If you like to spend as much of your travel budget as possible on adventures and as little money as possible on everything else–especially food–this is the post for you! Our personal travel style is to splurge on tours and experiences and then skimp on everything else. Food, in particular, can blow a budget quickly, especially on islands where nearly everything has to be flown in. And since we’re not typically traveling to island destinations for their culinary arts, that’s just one more reason to keep food costs down as much as possible.
When we were heading off to Turks & Caicos for my 40th birthday last year, we knew that the weeklong trip could blow our budget quickly on food if we weren’t careful. So, we headed to our local grocery store to stock up on some staples that could cover as many breakfasts and lunches as possible, with the idea that we’d also hit the grocery store there for a few additional items like meats and fresh fruits to round out the meals and even cover a few dinners.
In that process, though, we learned a few tips that we’d like to share with you:
Tip 1: Check before you shop. Not all food can be brought with you.
You’ll want to be sure to check your destination’s regulations for what food can–and can’t–be brought with you. Turks & Caicos has a great tourism website that explained in detail what was and was not acceptable. Our research for T&C showed that food was allowed to be brought into the islands as long as it was pre-packaged and factory sealed (and of course no fruits and veggies – you can’t travel over borders with those!). So be sure to check for your specific destination before you hit the grocery store.
Tip 2: Dry goods can go in carry-on luggage. Anything liquid should be checked.
For T&C, we stocked up on bread, breakfast bars, nut butters, crackers, nuts, coffee, tuna, mayo, relish, microwaveable rice and more. We correctly figured that anything that had a liquid component had to be checked, so the mayo, relish, tuna, and peanut/cashew/almond butters all went into the big suitcase we were checking with our too-large-to-carry-on snorkeling gear. Even though the nut butters had very little liquid, the full size of the jars was far beyond the 3.2oz rule for liquids you carry-on. All of the other foods, however, ended up in the hiking backpack that D planned to carry-on.
Tip 3: Unpack dry goods when you go through security.
This one, we found out in the moment…
After getting flagged by the TSA agents as we were preparing to depart, we learned that ALL food—even dry food—has to be taken out of your carry-on bag when you go through security. So, D had the great pleasure of pulling every box and bag of food out of his carefully packed backpack at the security checkpoint. File that one under “good to know for next time” – ha!
Tip 4: Buy fresh fruits, veggies and meats locally.
Other than that minor hiccup, all of our pre-packaged food made it safely to T&C. While we landed with a good variety of things to eat, we still needed a few more staples to have some well-balanced meals. We ended up picking up a rotisserie chicken, some sliced meat, fruits, soda, and a few other fun items like empanadas at the local grocery store, giving us plenty of variety for several meals. But remember that those items may not be able to come back with you, so only buy what you can consume at your destination.
Tip 5: Plan for your grocery trip at your destination.
As there were some key items that we knew we’d want to pick up locally, we had to plan for how–and when–we’d make the trip to the grocery store. As there was a store within a relatively doable walking distance, we decided to save money and not take a cab. However, that did mean that we’d be carrying some groceries back to the hotel on foot, too. I had packed an extra canvas tote in one of our bags, and D had his big hiking backpack, which is designed to distribute weight appropriately. With those, we were able to carry quite a bit back to the room without splurging on an unneeded taxi ride.
Tip 6: Bring along some cutlery and reusable cups.
Having food and drinks in your room is great, but what’s not awesome is not being able to eat anything. Sure, you could sneak some silverware from the hotel restaurant, but to avoid being *that* person, bring along your own forks. Remember that knifes can’t go in carry-ons, though. We also brought long a couple of reusable tumblers, which were phenomenal to have for coffee, soda and our happy hour cocktails (because every hour is happy hour when you’re on vacay!).
We ended up eating the majority of our meals with food from the room–but that didn’t make those meals boring! One night, we enjoyed our empanadas on the beach, watching the sunset with a sweet rum concoction to wash it all down. A few dollars on food, but a million dollar view. We’ll take that combo any way.
By the end of the trip, we even had some leftover packaged goods that we brought home with us. With just a few select meals eaten out, most of our money got to go to what we enjoyed the most: adventuring and exploring an amazing destination.
So yes – you absolutely can fly with food. You’ll just want to keep these few tips in mind if you do.