My Story: Cut Vacation Expenses

contributed by Cheri B.

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After seeing the tip about taking your own lunch when holiday shopping, I wanted to share how I have shaved hundreds of dollars from my vacation expenses with a similar strategy.

Most people I talk to say that going to Hawaii is too expensive for them, they can't possibly afford it. Well, I've gone once a year for the last 10 years and I am definitely not rich. How do I manage it? I bring my own food.

One of the biggest expenses of traveling is eating out for three meals a day. This is true especially in high-priced areas like Hawaii, where virtually everything has to be shipped in. Plus, it takes time to find a restaurant, get seated, order, eat and pay. You could be using that time to explore your vacation spot instead.

Instead of feeling chained to the cycle of breakfast/lunch/dinner in restaurants for my whole vacation, I found a creative solution that saves me lots of money, gives me greater flexibility, and helps me control my food better so I don't come home with that souvenir of 15 extra pounds.

First I make up a menu list for the whole vacation. I decide ahead of time which meals I think I want to eat in a restaurant and which ones I want to eat at "home." Almost always I eat breakfast "in," pack a lunch for on the road, and eat dinner in a local restaurant. I also decide which time(s) I think I'll want to have a special dinner at a fancier restaurant (Since I go to Hawaii usually for my birthday, I pick a special place for that night.) Of course, this should be kept flexible just in case you spot an intriguing local restaurant at lunch time and you want to change your mind.

Before my trip, I watch for bargains on things that can be made in a cup with hot water from the coffee pot that is usually provided in a hotel room. Soup, hot cereal, even mashed potatoes come in "just add water" containers. You can cook ramen the same way. Just in case there is no coffeemaker at the hotel, I have a small one that I bring with me.

When I select a hotel, I ask for a room with a hot plate or kitchenette. Often I've not had to pay extra for this. They provide a basic pan/utensils/plates set up. I can then pack things like boxed rice mixes, noodle mixes, basically anything that can be cooked in one pot.

I pack all these things, plus a box of cereal, coffee, tea and cocoa, into my suitcases along with any kind of canned goods that help round out a menu. I get canned tuna and chicken, pasta sauce, etc. Just don't forget to bring a can opener! Since it is only a five-hour flight from my home to Hawaii, I have also pre-frozen chicken in a small cooler, packed it frozen into my suitcase, and used the thawed chicken in my first meals of the stay. That also gives me a cooler to use during the trip to pack lunches and cold drinks.

The first couple of days after I arrive, I look for the local farmers markets and pick up fresh local fruits and vegetables.

With this, all I have to buy at the local grocery store (these are VERY high priced) is milk, bread and condiments.

I know this sounds kind of odd, packing your own food, but it gives me an economic way to manage eating on vacation with lots of flexibility. Then when I do choose to eat in a restaurant, I don't worry about breaking my budget.

"My Story" is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a story that could help save time or money, please send it by

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