Breakfast is a budget traveler's best friend!
I’m a passionate travel planner. I love everything about travel planning – for me, it’s half the fun to research inns, musicals, hiking trails, and more. I like reading reviews, I like making comparison charts. I love budgets, and I love organizing 3-1-1 kits even more.
So it comes as no surprise that I love dreaming about travel meals and restaurants!Unfortunately, like many of you, my travel funds are always limited and an easy way to try to trim costs is with the food and restaurant budget.
One of the easiest ways to save or splurge is with breakfast. We've been tinkering with a system now for a while to get a good balance of economy and enjoyment and have learned a few lessons along the way.
1.) When booking hotels that include breakfast, take it with a grain of salt.
Enjoyment, value, and nutrition can all vary wildly. Unless I’m booking a B&B or Inn that is specifically known for doing a full hot breakfast, I always assume that the breakfast food on offer will be almost inedible and budget accordingly. And when I’m wrong, we’re in for a pleasant surprise!
My favourite hostel in Paris offers a free breakfast of amazing hunks of baguette, thick fresh butter, and large bowls of hot chocolate. Such a great way to start the day! An equally nice hostel in Northern Italy had stale buns and black coffee – might have worked for some, but was awful for me.
I had heard conflicting reports about the complimentary breakfast offered at our $35/night Day’s Inn in Flagstaff. In the morning, we were pleased to find that their selection – while uncreative – offered fruit, milk, yogurt, toaster items, pastries, and more. We did quite well for ourselves! The next day, at a well-known breakfast spot at the Grand Canyon, we had an acceptable, but overrated and overpriced hot meal. We were hungry again in an hour and we spent over $30 to feel that way!
2.) Beware -and yet embrace - breakfast specials.
Part of me loves breakfast specials. I’m not fussy. There’s a place here in Ottawa that does eggs, toast, bacon, coffee for $2.99. That’s a great deal! Hot, hearty, affordable. But the buyer beware part of breakfast specials comes when you try to do any substitutes, or when something other than the special catches your eye. The breakfast specials are designed to build loyalty and serve as loss leaders. Restaurants hope that when you enter the door you’ll make a last-minute sub to have a bagel instead of toast for an extra dollar or that you’ll order the pancakes at regular price. Order the cheapie special exactly as advertised or else go to a diner or cafe that is known for having low overall prices, not specials.
In new cities, search out the endless tourist magazines and flyers at the airport to find coupons and 2 for 1 specials. In Maui, we stayed in a cottage, so we did most of our meals ourselves. But one early morning, we went our separate ways for different activities and reunited mid-AM at a local bar to sample their breakfast fare. It filled us up but really wasn't very satisfying or memorable. By using a coupon I didn't feel so bad about the price -it made a plain breakfast more affordable, and thus more appealing.
3.) Consider doing breakfast on your own if possible.
With hotel room coffee makers and portable hot water infusion coils, it’s easy to boil water in the morning. We always travel with the right stuff to make high quality french press coffee and hot chocolate in the morning and bring it along in our thermos mugs during our travels. Instant oatmeal works for me, but my husband doesn’t like it, so we also pick up packs of assorted mini cereals and a carton of milk, assuming a fridge. We usually pair this with fruit – often fresh, but we also like Dole fruit in the sealed, plastic screw top containers.
With a mini fridge, yogurt, fruit salad, cheese, meats, and more can all make great breakfasts. If you were in a hotel with a family for an extended amount of time, it might save you considerable money to buy a toaster locally, or even a small cheap microwave. The cost of the appliances split over several family members over a week or two would be a very reasonable way to have toast and microwaved eggs and bacon in the morning. Of course, it would be even better to rent a cottage with a full kitchen if you will be in one place for 3 days or more.
4.) There will be some days when you’ll have to budget for TWO breakfasts.
Yes, despite the fact that we eat small breakfasts at home, we often have two while on the road! Heading out before dawn to the airport, stomachs a bit queasy, we’ll often grab hot drinks and muffins after security. Then by the time we change planes a few hours later, we are awake and so are our stomachs. Grease is needed and usually McFood obliges with a breakfast sandwich. The same pattern repeats itself when we get up early to see an attraction or take part in an activity. We need something to wake us up at 5 or 6 am and then something to keep us going at 9 or 10 am. And sadly, two mini breakfasts usually cost more than just one normal sized breakfast.
5.) Consider making breakfast your splurge for the day.
You’ll get better tables and views at the fancy restaurants without reservations. Steak and eggs at 8:00 am costs a lot less than steak and potatoes 12 hours later. Adding a fancy pastry to your breakfast costs a lot less than adding dessert to your lunch. If you go this route, consider having something more unusual or exotic than what you normally order. Pancakes are about the same everywhere. Don’t spend a fortune ordering them from room service. Get something amazing. Like eggs Benedict with asparagus and mushrooms or cream cheese and lox. Make it memorable! You’ll get a wonderful, gentle way to ease into your day. And if you splurge on breakfast, you can still be happy with a more humble dinner. At the end of a long day of sight-seeing, you can relax in room with some inexpensive take out or pizza instead of waiting for a restaurant table and paying high food prices.
6.) Keep in mind that for the most part eggs, toast, and bacon are just about the same everywhere, no matter how fancy the establishment and where you are in the world.
So don’t pay a fortune for a mediocre hotel buffet when that’s all you want to eat. Don’t go to a fine restaurant and pay $14 for a $4 special. Don’t bother ordering astronomical room service when you could get the same food at 90% off across the street. And don’t be too proud to visit chain restaurants and fast food joints for cheap, fast breakfasts. Eating breakfast in restaurants also eats up at least an hour of your time and all your spare change in tips and tax. Sometimes a bag full of breakfast sandwiches from the value menu serves your purposes much better than an “authentic” local experience.
Breakfast CAN be memorable.
One of my most memorable breakfast experiences was during our last morning in Oahu in 2010. The night before, a horrible earthquake hit coastal Chile. The next morning, Waikiki beach was evacuated under tsunami threat. Our hotel was just beyond the evacuation line and we were confined to our rooms. Uncertain and unsure, we didn’t know what to expect. We decided our best plan was to be organized, have water on hand, and eat a good breakfast, so we would be fueled for whatever might happen. The kitchen was still open and functioning, so we ordered a huge room service breakfast – 3 egg omelets, meat lover platters, the works. We still call it our $50 breakfast. And it was worth it! The threat passed after a few hours, but we were so happy to have been prepared and well fed, ready for what the day might bring. And after all, that’s what breakfast is for!
As always, I welcome and encourage your comments. What is your favourite breakfast dish?
If you enjoyed this article, you'll also like:
CoffeeCan Cuisine: Avoiding Dining Disappointment and Disasters
Travel Memories Are Made When... I Visit a Bakery
Travel Memories Are Made When... I Have Coffee