For budget-conscious travelers, $8-$10 resort cocktails can break the budget. Learn how to make a vacation cocktail in your hotel. This weekend in the Weekend Series, try a little drink mixology. The goal: prepping for a weeklong beach vacation where you can mix your own favorite cocktail in your room.
As you are planning your next vacation, you might have the option of a hotel, an all-inclusive resort, or a nearly-inclusive resort (all-inclusive except for drinks). For example, you might be going to an amazing place such as Roatan, Honduras with a group of friends. You can have a room like THIS, and even eat and scuba dive for about $1200 per person, double occupancy:
If you’re taking a girls trip (or a guys trip) to an exotic beach location, someone in your group has probably pointed out that the resort is all-inclusive EXCEPT for drinks. That’s right, coffee, tea, and water only. Nobody wants to incur a large bar bill for $8 each cocktail or beer. So what should you do?
You have several options with varying ranges of cost and effort:
- Bar ($$$$) – You can drink at the hotel bar, budget for it, and save a little by hanging out at happy hour. It costs more, but make a few friends and relax – you’re on vacation.
- Shop for Ready-Made ($$$) – Have your driver stop at a liquor store on the way to the resort and buy ready-made drinks, such as beer, wine, wine coolers, etc. Keep in mind that if you walk around with beer or drinks that the resort doesn’t sell, they might confiscate it.
- Shop for Your Bar ($$) – You can also go by the liquor store to pick up supplies to make your own drinks. Buy mixers and liquor and keep it simple. Get the makings of simple cocktails – OJ and tequila, cranberry juice and vodka, rum and coke, or your go-to bar drink. If you mix your own, you can carry it around in your own cup.
- Pack It ($) – Before you leave home, pick up a plastic bottle of the liquor of your choice and pack it in your checked bag. Or get a bunch of the little bottles if you have room in your carry-on ziploc bag. You could even pick up a sealed case of the things so that TSA doesn’t look at you like you’re an alcoholic when you go through customs. “They’re gifts!” Hahaha. If you pack your own alcohol, mixers, and bar supplies, there’s a chance you might get your items confiscated (or just straight-up stolen) by airport security. If you mix your own drinks, you have the most flexibility, the lowest cost, and probably the most tasty drinks, but there is some effort and cleanup involved.
NOTE: If your hotel room doesn’t have a mini-fridge, pick up an inexpensive styrofoam cooler to chill your drinks.
If you are reading this article, then you’re probably interested in mixing your own drinks to save a huge bar tab.
Free Supplies at the Hotel
To begin, there are likely some free supplies that you can use at your hotel:
- Fruit – You can do amazing things with fresh fruit in your cocktails. Get strawberries, bananas, lemons, limes, and oranges from your waiter or especially off the breakfast buffet.
- Ice – There’s probably an ice machine nearby.
- Refrigerator – As a best practice, never get a hotel without a mini-fridge. Life is better with a mini-fridge.
- Sugar – You really need some sugar to sweeten those fruity cocktails.
- Utensils – You might want to snag a sharp knife, fork, spoon, and a couple of plates for prepping fruit in your room.
- Water – If the water is safe to drink, you can use it to mix cocktails.
Supplies to Bring With You
Depending on how elaborate your drinks of choice are, you might need one or two things, or you may need several. Below is a list of suggestions, from the most simple to the more complex:
- Wide-Mouth Nalgene Bottles – Get at least one (if not more) of these BPA-free bottles. The wide mouth and screw-top lid make them great to use as a shaker to mix drinks, and then you can walk around drinking out of them. The 16-oz (or pint) sized ones are perfect if you use powdered drink mix for water bottles.
- Nalgene On the Fly Bottle – This bottle is great for mixing and then pouring, with its drink spout and locking lid. This bottle holds close to 24oz if you fill it to the top. This bottle is great for everyday use, even after your vacation is over.
- Drink Mixes – You can easily throw some powdered drink mixes in your carry-on. Keep in mind that most of the mixes are sugar-free and have aspartame or sucralose as an ingredient. Crystal Light, or even the Margaritaville drink mixes are handy, but aren’t going to taste like a cocktail that you’ll buy at the bar. Alternately, you can bring Kool-Aid and a cup of sugar. We’ll talk more about that later.
- Cocktail Shaker – If you’re going to mix some serious drinks (and don’t want the ice in your final drink), think about throwing a cocktail shaker and jigger in your checked bag. Use the jigger to measure your ingredients for a perfect cocktail, every time. As a bonus, THIS cocktail shaker comes with recipes.
- Plastic Bowl – You need a small, inexpensive bowl to create some simple syrup. We’ll talk about that more below. The 1-cup Ziploc bowls are great because they are flexible enough to bend so that you can pour liquids out of them. And they’re cheap enough to throw away.
Mixing Your Fruity Cocktails
This weekend, prepare for your trip by testing out your cocktail mixes. Gather your supplies. Shop for things you’ll need. Have some friends over, and test out your mixology skills.
Fresh Fruit Cocktails – Level: Hard
Fresh fruit cocktails are delicious. To make the best fresh fruit drinks, you need to muddle your fruit and let it soak in alcohol for a bit. Think Sangria or a muddled fruit cocktail. Yum! (See a sample ingredient list below the general instructions.)
- Dissolve the sugar in water in your Ziploc bowl (warm water works best) to make simple syrup.
- Gather fruits such as strawberries, bananas, peaches, and citrus such as limes, oranges, lemons, or grapefruit. It’s worthwhile to find out what the local fruits are, since they will likely be available on your breakfast bar.
- Use your knife to cut the fruit into smaller pieces and put them on your plate a little at a time.
- Mash the fruit with your fork and transfer it to your cocktail shaker.
- Pour your sugar water (simple syrup) into your cocktail shaker.
- Squeeze your citrus juice into your cocktail shaker.
- Add vodka.
- Add ice to the shaker if you don’t want ice in your drink.
- Put your shaker together and shake well to blend.
- Strain it into your wide-mouth Nalgene bottle.
- Add ice to your Nalgene bottle, if desired.
- Add water as needed to dilute the drink.
Sample Recipe Ingredients:
2 TBsp Sugar = 6 sugar packets
1/8 cup Warm water (equal to the amount of sugar)
1/4 Lime – squeeze the juice
2-oz Vodka (measure with the larger end of your jigger = 1 oz)
2 cups Ice
You should experiment with different fruits and liquors. Try rum. Try tequila. Add some bitters if you don’t like your drink so sweet. Write down your measurements so you can reproduce it later, or alter it as you test your drinks. Note that the example above makes a small amount. Double or triple the recipe for your vacation!
Sangria – Level: Medium/Easy
If you’re a fan of Sangria, it takes a little bit of work and planning ahead during your vacation, but test out your sangria-making skills at home this weekend. (See a sample ingredient list below the general instructions.)
- Dice your fruit in small, bite-sized pieces and add it to your wide-mouth Nalgene bottle.
- Slice your citrus a little thin and and halves or quarters and add it to your bottle.
- Add the wine of your choice. If you like sweet wine, try a white. If you like dry wine, go red. Either way, try a Pinot Grigio or a Sauvignon.
- Add a little liquor. You can try rum, gin, vodka, or even a little Kentucky bourbon! (Yes, I live in Kentucky.)
- If you like sweet sangria, add a little sugar.
- If you like your sangria to be bubbly, add some sparkling water or Sprite.
- Close your bottle and let it marinade in the fridge for at least a few hours; if not overnight.
Sample Recipe Ingredients:
2 Strawberries (cut into bite-sized pieces)
1/4 Orange – 2 thin slices, quartered
1 cup White wine
1/2-oz White rum (1/2 travel bottle!)
1 tsp Sugar = 1 sugar packet
1/2 cup Sparkling water (optional)
Homemade Mixer – Level: Medium/Easy
After testing some of the easy powdered drink mixes (sugar-free), you might decide that you want a powdered mix with sugar, such as Kool-Aid. As a bonus, Kool-Aid has some awesome flavors like Sharkleberry and Green Apple (think apple-tini). After spending hours looking for a good mix, and trying some “all natural” (that means stevia) mixes, you’ve decided to give in and drink the Kool-Aid.
- Add a few ounces of water in the Nalgene on the Fly bottle.
- Add your Kool-Aid and sugar.
- If you are using the small packets, add the whole packet and 1 cup of sugar.
- If you are using the canister, use the measuring lid and fill to the 2-quart line.
- Add water to the 20-oz line on the Nalgene on the Fly bottle.
- Shake the bottle vigorously, until the Kool-Aid and sugar have dissolved. This is your “mixer”.
- Pour 6-oz of the mixer into the wide-mouth Nalgene bottle.
- Add 1-oz of alcohol. Pack or pick up some good vodka, rum, tequila, or gin.
- Add 3-oz of water.
- Add ice and shake the bottle.
- Now head to the beach and drink the Kool-Aid.
Sample Recipe Ingredients:
- 2-qt serving Kool-Aid (Sugar Sweetened) – Take either the small packets that need one cup of sugar each (pack it or buy it there), or the canister with sugar already added. Choose your favorite flavor, such as Blastin’ Berry Cherry.
- 1 cup Sugar – IF you are using the small packets. The canister has sugar already added.
- Water – Fill to 20-oz
- 6-oz Mix (from above)
- 1-oz Grey Goose Vodka
- 3-oz Water
Powdered Drink Mixes – Level: Easy
If you won’t have access to a liquor store where you can pick up supplies to mix your own cocktails, you can take some quick and easy powdered drink mixes. Throw some tiny packets of drink mix in your carry-on, add a few small bottles of liquor to your TSA quart bag and get your vacation buzz on.
- Add 12-oz of water in the open-mouth Nalgene bottle.
- Add 1-oz of liquor.
- Add the packet of drink mix.
- Add ice and shake vigorously.