Meal Planning Tips for Your Next Vacation

A woman's hand rests on a white bowl filled with granola, bananas, and a silver spoon.

Did you know that making travel plans is actually good for you?

While there are still a lot of unknowns about travel this year, according to this New York Times article, the mere act of thinking about travel is good for you. As human beings, we need things to look forward to and get excited about. So go ahead, break out those Pinterest boards, create your AirBnB wishlists, and earmark pages in your travel magazine. 

And if you’re the type of traveler who loves to book a rental apartment or a home, then you might want to consider meal planning for your next vacation. 

One of the benefits of staying at a rental apartment versus a hotel, is that at a rental, you have access to a full kitchen. Preparing fresh foods in your rental can go a long way towards making you feel more like a local, rather than a tourist who’s just passing through. 

And if you’re looking to cut costs when you travel, then meal planning is a great option.

I know what you must be thinking: Meal planning? On vacation?? Meal planning can get a bad rap because it conjures images of bulk grocery shopping and chopping vegetables and eating the same bowl of chili for every meal throughout the week. And when we’re on vacation, we want to try new cuisines, explore amazing restaurants, without having to worry about prepping veggies or cleaning tupperware. When we’re on vacation, we yearn for an escape from our everyday lives. We don’t want to spend our limited days in the kitchen.

But there are perks to planning some of your vacation meals.

For starters, you get to save money, without having to sacrifice time and energy. And, in many ways, eating in can help you become more steeped in the local culture, because you’ll be patronizing local markets and stores, talking to vendors and connecting with them--creating a more unique cultural experience. 

Here are some tips and strategies to help you meal plan for your next vacation. You’ll save time and money, while still getting all the benefits of a relaxing trip. 

Why meal planning is good for your vacation 

A surefire way to cut costs on vacation is to prepare some of your meals. If you think about it, breakfast for two at a local restaurant can easily add up to $30, if you include tax and tip. And if you’re paying that much for every breakfast, for a one-week vacation, expenses can add up quickly. Plus, you don’t want to break the bank before you’ve even had a chance to indulge in other meals and activities. 

And if you’re vacationing with your family, cooking at your rental can be a big money saver.

Maybe you’re worried that your kids will moan and groan about having to eat prepared foods at the rental, but kids will enjoy the novelty of eating at a new destination, along with the excitement that comes with using someone else’s dishes!  In fact, some of my favorite travel memories include eating bowls of ramen in a hotel room with my family or enjoying homemade sandwiches at the beach. Kids don’t need fancy, expensive meals to enjoy their vacation. 

Plan ahead

Your meal planning needs will depend on your destination, and whether you’ll be traveling a short distance or going on a long haul flight. Here are some meal planning ideas for short trips and international travel. You can use your Ink+Volt Meal Planning Pad to help you get organized and make sure that you spend less time on meal planning, and more time enjoying your vacation.

Vacation meal plans for a local trip

Let’s say you’re spending a week at a rental house and plan on driving there.

Make a list of dishes you can prepare ahead of time and that can transport easily in a cooler. Maybe it's a lasagne that you can freeze, or a casserole, or frozen burger patties. 

Then, make a list of meals that you can easily cook at the rental home. Try using recipes that involve less than 5 ingredients -- after all, the whole point is to save money and you don’t want to have to buy every single ingredient. Foods that can be cooked on the grill are always delicious and straightforward. Think grilled steaks, fish, burgers, and kabobs. 

As for spices and oil, check with your rental home to see if they provide any staples. If not, you might want to bring some from home. Bring dried goods like pasta, rice, and cereal. Then, when you arrive at your destination, you can buy fresh ingredients like produce and meat at the local supermarket. 

Here are some ideas for staples to bring with you:

  • Coffee and tea
  • Olive oil 
  • Spices and seasoning
  • Dried pasta and rice
  • Jars of marinara sauce

Vacation meal plans for a long distance trip

If you’re traveling on a budget, you don’t have to sacrifice your vacation experience in order to save money. Make a list of all the restaurants and food experiences you’re most excited about and plan your travel meals around them.

For example, maybe you’ve been dying to check out a restaurant with a spectacular view, or maybe you want to treat yourself to an elegant, fine dining experience. Allow yourself to have those meals! And If your budget allows, plan to dine out once a day, and prepare the rest of your meals at home. 

Breakfast is a good vacation meal to have at your rental or even at your hotel. You don’t need a full kitchen to prepare breakfast and a mini fridge provides enough space for your breakfast foods. 

Go to the local market (which is a cultural experience on its own!) and buy items like fruit, yogurt, tea, coffee, and bread. Plus, the money that you end up saving on breakfast, can later go towards meals or experiences that you’re excited about, like happy hour drinks at a bustling bar or delicious pastries from a famous bakery.

If you’re looking to save money on lunch, picnics are another great way to save money, while still getting the full vacation experience. Pick up some bread, cheese, and fruit at a local food market and find a park to enjoy your afternoon meal. 

Another affordable option is to get a meal from a local street food vendor. Find a park bench to enjoy your meal and relax as the world passes you by. 

When it comes to meal planning your dinner, you can either cook at home or look for restaurants that offer affordable prix fixe meals. Dinner can also be your splurge-worthy meal since you’ve been so good about budgeting breakfast and lunch. 

With just a little planning and prep work, you can save money on your meals, while still enjoying all the culinary experiences of your vacation.

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