Meal Planning On Vacation

by Kelly · 11 comments

in Frugal Food

We spent a lot of money on food while we were on vacation that we probably wouldn’t have spent if we were at home. Some of it was intentional; I had a (mental) list of food that I had been craving and missing and I methodically worked my way down. On the other hand, there were definitely some surprises and challenges for our food budget.

First of all, it was a lot harder to menu plan and stretch meals in other people’s kitchens. For example, at one meal we had most of two rotisserie chickens from Costco. There were some big pieces of meat leftover for a second lunch for my husband and sons and I was able to recuperate enough smaller pieces to make a chicken pasta dish. However, had I been at home, I would have been able to make soup, and pick enough meat of the bones to make at least one other main dish. Nor was I able to take advantage of a pantry. I literally had to buy almost all of the food ingredients I was going to use in a meal. My mother has limited storage in her kitchen because of her roommate situation, and my father’s household rarely prepares meals. It adds up quickly when you have to buy everything instead of being able to piggyback off of what’s already in the cupboards.

The other big thing that I was not expecting was how much groceries cost and how little you get for your money. Groceries are expensive here, but I felt like they are really expensive there! Part of this was, I’m sure, artificial. I shop at a mid-range grocery store in France, paying careful attention to sales and customer loyalty discounts. We tended to shop at higher-end stores in both Seattle and Los Angeles for proximity’s sake and, of course, I wasn’t entitled to any customer loyalty discounts. And, in all fairness, I have to admit that I did go slightly crazy buying stuff, rationalizing every box tossed into the cart with ‘When it’s only once every two and a half years…’.

I knew before we left that we would be encountering these obstacles, and I was able to prepare in advance. For example, I dramatically slashed the grocery category in our budget: March by one third, April by two thirds. I also compensated when we set money aside before we left; I knew a big chunk of the change we were going to spend was going to go to feeding ourselves.

I also had a lot of really great ideas that came from my Tightwad Gazette Giveaway. We made sandwiches almost every day for lunch, or had leftovers. I bought entertainment books (through My Points) for the cities we were visiting, and we used coupons from there several times. The biggest help of all came from my in-laws, who paid for almost every trip we took to the grocery store. How nice was that?

I still haven’t finished calculating exactly how much we spent overall. But I’m fairly confident that, while we might have gone slightly over what I anticipated spending on food, we stayed within our general spending limits. That will be the real accomplishment, and something to be proud of!

Companies like Choice Personal Loans offers a variety of options for personal loans including programs specific for vacation loans.


1 L@SpillingBuckets April 25, 2008

Just out of curiosity, what types of foods can you only get here? What were you craving?

2 mydailydollars April 25, 2008

You make a good point about not having a pantry! We’ve rented a cottage in Sonoma, CA for our honeymoon, and I plan to cook several meals. I’ll have to think about options I can make without a lot of staples and maybe pack a few seasonings. I’d like to know what you craved in the U.S. too!

3 Rachel @ Master Your April 25, 2008

I find buying food abroad is great fun and I want to try things that look a bit different but just in case I do not like it I buy something I know i will like too. I end up buying (and eating) far more than I need.

4 Kelly April 25, 2008

@My Daily Dollars,

When we go camping we take small containers of mayo, olive oil etc with us. If you’re going to be there for a week or more it’s definitely worth it.

5 L@SpillingBuckets April 25, 2008

France doesn’t have cheddar? Aren’t they the cheese capital of the world? (surprised)

Also – McDonald’s breakfasts aren’t over there? That’s sad…

Now you’ve got me craving hashbrowns and tacos. (Strange combo, I know)

6 Kelly April 25, 2008

Cheddar is an English cheese, and due to their hate of all things British, it’s hard to find. Every once in a while you can find it though, but a small slab costs big bucks. They have 1000+ kinds of cheese, most of them really yummy, but very little cheddar.
And their McDo breakfasts only have sausage sandwiches or pancakes. No hash browns. Sniff. So I indulged in bacon egg and cheese biscuits while I was there.

7 Kelly April 25, 2008

Foods I was (am) craving:Sushi- in fact you can safely assume that sushi occupies the top five slots on my top ten foods list.Burritos, from Taco del Mar especially (one of those burrito bar places). Refried beans, cheese enchiladas- Mexican food in general. France does *not* do Mexican food well.Some local Seattle food: Kidd Valley burgers, onion rings and fries, Ivar's fish and chips, Ming's Egg Fu Young…A kind of bread called Milton's.Black beans, turkey chili, Ruffles, cheddar, monterey jack chesse, apple fritters!SushiMcDonalds' breakfastsPastrami sandwicheshash brownsStuff like that! Now I'm hungry again…

8 Roman April 26, 2008

Vacations are the worst. You will spend like 5 times more money on food then you would normally do

9 JHS April 27, 2008


Thanks for participating in this week’s Carnival of Family Life, hosted by Jen at Diary of 1. Be sure to drop by tomorrow, April 28, 2008, and check out some of the many wonderful articles submitted this week!

10 Eliz3333abeth May 5, 2008

We are going to Spain this summer as a family reunion of 15 people! We are renting a very large house, a you can imagine. I would love to know some of your 'lessons learned' on how to stretch the food budget. I hadn't thought about the lack of pantry staples so I am wondering if unopened spices, noodles, nuts, etc. can be carried in with luggage?

11 Kelly May 5, 2008

I've never had any problems bringing food either to or from Europe. I imagine that unopened containers would be the safest way to go. Also, even though they might be a bit more expensive, spice packets and mixes could be a good choice too.

Previous post:

Next post: