MEALS ON WHEELS
Your budget is the backbone of your travels — it dictates how far you go and for how long, the places you stay, the type of rig you tour in and the activities you pursue.
Vanning is a lifestyle that’s easily adapted to different budgets. You’re largely self-sufficient, so you can tread your own path and choose how you want to travel. But touring with a smaller budget doesn’t mean you have to miss out, either. And this is especially true when it comes to food.
There’s no denying it, eating is essential but it is also expensive and can be one of your biggest costs on the road. But the good news is you can save some serious cash with a few foodie smarts.
The idea of a ‘budget’ may send shivers down your spine, but it’s a good way to get a rough idea of what you can afford, and will help work out how much of your money you should be allocating to food.
Setting a budget means working out what kind of camper you are and the costs you need to factor in. The key is to be realistic — if you know you want a powered site and a wagyu steak five nights a week then budget accordingly.
If a strict budget isn’t for you, at the very least you should have a vague idea of how much cash you’ve got to spend and how you’re spending it. We tend to live within our means, so you may find your money goes further than you thought.
If you’re on the road for a while, you can easily track your spending by setting up a weekly direct debit from your savings account to an access account — kind of like paying yourself a touring ‘wage’. And remember, some weeks will be more expensive than others, so don’t be hard on yourself — you’re on holiday, after all.
Do a rough meal plan for the week and choose versatile items that work for multiple meals. Cook dishes that will stretch an extra meal or two to get the biggest bang for your buck — think bean burrito mix, a tasty green curry or a pot of minestrone soup.
Be a smart shopper and look for discounts, handy non-perishables such as rice and pasta, and fresh items that have a longer shelf life, such as root vegies, potatoes, cabbage and harder fruits that are less likely to bruise.
Make an effort to cook your meals rather than eating-out in local restaurants or buying expensive take-away food, and keep meals simple — everything tastes better outside, anyway, so you can easily ditch some of the frills.
On travel days, pack a thermos before you head off so you can satisfy your daily caffeine hit, and prepare your lunch and snacks in the morning, so you’re set for the day and not tempted to buy them en route.
You can also make your food last longer and take up less space in your rig with some smart storage options. Buy vacuum-packed meat, freeze meal-size portions of pre-cooked soup or pasta sauce, and carry a range of airtight, stackable containers and ziplock bags for storing leftovers and keeping food fresh.
A great way to eat well on the road is by cooking bulk meals and dehydrating them before you leave home. This frees up valuable fridge and freezer space in your van, gives you variety in your diet, and saves time cooking at camp after a long day on the road (you know, those times when take-away is most tempting!)
You can dehydrate all sorts of things, from snacks such as dried fruit or jerky, to full-blown meals such as risotto and bolognaise. This means you can keep your vegie intake up in places where fresh food isn’t widely available (or just plain expensive).
By doing the cooking in advance, you can also scope out specials and purchase items when discounted.
Store your dehydrated food in ziplock bags or containers in your van’s pantry and simply rehydrate meals using water when you’re ready to eat them.
Local knowledge can go a long way when it comes to saving a buck. Stop in at the local visitor centre for info on the best deals in town, including any cheap meal nights at local pubs or restaurants, as well as advice on which activities are most worthy of spending your hard-earned cash.
If you ask around, friendly locals can also usually point you in the right direction for the best places to do your food shopping, including any upcoming farmers’ markets or their favourite bakery in town. They will sometimes even let you in on the best free camps or fishing spots in the area (a budget-friendly feed in there for sure!)
CATCH OF THE DAY
On the topic of fishing, a bit of hunting and gathering can be quite beneficial to your budget. Set yourself up with some basic gear and hit the waterways to (hopefully) reel in your own fishy feast.
If you’re savvy you can find all manner of bait hidden among the rocks and in rock pools, or throw out a line to catch small baitfish, which will save you a trip to the local bait shop.
Cook your catch on the fire and enjoy the unrivalled satisfaction of having caught the meal yourself — all without even pulling out your wallet.