Tips and tricks to get you food-ready for road trips.

With lockdowns and restrictions easing, weekends away and holiday road trips are back on for some!

It’s not just the car that you need to get road-ready for your next getaway.

You need to be food-ready as well, whether your journey is short or long.

road sign posts far away from home

This article gets you prepared to think ahead. It comes from personal experiences from a 5000 km road trip we made back in July avoiding covid hotspots and locked down areas all the way from our home in rural New South Wales to regional Victoria and return back via Charlotte Pass for a bit of back country skiing.

I wanted to share some ideas with you for what we found useful to keep our nutrition and health in check as much as we could. As you’ll find out it was far from ideal but it was the best it could be under the circumstances.

Here, you may find a handy tip or two to use when you hit the road again for a getaway or business trip.

Usually we are independent self-sufficient travelers with a van in tow or tent in the back but this time, we didn’t have the luxury of time and wanted to push through borders while they were still open and get back for a booked skiing break. We stayed at hotels and motels along the way (if you’d like specific tips on healthier eating when travelling more remotely and farther afield, hiking, camping or caravanning, email me or pose the question over at FaceBook).

With four loaded up in our Subaru space was tight but now, more than ever, it was important to dedicate some space for good food for four key reasons.

Nutrition. Speed. Covid exposure risk-reduction. Financial.

What did we find and do that you might find useful?

1. Accept that your travel plans and destinations may change suddenly.

Have flexible travel plans when you can. Be ready to detour in order to avoid areas within a state or across borders that are suddenly locked down, have escalating covid cases or to comply with hot-spot/self-isolation orders as necessary.  

Destination unknown is a novel way to travel. You will discover places that ordinarily would not make the tourist maps. Enjoy the simplicity of small towns. Don’t expect smaller out of the way townships to have big supermarkets that stock specific foods for special dietary needs, fancy restaurants, cute coffee shops and on-trend eateries. Adapt to what is available and take a few basic foods and snacks to suit your special dietary needs.

2. Pack snacks that refresh the body and mind with nutrition rather than burden it with sleepy excess kilojoules.

Neither passengers nor drivers burn much fuel. It is fatigue, monotony and boredom that trigger hunger and over-eating. Eating more does not reduce driver fatigue. Eating the wrong foods causes rapid swings in blood glucose levels that can worsen fatigue.

Ideally pull over and get out to eat planned snacks and drink water. A break away from the seat is best for everyone’s body and mental stamina. If you know stopping is not going to be an option, pre-portion snack foods in a bag ready to eat on the go. Pre-portioning helps reduce over-eating when you multi-task (drive and eat).

3. Keep your mind stimulated to quell boredom and reactive eating.

Be selective about what you listen to. Arm passengers with ear-pods for their own devices if tastes clash. Load up with audio books, podcasts and personally selected music and comedy collations. Non-drivers have the opportunity to look beyond the bitumen for interest in the passing scenery.

Filter out commercial radio stations because these tend to deliver music that doesn’t always suit the driving mood and repeat stale bad negative news. Negative news is a known trigger for reactive over-eating.

4. A slab of bottled water makes it easier and safer to drink enough.

Not keen on plastic over-use? Refill washable bottles or a hiker’s water backpack when the water quality is safe and taps are clean. Do not top up drinking water bottles from toilet room taps. Keep up your water intake to reduce risk of mental fatigue.

A thermos for hot water/brewed coffee is handy for hardcore hot beverage drinkers.

5. It’s tough buying simple decent food that keeps you healthy and satisfied in small town eateries so packing a few basics really helps.

Buying ordinary food out gets expensive. Add fuel to accommodation costs and suddenly holiday spending on ordinary items quickly mounts up. In regional and rural areas, your choice of accommodation may be very limited yet pricey for what you get so be ready for surprises. You may end up without even basic tea and coffee making facilities. There’s no guarantee you will have a working toaster, microwave or fridge.

Topping up at a supermarket with enough breakfast and lunch items to last a few days not only reduces costs but also puts you in control of nutrition and well-being. Money saved goes toward more interesting non-food travel excitement.

6. Pack paper towels and disposable cups, plates, bowls and utensils take the doubt out of one aspect of roadside dining and hotel room hygiene.

Okay. You might be saying ‘not environmentally friendly’ but compromise is necessary to keep yourself physically healthy. In motel rooms, who knows who washed up the crockery and utensils and how well they did it? The alternative is to wash everything before you use it or take a non-breakable set with you. For more confidence, wipe down high touch surfaces with soapy water and spray them with fragrance-free disinfectant before you bring luggage in. Unscented baby wipes are handy for quick clean-ups after eating on the road.

7. Simplify breakfast decisions with toast and spreads or cereal and milk or muesli and yoghurt.

Disposable bowls and plates speed your departure and allow you get you back on the road quickly without the need to stop early to sign-in to a crowded bakery or cafe for breakfast. This is a combined covid risk reduction and nutritional health strategy.

Plan to park up at nice locations to eat simple lunchtime fare rather than waste time waiting for service and food to be prepared. By avoiding eateries twice a day, we also figured our risk of exposure to covid would be lessened; no need to sign-in, worry about who’s wearing a mask correctly and whether the table and chairs are sanitised, or feeling on edge about unknown mask-free people sipping or eating.

8. In the back, a cooler bag or esky box filled with lunchtime and snack perishables: bags of pre-washed salad, tomato, cheese, cold meats, fresh fruit, yoghurt, wraps and bread.

Frozen juice or freezer blocks keep things cool. If you’re lucky to score a motel room with a freezer that works, re-freeze blocks overnight.

When crossing a state border, think beyond covid because some border crossings and areas within other states make you throw out uncooked fresh produce, bee products and even flowers to protect against the introduction of unwanted diseases and pests. Don’t do a big fresh produce shop the day before you drive across one of these food quarantine areas!

9. Have another food box or zippered grocery bag for non-perishables such as crackers, cereals, nuts, dried fruit, popcorn, UHT long-life milk, spreads for toast, cans or foil sachets of fish or legumes, teabags, coffee bags and sweetener.

Keep it simple with more of the staples and less of the indulgences because you will enjoy local regional indulgences along the way.

10. Freezer bags are my new friend, not because we took frozen food but because they are so very handy in the car and when eating out. Make them your's as well.

    • If you’ve run out of disposable plastic gloves, use freezer bags as a protective barrier when pumping fuel or handling supermarket baskets or trollies.
    • Freezer bags are perfect small rubbish bags for used masks, paper tissues and towels, and fruit peels. Seal bags of used masks immediately. Unlike bigger kitchen tidy bags, a filled sealed freezer bag is small enough to dump into roadside rubbish bins that only open partially.
    • Use freezer bags to bag up open packets of travel food.
    • When eating out, dispose of used single-use masks in the bag. If re-using a mask, place the mask onto a clean bag rather than directly on a table.

 11. Box of masks and bottles of pump pack hand sanitiser to keep in the car.

Assume everyone else is nowhere near as careful with their hygiene, social distancing and other precautions against catching and spreading covid. Vaccinated or not, you can still catch covid-19 and silently spread it around. In most regional and rural areas, you will not have fast and reliable access to health care should you need it.

Disposable masks are more convenient and much easier to manage than cloth re-useable masks when traveling. Re-useable masks need to be washed well and dried after wear and you may not have the time nor energy to do that after a long day.

Pump packs of sanitiser that fit in the car door make it easy to routinely sanitise hands and refill small bag-size sanitiser bottles.

11. Chips, pies and more chips. NOoooo.

Plan for the fact that you will not have a large choice of foods when you eventually stop for meals. The majority of regional towns we ate in had a very limited range of dining venues. Bakeries for lunch where sandwiches and rolls were dwarfed by the array of pies, sausage rolls and other mystery pastry bags. Be single-mined when you enter a bakery to seek out a sandwich or roll for lunch. If you find it hard to avoid pies and sweet slices, send the co-driver in to order for you.

Dining experiences in regional and rural towns are rarely haute cuisine. More often there is a menu designed to fill-the-stomach with mass produced fried food. Traditional take-away fried food and burger joints dominated and were complimented by country pub-style fare for evening meals. You really must say no to chips more often! Seek out vegetables and salad to go with main meals. Peel the batter and crumbs off fried fish and schnitzels.

12. Bowel habits often change. Constipation happens.

It’s likely due to a change in fluid intake, activity levels and food variety, or avoidance of shared public toilets. Pack a roll of toilet paper; invariably public loos run out.

Make higher fibre food choices. Dried prunes, figs and other dried fruits. Nuts. Dried roasted chickpeas. Instant oats for breakfast or high fibre wholegrain breakfast cereals first thing or eaten crunchy as snacks. Wholemeal breads and wraps for sandwiches. Vegetable or salad instead of chips at meals. Add mini-cans of legumes (mixed beans, baked beans, chickpeas) to salad bags.

Move your body more. Don’t sit for lunch and snacks. Stand and walk around whilst eating. Plan to stop for a longer walk to limber up and stretch your body partway through the day’s drive rather than at the end of the day. It’s all too easy to fall into a comfy bed or chair after a long day in a vehicle.

13. Check for covid updates during the day to see if your route needs a rethink.

Do this on official websites rather than listen for sensationalised radio and screen news updates. For example, if precautionary covid testing is required at/before a border crossing, you may need to do this a few days ahead of crossing and/or need to immediately self-isolate until your test result comes through negative (the rules are different across each state so check government websites). That means no grocery or food shopping after the test. Make sure you have a couple of days supply of food on hand before having the test or hope to be locked down in a location which has shops that deliver food.

If you have been in an area that suddenly gets locked down, you may need to stop your trip to lockdown as well. Keep a record of where you've been and when you passed through.

What do you do when travelling in an effort to keep your nutrition and general health in shape?

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