I’m an independent consultant, and sometimes I have to be out of town for a week or two at a time. Whenever it’s for more than a week I always stay at an extended stay hotel of some type so I have the option of preparing some of my own meals.

chicken and dumplings
Supposedly chicken & dumplings;
see any chicken?

This isn’t the easiest thing to do believe it or not. It takes discipline and control and a recognition that you’re not working with your own stuff and thus there are many things to get used to in all ways. I could easily talk about more than 5 things, but I think these 5 will get you thinking about food and money in a different light.

1. Every extended stay hotel offers some kind of meals here and there. Often they’ll have some kind of breakfast, full or continental, every day, and offer some kind of meal Mondays through Thursdays. If your stomach and palate can handle it you can save money by eating in the hotel and only having to worry about lunch. However, unless the hotel also has a restaurant, which is rare, the food you’re eating is mainly frozen foods that are thawed out and you’re not getting the most nutritious stuff, let alone the tastiest fare. Still, if you can deal with it you can use most of your money for other things.

2. Your kitchen isn’t going to be like at home. Saying you have a full kitchen is a major misnomer. If you’re lucky you’ll get a stove top with 2 electric coil burners, a small frying pan and a sauce pan. No big pots, which means you can’t make a big meal and save it for the week unless you bring your own stuff. If you’re working or on the go every day it’s more tiring than being used to a routine at home, and having to cook every night can feel like a major chore. If you still want to prepare easy and relatively inexpensive meals go for sandwich foods and possibly frozen vegetables. Don’t forget that you’ll have to buy condiments and butter if you go this route, though they’ll last for awhile.

3. Eating out all the time can be expensive and dicey to your diet. Unless you want to eat at fast food places all the time, realize that almost every restaurant you go to is going to cost you at least $20 a meal, maybe not including tip. Even local diners can end up pricey depending on what you’re ordering, although sometimes you can get a great deal here and there.

Something else to consider is how far from home you are when eating out. I live in the northeast and I’ve found that when I go to restaurants in that area of the country I do well, whereas when I eat in the south I’ll often have a burning in my stomach for awhile because food is spicier, even though the locals will tell you stuff isn’t; they’re used to it. If you’re used to a diversity of flavors and spices in your regular diet then you might do better in this regard, but be careful just in case.

4. Grocery foods might be different than what you get at home. Why did I recommend sandwich foods? Because I have found that in other parts of the country from what you’re used to things are often done differently. Those hamburger patties you buy might not only contain hamburger meat in them; that rotisserie chicken might have seasonings you aren’t prepared for or don’t like. I have found that I always end up throwing away 30% of what I buy at grocery stores because I keep thinking things I buy such as potato salad or baked beans are going to taste like I’m used to them tasting. That can get expensive as well; it’s always expensive when you don’t eat what you still have to pay for.

5. Ask questions about everything, even if you think you know what it is. I’m not a major sushi eater but I like other Japanese foods, as well as Chinese food. However, I have learned that things like Mongolian Beef, Four Seasons and Volcano Sushi, common names in these types of restaurants, aren’t necessarily the same food you get in your hometown.

Unless the restaurant is very forgiving if you order it, you’re paying for it, and you either have to order something else or go someplace else to get something else to eat; either way it’ll cost you more money. Even foods like fried shrimp can be different, because in some restaurants in the south they serve them with the heads and legs; you don’t see that much in the northeast. Is it worth ordering something, having to still pay for it, and ending up spending $40 on dinner which includes the Whopper you picked up after leaving the restaurant?

The one recommendation I’ll also make which is more about your health than your money? Make sure you’re stocked up with something that can help relieve your stomach issues; you just never know. 🙂

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