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Thursday, March 24, 2011

How to Save Money on Vacation Meals

A couple of weeks ago we decided, quite on the spur of the moment, to take a four-night trip to Cancún. We've been there many times before and knew that we'd have an excellent mini-vacation, which for us means one thing: lounging on a beach, books in hand.

We got a great deal on the trip, but we knew from experience that our great deal would quickly be spoiled by hotel gouging if we ate breakfast and lunch at the place we were staying. As it happened, our hotel sat on a fairly undeveloped (for Cancún) stretch of land, with few nearby restaurants or grocery stores. But over the years we've learned how to avoid forking out for hotel food.

On our first evening in Cancún, we rode a bus into town and loaded up at our favorite supermarket. For US$19 (roughly the cost of a single trip to a hotel buffet) we bought a quart of milk, a quart of yogurt, two bags of granola, a box of pistachios, two liters of water, three quarts of fruit juice, two beautiful mangoes, a bunch of small bananas, and half a papaya.

We'd packed plenty of Starbucks VIA, instant coffee granules that can be mixed with hot or cold water or milk. In the past we'd traveled with our own coffee machine (much to the amusement of less-coffee-obsessed friends), and although we were at first doubtful whether VIA would be able to match the taste of freshly brewed coffee, we had to admit that it is really good. And it saved us lots of packing and mess. Thank you, Starbucks!

So we were well set for breakfast. While our fellow tourists trooped down to the overpriced dining room, we laid around in our underwear, reading, eating luscious fruit, and enjoying the sunrise on the ocean.

For lunch, we visited a taco joint across the street. But we easily could have eaten in our room: sandwiches, improvised tortilla wraps, fruit and veggies. Our friend Paul Spring has an even more ingenious solution: He searches out a nice piece of fish and marinates it in lime juice and tomato for his own ceviche.

To eat in your hotel room, you need a few helpful items:

* Sharp knife (checked through with your bags and not carried onto the plane, obviously)
* Corkscrew (ditto)
* Unbreakable coffee mugs
* Forks and spoons
* Unbreakable plates or bowls
* Sugar, salt, and pepper
* Paper towels
* Collapsible cooler

We filled our cooler with ice twice a day, and our milk, yogurt, and fruit stayed fresh.

Although we began eating in our room years ago to save money, we now prefer it. It's great not to have to get dressed, go downstairs, and wait to eat; who wouldn't rather enjoy their breakfast sitting up in bed or on a beautiful balcony?

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