Food always presents a challenge when we travel. Sometimes, we have the time and foresight to pack a meal or two to take with us. Sometimes, we have to sacrifice our health to the Gods of Fast Food. Sometimes, we can’t find anything anywhere, and roadkill starts to look appetizing. The truth is, experience has taught us that how we travel has a lot to do with how well we eat.
Airline food has become passable, now that we’re paying separately for it. But airport food is still overpriced and appalling. Picture your favorite sandwich left under a heat lamp or in a semi-refrigerated bin for fourteen hours. On first bite, you can tell there’s no difference in consistency between the bread and its contents.
Train terminals, at least in other countries, often feature one good restaurant. In the US, however, train stations rarely have any food at all, unless you consider donuts as a separate food group, like some Americans we know. Besides, who takes the train in the US anymore?
Then there are bus stations. Hmmm. Suddenly, the candy bar in the vending machine looks like a good bet. Take it from us: If you leave the driving to someone else, you’re throwing away any chance of a good meal as well.
People with recreational vehicles (a group that doesn’t include us) can cook whatever and wherever they like because they’ve taken the kitchen with them. Of course, it costs extra to haul all those pots and pans around. Those who camp when they travel can grill something easily enough over a toasty campfire . . . as long as the weather cooperates.
If, like us most of the time, all you have are four wheels and a seat, you’re probably driving a short distance (meaning less than a day’s drive). Food becomes less important when it’s only one meal you have to worry about. Take a snack or stop for a quick bite.
When we’re in for a long haul, however, whether traveling by car or by thumb, finding good food is the trip’s Holy Grail, something to actually write home about. But it’s not easy. Roadside diners serve greasy slop to patrons who don’t want to linger. Truck stops at least offer variety—although take our advice and avoid any buffet you see, especially if it’s in Las Vegas.
When you take a long car trip, make sure your vehicle is comfortable and—most importantly—larger than you are.
For the long-haulers just trying to get from Point A to Point B without even taking in the sights along the way, we recommend frequent stops. Get out and stretch. Take that pee you’ll regret not taking later. And when it comes to food, pack as much as storage will allow. Fruit is a good snack, and you can toss the waste right out the window: it’s biodegradable.
The best way to ensure that you stop frequently is to load up on water, soda, and/or coffee. Nothing gets the juices flowing like lots of liquids. Our favorite road food, believe it or not, is cola and chili-flavored corn chips. Scoff if you like, but medical research has proven that chili-flavored corn chips irritate your stomach lining, gnaw at your intestines, and head straight for your bowels. When the cola you’re drinking aggravates the entire process with sugar, caffeine, and other, ah, less natural ingredients, you’ll have to stop every fifty miles to pee and buy antacids.
This diet might slow you down a little with all those pee breaks, but that gurgling in your stomach will keep you from dozing off behind the wheel. And arriving safely is always our first concern. It should be yours as well.
Lessons Learned: While it’s true that it might take you a few days to get over the physical strain fueled by a diet of soda and chili-flavored corn chips, you are going to need a few days to adjust even without the junk food. You might as well do it and stay safe. The lesson will steer you toward flying next time.
How We Saw It
Blight-Seeing: 1 (depending on the part of the country you’re driving through)
Communication Breakdown: 1 (unless you talk to yourself)
Customer Dis-service: 1
Discomfort Level: 3
Grunge Factor: 2
Inactivity Guide: 5
Spontaneous Consumption: 2
Fun Fraction: 1/5
If You Won’t Listen to Us
Nearest Airport: You might want to fly home
Native Population: 1—You, alone in the car, for hours and hours and hours and . . .
Normal Attractions: Counting the different state license plates, trying to find anything on the radio besides talking heads and country music, singing along to country songs, sideswiping RVs.
Final Point of Interest: We don’t actually recommend our readers eat roadkill, although we have actually had raccoon, moose, and deer . . . under less questionable circumstances.