Money saving tips for a holiday with the family

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4 days.
$100 dollars on food.
Not enough water.
More salt than you can poke a stick at.
Hardly a vegetable in sight.
End of post.

Well, not really.

My husband and I went on a road trip for 4 days last month and it inspired me to write about our adventures. We knew we had a really strict budget to stick to, so this post could be renamed ‘Tightass Travelling’ but I decided it wasn’t quite right (do you think so too?). On our road trip we learnt a lot about what is cheap and easily accessible, and about what types of foods we should have taken on our journey (thinking things through ahead of time makes all the difference!).

I need to add here that we hadn’t planned out this trip as a holiday, it was rather like a quick business trip because we only had a few days notice that we needed to head to Melbourne. Because of this I’ve turned our adventures into a post on how to keep the budget under control when you’re on holidays as our mistakes can ultimately help you. 

Homemade olive, sun-dried tomato and cheese bread
My best tip: 
Think ahead and book a hotel with at least a microwave, or book a serviced apartment if you can (so you can cook while you’re away  – it’s a lot cheaper, especially if you have a big family). 

I made some food ahead that we took with us in an esky (cooler). If we’d had the microwave we could have heated it up but we ate it cold as luckily it was able to be eaten both hot or cold. However, it was more convenience food than like I’d usually make at home so we only had the few vegetables the entire trip and I’d totally change that next time. 

Because we were staying at a hotel with only a kettle we ate snacks from packets we had bought with our weekly grocery shop. Somehow we ended up with scotch finger biscuits, chips, pizza shapes, cheese twists, dried fruit, crackers and flavoured tuna and packets of cereal (too much salt in the end). I suppose we could have thrown in some instant noodles as well to give us some variety.

A useful tip: 
Take some homemade bread along. Because I had made some of the flavoured breads I make at home, we were able to have easy lunches without the extra cost. We added a swipe of vegemite or jam, or a can of flavoured tuna, and we had a cheap and tasty lunch. We discovered 7-Eleven stores in Melbourne sell coffee for $1 so you can have a coffee with your lunch without breaking the budget (especially if you’re not one of those coffee fanatics, and you can handle a few cups of a cheaper blend).

Baked potato with lamb, lentils and veg

Cheap takeaway: 
On the third night away we wanted a break from packet meals as by now we were craving vegetables pretty badly. We probably should have picked up some chopped salad and dinner rolls but we hadn’t thought it through that far.

Instead we went for a vegetarian meal packed full of beans because bans always fill you up and are usually a few bucks cheaper than a meat meal. However, should you be a carnivore, we discovered places that sell Mexican burritos and Italian pizza slices for cheap and were tastier than takeaways like McDonalds and KFC. 

In the end we settled on a spud (baked potato) place. We got a baked potato each, heaps of veggies and salad and some essential protein thrown over the top of the potato. I had the chicken and avocado while my husband had the Moroccan lamb. Very tasty.

We purchased a 24 pack of bottled water before we left home. We kept it handy on the back seat of the car and it lasted the whole trip. We just popped a few in the hotel fridge overnight to cool for the next day and we were set for the morning. We also froze a few before we left home so we made the whole of the first day with ice cold water. 

We did get a bit sick of water, and we made use of the free tea and coffee in the hotel room, but we also splurged on a bottle of freshly squeezed orange juice for some variety. We gulped down extra water in the evenings as we were so busy during the day we just didn’t stop for breaks, and our food choices were heavy on the salt because we didn’t think it through enough before we left home.

Hassle Free Breakfasts: 
Always take a packet of cereal with you as you can buy milk just about anywhere. It saves you plenty of time and money as you don’t need to be looking for a place to eat breakfast the next morning, and you don’t have to be sucked into those exorbitantly high hotel buffet prices (that is unless you want a special treat – but I couldn’t do it four days in a row). 

Make use of deals you might find in the pamphlets in the foyer too. A common one we found was 2 for the price of 1 pancakes. This means you can have a nice brekkie out one or two of the days you’re travelling, and without breaking the budget.

Another option is to get pieces of fruit that don’t need to be cut up (like whole bananas, apples, grapes, etc), or buy tubs of diced fruit. I found that having some fruit and yoghurt (which you can buy in small tubs on the road or get a 6 pack and leave in the hotel fridge) is also a great way to start the day. 

Unfortunately the sweet tooth will follow you on holidays as well. Our solution? We bought a 1kg yoghurt in a flavour we both liked and a small tin of fruit salad from a local supermarket we happened upon the first day, and we had a lovely fresh and sweet dessert for two of the four nights we were away. You could also grab an ice cream cone from McDonalds or go halves in some really nice gelato to keep the price down while still getting a sweet treat.

Lessons learnt for next time:
  • Take more fresh foods with us. We weren’t able to take the fruit across state lines due to fruit fly bans (watch out for this when travelling in Australia!), but we still could have taken some biscuits with fruit or muesli bars or grainy crackers with us (I’m thinking like those new Helga’s bread-come-cracker things that are like a corn thin but made of bread and grains). And we could have stopped at a market to grab some fresh fruit once across the border, and planned for this ahead so it wasn’t an extra expense.      
  • Consider the convenience of foods, but also their salt content. We didn’t realise until the choices were presented to us in the hotel room that we had bought so many things of the savoury type. These are all salty foods, and that combined with a lack of water during the day lead to a lot more salt in our systems than we wanted and we’re both used to. I had headaches and bloating occurring after the second day because of this, and started to take note of how much water I was consuming. Always keep hydrated on holidays!      
  • Planning is the key. Don’t be reactive and it saves you money. For instance we allowed for one dinner out, and we had one lunch out on the way home as well. That kept the food costs down when combined with some milk and yoghurt from a grocery store while we were away. We ended up spending only $25 a day on the food because we had done so much planning. Next time we will plan for a better hotel (for kitchen needs), a more balanced variety of foods, and different snacks to take in the car (although the dried fruit and nuts was really handy).       
  • Find Groupon or Living Social meal deals in the area you’re travelling to. If we’d found a great deal we could have had a more expensive dinner for half the price. This won’t work so well if the trip is more spontaneous, such as this trip was for us, but works perfectly if in the months leading up to your vacation you keep an eye out for great breakfast and dinner deals. 

Above all, I’m really proud of how we managed our road trip. It was a quick trip in terms of the decision to go (because of the timing involved with the reason for going), and we were not able to spend how much we would have normally spent on a holiday, but we did really well. And there’s nothing better than knowing you can relax a bit in times of financial stress.

Next holiday, I’m aiming for something much grander, and because I saved on this one, I can do exactly that.

See you in the Bahamas maybe?

Question: Do you have any great tips for saving money on while on holidays?

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