energy to keep going until dinner.

If you’re not a fan of fast-food chains, there are also many healthier choices on the menu, like salads, soups or sandwiches.

Looking for small, locally owned restaurants is also a great option, as there are many on the side of the highway. More on that in a bit.

Split each course

If you’re traveling to the United States for the first time, one of the biggest cultural shocks you will experience is the size of the food portions at most restaurants. Coming from any European or Asian country, you’ll find out that most Americans eat around double than what they would require per meal.

Even locals admit that, sometimes, portion sizes are out of control, which forces most people to overeat just so they could make the most of the money they pay for one course.

So, next time you stop for lunch or dinner, forget about ordering appetizers, two main courses, and dessert. If you travel with a close group of friends or family members, ordering one full menu will often suffice for 2-3 people. This means you end up splitting the bill, spending less money, and not throwing away the food.

Eat at family-owned diners and small restaurants

Anyone who has been on the American roads back in the 80’s and 90’s knows that most interstates and highways were full of family-owned diners, looking to feed hungry truck drivers and roadies. While these things changed in the past decade and most of these establishments were replaced by fast-food chains, there are still some hidden gems delivering all that Americana nostalgia.

While the menus in most of these small cafeterias and diners don’t provide too many options, the food remains freshly cooked from high-quality ingredients, which enhances the flavor and the taste.

Depending on where you are traveling, most of the roads will still boast a half-oyster house, a burger place or a steakhouse, waiting to feed all tourists with love and devotion.

Most of the time, these places are not only welcoming but also offer complimentary coffee and water refills, as well as delicious dishes at affordable prices.

You won’t be able to say no to the catch of the day, home-cooked pies or the famous Southern comfort foods. And, if you can’t finish your plate on the spot, you always have the option to take what’s left to go, which will help you save on the next important meal of the day.

For many other interesting tips on how to travel on a budget, feel free to ask The Trail Girl.

Bryan

Bryan has visited exactly one more country than his wife, and she won't let him forget it! Also an avid photographer, he enjoys entrenching himself within the local culture in order to learn more about the people of a place. He is the co-founder of Budget Your Trip and loves a good adventure, an exotic meal, or a passionate conversation about global events.