June 20, 2012

Where Did We Eat, What Did It Cost?

Before we left on our trip, we had two ideas about food.  We knew that we would eat out a lot, since experiencing local and regional foods was important to us, and we also thought we would cook many of our own meals.  As things turned out, we did eat out a lot, but we almost never cooked meals from scratch.  What happened?

Even though our kitchen in the RV is tiny, we were fully equipped to cook almost any kind of meal imaginable.  We had purchased a nesting set of cookware that took up very little room and had discovered ingenious silicone cookers that would enable us to cook an entire meal in our microwave/convection oven.  We even had every utensil that we might need.  We were definitely prepared.  We just found that we lacked the motivation to cook.

It all started in Maine when we couldn’t seem to get our fill of local seafood, especially lobster and crab.  After living in landlocked Colorado, we were starved for fresh seafood, and we really looked forward to eating out.  Lobster and crab were a little too messy to try and prepare in the RV, so we left the cooking to someone else.

Maine Lobster Was Hard to Resist
We decided early on that lunch would typically be our main meal of the day.  First of all, lunch is usually less expensive than at dinner.  Second, we looked forward to lunchtime as a nice break from driving or touring.  However, our primary reason was the fact that it was just too inconvenient to go out for dinner.  Once we arrived at a campground and got set up, we simply did not want to turn around and drive back out for dinner.  It just wasn’t worth the hassle, especially once it started getting dark so early.

Eating our biggest meal at lunch meant that we often had leftovers for dinner.  We quickly got into the habit of not cooking, and when we didn’t have leftovers, we learned that we could purchase very good prepared foods at supermarkets or delis.  We were often tired at the end of the day and did not want to add cooking to our list of other evening activities, which included writing blog posts and researching where we should go the next day.

People often wonder if we got tired of eating out every day.  I can honestly say that we did not.  We almost never ate in chain or fast food restaurants and instead sought out local spots that featured “home cooking.”  In nine months I can remember only a handful of restaurants where the food was pretty bad.  Maybe I’m too easy to please.  I will say, however, that while we did not miss our own “home cooking,” we absolutely loved it when friends and family prepared meals for us.  That was a special treat.

Restaurants Featuring Home Cooking Were Not Hard to Find
We loved sampling all sorts of regional foods, from local seafood along both coasts to down home Southern classics, and we were always on the lookout for barbeque.  Then there was pie.  We felt that it was our mission to discover the best pie in the country.  Try as we might to come up with a winner, we just couldn’t choose.  Almost every slice of pie we tried was wonderful.

South Carolina Barbeque
Pie Is Nice
Although we often ate at places that would fit right in on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” we also treated ourselves to a really elegant dinner from time to time.  We had some very memorable fine dining experiences, especially in Savannah and Yosemite National Park.

An Elegant Christmas Dinner in Savannah
So, I’m sure you’re wondering what all of this food cost.  Our total budget for food was a generous $50 per day, or a total of $14,488 ($9,500 for dining out and $4,988 for groceries).  We hoped that we wouldn’t spend that much, and we didn’t!  Food ended up costing us approximately $13,155, or $45 per day, which also included treating friends and family to meals from time to time.  The final breakdown was $9,200 for dining out and $3,955 for groceries.  We came in under budget one more time!

Could we have saved money on food?  Without a doubt!  However, we don’t regret our choices.  We enjoyed eating out.  Besides, by not cooking at night, we eliminated what could have become a stressful situation at the end of a long day.  We did eat breakfast in the RV virtually every morning.  We made coffee and had cereal with blueberries, a banana and orange juice, just like we always did at home.  It was always a treat when we did go out for breakfast.  We also rarely stopped for coffee and saved our latte money for a favorite dessert, which we always shared.  When we were in an area where there were no restaurants to be found, we even fixed our own lunch.  Picnics in beautiful surroundings were always nice.

We did have to learn a new way of shopping.  I had been accustomed to planning my grocery list around what was on sale, and I often used coupons.  I also loved trips to Costco to stock up on “vats” of things we used in large quantities.  All of that went out the window in shopping for the RV.  First, we couldn’t wait for something to be on sale.  Second, we simply didn’t have room for “vats” of anything.  Instead, we had to buy the most expensive, small size package.  Finding room for an extra box of cereal was a challenge.  Given the small size of our refrigerator, we often had to shop twice or even three times a week.  Murphy’s Law guaranteed that we never ran out of milk, orange juice and half-and-half on the same day, and since there was no room to store an extra container upright in the refrigerator, that meant another trip to the store.

We ended up not minding our frequent stops for groceries, however.  It was interesting to shop in new stores and discover how selections varied in different parts of the country.  We always hoped to find tasty prepared foods that we would enjoy for dinner.  The occasional trip to stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s or local co-ops was always a special delight.  Unfortunately, we did not travel during the season for farmers markets.  That’s one of the things I would have enjoyed.

We Found Wonderful Prepared Foods for Dinner
We Included Local Treats in our Grocery Budget
Now that we’re home, I’m trying to learn to cook again.  It’s amazing how quickly we forget certain skills.  But I’m getting better.  Yesterday I made oven fried chicken and banana bread.  Who knows what I’ll try next.  I even made a run to Costco.  I guess life is getting back to normal.


  1. Eating the local cuzine would have been my choice too. Also the home cooking is always nice. Excited too see what your next breakdown will be. Love A

    1. A, Sampling all of the local foods was one of our favorite parts of the trip. We especially enjoyed the meals that you and Chuck prepared for us. I'm still working on the next breakdown and will probably post it on the weekend. Sarah

  2. Will you be keeping your camper? If not will you sell it. Store it ? Love A

    1. A, We will definitely keep the RV. It's perfect for long weekend trips in Colorado while Tim builds up some vacation time. We also want to explore the northern-tier states that we missed on this trip. Then, there is Alaska... Our neighbor, who is rarely here, is nice enough to let us keep the RV in his driveway. Sarah

  3. Stu and I have always traveled to eat! Every time I see your pictures of food I get hungry. ha ha I would enjoy checking out all the different markets too. Did the $45 a day include Kitty's food? LV

    1. LV, Isn't traveling to eat a fun way to go? We loved it! Kitty had her own budget and did very well. We gave her $50 per month, and she ended up just $2 over budget. That wasn't a bad record. Sarah