Tips for Budget-Friendly Holiday Travels

How to dine and imbibe on a dime on the road this season

— By Luke Knowles

Travel is broadening, they say, but it’s also expensive. After gas and lodging, few have cash left for food and fine dining. While we all want to experience the local cuisine, there are several easy ways to bring down total costs. Here are eight ideas that should get your frugal juices going…

1. Rent a Kitchen

Book a place with a kitchen or kitchenette to cook your own food. Before you go, research local cuisine and download a few recipes that require readily available regional ingredients. Not only will you have fun shopping at local markets, but it’ll also give you an opportunity to interact with residents willing to share their cooking tips. You can save on non-exotic ingredients by using the CouponSherpa app for a grocery store in your travel destination.

2. Ditch the Extras

Appetizers, desserts, and drinks jack up a tab faster than you can say “entrée only, please.” If you really want the full experience, order the whole spread and split the single servings. Many restaurants serve too much food per plate, anyway. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/besopha)

3. Use

There’s a really nifty way to save while still eating out, and it won’t limit your choice of restaurants all that much. sells gift certificates for more than 18,000 restaurants in the U.S. at gigantic savings... like $3 for a $25 certificate! You can search by city and state, then choose the place that suits your tastes. Granted, some certificates are for chains, but you’ll still find plenty of local restaurants listed.

4. Get Hostel

Hostels aren’t just for college students and seniors these days. They can be a unique travel experience for all ages, and many offer a free breakfast, which you can sometimes stretch into a picnic lunch. Look for hostels that serve a full buffet, rather than just coffee and a couple crusty croissants. You can do your research at sites like, where you can compare prices and amenities, or join Hostelling International for information and member discounts.

5. In Vino Veritas

Wine may be fine, but it can get pretty expensive when eating out. Some restaurants allow you to bring your own bottle and charge just a minimal corking fee. Or you might combine entertainment with tasting by attending a vineyard tour and checking out their sample room. Some even offer concerts and free events for a romantic afternoon out. Don’t forget to pick up a bottle from the vineyard before you leave. It’s usually cheaper that way, as there are no distributor and store mark-ups. Most microbreweries also have tasting rooms that are either free or very reasonable, and again, you’d save on the final product. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/PhilipGreen-NZ)

If you’re planning a long-term trip and will have kitchen facilities, buy from and have your purchase shipped to the vacation spot. The web site offers a $49 deal on unlimited shipping for one year with this coupon.


6. Be Happy

Happy hour or early-bird meals are often up to 30 percent cheaper than during rush hours. If you’re a senior, many chain and local restaurants also offer special discounts. If you get there before the hungry masses, you’ll not only save money, but likely get better service as the waitstaff won’t be so busy. Check with the restaurants that interest you earlier in the day and verify which portions of the meal are discounted.

7. Understand Local Tipping Customs

Research tipping practices before you head off to a foreign land. For example, it’s commonly known that the French don’t tip, but tourists are better off doing so in Paris, where servers fully expect you to cough up at least 10 percent. Nobody tips in Dubai, on the other hand. Just don’t overtip, as some countries consider this practice ostentatious and emblematic of Ugly Americanism.

You can always download a free tip calculator for your phone, like this one for the iPhone, and avoid spending more than you should because of poor math skills. For U.S. travel, check out the blog post “Tips on Tipping for 63 Services.” (Photo courtesy of Flickr/tehusagent)

8. Skip Lunch

Pack lots of snacks to keep your stomach satisfied between the main meals. Keep in mind you aren’t limited to carrots and other healthy foods. After all, you’re on vacation; live it up a little and maybe turn your fingers orange with a bag of sinfully delicious Nacho Cheese Doritos.

For more tips on how to save at home and abroad, check out

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