I learned how to be cheap at a young age. Well, maybe frugal. Whatever word you use for it, I learned from the best. My dad. He could do vacations cheap and tasty.
When we traveled, six of us crammed into a sedan pulling a tent-trailer that was full of everything we needed for two weeks, including food and block ice to keep it cold.
The centerpiece of our travel supplies was a box my dad created called the “kitchen box.” He constructed it out of plywood that he painted gray. It was no bigger than 3 feet wide by 2 feet tall by 2 feet deep. The top and one of the larger sides swung open to reveal compartments filled with everything we needed to cook, eat and clean up after ourselves, including a sink.
That box contained: three cooking pans; utensils for cooking and eating; a coffee pot; plates and bowls for six; a wash bin; towels for washing and drying; storage containers and plastic wrap; and all the miscellaneous kitchen items, including salt and pepper. No paper plates, paper towels or disposable utensils for us. Everything had its own spot in the box, like 3-D puzzle pieces.
Through the kitchen box, I learned how to eat on the road.
Today, I don’t have a designated kitchen box, but I draw on that memory to pull together what I think I’ll need to be able to cook most of our meals when we’re traveling. Not only do my husband and I save a lot of money, but with a little advance planning, we are able to eat healthy meals no matter where we are.
For example, the first three days of our last trip to the Southeast were as healthy as we eat at home and cost little more. Since we were staying in a place where we could cook, I put in our suitcase oatmeal, nuts and dried fruit for breakfast.
Then, when we arrive at our destination, we stopped at a grocery store and bought a roll of paper towels, some plastic plates, metal utensils, dishwashing items, a loaf of whole grain bread, a jar of sunbutter, and enough fresh fruits and vegetables for three days.
We also bought some pre-made food that we could heat and eat for our first dinner, along with a salad. And we purchased some hummus to eat as snack food and some easy-to-prepare food for our second dinner. Before we left on our trip, we identified a vegan restaurant we wanted to try our third night.
We often add a visit to the local farmers markets as part of our trip. There’s no better place to get a sense of community than at a local market—and pick up some great eats.
The best part about being self-sufficient with our food is we don’t have to worry about taking time out to find something to eat when we are hungry. We can eat on the beach or at the park or wherever we are at the time, and keep right on enjoying our trip.
When I was younger, the kitchen box was a kind of evil. It meant we couldn’t get out of our kitchen duties of washing and drying dishes even when we were on vacation! But now I see that the kitchen box means freedom.
I don’t need to make a full kitchen box to get the same flexibility. However, with a little bit of advance planning I can get rid of the worry about where our meals are coming from when we’re on vacation and save the cost of restaurant meals for those truly special occasions.
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