Taking our own food has been a great way to save money in days past, but unfortunately it is also a great way to waste money. There is nothing worse than buying, packing, and hauling bags and bags of food for a trip only to eat out the entire time and return home with all of that food left over. After a few post-trek reflections I've come up with a few of the simple truths we have learned from our own experiences:
We only take what we actually like. One unopened box of crackers recently completed a third round-trip with us, and I finally realized that we just plain don't like them, even if it's late at night in a hotel room. They have now moved on to the local food bank.
On that note, what we take must be better than what we could buy there. I can't tell you how many times we have stood eating cardboard-flavored granola bars or peanut butter sandwiches only to be engulfed with jealousy when towering soft-serve ice cream cones walked by. At that point the, "Well, we ARE on vacation," reflex kicks in and it's ice cream for everybody with the premium vacation-price-of-ice cream tab on us.
We make room in our budget for local fare, and we make a point of experiencing it. Part of the fun of traveling with kids is the educational factor involved, and a great way to learn about an area is to sample the local cuisine. (Side note: I read a great article in the April 2009 edition of Good Housekeeping titled, "What Thin Women Know." One of the points of the article was that "thin" women indulge "deliberately." What that means to me is that when I go to Sarasota for the express purpose of eating that fabulous gelato at St. Armand's Circle I am actually thinking like a thin person! Imagine if I applied that to my entire vacation...I'd practically wither away before returning home!)
Keeping food cold is only fun for a little while so we limit the amount we take. Usually we try to eat a picnic one time during a road trip, and that picnic happens on the first leg of our journey so that we can take perishable foods and enjoy them without having to babysit them for the remainder of the trek. If we will stay in a hotel room equipped with a refrigerator we may pack a small cooler of cold foods or, better yet, we just buy the food once we arrive at our destination. Prices generally don't vary too much, and unless we have traveled to Outer Mongolia a grocery store usually isn't too far away. Unfortunately, several yogurt cups perished for us to learn this lesson.
That being said, here are some of the things we always take with us:
- Yummy Granola Bars: Some grain wrapped in chocolate is better for us than no grain in a candy bar. They cost less, too.
- Water Bottles (disposable): We use refillable water bottles at home, but on vacation I prefer not to wash dishes as much as possible. These are also handy as "ice" for the cooler when frozen.
- Drink Mixes: I'm a sucker for a coke on a hot day at an amusement park, but they are really expensive. I take a water bottle to refill and individual drink mixes to make the water from the fountain more interesting and palatable.
- Homemade Snack Mixes: That's a fancy way of saying that I take all of our toddler's nearly empty boxes of snacks (like graham crackers, goldfish crackers, and pretzels), mix them all together and throw in some M&Ms or marshmallows. I portion them into single-serve containers, and I have a pretty good guarantee that amongst all of those different ingredients there will be something the little guy will eat.
For more fun kitchen tips, head over to Kitchen Tip Tuesday.