If you know how organizing stuff soothes me down to the depths of my soul, you’ll understand how I kind of love the task of packing and planning for vacation. And after returning from a week in Utah visiting Spiral Jetty, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Zion National Park, I realized that my husband, Dan, and I have not only hit on the perfect formula for road trips and hiking vacations in general, but we have finally systemized our road trip snacks.
I know, you’re shaking your head and saying to yourself, “but half the fun of vacation is eating new things!” And I agree with you completely—that is a big part of the reason we travel. But because of the other reasons we travel: namely, the less-populated places we visit, a breakfast and snack stash has become indispensable.
Cases in point: when you’re in more remote places like southwestern Utah and half the food joints in “town” aren’t yet open for the season, you might end up eating at the same place more than once (I remember you with simultaneous fondness and revulsion, Ruby’s Inn at Bryce Canyon).
Or you might want to get an early start—heading into the park to take sunrise photos or hitting the trails before the rest of the crowds do, and don’t have time to stop for a fresh-made biscuit sandwich at Crockett’s Breakfast Camp in the Great Smokies this time around.
Or you want a little reward when you reach the halfway point of your hike, especially when you were promised hot springs at the end of Hot Springs Canyon trail in Big Bend and the fricking springs are overrun by the muddy Rio Grande.
Or you need a tiny bit of energy to power through a shower after hiking the north ridge of Cadillac Mountain so you can head over to Geddy’s and stuff your face.
Over the years, we’ve honed our snack list to a few regular items that meet the following key criteria:
- can be found at any major grocery store throughout North America
- doesn’t need refrigeration beyond a hotel room ice bucket (if even that)
- self-sealed, so it can go into a backpack or get tossed into the back of a car without spilling
You may wonder, why the heck am I buying packaged snacks instead of making my own? Well, because as much as I love to make things from scratch, I’m not wasting valuable suitcase space baking and packing homemade treats for the trip. In the battle of warm layers vs. homemade snacks, warm layers always win.
The Three Road Trip Snacks We Always Buy When We Arrive
As Dan said on this past trip (after I steered him away from a Utah supermarket bagel in favor of splitting a turkey-and-cheese rollup), “you’re always right about protein.” String cheese gives you the perfect fill-‘er-up hit of protein that won’t make you crash an hour later. It’s easier if you have a mini fridge in your room, but these most definitely can make it through a trip when moved from ice bucket to ice bucket.
Peanut Butter Crackers
I’m starting to believe that these might be the most perfect road snack in all of existence, and I think it’s because peanut butter toast is one of my top three comfort breakfasts. As much as I would want to eat an entire box of Ritz or an entire jar of peanut butter, this works almost as well. And six crackers is the ideal number—how did they figure that out?
Yes, we bring our water bottles to fill once we’re past airport security and to refill daily, but it’s always good to have more water than you think you’ll need on a hike. Plus, bottled water makes the perfect self-measured vessel for your daily dose of Emergen-C (see below).
Optional Add-On Snacks to Buy
For snacking in the car during drives, or as accompaniments to our cards in the hotel room at night, (yeah, we know how to live on vacation—we play with our National Parks deck, duh), there are three other things we frequently buy on our stock-up stop:
- Cheez-Its or Goldfish—we tried some sort of off-brand whale cracker from the HEB in Texas last year, and it was a misstep
- peanuts—again with the peanuts! Because Dan is allergic to all tree nuts, we eat a lot of these. Feel free to sub almonds or cashews if you don’t have this issue in your family.
- beer—preferably two different sixers of local/regional beer so we can try something new
The Three Road Trip Snacks We Always Bring With Us
Whether it’s a placebo or whether it actually works, I don’t know and I don’t care. Gulping down an Emergen-C every day gives me peace of mind. Why do I bring these instead of picking up a few packets wherever we are? Because for whatever distribution reason, I can only get my two favorite flavors—meyer lemon and coconut-pineapple—at Whole Foods. Cranberry pomegranate and tangerine, my runners-up, are sometimes spotted at Walgreens etc., but I like what I like.
Yeah, I could buy these at any grocery store too, but they are virtually uncrushable in suitcases and backpacks, so I always pack a small sealable bag with four or five of my favorite flavors. One extra goes in the side pocket of my carry-on backpack for plane delays and other potential travel issues. You can keep your other brands of protein bars—KIND are the only ones for me.
Protein Granola Bars
These are for Dan and his tree nut allergy, because KIND bars are sadly out of the question for him. It took me forever to find a granola-style bar with enough protein to make it worthwhile and not just a sugar-and-carb bomb. Current favorite: Cascadian Farm Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Protein Chewy Bars. (Oh, and KIND, listen up: you can make savory bars, you can make bars that taste like Samoa Girl Scout cookies, but you can’t make an all-peanut-and-seed bar? Get on this!!!)
So if you’re ever meeting us along the wandering path of one of our road trips, we’ll be happy to join you for dinner and take a break from eating these snacks. We show our gratitude in free beers!