The Best Trick (Possibly Ever) to Save on Food Costs While Traveling

It’s always an honor and a privilege when asked to write for Woman Tribune. So when founder, Holly, contacted me about elaborating on a comment I’d made on the Crock-Pot giveaway, I was happy to oblige.

Kristina cosplay For those who don’t know me, I’m a certifiable geek. I’m a Star Wars-loving, Dungeons & Dragons-playing, gamer girl, LARPER who loves anime and loves costuming and cosplay even more. The thought of going to a Renaissance Faire in “civvies” (plain clothes) is sacrilege to me. I sit down monthly and dust my prized vinyl statues and rare action figur… you get the drift.

I also LOVE attending conventions. I attend anywhere from 3 to 6 conventions per year, and they range in location from Maryland to Tennessee to Maine and New Hampshire — seriously, every state pretty much has their own con and people travel from all over to attend; even from abroad. As you can imagine, if you’re not careful in your planning things can get expensive. You need to pay for your travel expenses, your convention registration, hotel, and parking if you drove. If you’re a cosplayer, you need to pay for the materials that go into your costume. Somewhere among all of these expenses, you need to find the funds to feed and hydrate yourself.

Kristina cosplay

Conventions are anywhere from a 3 to 5 day affair. Most unofficially start on Thursdays, with that day dedicated to picking up your badges/registrations and maybe an event or two, and the actual con itself runs Friday through mid-Sunday. A lot of people opt to take the rest of Sunday to wind down and don’t head home until Monday. With activities galore, you’re going to be doing A LOT of running around, and you need to eat. Ramen noodles and granola bars just don’t cut it. You end up hungry and feeling like crap. Eating out and ordering take-out all weekend is expensive, and half the time you still feel like crap. We’ve all eaten out before. You know to expect anywhere from $7 to $15 a person, per meal; or more if you like to have “nice” meals, though this definition is subjective. Don’t forget to count in drinks, too, especially if it’s a summer event. I’d say with jacked-up convention prices, you can easily drop $15 a day on just bottled non-alcoholic drinks.

When it’s all said and done, you’re looking at spending anywhere between $100 and $250 a person just on food and drinks.

I am far from wealthy, and most of my friends are in the same boat. With all of the costs involved, wee decided a long time ago that our hard-earned money was being wasted. Yes we got to go to the convention, but we had little to nothing left over to actually buy anything or see other local attractions. We sat down and took a hard look at what we could do to cut down on our costs. Some obvious things like carpooling came to mind, but we were doing that already. It had to be something else. Then there it was, like one of those classic “DUH!” moments. It was our food costs that were killing us.

My friends and I like to eat. Living off noodles for nearly a week wasn’t going to fly with us; not to mention, we enjoy healthier options being available. The answer to this dilemma, I would find, was sitting on my kitchen counter the whole time. The answer was my Crock-Pot.

Looking back, I honestly can’t believe we hadn’t thought of it before. All hotels have at least one electrical outlet available, and that was all we needed to not go broke or hungry the whole weekend.

With this new game plan in place, we gave it a test run at the next convention we attended. My Crock-Pot has since come to every single event with us. Additionally, when my mother found out what we were doing, she alerted me to the existence of slow cooker LINERS. Things became that much easier after that.

Reynolds slow cooker liners

Reynolds brand makes these ingenious little beauties pictures above, and they could not be easier to use. Pop one in your Crock-Pot, fill it up with food, cook and indulge in said food, tie up liner, throw away, and enjoy not needing to clean up. At about 35 cents per liner, they are life-changing.

On Wednesdays before conventions, my friend and I get together and go grocery shopping. She has a pretty nice cooler that we fill up with everything we’re going to need. We spend maybe $80 tops on groceries between the two of us. We’ll pick up things like bell peppers, cucumbers, carrots, grape tomatoes, and other veggies we can eat raw. Add a loaf of bread and some homemade chicken salad or cold cuts and lunches are covered. For dinners we pick out pretty much anything we’ve been hungry for that can be made in the slow cooker. It’s easier if you pick one protein that can be used for multiple dishes, since buying a bulk pack is cheaper. For example, last year we made chili, beef stew, and piggy casserole (deconstructed pigs in the blanket, for us lazy busy folk.) We also make a little pork roast with sauerkraut and potatoes since the roast was on markdown and looked good.

The trick is to do as much of the prep work as you can at home. Clean, chop, mix, and precook everything as needed. Gallon freezer bags are your friend, along with those plastic Chinese take-out style containers. Anything that can just be warmed up (like chili) cook completely at home. Let it cool and fill up a freezer bag with it. You’ll end up with a cooler full of bags similar to below. Just remember, we’re not freezing the meals. Placing them in the cooler over ice will be just fine. Although, if you’re traveling for a LONG distance, or will need food for more than a few days, go ahead and freeze them up.

slow cooker meal bags
image via slimcoincidence/Flickr

You’re going to want to bring a big black trash bag or two with you. Those hotel cans are tiny. Stop at a dollar store and pick up some reusable plastic plates, bowls, cutlery, and a pack of plastic reusable cups that can just be rinsed out in the sink. A roll of paper towels will also likely come in handy. Don’t forget to bring some kind of serving spoon.

Have all that? Good, then you’re all set.

All you need to do is select the meal you want in the morning, pop a liner into your slow cooker, fill it up with the desired meal, and place it on the lowest setting. Your dinner will be hot and waiting for you when you get back to the hotel after your exciting day.

Breakfast person? No problem! I’ve done a baked oatmeal in the slow cooker that is delicious. Just pop it in at night and it’s ready by morning. Any internet search for Crock-Pot breakfast recipes will yield tons of amazing dishes. Just prep them at home like you did with the other meals.

That’s pretty much all there is to it. Your wallet will thank you and you’ll thank yourself when you can afford to bring home that piece of con swag/merchandise/whatever you’ve been pining over and still make rent.

Additional tip: as long as you’re not a soda addict, just bring a few gallons of water along with you and a can of Crystal Light drink mix. Two reusable bottles from a dollar store and you even have a drink to carry around with you all day instead of paying for pre-bottled.

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15 thoughts on “The Best Trick (Possibly Ever) to Save on Food Costs While Traveling

  1. I have not thought of doing that before. Not a bad idea – especially if you have a lot to feed on your vacation. I might just bring my crock pot to my next blog event….ummmm, maybe not, but it does sound like a great idea to save money on food.

  2. Thanks for the tip! I love using the crock pot, but usually just end up using it only in the winter, and only to soak and cook beans. I will definitely look into some breakfast crock pot recipes, and start using it more. Anything to shave some time on the clean up!

  3. I love this idea… my only reservation however is the plastic….and heating it; chemical leaching. I wonder what the deal is with that?

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