Written by: Michael Purser
Everyone has a road trip snack. I don’t just mean that everyone snacks on road trips (while they certainly all do). What I mean is that everyone has a perfect road trip snack, a warm, comfortable caloric blanket they wrap around themselves while putting the hammer down on 1,200 miles of open highway. Whether you’re looking for your own perfect nosh or just want to shake things up during a stint behind the wheel, try some of these tried-and-true flavors the next time you hit the road.
Judging a Snack by its Cover
Mind the trash.
Packaging is a major concern in any road trip snack, for a number of reasons. First, you are going to need to access your favored foodstuffs while operating a two-ton pile of metal powered by exploding dinosaur juice1. That may sound dangerous—because it is. You don’t want to be fumbling with a tricky wrapper when you need to execute a sudden maneuver to avoid the semi that just pulled into your lane without a signal.
You also don’t want to end your trip wading through a sea of discarded mylar, paper, and plastic. That just sounds gross, dangerous, and bad for the environment. Look for snacks that don’t have layers of packaging or individual wrapping.
And, if you plan on pacing your consumption, you may want a way to reseal and store the remaining portion after each snack attack—unless you want to down an entire bag of gummi bears in a single go, which is totally your prerogative if you do. Closures, zippers, ties, or even just enough packaging to bundle up the remnants help stretch your snacking dollar.
The Healthy Stuff
Some treats are a bit better for you than others.
If you aspire to something more than empty cookie wrappers and empty calories, you may want to try something a bit more nutritious. Fortunately, there are a ton of good-for-you classics that will get you to your next rest stop without clogging your arteries.
Fresh fruit is right at the top of the list. Apples, bananas, pears—whatever you fancy — come in their own wrappers, pack a sweet and sugary punch, and are a necessary part of any healthy diet. As a bonus, the remains are fully biodegradable, for which Mother Nature will thank you.
If you have a cooler on hand and a buddy to serve as a go-between, you can store some refrigerated options in the back. String cheese—or, even better, a bag of Babybels—will get you your daily calcium and is always fun to nibble apart, and a stock of hardboiled eggs bring the protein in a big way. Just make sure to peel the latter before you depart. Please don’t crack eggs and drive. If you still want “the protes” but don’t have a cooler, snap into some jerky for a meaty treat.
For something a bit more toothsome, I suggest a selection of hearty granolas. Granola is like a snack food chameleon. Whether you prefer something spicy and daring or a taste of the mild and sweet, you can buy or make a granola for almost every craving or situation. If the variety and heterogony of granola is too adventurous (or hard to chew) for you, there is nothing wrong with emptying a can of your favorite nuts as you roll across America. Cashews2 are, after all, one of nature’s perfect foods.
Junk and Stuff
A waist is a terrible thing to mind.
Not everyone wants to watch their weight while they watch the road. For some, road trips are among the few times it is appropriate to throw healthy eating and good food choices out the window, preferably at 80 miles per hour.
Candy is king for the junk-food connoisseur. Everything from chocolate that melts in your mouth, not in your hands to a seemingly endless variety of gummy animals, there are hundreds—thousands—of treats to explore. Sink your teeth into something sinfully sweet while you cruise, but keep an eye out for the inevitable sugar crash. Your passengers and fellow motorists would prefer you not take a nap while driving.
Satisfy your crunchy cravings with chips and crackers. Nothing invites one to graze as freely as an open bag of crispy potato chips. Just reach in and pull out a mouthful of crunchy, salty goodness as often as you want. Slam the whole bag in a few minutes, linger over individual chips for hours, pass them around the whole car, or keep them to yourself. Mix up your flavors and textures to keep things fresh and ensure that the fun don’t stop.
Don’t forget to drink at least eight cups a day, even on the road.
The most important part of your road trip menu isn’t a food item at all. Staying hydrated is a crucial component of any successful trip, and your choice of beverage says a lot about the character of your trip.
Plain old water is, of course, the simplest and cheapest way to keep yourself hydrated. Sipping ice-cold water as you cruise is not only a refreshingly sweet experience, it will keep you awake, alert, and comfortable. As an added bonus, you can top off your bottle at pretty much every gas station and burger joint in the country. You can complicate water, of course, by purchasing carbonated, mineral, and/or flavored varieties, or by adding your own drink powder or flavoring agents. Sometimes, however, simplest is best.
Health-conscious drivers can use beverages as a way to keep up their fruit and vegetable consumption during the trip. Most roadside eateries and refueling stations are notoriously light on fresh produce, and packing your own liquid nutrition will alleviate the worst of the problem. This approach has drawbacks, though. Real 100 percent juice tends to be quite pricey, and usually requires refrigeration to avoid spoilage.
There are a billion sport/soft drinks to choose from, if that is your preference. You can recreate all those cheesy cola ads, try a sampler of specialty sodas, or just sip on an old favorite. Most beverages in this category are incredibly sugary and are best enjoyed sparingly. Even if you aren’t exactly observing the world’s healthiest diet, you could easily drink thousands of calories a day if you hit up the fountain drinks at every gas station.
Special mention goes to caffeinated beverages and energy drinks of all kinds. Sometimes you just need a couple more hours on the road to hit your destination. These liquid pick-me-ups offer the wakefulness and gumption you might need to cross the finish line, but their power is limited. Even the most powerful stimulants are going to run dry in a matter of hours, and many come with a dramatic crash. Make sure that your caffeine crash doesn’t turn into a high-speed crash by closely monitoring your energy levels. Pull over if you can’t stay wide awake and fully alert.
Putting it all Together
Make your own menu.
As I mentioned at the top of this article, everyone has a perfect road trip snack. Here are some favorites from around the All Seasons Resort Lodging office.
I’ve been taking the same snack stash with me on every road trip for 15 years. Every time I head across the country I need a bag of Twizzlers, a box of Wheat Thins or a bag of cheesy Combos, plenty of beef jerky, huge bottles of water, and a few Henry Weinhard root beers. Sometimes I mix it up with some Sour Patch Kids or other gummy candy instead of the Twizzlers, but I’m pretty stuck on my old favorites.
I take my obsession with LaCroix along for the ride whenever I take a road trip. It gives me the strength and hydration I need to stay awake on long drives. When I’m not in the pilot’s seat, I munch pita chips and hummus for the protein and crunch I crave. When I need to take lunch with me in the car, I prefer one of my handcrafted tomato sandwiches: white bread (only white bread), vegan mayo, heirloom tomato slices, salt, and pepper. It is an unbeatable non-dairy twist on a Midwest delight. For extra snacking, I bring a bag of Barnana peanut butter banana brittle.
My road trip nourishment consists of LaCroix, gin-gins (a ginger candy sent from the heavens), a burger or two, wasabi peas, fruit leather, and sea salt chips—all the while chain-chewing an endless supply of spearmint gum. As a native Floridian, my favorite Florida roadside treats are boiled peanuts, oranges, and jerky.
1. Gasoline is a petroleum product, which is itself derived from the biological remains of long-fossilized marine flora. Technically, these organisms predate what we consider dinosaurs, but the notion remains relevant.
2. We’ll get this out of the way: yes, cashews are not nuts. They are fruits. Technically they are drupes—like a cherry or olive—just as watermelons are berries and strawberries are accessory fruit. But cashews are definitely a nut as far as any reasonable human is concerned, just like tomatoes are vegetables for import reasons under the Supreme Court decision in the case of Nix v. Hedden in 1893.