Road Tripping with the Crock-Pot: Save Money and Eat Healthier While Traveling

Road Tripping with the Crock-pot: Save Money and Eat Healthier Thrifty Thinking

Have you been to some of those motels where the prepackaged oatmeal and watered down orange juice flavored drink just doesn’t cut it?  Or maybe your motel doesn’t offer any kind of breakfast at all.  Do you get tired of eating out EVERY. SINGLE. MEAL?  Want to save a little money on the road too, and feel better while you’re at it?  Well then maybe you should consider bringing a crock-pot on the road.

Six months ago we had the opportunity to road trip from Washington State to Colorado and back in five days.  Yep!  About 3000 miles round trip.  Our family of five had a blast road tripping to attend the wedding of JSarr’s niece. Our little three year old still gets excited when we talk about Colorado and even brought it up today and yesterday all on his own.  Anyway, we left at noon the week before Thanksgiving and got back the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Money Pic In order to keep the costs of the trip down and in order to eat healthier, we determined to bring our 2-quart crock-pot and cook a few meals in it.  I was all excited to bring it.  I planned ahead, made of list of the needed items/ingredients  for the different recipes, packed the car, and the first night realized I had everything but the crock-pot.  Oops!  That first night on the road we went to Walmart to buy a new $10 2-quart crock-pot.  So now I have a travel 2-quart crock-pot and stay-at-home 2-quart crock-pot.  Just call me Slow Cooking Sonja, I guess.

Anyway, buying the crock-pot on the road was totally worth the investment, because we figured eating even ONE meal in the crock-pot would justify buying it.  I figured here, it would cost about 13 cents to make one steel cut oats meal.  The additional fruit and nut toppings would cost more, so let’s say it costs a total of $2 for the steel cut oats breakfast with fruit and nuts for the family of 5.  Let’s compare that to the All-American choice of going to McDonald’s for a breakfast.  If we bought 2 breakfast meals (approximately $3.50 each) and 3 Sausage McMuffins ($1 each) it would be $10.   Add in coffee and juice, and you are well over $15.  We ate steel cut oats at least twice on the trip saving us about $26 [(2 breakfasts x $15)-($2 x 2 breakfasts)], not including the cost of the crock-pot.  And that was just for breakfast.

One time overnight we cooked can-can chili in the crock-pot so it would be ready for lunch the next day.  We checked out of the motel that morning with the chili in crock-pot and the crock-pot in its box, so it kept the contents nice and warm.  When we got to some unknown rest area at lunchtime, voila!  A hot meal!  That saved us at about $15 since we would have spent close to $20 for a lunch out.

Chili on the Road-Traveling with the Crock-pot

I hope this opens your eyes to the idea of using a crock-pot when out if you haven’t thought of it already.  If you are close to a grocery store, are using a cooler, or will be staying at one particular motel/hotel for a couple of days, you can get even more creative with traveling crock-pot meals.  The challenge is to make the right amount without having leftovers if you are on the move.

Below I share what we did in a nutshell.  I did modify the original recipes a bit to make them easier or smaller.  These ratios are for a family of five: two adults, and 3 kids (ages 7, 5, and 3).  Then I share some other recipes that would be ideal traveling crock-pot meals.  Some of these ideas depend on how close you are to a grocery store, and how long you are at a particular motel.

On the road we brought:

  • the crock-pot (after we bought it on the road:)
  • can-opener
  • paper plates
  • paper bowls
  • paper napkins
  • steak knife
  • small cutting board
  • forks and spoons that we washed and reused
  • appropriate seasonings: oregano, garlic powder, sugar, cinnamon
  • nuts
  • fresh fruits like apples, bananas, and oranges
  • granola bars
  • Homemade KIND Bars
  • crackers/Pirate Booty
  • coconut oil to grease the crock-pot

When we were close to a grocery store for breakfast we would get juice and additional fruits to compliment our breakfast.


If you don’t have access to milk and cold cereal, or want to change it up a bit, steel cut oats offer the perfect motel hot breakfast.

Overnight crock-pot Steel Cut Oats

1 cup of steel cut oats to 3 1/2 cups of water.  Cover and cook overnight on your lowest setting.  I use the warm or low setting on the slow cooker.

Lunch and Dinner:

Chili in the Crock-pot

I used 2-3 cans of our favorite beans, with a can of tomatoes, and a can of corn to make this can-can chili.  Making it mostly from cans makes this a super quick meal to put together.  Then we brought a bit of oregano and garlic powder to flavor.

Here are a few other recipes that I would totally make on future trips.

2 Ingredient Slow Cooker Barbecue Drumsticks

This crock-pot drumstick recipe only requires two items: chicken and barbecue sauce.  You can use any type of chicken you like, but I think drumsticks work the best.  They tend to be the most portable, too.

Crock-pot Barbecue Franks |

This two-item crock-pot idea uses barbecue sauce, too with franks: Barbecue Franks.  So easy, and the kids love them!  You could combine this with the chili, too.  Put it in a whole wheat hotdog bun.  Yum!

Chicken Burrito Bowl

Here is another easy crock-pot recipe if you have close access to a store or are carrying chicken in a cooler using just chicken and salsa with the addition of a salad, the Chicken Taco Salad/Burrito Bowl. In a pinch you could omit the salad.

Crock-Pot Tortellini w Cheese This crock-pot tortellini only needs two ingredients, too: spaghetti sauce and prepackaged tortellini.  We get the dried tortellini bags from Trader Joe’s.  If you have access to cheese, even better!

Slow Cooker Tortilla Soup


If you are feeling a little more creative, you could make Tortilla Soup, which can be made from cans, jars, and boxes of broth, tomatoes, corn, black beans, and salsa.  You can omit the meat and cheese, and top with tortilla chips.  Since this recipe uses salsa, there is enough flavor you don’t even have to worry about seasonings. This is one of our most favorite family meals at home, and it’s so easy!

If you are staying at least two nights in the same motel:

You could also make almost any soup you wanted at home before the trip, freeze it flat in a gallon Ziplock bag, and take it out of the cooler the night before to thaw.  Or if you have access to a refrigerator, thaw the soup in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.  Then put the mostly thawed soup in the crock-pot all day on low, and you’ll have a hot meal when you arrive to your hotel “home”.  We’ve done this with a group of families we have traveled with before, and it works really well.

Some other ideas are to heat on low canned store-bought soups or refried beans.  You could make a bean burritos with tortillas, the warmed beans, and a little cheese if you want.  When I think about how many possibilities are out there, the ideas really are endless.

Well, if you are road tripping this summer or any time of the year, I hope you will at least consider bringing your crock-pot along.  It will save you time, money, and you’ll feel better, too!

Do you have any crock-pot meals that would travel easily?  If you have a blog, feel free to comment and link your easy traveling crock-pot recipes here.

For more Crock-pot inspirations, you can look at my Crock-pot Board on Pinterest here.
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  1. Raechelle says

    Sonja – great, very useful post! I will be printing this and keeping it handy. Would never think to bring a crockpot, but I can see how just this one tool more than justifies the space it would take in packing!

    • says

      Hi Raechelle! Thanks so much! The crock-pot really does save money on trips. It is amazing. But you know how much I love my crock-pot(s) :). I’ll use any excuse to use them. Have a blessed weekend!!

  2. says

    Wow! I’ve never thought of bringing a crock pot on a road trip before! Our crock pot lid broke so we need to order another lid online. We are going on a few trips this Summer so I’ll have to give this a try! Thanks! -Erin

  3. says

    This is a fabulous idea! Thanks so much for sharing — we’re going on a road trip later this summer and don’t like eating out too much; this is a terrific solution.


    Lisa @ HappyinDoleValley

  4. says

    Oh my goodness! This is a fabulous idea. I love the crock pot, but never had though of taking it on a road trip. Genius and great information. I hope you will share this with us today at The HomeAcre Hop.

  5. Kris Philpot says

    I always bring my crock pot camping but truthfully never thought about it for staying in a motel. I think it would work if I did it the same way as I do for camping and make up meals ahead of time in freezer bags. I include all of the ingredients including the spices right in the bag. Then just thaw and throw in the crockpot. Thanks so much

    • says

      Hi Kris, Thanks for making the suggestion! What a great idea to bring it camping when you have the hook ups! Thanks for visiting and for sharing!

  6. says

    I take a crockpot for our camping trips. This is a great idea! Get some disposable liners and it is even easier!

    • says

      Hi Leah, I actually have never used a disposable liner, but it seems like it would make clean up much easier on the road. Thanks for sharing and visiting!

  7. Megan says

    This is great! If you get an adaptor cable and rig it up so the crockpot is safely stowed (maybe resting in a 9×13) you could even cook your dinner on the road and have a hot meal when you arrive!

    • says

      Hi Megan, What a great idea! I think my neighbor talked about doing that, too, and I forgot about it, so thanks for reminding me. Thanks for sharing and visiting!

  8. Missy B says

    Quite clever. I expected you to say you had an adapter for your car, I didn’t even think about cooking it in a hotel overnight. Hmmm, got me thinking.

    • says

      Hi Missy, I think my neighbor used her adapter in her car, but yes. Hotel cooking! Much more affordable. Thanks for visiting, Missy!

  9. says

    I’ve never thought to take the crockpot while traveling, but when I was younger my grandmother would always pack a cooler and her electric skillet when we went on vacations. She could make amazing meals with practically nothing :)

    • says

      Hi Jen, An electric skillet is a great idea, too! I love portable methods of cooking on the go. Thanks for sharing, and visiting!

  10. Cathy G says

    I have to travel and one trip I was only going to be gone for a month, so I decided to just eat out and relax on my off time and do nothing. I lasted all of three days, I had to go out and get a crockpot for some homecooking. I made my spicy tex mex rice and beans and I vowed never to leave my crockpot home again. I also had to find a yarn shop so I could knit….I guess I am just one of those people that a whole lot of eating out and R and R is not for me. My last trip was longer so I even took my one luxury, my bread machine, that with my homemade clementine marmaladen and spicy pear salsa made my travel much more pleasant. Oh and a bunch of yarn too!

    • says

      Hi Cathy, Thanks for sharing. I know I have told myself those kind of things before, and to relax, but I would prefer the crock-pot! Blessings!

  11. Natalie says

    We found out the hard way that you should not attempt to COOK your crockpot food IN THE CAR. We prepared our Thanksgiving Crockpot Stuffing, buckled it into the backseat, plugged it into the cigarette lighter/adaptor and hit the road (3hr trip). Not even 15 minutes later we realized we’d fried our adaptor and the crockpot was no longer on. Since it contained egg (and smelled amazing), we decided to dump the contents in the ditch…along a road that we often see wild turkeys roaming.

    • says

      Hi Natalie, Ooo. Thanks for sharing your story. That’s something to consider. I have only cooked with my crock-pot in a hotel room when traveling. That’s probably the safest. Thanks for visiting!

  12. Julia says

    What fabulous tips! Try pulled pork in the crock pot and turn them into sandwiches. Put a pork loin (or butt/shoulder) in the crock pot with one bottle of root beer. Cook on low for 6 hours. Once finished pull the pork apart and mix in one bottle of any kind of BBQ sauce and serve on buns with coleslaw and any sides that your family enjoys. We do this at home at least twice a month and it is so simple and very delicious!

  13. says

    What a great idea!

    We once went to a five-day covention at a hotel with no breakfast but with a refrigerator in the room. We brought a box of granola, jar of raisins, peanut butter, unopened small jar of jam, loaf of bread, and some fruit. When we got there we bought a quart of milk, and two days later another quart. We had granola with raisins for every breakfast and PBJ and fruit for either lunch or dinner. Saved a lot of money, didn’t have to bring a cooler, and we found that the “taste of home” was comforting.

    We always bring our own plates, bowls, cups, and coffee mugs, as well as utensils, and a small bottle of dish detergent when staying in a hotel with free breakfast or where we plan to make food. It saves a little money and helps the environment and protects us from the endocrine disruptors in styrofoam cups and many paper plate coatings.

    • says

      Hi Becca. What a great way to save lots of money! It is SOOO expensive to eat out. Thanks for sharing your travel story!

  14. says


    p>What a terrific idea! I had never thought of bringing a crock-pot on a roadtrip. You are really clever. I always think of sandwiches and those kinds of things, but the family seems to get tired of those very quickly….. You go girl! Thank you for sharing Have a terrific weekend!! :) x Crystelle

  15. says

    What a great idea! I’ve thought of taking sandwich items, but the crock pot is perfect because it can cook while you are out adventuring. I’m glad I found your post through The Party Bunch link party.

  16. Kelli @ The Sustainable Couple says

    This is a GREAT IDEA! I love it :) Found you on the Homestead Hop. You should join us for Mostly Homemade Mondays – you’d fit right in!

  17. Tina says

    This is great! I just found this today on the Homestead Barn Hop #162. We just returned from a 3 day trip where I took our crock pot! These are great ideas. Here is what we took. I premade taco meat and froze it for the cooler, and then used the crock-pot to reheat it. You could use it to make walking taco’s or we used it to make taco salad. I added it to a container of already chopped lettuce and shredded cheese. Then I had a container of sour cream, and a jar of salsa all from the cooler. Then add a package of tortilla chips or Doritos. We also made frozen green beans and all beef sausages. As they thawed some in the cooler, I then chopped the sausages up into the green beans, added seasoning and cooked in the crock pot. When it was done, I served it with some sauerkraut from the cooler. An idea I got from a friend this weekend is to bring an electric skillet. Can’t wait to try that.

  18. says

    Just dropping by to let you know I picked YOU and THIS POST for today’s Mostly Homemade Mondays featured blogger! Head over to the blog to grab our button, and feel free to share on social media.

  19. Lisa says

    Thanks for the great tips! I travel frequently for work and am striving toward a “clean eating” food plan. A little slow cooker is exactly what I need to prepare healthy meals when I’m on the road.

  20. Susan says

    We vacation with family a lot & stay in condos that say they have “a complete kitchen” but not a single one has ever had a crock pot. I’ve taken mine a few times. Especially when I have to plan a dinner for a larger group, ya can’t go wrong with a crock pot soup, stew, or even pulled bbq chicken or pork. Throw everything in, maybe stir a couple times, have dinner waiting on us when we all get hungry.

  21. Amy says

    I’m late to the party but I found you on Pinterest and got so excited. We use our crockpot when we travel also but we use it in the car while we drive. I was given a crockpot with a locking lid from my MIL so we don’t worry about spills. I purchased a little jobby-do from Walmart that plugs into our car outlet and turns it into a house outlet(What are those called…converter, maybe?). We have 7 children so we completely agree on the saving money on the road idea. We have made BBQ chicken, brownies(they made the van smell amazing), a roast beef and bean dish using already cooked roast beef and much more. We travel from Geogia to Mass every summer and that crock pot keeps our cost WAY down. I’m so happy other people use theirs on the go also.

    • says

      Hi Amy. That’s TOTALLY awesome! I haven’t plugged in my crock-pot in the car, but my neighbor did suggest it. I love the thought of cooking a roast too. You are NOT alone! Thanks for sharing, Amy!

  22. Nicole says

    I am so excited I found this blog post via pinterest! My husband travels for work and has been gone since 4am on 6/17. Four days ago, on 6/23 I get a text from him letting me know he’s been offered a show at Mall of America. This is a great opportunity financially but requires him to leave on 7/2, likely at 4am again. Seeing as he lands on 6/28 at 11:55pm (that’s 12 days the kids will have gone without seeing Daddy) and leaving in what would likely be three days, I decided to tell him to take the job and we’d just drive up there, he can ride with us and we’ll make a vacation out of it. After arrangements were made with work and I calculated the cost of gas I realized we’re going to be spending a minimum of $750 out of pocket for the extra hotel fees and gas, not including food. Seeing as this will be a Mom and kid vacation because Dad will be working open to close in the Mall of America I began to panic. I’m looking forward to trying out your recipes listed here and a few others along the way, eager to see what we spend in comparison to eating out! 😀

    • says

      Hi Nicole. I’m totally curious to know how much you save. Glad to share! Rock that crock-pot and enjoy the kids!

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