Snacks are as synonymous with road trips as the phrase, “Are we there yet?”
Road trip snacks are fuel for the body and mind. They’re not just sustenance for the car ride – they’re part of the entertainment.
If you’re one of the nearly 1 in 3 Americans planning to take a road trip this summer (although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still advises people stay home), you’ll likely be packing a snack bag soon.
While any food can be a road trip snack if you put your mind to it, certain options fare better in the car than others. To assist you in your packing, we have assembled a list of the best road trip snacks of all time.
Here they are from good to great.
Are there right and wrong leftovers to make a road trip snack? Yes, only for logistical reasons. You need to think about assembly and delivery (into your mouth).
For example, your grandma’s famous stew may be fantastic the next day, but do you want to slurp chunky broth through a straw? Passengers may have better luck eating soup on the road, but this is still a risky move.
Think of delicious handheld leftover options for the road, which are not limited to: a tightly wrapped burrito, sliced pizza, kimbap, empanadas and onigiri.
A sandwich is a perfectly acceptable road trip food. However, we’re straddling the line between snack and meal. It’s time to shine is on a long-haul ride when little bites just won’t do. Like leftovers, the smartest road trip sandwich is no muss, no fuss. Think PB&J, not meatball sub.
The dessert of your road trip eating, candy speaks to your sweet tooth. Candy that comes in little pieces may last you longer than something in bar form, like a Snickers, so we lean toward options such as Haribo Z!ng Sour S’ghetti, peanut M&M’s or Swedish Fish.
Makers of the world’s most famous chocolate and hazelnut spread really came through when they debuted Nutella & Go! This little dipper snack pack is well-suited for road trips. Pop the single-serve container into your cupholder, peel back the foil top and dip the mini breadsticks into that creamy Nutella to your heart’s desire. Hardcore Nutella fans can just pack a jar of the spread to eat on its own. This option is extreme, but we would respect it.
We have been conditioned to think popcorn is the ultimate mindless snack. We shovel it in while watching movies, and we can shovel it in while driving, too. The cons to this road trip staple is that it will inevitably get wedged in between your teeth and gums, so pack a toothpick for kernel excavation.
Corn nuts are the most fun way to eat corn in the car. It’s corn with some razzle dazzle, far more interesting in terms of flavor and texture than popcorn. Crunching into a handful is as satisfying as plugging in a USB cord into your computer the right way on the first try.
Pocky wasn’t specifically invented for road trips, but it might as well have been. The Japanese biscuit sticks are dipped in delicious sweet-but-not-too-sweet coatings, including milk chocolate, cookies and cream, and strawberry, and they make for a very tidy car snack.
Beloved by toddlers and their parents alike, string cheese is a crowd-pleaser and a wholesome option if you’re dairy-tolerant. According to the internet, you shouldn’t leave string cheese out at room temperature for more than three to four hours for food safety reasons. Either get peeling early or pack those cheese sticks in a cooler.
The protein bar says, “Hey, I’m an adult, and I’m on a road trip!” It’s a handy car breakfast and is also there when you’re pretty hungry but don’t want to stop for a proper meal. For the most part, protein bars aren’t very messy, which is great for your lap and car seats.
The 2010s ushered in a new era of designer snacks. They’re marketed as better-for-you because of higher-quality ingredients or fewer chemical additives, so they’re usually more expensive than the packaged gas station snacks that came before them. Highlights include BarkThins, Popchips and Chrissy Teigen-approved Dang sticky-rice chips.
A lot of meat is ill-suited for eating in the car. Dried and cured meats are an exception. Today, handheld meat options are aplenty, from classic Jack Link’s and Slim Jim jerky to more artisanal products like Portland-made Olympia Provisions pepperettes.
Since the ’90s, we have known that Pringles are a force to be reckoned with. “Once you pop, you can’t stop,” we were warned.
There’s a reason Pringles are impossible to eat in single chip quantities, and it’s not a curse the Pringle Witch casts on you each time you open the can. It’s that Pringles are the white noise of chip. They’re flavorful, but subtle enough to eat on repeat without getting overwhelmed by any particular note. They’re an easy kind of crunchy that shatter into a soft mosaic on your tongue.
Like Goldilocks’s final porridge: Pringles on a road trip are just right.
Fruits and vegetables are the road trip snack voted most likely to make your mother proud. Some of the top options are sliced apples, celery sticks, baby carrots, bananas, cherries and grapes. And may I recommend a fruit cup inspired by Mexican street vendors? Your preferred mix of chopped mango, jicama, pineapple, papaya and watermelon seasoned with lime, chamoy or Tajín.
While Pringles are technically a potato chip, they’re not the only chip worth packing on a road trip.
Chips are easy to grab with whatever hand isn’t on the wheel, bite-size in portion and come in so many flavors it may be impossible to count all of the options. Plantain. Potato. Pretzel. Sun. There’s a chip for everyone in the car.
Although Takis Fuego and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos are going to coat your skin with blood-red spice powder, they yield more bang for your buck flavor-wise.
The first bite of a flamin’ anything is like jumping into a cold pool on a summer day. Your body takes a minute to figure out what’s happening. The sensations!
Keep fire-hot chips at the ready if you’re driving through boring stretches of freeway and are looking to spice things up (sorry).
So responsible it could coach a Little League team, trail mix is a solid road trip snack choice for all seasons. Healthy and satiating, this pick is getting you from A to B with fat, fiber, vitamins and protein.
You can also cut out the extra stuff and simply go with nuts. A more expensive pick without the fillers, nuts are packed with fat and protein, dependable, and a must if you follow a vegan, vegetarian or keto diet.
But the responsible snack comes with a couple warnings. Eating nuts on the road can pose a hazard, particularly if you’re going with a shelled option. Watch out for your teeth if you’re prone to cracking straight into a pistachio shell with your chompers. They’re also sneakily messy. You and your car will be covered in flakes of pistachio innards by the end of your trip, guaranteed.
Top of its class. MVP. Combos Stuffed Snacks are the greatest road trip snack of all time.
The baked and filled snack can be found at pretty much any gas station, which makes it easily accessible to the road-tripper. But it’s not convenience that earns Combos the top spot in the road trip snack hierarchy.
Combos are like catnip to road-trippers. There’s an intoxicating umami in their artificial and natural flavors that lures us in and hooks us. Plus, there’s minimal mess eating them.
While people on the Combos train will have differing opinions about what flavor is their favorite (we wish we could have tried the discontinued bacon, egg and cheese flavor), any option will do as a road trip companion.