As you all know I attended my undergrad at Loyola University in my favorite city of Chicago. Seeing that my family lives in the Boston area meant that come May and August a road trip across country was in order. Freshman year, Ethan attended school in the Denver area and when the school year ended and finals were over in May he drove to Chicago to pick me up and continue the journey home together. Later that very same spring, I flew out to Denver to road trip back with my best girlfriends from high school who also attended school in Denver. Of course we stopped in Chicago for some fun for a few days! Come sophomore year it was time to do that trip from Chicago all over again. That time, my mom and sister decided to road trip it with me (well I slept the entire way because of how wiped out finals made me, but that’s besides the point). Last summer after my Eurotrip with my best friends, Ethan came out to Chicago and we drove back yet again.
So, it’s safe to say that when it was time to pack up all my belongings in a U-Haul and make that same very trek cross country just a few short months ago, I had it down to a science. The most important component: packing a cooler full of healthy, yummy snacks and drinks.
I find that it’s easy to make excuses to stop and eat junky food while driving long distances. It makes perfect sense; you’re bored, pent up in a car for many hours, and have to stop for gas and bathroom breaks along the way. Not to mention fast food at every exit! The problem with eating on the road is that there really aren’t many healthy options for meals that need to be fast and snacks that need to be even faster. I mean no body likes to lose an hour when you’re trying to travel somewhere on a tight schedule. It’s also hard to make smart choices when you feel bored and want to reward your patience with something delicious. Another thing to note is that gas isn’t cheap these days, and eating out 3x a day with purchased snacks/drinks in between each meal can add up quick.
Over the years I have discovered the types of foods to pack, and the ones to leave at home, in order to have a successful road trip on a budget! So here are a few of my favorite tips:
1. Use a cooler. A lot of people pack non-perishable snacks while on a trip, with the fear that if they pack anything that needs to be kept cool it will just go bad. Many people already have one or two coolers sitting in their garage at home, so all you need to do is fill it with reusable ice packs and you have a refrigerating system that portable! If you don’t have a cooler at home, I strongly suggest that if you don’t want to make the investment in a plastic reusable one, or you are going to a destination that makes it inconvenient to continue toating your cooler around, that you go to your grocery store and buy a simple, inexpensive foam cooler. I would say the small up front investment pays off by the end of your trip. I, for example, didn’t have a cooler in Chicago, but I knew that we had a million back at home. I didn’t feel the need to pay the extra money for a reusable cooler when I had access to multiple in the future, so Ethan and I packed a foam one.
2. Keep it cool. I would say this tip is the one that most people are scared of, and thus decide not to bring a cooler. I suggest that you initially pack your cooler with reusable ice packs so that you cut back the amount of meltage in the cooler. Once your reusable packs start to warm up buy a bag of ice at your next gas stop. Keep the ice in the bag or split it up into two so that you get the ice coverage but contain the water that will eventually melt. This is especially a good idea if you pack a foam cooler versus a nice plastic one that you know wont leak.
3. Pack it smart. Once you’ve made the decision to use your cooler, don’t go filling it with unhealthy sweets and treats. Keep it full with foods that keep you full. When we are on the road it’s easy to reach for something extra sweet or salty in order to fill your time. The problem with this is that if you are “treating” yourself to these foods they will keep you hungry, and encourage you to over eat because of boredom. Many, if not all, of us are subject to eating when bored on road trips. Don’t set yourself up for failure by packing foods that don’t keep you full!
4. Use different flavors and textures. In order to avoid what I’ve discussed above, I’ve found through trial and error that creating a variety in the foods we pack help us crave less and avoid fast food/gas station candy that we see at every stop. For example, don’t just pack your cooler with water alone. Add some seltzer water, unsweetened iced tea, natural organic lemonade, 100% natural organic veggie juice blends, or Kombucha. This way you have access to different flavors and textures that are healthy in order to keep you satisfied and away from the temptation of the endless options at gas stations. And this way, if you honestly do get bored and want to enjoy something you can look forward to having a seltzer or Kombucha to switch it up. Another way to achieve this is by packing hummus or healthy dips with a variety of dippers. I’m a huge fan of hummus and crackers, but for me that’s a trigger food and I could eat an entire container of hummus if I have access to a full sleeve of crackers alone. In order to avoid this and get different textures to keep me satiated in the long run, I pack a variety of dippers such as sliced bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, and celery. The different flavors and textures of the vegetables keeps my palate and belly satisfied, all the while keeping my cracker and hummus consumption in check.
5. Keep a it clean. This seems like a no brainer but sometimes we forget the simplest things like maintaining a trash bag while on the road. Keeping a trash bag handy at all times, and dumping it at every stop, with keep the car organized and tidy and in turn will reduce your stress. By reducing your stress caused by things out of your control (i.e. traffic, gas prices, popped tire, being behind schedule, etc.) through eliminating the stress causing aspects that you can control (i.e. everything going on inside the car such as clutter) you will experience less of an urge to “treat” yourself to the candy counter as walk by to use the restrooms.
Although these tips are simple, and may even seem like no brainers, it’s amazing how easily we can deviate away from our regular behaviors when we are in irregular situations such as 12 hour road trips. I hope that you see the value in my experience and apply some, if not all, of these ideas into your trip next time you hit the road for miles on end.