The average family vacation can cost over $5,000 for a family of four when you factor in the airfare, hotels, attractions, and food.  Yes, even I gasp at this number and frequently, I ask myself, “Is a vacation worth it when I can remodel my bathroom instead?”

What we have found is that you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on your vacation to have a blast.  In fact, most of the vacations we go on won’t require airfare, a rental car or a luxurious five-star hotel.  I’ll share these saving tips at a later date, what I wanted to focus on today is food while travelling, especially if you have a larger family.

Feeding a family of four, five, six or more can cost you more than $200 a day if you want to eat out for every meal. When we on vacation, so many of us think we have to eat out all the time because, hey, that’s what vacation is for, right?  While it is okay to taste the local flavour a few nights per week, you don’t have to do it for every single meal.


To help you save hundreds on your next vacation while feeding your family, here are some tips we have used that have worked out pretty well for us:

See what your destination provides

Depending on where you stay, some hotels will have a full kitchen while others may only have a refrigerator and small microwave.  Some may have nothing at all, while if you’re lucky, you may be able to get free breakfast and dinner.  Regardless of what your situation is, it can work, I promise.

If you haven’t booked a hotel already, try to get one with at least a mini kitchen with a refrigerator at a minimum or better yet, highly consider a hotel that offers free breakfast and dinners.  Staybridge Suites and Residence Inns, for instance, offer a “social hour” a few days per week and this is more than enough to feed your family.  When I stayed in California, we booked our trip during these social outings, and we’re able to get chicken dinners, hot dogs, pasta and so much more.  Trust me, it’s just as good as a dinner, and it’s included in your hotel stay.  Look at hotel brands that offer free breakfast and social hours and see when it’s available.  If you can, book your stays during this time.

If your hotel has a mini kitchen, this is another great option because you can cook anything you could make at home.  While you don’t need to create a mess every night and cause stress like you would have at home, stick to the basics.  Consider making something simple such as bagels, cereal or even eggs in the morning and some sandwiches for lunch.  Even if you don’t have a kitchen, bagels or cereal won’t need a kitchen.  If you can swing it, bring a cooler filled with ice and load it with some milk, lunch meat, cheese and anything else that’s easily accessible.

The key here is to limit your eating out.  Even if you cut out your breakfast and lunch, it could easily save you $80 per day.  Multiply this by a seven-day vacation, and that’s $560, enough to maybe buy Disney tickets, right?

Consider a local park

A local park is an awesome way to enjoy the local sights and take advantage of the  BBQ grill many have available. Most parks and rest areas will have grills you can use for free, and this is an awesome way to cook up anything you would at home like hot dogs, hamburgers or even chicken.  If doing this, just remember to bring some aluminium foil, some charcoal, and your favourite foods.  Grilling some hot dogs and eating some chips can easily feed your family for less than $20.

Don’t forget Groupon and other deal sites

Eating out is fun and more so if it’s done right.  If you want to eat out, check out the local area to see if any offers are available on Groupon, Yelp or LivingSocial.  Often, as long as you’re in a popular area, there will be many restaurant coupons that you can purchase instantly and save 50% on your meal.  For example, I had gone to California with my family, and I was able to find a 50% off coupon at a local pizza joint, saving me $22. When eating out, avoid buying sodas and try to stick to family-friendly places like pizza joints or little diners that don’t charge an arm and leg.  It also doesn’t hurt to split the entrees if they are big enough. Most places will have their menus online to show you what they charge ahead of time, so it doesn’t hurt to research to know what you could be paying.

Pay attention to happy hours and times

The weekends will always be expensive, especially if it’s during prime time hours.  Consider looking at the menu ahead of time to see which times are the best.  In the past, for example, we had gone to Las Vegas and wanted to try a buffet. We found that it cost $26 on weekends, but if we went on a Monday, it was half the price for the same food!  If the restaurant offers cheaper options at different hours, try to plan to take advantage of these deals because it’s a lot easier to pay 50% off during happy hour for the same food you would buy hours later.

Saving money can be done if you plan accordingly.  By applying these tips, you should easily save a few hundred dollars, while still enjoying your vacation.

Stephanie Lynch is a freelance writer who resides in Gilbert, Arizona.  She enjoys spending time travelling, hiking and with her two sons and husband.