How to Calculate Meal Costs While on Vacation


Food is a necessary and often variable part of your vacation budget. With simple planning, you can predict how much you will spend. Do some preliminary research into local food costs at your destination. Set reasonable expectations for when you'll be frugal and when you'll splurge so you know how much of your vacation budget to set aside for meals.

Research Your Vacation Spot

Assess your meal costs by learning as much as you can about the food prices at your vacation spot. For example, TimeOut London has a list of "cheap eats" in that city, and Buzzfeed published a collection of affordable meals in Paris. One you have an idea of how much meals cost, calculate the number of meals during the length of your vacation to come up with an approximate total. If you are vacationing in the U.S., do a TripAdvisor search for your specific location. The site gives you a list of restaurant options and approximate costs.

Note When Prices Are Cheaper

If you spot a restaurant in your destination that looks enticing, see if it offers a discount day. For example, a Sunday buffet might be more expensive than a Monday buffet even if the food is the same. Often, lunch specials are cheaper than dinner. If you want to have a cheaper restaurant experience, choose the time of day and week when the value is highest.


  • Remember to include gratuities and taxes when you calculate meal costs, whether you shop at grocery stores or eat out.

Assess Your Cooking Options

Depending on the type of vacation, you can cut your food budget by packing snacks or shopping locally at grocery stores if your accommodations have a refrigerator. If breakfast is not included at your hotel, a trip to the store to buy simple breakfast items such as bagels, fruit and juice can cut your budget significantly. If you are on a road trip vacation, shop before you leave home.

If you are touring a city, either by yourself or with children, save money on food costs by packing beverages and snacks. Consider easy-to-carry, protein-rich foods such as:

  • Trail mix
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Peanut butter sandwiches
  • Protein bars

Bring refillable beverage containers and fill them up with water before you set out each day. This will ensure you can quench your thirst without being trapped by a concession stand selling overpriced items.

Cheap Eats For the Kids

To keep kids satiated during travel, pack healthy snacks that curb hunger pains, such as granola bars and yogurt. For those nights out in a restaurant, consider having your kids split an adult meal. It can be cheaper than eating off the kids menu. Ordering a few appetizers for the kids to share is another option.

Check out your vacation destination for kid-friendly deals. offers a searchable directory by city and state of restaurants where families with children can save a bundle on meals.

Set a Realistic Budget

To avoid overspending, allow some room in your budget for indulgences. You may plan to keep it cheap, but there likely will be a day when you want to ditch the instant oatmeal in your hotel room and enjoy dinner at a restaurant with a menu. Plan for a reasonable number of such meals during the course of your vacation.

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