This summer, the road trip was the only option for many of us to get in some kind of vacation or pay a long-overdue visit to faraway loved ones. And given the unpredictability of food options along routes these days, road trip snacks — always an essential item on the road trip packing list — were more important than ever.
There are certain essential qualities to a road trip snack: You should be able to eat it with one hand and with minimal mess. But beyond that, there are several interpretations of the genre. Road trip snacks may be the foods you find at gas stations and convenience stores, or indulgent treats that make the trip more bearable. Some road trippers select snacks based on their resemblance to an actual balanced meal, or on whether or not they’ll ensure the driver stays alert at the wheel. Eater staffers’ preferred snacks run the gamut. Here’s what fuels them through long car rides these days, as well as in better times.
Bit-O-Honey: Bit-O-Honey works as a road trip snack because you can eat an entire bag of them and not feel awful (trust me, I just did this on a six-hour drive from Northern to Southern California). It’s somewhat hilarious that this honey-flavored taffy seems to only be available at truck stops and gas stations. Drivers and passengers alike will crush hours gnawing on these glorious sweets, with microscopic almond pieces giving a modicum of texture. Getting the sticky bits out of your teeth is the rest of the fun. — Matt Kang, Eater LA editor
Swedish Fish: I always have a bag of Swedish Fish on hand for a road trip. They perk you up, they’re chewy and sweet, and they’re the kind of candy I don’t eat every day. It’s also the ONLY time I drink Red Bull. — Lesley Suter, travel editor
Frozen Snickers: I’ve always maintained that a frozen Snickers bar is much, much better than an ice cream Snickers bar, the latter being an inferior product that melts too quickly and the former being something that will last in the car. — Ryan Sutton, Eater NY chief critic/data lead
Sour Patch Kids: My husband and I both agree that Sour Patch Kids are an absolute must on the road. I prefer the watermelon, but he likes the classics. I’m still bitter that the classic recipe seems to have changed, though; I swear they’re not as sour as they used to be. — Rachel Blumenthal, Eater Boston editor
Beaver Nuggets: Road-tripping in Texas means you have to stop by Buc-ee’s and grab a bunch of their packaged snacks. Despite the unfortunate name, the Beaver Nuggets (actually sweet corn puffs) are really great. — Nadia Chaudhry, Eater Austin editor
Trail mix: I buy Archer Farms trail mix from Target — specifically the Monster one with tons of chocolate. Ignore the raisins. — Ellie Krupnick, managing editor
Snyder’s of Hanover Pretzel Pieces, Honey Mustard & Onion: These carry a Midas touch, covering your fingertips in a golden powder that plays off plain hard pretzels with two sources of tangy-sweet flavor: onion and honey mustard. Grasping for the few thin pieces that hold more powder than pretzel turns every bag into a treasure hunt. — Gabe Hiatt, Eater D.C. editor
Blue Diamond Almonds, Bold Wasabi & Soy: Those thin tubes of wasabi and soy sauce almonds are my road trip snack of choice for a number of reasons. First, they give you all the savory and salt pop of potato chips without the gross “ugh, did I just eat a whole bag of potato chips?” hangover. Second, the pain of wasabi build-up is a great way to stay awake during more monotonous stretches, far less cliched than slapping yourself or other self-abuse you see in the movies. Third, its narrow container is perfect to just tip into your mouth — an act that seems obscene (and obscures your vision) when it’s a chip bag, but makes perfect sense when the bag is long and narrow… and it saves your steering wheel, upholstery, etc. from every road tripper’s nemesis: snack grease. — Eve Batey, Eater SF news editor
Corn Nuts: Corn Nuts are not the sexiest snack, but they fit conveniently in your cupholder and you can just pick at them and shove a handful in your mouth with relative ease. Bonus: If you drop some, they don’t melt all over your car like a bunch of jerks. — Stefania Orrù, coordinating producer
Pizzeria Combos: Combos are so good, but not just any kind: pizza-flavored Combos are the best. They are super salty, bite-sized, and filled with some type of cheesy pizza flavoring. It’s like getting to dip a pretzel in cheese in every bite. I will always eat the whole entire bag on the road regardless of how long the drive is. — Stephen Pelletteri, executive producer
Regional chips: I go for regional takes on barbecue/red hot chips, especially if I am in a new-to-me area where there’s more opportunities to experiment with unfamiliar brands. Pennsylvania gas stations are the best bet for the intersection of multiple brands: One place might get you Snyder’s, Wise, Herr’s, Martin’s, Middleswarth, Utz… No real interest in mesquite/sweet varieties, though. — Missy Frederick, cities director
Ritz Bits, cheese: I only ever buy them at rest stops; I’m scared to invite them into my life outside of that context. — Emma Alpern, senior copy editor
The more holistic meal plans
Carrots and celery: My most recent preferred road trip snack is just straight carrot sticks and celery. I did that on a road trip recently and, magically, I didn’t feel like crap at the end of the trip. Plus, they have that snap and crunch that’s a necessity for a good snack. — Brenna Houck, Eater Detroit editor
Cheese and charcuterie: On the very Los Angeles end of the spectrum, I get mini-cheese and charcuterie boards from Lady & Larder in Mar Vista and then hand feed my boyfriend soft cheeses and cured meats while he drives. — Nicole Adlman, cities manager
Beef jerky, nuts, coffee, and electrolytes: Most of my road trips of late are about the destination, not the journey, and involve driving for 10-14 hours straight — so the idea is to make as few as stops as possible. My road diet therefore is gas station hillbilly x keto bro: beef jerky, nuts, coffee, and Smart Water (or any other electrolyte-loaded water). All the salt means you only need to pit stop when your car does, no matter much you drink, while a zero carb regimen blunts any possible post-prandial zzzs; there’s nothing worse than feeling super full when you’ve got six more hours in a car, even if you have that many episodes of You’re Wrong About left in your podcast queue.
The deep flaw in this plan is that you’re totally at the mercy of the gas station and whatever it merchandises. It’s sort of cheating, because going with the flow is how I approach long drives, but on my usual run between New York and Georgia, I’ve taken to plotting out where the territories of Wawa and Sheetz begin and end to guarantee access to actually edible jerky (the national brands are all trash now, RIP Field Trip) and potable coffee. (As someone who has no particular dog in that regional skirmish, I think Wawa and Sheetz are equally good? SORRY.) At the end of the day, it’s a road trip, and you can’t really appreciate arriving if you haven’t suffered along the way. — Matt Buchanan, executive editor