Maybe you have big travel plans this summer or just planning a few days out and about seeing local sites. Either way, traveling away from home and eating out can put a dent in your budget. However, with a little preplanning, you can save money and still eat well.
A Room With A Kitchen: More hotels have rooms with kitchens, and they're a smart choice. Eat half your meals in the room instead of eating out, and you'll save a ton of money. If you can't find a hotel room with a kitchen, ask if any of the rooms have at least a fridge or microwave. If the price of the room doesn't come with a free breakfast, stock up on things like milk, cereal and bread for toast, and you can save money by eating breakfast in your hotel room.
You Can Take It With You: One way you can save money while you're traveling (and avoid the fast food drive-through) is to pack a lunch before you head out for the day. If you're traveling by car, it's easy enough to put a cooler in with the rest of the luggage. If you're going by air, stop by a local supermarket or drugstore when you get to your destination and pick up a Styrofoam cooler. They cost around $3-$4 so it's no big deal to just leave them behind when the vacation is over.
Amusement Parks: I know children look forward to eating food at the amusement park vendors, but sometimes the prices are double. One way you can save and still keep the children happy is to take your own packed lunch and then stop by one of the vendors for dessert.
Bed And Breakfast: Lots of hotels/motels now include a free breakfast in with the price of the room. And they're no longer just coffee and a sweet roll. The last one we stayed at had hot dishes, cereals and "make your own waffles," so we were never tempted to go anywhere else for breakfast.
Supermarkets: Find a supermarket and stock up on items like crackers, fruit, cold cuts, string cheese, etc., so you can take them out and about with you. And if you have the kitchen back at the hotel room, buy some groceries just like you would at home and eat in a couple of times.
Early Bird Specials: Just about every town has restaurants that offer early bird specials. It's a way for them to attract customers when business gets slow, and a great way for you to save. Most of the meals and portion sizes will be exactly the same, but you can sometimes save up to $5 a meal by eating between 4 p.m.-6 p.m. And when you're on vacation, eating earlier frees up the rest of the day for more sightseeing.
Ask The Locals: If you want to know where all the good deals are, ask the locals. And ask the hotel's front desk personnel for advice on cheap places to eat. And don't forget to stop by the tourist office and ask if they have any coupon books or can recommend great deals.
Happy Hour: Most hotel chains and restaurants now offer Happy Hours and it's not just about chips, dips and half-price drinks any more. Many slash 50 percent off the price of appetizers and some entrées if you're willing to sit in the bar.
Planning a road trip? Then head to one of these local eateries to load up on sandwiches and other tasty treats on your way out of town.
The Common Market. 1515 South Tryon St., 704-332-7782; 2007 Commonwealth Ave., 704-334-6209.
Dean & Deluca. 6903 Phillips Place Ct., 704-643-6868; 7804 Rea Rd., 704-541-7123; 201 S. Tryon St., 704-377-0037.
Laurel Market. 114 Cherokee Rd., 704-347-4989.
Owen's Bagel & Deli. 2041 South Blvd., 704-333-5385.
The Salvador Deli. 3215 N. Davidson St., 704-334-2344.