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Food cost - California road trip

Kópavogur
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Food cost - California road trip

hi everyone,

I am planning a road trip for next year and I am completely lost in regards to what to budget for food and I have looked around in the forums and cannot find anything. We will be on the road for 26 days, starting in SF (1 night) going to Yosemite (2 nights), Lone Pine (1 night) Las Vegas (2 nights), Zion NP (3 nights), Page (2 nights), GCNP (1 night) Lake Havasu (2 nights), LA (4 nights), Morro Bay (2 nights), Monterey (2 nights) and SF (3 nights).

Along the way we will sleep in cabins/tent cabins and hotels so we will be able to prepare our food in some places. What would be a reasonable food budget for family of three per day ? I have estimated around $2.300 or around $88 per day for 3 people.

Chula Vista...
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1. Re: Food cost - California road trip

Hi hlogan78

Welcome to the Road Trips Forum.

Generally speaking, if you are dining out for each meal at low to moderately priced restaurants, you could expect to spend (per person):

Breakfast: $5 - $12

Lunch: $7 - $18

Dinner: $15 - $25

Of course, you could always spend more. Those prices will vary by location, too. In larger cities or "captive" environments (like Yosemite Valley), you may pay a bit more.

Remember, too, that many hotels these days have a free breakfast included with the room.

One way to save money is, as you've already said, to make some meals along the way. If you are purchasing groceries from the supermarket, $88 a day should more than cover what you need for three people. Many of the larger chain supermarkets today have pre-made sandwiches or a soup & salad bar where you can pay about half the cost that you would for an equivalent sandwich / salad in a restaurant.

You can purchase a small cooler at a discount store like Walmart and store some food in it with lots of ice to keep things cold. (Although I had a bad experience when some of the food that I carried in a cooler on a trip went bad and I got a bad case of food poisoning, so make sure you're careful about what you put in there and maintain the proper temperature--especially critical in hot desert environments.)

I hope that helps.

Enjoy your trip.

Zed

Uden, The...
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2. Re: Food cost - California road trip

Lake Havasu 2 nights?? And I miss Bryce and Monument Valley in your plans.

Kópavogur
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3. Re: Food cost - California road trip

Thanks Zed this helps me prepare my budget. All of the hotels I have set up in my plan offer free breakfast and free parking. We plan on preparing our food as much as possible but probably dine out in LA, SF and Las Vegas.

Tet, Lake Havasu since I found a nice cabin in that location (but nothing is set in stone yet) and 2 nights since my husband who will be driving insisted on having at least 2 nights at each location where possible :-) We are planning on using one of our days in Zion to take a day trip up to Bryce. When mapping down the trip I saw that we would have to drive the same way back when going to Bryce so since we won't be doing any hiking with a 6 year old I figured a day trip would be enough. But off course the trip is still in the planning stage :-)

Uden, The...
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4. Re: Food cost - California road trip

Suggest to skip one of 2 Zion nights and add a night in Bryce. Stargazing, sunset and sunrise are highlights there and you don't want to drive in the dark, Those stretches are notorious for wildlife on the road and there's still much to seen between Zion and Bryce like Canyon Overlook Trail,Checkerboard Mesa and Red Canyon.

As Zed said, buyibg foor at the supermaket deli's will safe you money. Are drinks included in your budget? Wine is rather expensve in the USA and maybe you also want to buy beer, soda etc etc.

Tet

Kópavogur
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5. Re: Food cost - California road trip

Yes that is a good point, driving in the dark in this place is probably not the best idea. We have actually planned 3 days in Zion NP so cutting one day there should be no problem :-)

Bloomington, Indiana
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6. Re: Food cost - California road trip

I think Zed's numbers are reasonable as ballpark figures. You can do better and/or worse, but they seem good for averages to me.

My other observation is that when traveling we often switch to a 2 meals a day system. Eat a later, larger breakfast and then a (earlier?) larger dinner. The dollars for each meal are probably a little higher as a result, but the overall daily cost a little lower (i.e. the total increase to "breakfast" and "dinner" being less than the $$$ otherwise spent on lunch)

That's my $.02 (pun intended),

hlo

Edited: 12:45 am, August 11, 2013
Andalucia, Spain
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7. Re: Food cost - California road trip

I think a reasonable question for you/your family is how do you normally eat? Are you used to eating at sit down restaurants? Do you eat clean/organic or will fast food work?

Our family tends to eat quite healthy. When we are road tripping we typically have a) free hotel breakfast or b) something simple like cereal cups and milk and fruit from the local market. We always travel with a cooler and lots of ice, or if we are in our RV, we have a refrigerator. So breakfasts are about $3 per person tops.

For lunch we snack on things like cheeses, meats, crackers and fruit from our backpacks. We like to go to local markets or farmer's markets when available. I would say we spend about $50 for a week worth of lunches for 3 of us.

Dinners are typically our splurge of the day and we like to eat somewhere that represents where we are at. We like to go to Happy Hours for dinner because that is a great way to get local foods at great prices. In the National Parks, we always have one meal at the Lodge, and that is about $45 for our family of 3 if we do not have wine.

Ann Arbor, MI
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8. Re: Food cost - California road trip

Your budget looks good. I'll give you my family's recent experience as an example. My family of 3 just spent 21 days on the road in the SW. It was a priority to us to save money on meals to maximize the number of activities we could do.

In restaurants we had 1 splurge dinner ($175 for the 3 of us), 1 splurge lunch ($90 for 3), 2 moderate dinners ($75 for 3), and a few more inexpensive meals (less than $10 per person). We do not eat at fast food restaurants so those aren't an option for us (one viewing of Fast Food Nation was all it took). The rest of our meals were either included in the lodging or self prepared.

Our total food bill for the entire trip (restaurants, grocery stores, farmer's markets) was $1350 and that includes 4 days at the end where I was feeding 7 of us instead of just 3 so that's roughly equivalent to your 26 days with 3 people. Obviously your budget is a bit bigger so you have more flexibility. We could have easily spent more by eating in more restaurants, but we put the money into various activities (in comparison, we spent $2100 on activities).

You are spending more time in urban locations than we did and those areas can hit your food budget by all the snacks and drinks you buy between meals. Those things add up fast. But it is also helpful to be in a city since a grocery store is never far away so there's less pre-planning needed than when the closest grocery store is 25 miles away.

Depending on how much you want to economize on your food bills, lodging choices make a big difference. As you make your lodging reservations look for places that have a refrigerator and microwave or even a small kitchenette. At minimum the refrigerator will let you empty out your cooler and get everything uniformly cold. We used the microwave to warm leftovers from one of our restaurant meals one night. Another night we heated single serve meals. Also, many hotels have free breakfasts and it can be quite substantial.

Use the reviews and individual forums for help with lodging alternatives that give you some food options.

Also, a bag or charcoal and a cheap BBQ tool will let you make very tasty meals when you're near either a national park or a city park. It takes more pre-planning to know where you're going to cook, but in many places a meal cooked and eaten outdoors tastes great, is a great value and a beautiful, enjoyable setting.

9. Re: Food cost - California road trip

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