Vacation Food – Saving Money – Dry Ice is your Friend

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Packing Food for a Family Vacation

My extended family has been vacationing together for a number of years now.  Sometimes we do Disney World, sometimes the beach, but we always use this method for bringing our food along.

I’ve updated this post, which originally was published in 2009.  The photos are not great quality.  Every year I think I should try for better pictures, but it’s vacation and I forget in the midst of all the fun.

Subtitle: How My Mom Transported 5 Dinners for 13 People from Indiana to Florida in August without Giving Anyone Food Poisoning

What? Not eat out on vacation? Who wants to cook while they’re vacationing? Probably nobody, but with a little planning making your own food on vacation can be easy and will save you hundreds of dollars. (It also helps if you have a mom who does all the work. More on that in a minute.)

I’m not going to talk about using crockpots, hotpots, toasters and coffee pots in a hotel room, although I have done that before. This info will be most useful for those of you who rent a house or cabin or if you camp. These are also great ideas if you are doing a “staycation” and want to eat at home, but keep it simple and good.

Using Dry Ice to Transport Food

My parents packed a very large cooler about 4:30am with the food, which was already frozen solid. They bought dry ice that morning. There were guidelines on the package of dry ice that said to use something like 12 lbs. for 48 hours. Because of the heat, they decided to use 20-25 lbs. of dry ice. They packed it on top of the food because cold descends. The dry ice was also wrapped in newspaper to better insulate. All the ice was gone when the cooler was opened, but the food was still frozen.

You need to know that my parents left Indiana at 4:30am on one day. The cooler was not opened until about 4:30pm the next day! That is a long time to keep food frozen in August. The cooler just hung out in the back of their van while they drove and then enjoyed a half day at Epcot. We were a bit nervous before opening it, fearing it had all rotted. But it worked!

Tip: If you can’t find dry ice, check with a local welder.  They usually have plenty and will sell it to you, although it is a good idea to check with them ahead of time to be sure they will have it for you.

Update 2016: My parents packed the cooler with the frozen food and 60 pounds of dry ice on Thursday around noon.  We didn’t unload the cooler until Saturday around noon.  Everything was still frozen and there were still pieces of dry ice.  Do be careful unloading if you have pieces of dry ice remaining.  It will burn your skin if you touch it. We used tongs to remove the dry ice, and towels to handle frozen metal pans.

I’m not sure why the amount of dry ice has increased so much since we started this. We’ve never had anything thaw before.  Maybe we’ve just gotten nervous about it?

The Menu:

There are lots of different foods you could make that could be assembly only and frozen to reduce your cooking and clean up time on vacation. These are some of the foods we made. Click the links for recipes. I took these photos with my old point-and-shoot camera.

Update 2016: This is the exact menu we ate this year (and every year).  It works for us.

Stuffed Shells

Chicken Fiesta with Black Beans

Chicken Tetrazini

Pulled Pork Sandwiches and Hashbrown Casserole

A few other tips

Make good use of foil pans and crockpot liners. They will greatly speed up the cleanup process.

We used a grocery shopping service called We Go Shop in Orlando. That saved us spending our vacation time buying perishables that couldn’t be frozen.

Update 2016: We’ve used We Go Shop a number of times. They are wonderful to work with.  I highly recommend them.

Mom also made and froze a cake, cookies, waffles, banana bread. Obviously, there was some work in planning and preparing the food, but it really paid off in the end.

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  1. Great idea! I’ll definately share this tidbit with my hubby as we get ready for our vacation in July!

  2. Sarah@VintageChic says:

    These are awesome ideas!!! We have been thinking about renting a house in Gulfport as well. I think this would be awesome to do so we don’t spend much time preparing the food!

  3. Kathy Butryn says:

    Tiffany, I love your blog. This post has amazing ideas. Thanks for sharing it. Have an enjoyable vacation!

  4. Thanks for giving me something to think about. We are traveling from Utah to Missouri this summer and this is a really good idea for on the way there. The way back might be a different story, but at least we would save money going to Missouri. Thanks again.

  5. We’re currently assembling plans for vacation and I would love to be able to implement these ideas into the plans! I’ll be bookmarking this one, THANKS!! 🙂

  6. Ryan Ashley Scott@Optimistic Cynicism says:

    What a GREAT idea! I would never have thought of that – and how much easier (and cheaper) is a vacation like this?!

  7. Wonderful idea! I learned something new from you – again! LOL Next to you, I feel like this little teenager just learning how to cook. LOL

    Hey, I wanted to show you this free template. When I saw it I thought of you. If you really like it I can talk you through making the change. It really is very easy. And, if you don’t like it, my feeling are NOT hurt.
    Its a cooking blog template.

  8. Oh yum! I love stuffed shells, thanks for the tips!!

  9. Kimm at Reinvented says:

    That is a fantastic idea! I’ll be anxious to hear how you like the Gulf shores in Alabama, we considered going there this year, but are headed to our old favorite, the Outer Banks. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Ryan Ashley Scott@Optimistic Cynicism says:

    I tagged you for an Honest Scrap Award on my blog! Come on over and pick it up whenever you’d like.

  11. Christina Lee says:

    WOW!!! Go mom! never would have thought of this or done this!

  12. I remembered your Disney trip, and got dry ice for our trip down to FL – it kept everything frozen overnight at the first hotel, and I didn’t have to go to the grocery store until the 4th day of our trip, and that was just for produce! Thank you for sharing this –


  13. This is SUCH a great idea!!

  14. That is such a great idea – I’ll have to let my mom know about it… she’s driving to Fl from IL in November for my brothers wedding and will be staying in a rented house for 2 weeks… with others coming over from Germany! So I’m sure this will be great for her.

  15. Your mom is one smart cookie. I’ve used dry ice to transport meat, but hadn’t thought of using it for whole dinners. Great idea!


    I just popped in on my lunch hour and caught your comment on my site and wanted to check you out.

    I’m adding your sight to my link list.

    I would love to have you submit some recipes or “Host post” on mine.

  17. Sandy Toes says:

    Such wonderful ideas…but my #1 rule is that momma doesn’t cook on vacation! But, I applaud you…and this post inspires me!
    -sandy toe

  18. The Food Hunter says:

    Great ideas and all that food looks so good

  19. Great idea! Thanks for stopping by my blog!

  20. mommy4life says:

    You won a giveaway at my site. Please send your address to me at ksfamilymail(at)yahoo(dot)com

  21. I think you are my new Food Idol!

    Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting, I’m going now to see if I can put you on my RSS feed.

  22. Thanks for sharing this information about Dry Ice. My son is getting married in July in the HEAT and they want to serve Ice Cream at the reception which is in a park. What are they thinking??? 🙂
    We’ve talked about using dry ice, but were not sure how it would work, so thank you!

  23. This is a great idea! We’re thinking about doing Disney over the holidays and this would save us lots of money and time!

  24. Wow! This looks like there was definitely some work involved but I”m sure well worth it on the money you saved and You ate much healthier! Of course I should not be too enthusiastic about this idea, since we live in Central Florida and my husband is a hotel chef who has been out of work since Feb. due to the economy.

  25. I always cook on vacay. We usually get a condo. Mom and I share duties, and the kids clean. Hubby takes out trash.

    I never thought about dry ice and pre-prepared dishes. Next time I will.

  26. The easiest way to find dry ice is to Google dry ice City, State Abbreviation This will give you a list of merchants in the area that carry dry ice. I would call ahead. You may want to search your home location and also location you may want to get more dry ice if needed.
    I hope that this helps. Noreen

  27. Lavonne Cookman says:

    I love the idea for lots of reasons, but especially for the nutritional aspect. We get to control the good – or bad 🙂 we put into our meals, not the restaurant.

    Did you like the house you chose? We are planning the same trip in December, but haven’t decided about a house or hotel, yet. Maybe you could share which house you chose and I could go investigate it? Thank you!

    • Lavonne, we’ve gotten several different houses and townhomes. I’ve found that if you need a larger house (more than 6 bedrooms for a big group) Emerald Island is the best area to search in on VRBO. For townhomes and smaller houses, I like Windsor Hills area. There are lots of other options too, but those are the where we’ve stayed. For Windsor Hills, there’s a website that you can enter info and owners will send you back a quote. I can’t remember the site, but if you google it you should find it. It’s a good way to find a lot of homes for your dates and then you can choose from there. Happy planning!

  28. Sharon Anderson says:

    LOVE these tips – we are leaving on a 14 hour drive to TN soon, and I may just have to try this out! Where does one buy dry ice? Thanks! Love your blog!

    • Sharon, some grocery stores carry dry ice, but you’ll want to check to be sure they will have some when you need it. My parents have also gotten dry ice from a welder in town when the grocery stopped carrying it.

  29. Thanks for sharing this advice on transporting food! I had no idea that dry ice could be so effective in keeping food from spoiling for such a long period of time. This might be the solution to keeping bread good while I ship it overseas. Now I just have to find some dry ice to actually make this possible.

  30. I have never tried to use dry ice to transport food before, that is a great tip. It sounds like it worked perfectly, with the ice melting but keeping the food frozen. I don’t know where to find any dry ice, but I will look at the local welder like you said.

  31. Sue Watson says:

    Back in the 50’s, my dad drilled a hole in the trunk of our car so the water could drain out. She packed fresh foods and used regular ice. We went from Indiana to California. We were gone for three weeks. She cooked breakfast and coffee in an electric skillet in the motel. After she finished breakfast, she cooked up meat for sandwiches for lunch. Then for supper she cooked in the motel again. Daddy replenished the ice as needed. She and daddy had coffee in a thermos. We had kool-aide in a jug for us. She had made homemade cookies ahead of time. We had apples for fruit. Every three days, we’d stop for fresh meat at grocery stores along the way. It was a glorious once in a lifetime trip that we couldn’t have afforded to do otherwise.

  32. Our local ice cream store along with the store Meijers has dry ice for sale. It is about $3/pound. Is that about the same price when purchased from a welder?


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