by Candyce H. Stapen, special for USA TODAY
6:05PM EDT October 16. 2012 – During the holidays, family travel usually involves visiting friends and relatives or that much-anticipated vacation destination. But the holidays are also high season. That means top hotel rates, restaurants serving expensive meals, and stages hosting sparkling ballets, plays and rock concerts at premium prices. Here are some tips on how to stretch your holiday budget by saving money on food, lodging and fees.
Cheap eats on the go
Eat the street food. Take advantage of the food truck revolution to cut your lunch costs. In Boston, New York, Washington, D.C, Minneapolis, Chicago, Austin and other urban locales, skilled cooks serve up imaginative fare from their mobile kitchens. The vendors tend to specialize in one main dish, tweaking the ingredients. Empanadas can be beef with potato or Jambalaya style with shrimp, sausage and rice. Tacos come filled with chicken, beef or even lobster. And for dessert, look for trucks selling waffles, cupcakes or custom-made ice cream sandwiches. These mobile meals-on-wheels rove the downtown districts, parking for awhile and then moving on. To track the trucks, check the destination’s official visitor website for links and for apps.
Browse the green markets. Indoor farmers’ markets bloom in major cities from Toronto to Los Angeles. Although winter might mean fewer home-grown vegetables, the markets lure neighbors and visitors by selling aromatic breads, fresh-baked pastries, crisp apples and other seasonal fruit as well as organic salads and deli meats. Dine in at the markets’ inexpensive cafés or bring some goodies back to your hotel room or to your relatives’ house.
Rooms with meals
Pick a property that includes breakfast. When rates include complimentary breakfast, whether it’s a cooked-to-order meal or a Continental spread, you start your day saving money.
Make sure your room has a refrigerator. Stock your fridge with milk, juice and bottled water purchased at a nearby store, thus saving money on costly honor bar items. When traveling with little ones, buy plastic bowls and spoons as well as cold cereal and baby food. Tots can then eat breakfast when hungry, even if it’s before the hotel restaurant opens. If refrigerators aren’t standard features, hotels may supply them for a fee. Like all extras, availability is limited, so request a fridge when you make your room reservation.
Book a condo. Not only do these lodgings offer more space for the money than hotel rooms, but they also come with kitchens. That makes it easy to cook breakfasts and dinners, thus saving on restaurant bills.
Cook for relatives. Instead of taking Aunt Sally, Uncle Bill and their families out to a restaurant to thank them for their hospitality, cook dinner for them. This is less costly and often less hectic than requiring youngsters to sit through a multi-course meal at a restaurant.
Consider a home exchange. By swapping your vacant place for someone else’s, you can enjoy a getaway in Europe, the Caribbean or anywhere else you can find a family to live in your home while you live in theirs, all for much less money than renting a hotel or villa. Depending on what you want, trading places can get you multiple bedrooms and bathrooms, maybe a backyard and possibly extras like a car. Home exchange companies typically charge a membership fee and/or a monthly listing fee. If you’ve always wanted to treat your mom and dad to Christmas in Rome, then swapping homes can make this dream trip an affordable holiday gift.
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