Since becoming parents thirteen years ago, our family has put well over 100,000 miles on the family truckster taking trips to visit family and criss-crossing the good ‘ole U.S. of A. My husband and I firmly believe that road trips are one of the best things a family can do together. When you’re a foodie, where you eat is just as important as where you go. We’ve stumbled upon some of our best meals (and created our best memories) while on the road with the kids. Here are some of our tips for planning your own frugal foodie road trip and creating memories to last a lifetime.
Chain Restaurants are Strictly Prohibited
For our family, it’s mom-and-pop eateries all the way. No matter how much they beg, we don’t allow our kids any stops at the Golden Arches, nor do we pick up any buckets of chicken. The foodie road trip is all about new experiences, and the best way to do that is to avoid anything you’re used to doing. Not only are mom-and-pop restaurants typically more frugal than the chain restaurants, they’re usually a lot tastier. They don’t rely on commercial hype to stay in business, but rather good food and reasonable prices.
Let Your Smartphone Lead the Way…to Restaurant Bargains
Apps like Yelp and TripAdvisor are great for taking the risk out of choosing a new restaurant. Filtering the reviews by cost is a great way to find inexpensive restaurant gems in out-of-the-way places. Without Yelp, we never would have landed upon Dee’s Hangout in Panama City Beach or Tom’s BBQ in Memphis. Keep in mind that the number or ratings a restaurant has, the more reliable the review. While you’ve got your phone out, don’t forget to “check in” on Foursquare, where restaurant discounts abound. We’ve received perks like a free glass of wine, a kids’ dessert, and free appetizers just by checking in.
Eat Like the Locals
Sampling regional foods is a must on a foodie road trip, no matter how strange or unappetizing the dish sounds (bribing our 8-year-old son with a $1 bill to eat his first raw oyster on our last road trip was hilarious, and we’ve got the video to prove it!). Crossing a few things off your culinary bucket list is a must, but does get challenging the older you get. After all, there isn’t a whole lot my 44-year-old husband hasn’t tried. On our last trip, both he and I were able to sample turnip greens and speckled butter beans at Bruce Cafe in Florida, surrounded by mounted deer heads and redneck kitsch. Good times.
One of our road trip rules is to not to eat the same thing twice. It gets us to sample new things and try foods we normally wouldn’t order. This can be especially hard for kids, when most children’s menus have the standard five choices. For the little ones, you can adapt this rule by saying no eating the same thing two days in a row.
Don’t Forget the Foodie Souvenirs!
Foodie souvenirs help keep the memories of your road trip alive long after you’ve unpacked the suitcases and settled back into your familiar routine. My husband collects t-shirts from some of the best dive restaurants we’ve visited. They’re a great conversation starter, and serve a practical purpose. Other great frugal foodie souvenirs include mugs, magnets, and cookbooks from the places you visit. Want to go the free route? Start a collection of matchbooks, coasters, napkins or takeout menus from the places you visit.
About the Author: Kimberly Danger is the creator of Mommysavers.com and author of Instant Bargains: 600+ Ways to Shrink Your Grocery Bill and Eat Well for Less. Her food blog, Frugal Bites, chronicles her foodie adventures and features her favorite recipes. She lives with her husband and two kids in Mankato, Minnesota.
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