...because we all have our motley moments!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Eating on the Road

We travel. Often. It's a habit we have formed over the years as we have family in 5 states. We actually enjoy traveling, too, and most of our trips are road trips.

Taking our own food has been a great way to save money in days past, but unfortunately it is also a great way to waste money. There is nothing worse than buying, packing, and hauling bags and bags of food for a trip only to eat out the entire time and return home with all of that food left over. After a few post-trek reflections I've come up with a few of the simple truths we have learned from our own experiences:

We only take what we actually like. One unopened box of crackers recently completed a third round-trip with us, and I finally realized that we just plain don't like them, even if it's late at night in a hotel room. They have now moved on to the local food bank.

On that note, what we take must be better than what we could buy there. I can't tell you how many times we have stood eating cardboard-flavored granola bars or peanut butter sandwiches only to be engulfed with jealousy when towering soft-serve ice cream cones walked by. At that point the, "Well, we ARE on vacation," reflex kicks in and it's ice cream for everybody with the premium vacation-price-of-ice cream tab on us.

We make room in our budget for local fare, and we make a point of experiencing it. Part of the fun of traveling with kids is the educational factor involved, and a great way to learn about an area is to sample the local cuisine. (Side note: I read a great article in the April 2009 edition of Good Housekeeping titled, "What Thin Women Know." One of the points of the article was that "thin" women indulge "deliberately." What that means to me is that when I go to Sarasota for the express purpose of eating that fabulous gelato at St. Armand's Circle I am actually thinking like a thin person! Imagine if I applied that to my entire vacation...I'd practically wither away before returning home!)

Keeping food cold is only fun for a little while so we limit the amount we take. Usually we try to eat a picnic one time during a road trip, and that picnic happens on the first leg of our journey so that we can take perishable foods and enjoy them without having to babysit them for the remainder of the trek. If we will stay in a hotel room equipped with a refrigerator we may pack a small cooler of cold foods or, better yet, we just buy the food once we arrive at our destination. Prices generally don't vary too much, and unless we have traveled to Outer Mongolia a grocery store usually isn't too far away. Unfortunately, several yogurt cups perished for us to learn this lesson.

That being said, here are some of the things we always take with us:
  • Yummy Granola Bars: Some grain wrapped in chocolate is better for us than no grain in a candy bar. They cost less, too.
  • Water Bottles (disposable): We use refillable water bottles at home, but on vacation I prefer not to wash dishes as much as possible. These are also handy as "ice" for the cooler when frozen.
  • Drink Mixes: I'm a sucker for a coke on a hot day at an amusement park, but they are really expensive. I take a water bottle to refill and individual drink mixes to make the water from the fountain more interesting and palatable.
  • Homemade Snack Mixes: That's a fancy way of saying that I take all of our toddler's nearly empty boxes of snacks (like graham crackers, goldfish crackers, and pretzels), mix them all together and throw in some M&Ms or marshmallows. I portion them into single-serve containers, and I have a pretty good guarantee that amongst all of those different ingredients there will be something the little guy will eat.
I could type about this for a long time, but I want to hear your tales from the road! Do you have any food rules for when you travel? Do tell, and have a wonderful Tuesday!

For more fun kitchen tips, head over to Kitchen Tip Tuesday.


Liz said...

I agree - only take what you like. I've tried buying "special car snacks" before and they just don't cut it. We stick with goldfish, Cheerios, apples, and granola bars (chocolate-y, of course). We still end up with food left over when we get home, but it's essential to have snacks in the car anyway. Although, after driving to Lakeland (Lakeland! 45 minutes!) Saturday with 2 whining kiddos, I don't think I want to go anywhere with them for about a year. ;) Outer Mongolia is lovely this time of year, however...

Pam said...

We started packing food for our road trips strickly to save money, but we found another great reason to pack. Eating in the car gives you something else to do while in the car! Funny, huh? It really helps for long trips, and then we allow ourselves to splurge on Starbucks or ice cream along the way. Great post Rachel!

Donna said...

Thanks for the great insider information (inside the car on a road trip with preschoolers, that is!). We may be in need of these tips this summer!

fawnda said...

We always had snacks in the car on road trips growing up (I think it was a survival tactic for my parents with 4 kids more than anything) so I thought it was normal to always have food when you were driving more than an hour.

So, when my Husband and I set off for our first trip together, I was shocked that he didn't stop to get us some food. I had to ask.

Now we always have a little treat to eat on road trips. I also like to take some snacks to eat in the hotel. I get the munchies before bed and don't always like what they have in the vending machines.

Raise Them Up said...

This is a great post! It has only taken me SIX YEARS of making countless trips between Pennsylvania and Indiana to learn these things.

One other great car snack is licorice. My husband likes the black, but the rest of us like the strawberry. :) Oh, and peanut M&M's.

Anonymous said...

Great tips, and so true! I will have to remembers these.

Maria said...

Great post!
My hubby likes to kite board so we take a lot of trips to the beach. That can get pretty expensive...

So, I always make sandwiches to eat going there and look forward to eating dinner out. We bring lots of water and yummy snacks too. We like pretzels and granola bars. I also make some extra PB&J sandwiches for the kids because they always get hungry before we are ready to pack it up and go out to dinner.

If we stay overnight we also bring some cans of soda to avoid the vending machine expense.

Jennifer said...

I have found what works best for us is to pack the initial lunch for the drive and then to pack special snacks that seem like treats. I might pay a little more for them than less exciting stuff, but they are healthier and cheaper than the snacks we could buy at a rest area. Great tips!

Lindsay said...

Great tips. We do a lot of traveling too, although now we fly more than drive. Our rule growing up and one that we have used a lot is find a hotel with free breakfast, eat sandwhiches for lunch, and eat out at night. Growing up we took turns between the 5 of us to pick the evening meal, and it was always on the cheaper side. I still do this.

I also always pack "special" snacks. Like I will make cookies, or rice crispy treats, that my kids love, but not something they get at home everyday. And then of course the old stanby bys too (goldfish, peanut butter crackers, and juice boxes.....)

Oh and a lot of hotel rooms have a microwave in the room or loby so I take microwave popcorn with us for the hotel room.

Bryssy said...

My mom used to do a "fishing game" with us on long car trips between Pennsylvania and Florida. Basically, she would get some dollar store or garages sale type toys and wrap them in the Sunday comics. Then, about every 2 hours, we would throw our fishing lines (long pieces of yarn) up to the front seat. After a bit the "fish" would start to tug on the line and we would reel in a new toy to play with.

This is before the days of DVD players. But it sure was fun.

I know it's not a food tip, but it worked for us! We'll be driving to Savannah for a wedding this summer and THE Princess is finally old enough to fish!

Rachel said...

Wow--great tips, you all! Sorry I'm only responding today, but I've been on yet ANOTHER trip. Thanks for your wonderful ideas!

Tara said...

Great advice! :)