-- Coolers aren't just for camping anymore.
Increasingly, U.S. travelers are bringing coolers on road trips and to hotels and resorts so they can reduce restaurant spending.
Bruce Chadwick of North Palm Beach, Fla., brings an electric Coleman cooler that plugs into the car's cigarette lighter on vacations with his wife and 5-year-old son. They recently brought it into their hotel at Disney World to save the $10-a-night refrigerator fee, he says.
Donna Bilkey of Imperial, Mo., says she got upset when she paid $20 for "a few juices and two muffins" for her family of four at the tony Amelia Island Plantation Resort last year in Florida. So they went to the nearest Wal-Mart, bought a disposable Styrofoam cooler and filled it with fruit, cheese and snacks.
"When we did eat out, we ate less," she says. "Saved us a ton of money."
Higher-priced gas over the summer forced some Americans to cut spending on food and other incidentals. Tourism officials expect fall travelers to continue the trend because of the ongoing financial crisis and pre-Election Day uncertainty.
"They're still going (on trips), but they're bringing their cooler," says John Edman, director of Explore Minnesota Tourism.
When they do eat out, they're picking cheaper restaurants, says Chad Prosser of South Carolina's parks, recreation and tourism department.
"They trade down," he says. "They go to Western Sizzler or Bonanza instead of Ruth's Chris Steakhouse."
Travelers are stretching their vacation dollars by:
• Visiting a supermarket. The Chadwicks bought a rotisserie chicken and sides at a market during their Labor Day trip to Treasure Island, Fla. Bruce Chadwick says some friends call him cheap, but he doesn't mind. "We basically had a home-cooked meal for a fraction of the price."
• Booking a kitchen. To save money on dining out in Hawaii during their vacation this month, the Ivaniszyn family of Minneapolis skipped the deluxe resorts and instead have rented a nearby condo. When they land, they'll stop at Costco to stock the kitchen, says Steve Ivaniszyn. The family still plans to splurge on sunset drinks at their favorite resorts.
• Eating a big lunch. During their July visit to Washington, D.C., and Williamsburg, Va., the Bilkeys ate big lunches and snacked at dinnertime. Bilkey says they saved money on pricy dinners, and their girls, ages 11 and 12, enjoyed it: "It's a treat for us, because we really don't go out for nice lunches very often."