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Wednesday, July 22, 2020

How To Pack Your Road Trip Cooler

I love a good road trip. I take all my own food to save money and know exactly what to pack in my cooler to have a good variety of meals and snacks. A few years ago I road tripped by myself to Las Vegas and did it all in one go. I stopped in order to get out and stretch my legs, make food, or to use the restroom. Instead of spending money on food I already had, I would make a sandwich or have a snack when I stopped, and had plenty of drinks on-hand to keep from getting dehydrated. 

the best foods for road trips

Here's my list of must-have foods for your cooler, especially now when things may or may not be open and we're all trying to stay safe by avoiding too many extra points of contact. I'm not above ordering take-out and enjoying at a park or in the car (not quite as appealing):

All the sandwich fixings:

  • Bread (think about bagels, dinner rolls, or tortillas as a secondary carb to traditional bread)
  • Mayo/Mustard
  • Deli meat (or other meat you enjoy, including chicken or tuna salad)
  • Lettuce
  • Cheese/cream cheese
  • Pickles/pickled veggies - add a big burst of flavor with pickle or pickled veggies like carrots and onions.
  • Peanut butter and jelly - Sometimes you just want something easy and tasty. You can also do peanut butter & banana, peanut butter & apples, or peanut butter & brie. Get creative!
Sandwiches are great road trip food. They are easy to assemble, and you can make them as simple or more involved, depending on how you feel or how much time you have. 

Hearty meal options:
Not everything needs to be a sandwich. Bring other things you like that travel well:
  • Baked or fried chicken
  • Pasta salad
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Pizza (or ham and cheese) Bombs - I've made these before for the plane, but they can totally go with you in the car + they're easy to eat whether you're moving or not.
  • Quinoa salad - You can customize this to your tastes to make it delicious for everyone. One of my vegan friends raved over it, and everyone else enjoyed it as well. 
  • Sushi salad - Get some fresh, bright healthy food in your belly with this deconstructed sushi. 


  • Chips - I love a good variety of chips when I travel. One of my favorites are the fake Cheetos from Trader Joe's.
  • Fruit - pre-cut anything you can ahead of time.
  • Veggies - see above.
  • Dips or salsas
  • Potato salad - I think potato salad goes with a ton of stuff, but at its best next to chicken.
  • Antipasto skewers - I made these for a party, but this is a great way to get a bunch of yummy things in a bite-size, easy-to-eat way, and they're perfect cold. You can make a bunch, put them in a food container and eat one or a bunch in one go. They're better the longer you let them marinate, too.
  • Granola bars - Buy a couple boxes or make your own. You know I always have some bars in my purse wherever I go, but I especially appreciate these on a road trip in between stops.
  • Nuts - These are great for protein and fun to snack on whether you're the driver or a passenger. 
  • Jerky - Also, an easy thing to eat and doesn't make a mess, plus protein! 
  • Sweets - Bring along a few of your preferred candies, or make banana bread, brownies, or cookies, otherwise you'll end up making quite a few stops. Believe me. My choices are always Red Vines (easy to eat and drive), chocolate chip banana bread slices, chocolate-covered peanuts, Reeses cups. I like these blackberry brownies, too. 

Drinks:Don't forget that you're going to get thirsty! I love having a selection of drinks, just like with everything else.
  • A good vacuum thermos to keep whatever you're drinking hot or cold.
  • Water (if you drink a ton of water, consider bringing along a couple gallons of distilled water, which can also work as part of your dog travel kit and/or your coronavirus safety kit 
  • Soda/carbonated water - Cans are easy to pack and take up all the empty spots in a cooler, too. If you aren't a soda person, LaCroix and Bubly are good non-sugary options, and still give you the carbonation you crave.
  • Other beverages you enjoy: ginger beer, juice boxes, wine (for when you get to your destination. Please don't drink and drive.)
  • Hydration packets - We always have a selection of packets that you can add to water to make it less boring, like lemonade, peach tea, or fruit punch. These can really save you from water fatigue.

Everything else:
You're going to need to eat on things and have other items handy for when you make your travel foods.
  • Plates - I usually bring enough reusable plates that can be used, washed, and reused to eliminate a bunch of waste. If this isn't for you, consider grabbing some compostable plates or recyclable plastic plates
  • Reusable utensils - If you've been following me for any amount of time, you know how much I push for responsible and eco-travel as much as possible. Instead of buying countless (and flimsy) sets of plastic utensils, get some that you can use over and over. My faves are these from HumanGear (everyone can have their own color). The back of a spoon can work as a spreader, but if you need a knife, bring a good one from home for bread and cutting things up. 
  • Reusable bags - You're always going to have some extra thing that you want to take with you and need to put in a container of some sort. As an alternative to regular one-use zip-top bags, I have started replacing things with Stasher bags. They're spendy, but well worth the money. There are a lot of alternatives though, if you're looking for something more affordable. They can be washed out and then used again, plus they are okay in the freezer, oven, and boiling water, so they are multipurpose.
  • Cups - I don't usually bring cups with me, because everything is normally in a can, bottle, or my thermos. If you are going with kids though, cups might be a real necessity. Keep them from spilling with these silicone sippy lids. (Also great for wine at the park or the beach.)
Throw some reusable grocery bags in the car for store runs and download a good food app, like Uber Eats or Caviar, to keep contact at a minimum if you aren't camping or don't want to make all your own meals at your vacation. I can completely relate to that. 

You're going to have garbage. Don't just let it roll around on the floor. Bring some plastic bags to keep your trash in until you can properly dispose of it. It's also helpful in case anyone gets motion sickness, because you can't always pull over on the side of the highway. I like to prep for everything, especially in a time when it's not possible to just pop into a store/restaurant to use their restroom.

What are your go-to takealongs when you road trip?

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