Have Food, Will Travel

Vacations, particularly in the wake of COVID-19, have been elusive as a 1963 Mustang of late. Since the start of the outbreak in early 2020, I’ve taken a total of two — the first a brief staycation. The second, a more plan-intensive, out-of-state, honest-to-goodness-get-outta-Dodge-vacation, very recently concluded and left me much refreshed.

This trip did, however, involve a rather long car journey to reach my destination, and part of my packing issues (of which there were a few) had to do with car-appropriate snacks. Previous road experience, and accounting for the fact that I, in this instance, traveled alone, allowed me to hone in on four key points for success.

Should you consider a similar voyage, perhaps these reminders will prove equally helpful in your planning.

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Considerations for car snacks:

  1. Staying hydrated.
  2. Keeping awake.
  3. Staving off digestive issues.
  4. Maintaining an emergency supply.

As to the first point, obviously water makes the top of the list. You could also pack some Gatorade and Pedialyte in addition if you’re more prone to dehydration, particularly if you’re significantly changing altitude levels on the trip. Fresh fruit could also work, but it can get messy if not pre-sliced or in a stable container, and who wants to deal with a fruit-juice mess in your lap when going 60 MPH down a mountain byway? Not this girl.

Caveat: dried or freeze-dried fruit offers an alternative, but this option won’t help the hydration bit so much.

Water is liiiiiiife.
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Wakefulness and cars? Quite necessary in the driver’s seat. Unfortunately, I had a rather acute sleeping problem as a small child, such that my parents, wild-eyed and mentally crying out for a modicum of peace in the house, would tuck me into my car seat and drive around the neighborhood until I calmed… or so my father likes to tell me. Based on how quickly I drift off when I’m not driving, I feel rather inclined to believe the tale.

The adrenaline of paying attention and watching for cars with broken turn signals helps me keep going, but after three or four hours of singing at the top of my lungs, listening to audiobooks and/or chatting on the phone, I get weary and my back hurts, to boot.

Have I mentioned that I also dislike making stops unless I really have/need to?

It’s a nasty conundrum.

And thus we arrive with a screech of tires at point two. Wakefulness can be revved up most easily with carbonated sodas and coffee, but sugar content can also make you crash pretty hard and achieve rather the opposite effect. While I do admit to sipping on a soda and alternating with water, my high-horsepower choices for staying awake are —

  • Plantain chips. Banana chips would also work, but I hate bananas. They taste weird.
  • Nuts, such as in trail mix. Nice boost of protein and no need for refrigeration as with cured meats and cheeses. My favorites are macadamias, almonds, and pine nuts.
  • Dark chocolate, usually 55%-70% dark. Less sugar than your usual bar, and I go for higher end stuff for car trips; the fewer ingredients, the better I feel. It’s a treat I allow myself about halfway through a long journey, whether I’m driving or not.
  • Chocolate covered coffee (or espresso) beans. A bit on the nose, but again, I go for dark chocolate to lower the sugar, while getting a purer kick of caffeine from the beans. Eat slowly. Don’t eat all at once. Trust me.
  • Meat jerky. I’m still experimenting to find ones that I like. Personally, the basic convenience store fare causes more trouble than it’s worth for my teeth, but I’m open to recommendations that won’t wreck them or run me off the road when trying to imitate a starving lioness every time I ruthlessly rip off a hunk to chew. Ow.
Is that the A/C buzzing? Oh wait… that’s me.
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Note that my recommendations thus far make a U-turn from high amounts of sugar and milk/cheese; this parks us nicely into point three of avoiding tummy trouble along the way. If you happen to listen to your GPS and stick to well-traveled, major highways, you may not need to worry about this as much, especially if you stop regularly to take breaks and whatnot.

But, seriously, why tempt the Fates? I most certainly do not, for the cruelest and most capricious of mistresses are they, along with their good cousin Lady Luck. So heed me well and steer clear of the dairy and the sweeties when traversing the winding wilds alone. In addition, really rich rarities or super spicy specimens might be saved for the end of the road.

Save the charcuterie for a celebration of your triumphant arrival.
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All right. Deep breath, heavy sigh.

I’m going to channel a parent (namely, my father — you’re welcome, Da) a teensy bit when navigating my final suggestion.

You really don’t know what hazards you might encounter on a road trip. Chances are, you’re gonna be just fine and have the best trip in all of ever.

Then again, sometimes stuff happens and you get stuck in the middle of nowhere. Maybe you blow a tire fifty miles from anywhere with cell service. Or you find yourself hunkered down off the side of a the road in a freak rainstorm in the middle of eastern Colorado where you can’t even see the front of your car through the torrential rain (yeah, speaking from experience).

It sucks. Preparation can help. It may not solve your problem, but it can help.

Keep in mind that I’m not suggesting a huge extra suitcase full of food to compensate for sudden bumps in the asphalt, people. My super tiny vehicle charges a high premium for any space I can find on a given day. We’re just talking non-perishables that are easy to pack down, access as needed, and that can last you a couple of days.

To prepare for the unexpected, I permanently stash a small repurposed shoebox behind the driver’s seat with a combination of these food items, sealed but easy to open —

  • Dry granola
  • Can of beans or soup with a peel-back top
  • Crackers and cheese packs
  • Dried or freeze-dried fruit
  • Jerky bars
  • Bottled water (always, always)

Every couple of months I check the expiration dates on the stash items; if any drift close to the end of their natural lives, I rotate them and use the old stuff in my kitchen ASAP. So far, I’ve never needed to use the stash. However, if I ever do, it’s one less worry all around and a bit more peace of mind.

And, hey, sometimes you don’t pack enough snacks. That might be an emergency, too. Just be sure to restock!

Photo by Quintin Gellar on Pexels.com

While I can’t say I’m the most experienced road-tripper, let alone a solo one, giving myself access to solid fuel that keeps the engines running on long jaunts made me feel much more confident in my abilities. Planning my snacks well in advance also negated the necessity of a long and lingering lunch stop; because I noshed along the way with all items in easy reach, I didn’t feel overly full (and therefore sleepy) such as after a heavy meal.

As they say, your mileage may vary. Even so, I’ve found that the four outlined points can still apply to many a road trip plan, no matter your personal snack choices.

Published by Allie

Foodie explorer with Stardew Valley dreams. Lover of wine but not beer, cheese but not milk, and all things chocolate. Working to learn as many self-sufficient, at-home food production skills as possible.

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