Paycheck Chronicles

Four Strategies for Eating Cheap On The Road


Permanent Change of Station (PCS) season is upon us, and thousands of military families are staying in hotels while they move out, get to their new location, and wait for their housing. For my family of six, one of the most expensive parts of travel is feeding everyone. Thankfully, there are a myriad of options that can avoid eating at IHOP three times a day. (Though that might make for some happy, if sugar-loaded, kids.)

Eat At Your Hotel

Included breakfasts are pretty common these days, and it shouldn't be awfully hard to find hotels that have this service. Unfortunately, quality can vary dramatically. If you have time, read some reviews to find out of the hotel you like has the kind of breakfast you like. Still not sure? Call the hotel and ask. If they're featuring more than the typical yogurt and cold cereal options, they'll be glad to tell you about them.

Even better, find a business stay hotel that includes "happy hour," aka enough finger food to make dinner. These offers are usually only available Monday through Wednesday or Thursday, so be sure to verify before you make weekend reservations. Heck, I'd verify in any case. And, in some states, Mom and Dad can get a glass of wine with "dinner." (See the menu for my local Staybridge Suites and Homewood Suites for ideas about what might be offered.)

Even if these rooms cost a little more than their non-food counterparts, you'll come out ahead and your life will be a lot less complicated.

Collect Coupons

Join the kids' club or birthday club for every single restaurant that is located anywhere near where you live or where you're moving.  Try to do this at least a year in advance.  Many restaurant clubs will send or email coupons for free items around your birthday, and they often have no or generous expiration dates.  Gather them in a zip-lock bag and put them in your glove box for use when traveling or moving.  Also, if you receive gift cards for places you don't generally patronize, add them to your baggie.  Something different might look good after some time eating out.

Cook In Your Room

With even just a coffee maker, you can make some basic (and not so basic) food.  Instant oatmeal and noodles in a cup can be made with the hot water.  I was going to riff on the other things you can make with hot water until I discovered this fascinating site.  I'm not sure any of us really need to be making fruit compotes in our coffee maker, but great idea and maybe it would keep your kids entertained!

Move up to a microwave or toaster and you've got a million options available in your frozen food section.  On my kids favorite parts about PCSing is that I let them eat junk that is reserved for PCS moves, like toaster strudels and Hot Pockets.

I'm pretty sure I don't need to delineate the things you can make if you have a full kitchen - you're all smart people.  There are some tricks to making life easier, though.  Cut yourself some slack and buy pre-cut veggie trays and fruit bowls.  (For some reason my kids eat more vegetables when they're cut by someone at the grocery store.   Sigh.)  Go ahead and buy those 90 second bags of rice or steamable grain and veggie combinations.  Think super-simple meals like pasta with butter and cheese, cheese quesadillas, and store-bought chicken salad sandwiches.

Eat Anywhere

There are quite a few meals that can be assembled anywhere if you have a few basic tools.  My family is generally happy with a rotisserie chicken and an asian salad prepared kit, which can be shaken up in the bag in a pinch.

If you have access to grill, maybe at a local park, you can use the grill for regular grill foods or heating up frozen food that is packed in foil containers (like lasagna.)

With some creativity, planning, and help from Pinterest, you don't have to eat out for days on end. Enjoy healthy, nutritious food on the road and save some money along the way.

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