We just finished an AMAZING time in the Florida Keys. We spent an entire week making our way through the Keys living in our van, having the time of our lives doing it. We had this entire vacation without eating out.
We did excursions, went kayaking & stand-up paddleboarding, did walking tours of Key West, saw EVERYTHING we wanted to see, and didn’t spend a fortune doing it!
The number one main reason we didn’t break the bank? We did not go out to eat at ALL on our entire trip. All of this entire adventure and no eating out:
One thing we want to say before diving in: this post is relevant to ANYWHERE you travel, not just the Florida Keys! Anywhere you go, you can save money and eat better by cooking instead of eating out. Heck, you can use all of this advice for eating at home, even!
Okay, this is the first thing to tackle. Why would you take a trip to the Florida Keys and not want to eat out?! The Florida Keys is home to some of the best fresh seafood you can find, and some amazing restaurants!
I understand that, and I agree with it. The freshness of the seafood and the quality of the chefs and restaurants is pretty undeniable. So why not partake?
The first answer is simple: save those sweet greenbacks (money) in your pocket! Because every dollar you don’t spend on a restaurant is a dollar you can spend elsewhere on your Florida Keys adventure (or even better, save towards your next adventure!).
We figure that if we had gone out to eat regularly (1-2 times per day) on our week in the Keys, we would have spent an extra 50 dollars per day ($25 each). We consider that a conservative estimate. If you’re getting top-end seafood, you’ll spend a pretty penny!
Therefore, that totals $350 saved by not going out to eat. We saved that money, and are using it towards our next adventure! Also, there are ways to enjoy the fresh seafood without breaking the bank!
Eating right and eating out do NOT go hand in hand. It is almost impossible to eat right if you head to a restaurant every day, and if you do, you probably feel like crap because you had to STRUGGLE to get a salad with no dressing instead of fries.
Cooking for yourself allows you to prepare delicious meals that are great for you! These healthy meals will lead to a more confident, energy-filled vacation for you and your traveling companions!
Okay, so now you’ve read this far. You agree (or can at least understand) that saving $50 per day and gobbling up healthy food options by not eating out could be something you’re interested in.
But where are you even going to start? You are on VACATION in the Keys, and you gotta eat! Agreed, 100%.
Okay, here’s the word everyone wants to avoid while on vacation: cooking. You cook at home! You don’t want to cook on vacation! Besides, you don’t want to waste time preparing food!
We spent our week in the keys and had an absolute BLAST! We did not spend full days cooking. We didn’t do a ‘meal prep’ day. We cooked things fresh and ate them hot!
Even better, we cooked meals that were delicious AND healthy! We didn’t feel bad about eating our faces off and rolling ourselves to the beach to lay out for 8 hours. We fueled our days with amazing meals, and paid 10% of what we would’ve paid eating out!
Right off the bat, you are going to need to have access to some cooking gear to pull this off. You might have a hotel, Airbnb, or campsite with cooking facilities. If so, perfect! Skip ahead to the next section, unless you want to learn about some AWESOME camping cooking gear!
If you don’t have a hotel or Airbnb with cooking facilities, that is still no problem! Maybe you are road tripping, or have a camper or van like us, that is just fine!
In our van, we’ve been preparing every meal with the same tools. At this point, we know them inside out, and have absolute trust in them.
Number 1, you need a stove. Our favorite is the Coleman Triton Stove. We love that it is compact (barely takes up any space in our van!), very effective, and has 2 burners in case we need 2 things cooking at once. With the Triton, you’ll be able to cook meals quickly and there won’t be a big mess to clean up!
Number 2 is one close to our hearts: a cast-iron pan. We didn’t start using this until we moved into the van, and we cannot believe it took us this long! We will use cast-iron the rest of our lives! Better flavor, easier cleanup, and cook faster! Just don’t touch the handle while it’s hot… Zach might’ve ran to put his hand in the Key West water after accidentally touching the handle, the idiot.
Finally, we love waking up to coffee. But we don’t love rushing out to a coffee shop to get it. Our solution? A french press! With this, you can make a DELICIOUS cup of coffee very easily. You can even make a cold press if you plan ahead the night before!
The money we have saved by not eating out has paid for these items 10 times over by now. We love our cooking gear and all of the food they help us make!
I’m not going to sit here and tell you exactly what you should buy. Everyone else has different tastes, and besides, while we are shopping we are deal hunting. Therefore we get new things every trip!
Here’s one thing I will tell you: if you can, buy groceries outside of the Keys. Grocery stores are a bit more expensive once you get through Key Largo, and even more expensive when you pass the 7 Mile Bridge.
While you are in the grocery store, you should have a plan in mind and STICK TO YOUR PLAN. You should have recipes in mind, and therefore have a list of ingredients, knowing exactly what you’re going to use them for when you purchase them.
You will be able to avoid the situation we have fallen into, where you have an orphan onion or a jar of jam that you don’t know what to do with. Best to avoid this when you can!
Big thing you’ll want to avoid: resentment over ‘missing out’ on something because of the need to cook. Therefore, plan ahead for when you’ll be cooking and what you’ll be making.
All of the recipes we have on our site are 1-pan recipes that are yummy, simple, and (best of all) FAST to prepare. You won’t be missing out on anything while you prepare food if it only takes 15 minutes.
Our strategy for this was the following: Each day, we would have 1 hot meal, 1 ‘leftover’ meal, and 1 cold-prepared meal.
With this strategy, we were able to actually spend more time exploring, since we only spent about 30-45 minutes per day preparing food. In contrast, time spent waiting at a restaurant a few times per day would have DEFINITELY been more than 30-45 minutes per day.
We typically would either have a hot breakfast or dinner. Lunch would typically consist of sandwiches and fresh fruit, or something similar, since we would be adventuring around the city or on the water and not have access to the stove.
Breakfast was either our 1 pan egg scramble or something like bananas & yogurt or cereal & fruit. Dinner was either something like our 1 pan Indian recipe prepared hot or eaten as leftovers!
We always planned a few days ahead, so that we were only preparing a hot meal once per day, therefore limiting time spent cooking, maximizing time spent adventuring.
For instance, if we were out of leftovers and it was the morning, we might cook a hot breakfast AND make dinner. We would put dinner in the refrigerator and eat it later, after we got back from exploring ready to devour it!
There You Have It
We spent an entire week in the Florida Keys without eating out, and we would not have it any other way. We were able to maximize our time exploring, save money, eat healthy, and have the time of our lives adventuring in the beautiful Keys weather!
Every one of the things we talked about are relevant wherever you are adventuring.
- Rocky Mountains? Cooking >> Eating Out.
- Seattle Adventure? Cooking >> Eating Out.
- Road Tripping ANYWHERE? Cooking >> Eating Out.
It just works everywhere, folks. You will save time and money, and eat as good as ever! And with the money you save, you can have more adventures to new places, where you can cook and explore there!
Every adventure becomes cheaper and more manageable, which means you can do more! It just ends up being a wonderful cycle that leads to more traveling for you!
What’s the final verdict? Vacation without eating out! You’ll be glad you did, take it from us.
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