I had been in southeast Asia for three days when I hopped on a 16-hour overnight train out of Bangkok. Still jet-lagged and slightly overwhelmed, I didn't have snacks too high on my to-do list. "Maybe I'll stop at a grocery store in the morning," had turned into "I'll get lunch at the train station," and then "I can probably buy food on the train." Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea, and I was left with sold-out snack carts and a single bag of potato strings.
So it was then that I learned one of the most important lessons of travel: Always have your own snacks. From that point on, I was never without my trusty snack bag.
Over the course of 10 weeks on that trip, plus eight consecutive months on the road a few years later, I learned some essential snack facts. From the bag itself to the types of food to pack, here are my 10 smartest snack-bag tips.
10 Essential Tips for Packing the Best Travel Snack Bag
1. Get the right bag.
The composition of your bag itself is (almost) as important as its contents. A ripped handle or collapsed bottom while you're running to catch your next train will throw off your trip just as quickly as a flat tire. Make sure, at the very least, whatever bag you choose has firmly attached handles and a base that won't give out underneath a two-liter water bottle.
2. Choose a relatively small bag.
Are you flying on a budget airline with carry-on limits? Possibly trying to fit everything under your bus seat? You'll want to make sure your bag is small enough to actually do that. Long bus rides can be cramped enough without also having to share your legroom with two pounds of peanuts.
3. Pack a spare Ziploc bag (or five).
Most food packaging isn't self-sealing and you probably don't want to decorate the rest of your bag with a nice crust of crushed almonds. A spare Ziploc bag (or five) always comes in handy. In a pinch, twist things off with some rubber bands or spare hair ties.
4. Always include protein.
For two hours on a train, a candy bar may suffice. For 12, you're going to need a bit more substance. Nuts are a great way to do this, as are protein bars, although I look for ones that aren't loaded with sugar. Coming down from a sugar high won't make your frantic transfer any easier.
5. Embrace local snacks.
Rather than weighing yourself down with too many of your favorite bars before you've even left home, start out with just a few things and make stops along your way to stock up. One of the fastest ways to feel like a local is to visit a grocery store or even just a 7-11. Impulse street snacks are even better. My travel partner still dreams about the candied sweet potatoes we bought off the back of a bike in Hoi An.
6. Pocket everything
While you're sampling the local offerings, remember some of the best things in life are free. Are there tea bags in your hotel room? A fruit bowl in the lobby? Possibly a complimentary mini bag of Haribos? Those are yours now. Keep them. Treasure them.
7. Avoid perishables and anything fragile.
Depending on how long your trip is (and by extension how large your snack bag is), you might very well forget about that orange for longer than you can afford to. You can avoid unearthing anything too unpleasant — or accidentally poisoning yourself — by not carrying anything that really should be refrigerated.
Another thing to avoid? Glass. It's both heavy and dangerous when broken. Also, those fragile cookies won't make it long if they end up under a water bottle. In fact, anything that can shatter or squish beyond edibility has no place in your snack bag, whether it's a container or a delicate dessert.
8. Don't forget to hydrate.
Always hydrate. Keep your reusable water bottle around if the tap water is drinkable or a stock of bottled water (or a bottle with a filter) if not. And remember those tea bags? An evening relaxing in your room can be easily upgraded with the help of the guest house kettle.
9. Bring hand sanitizers and napkins.
You touch a lot of gross things on the road, and bus stop restrooms don't always have soap. If you don't already have hand sanitizer in your bag, keep it here. Napkins are also helpful in case of spills or general stickiness.
10. Don't hoard.
Snacks are meant to be eaten. Those dried mangos won't be nearly as tasty three months from now as they will be during your five-hour minibus ride. Of course, you want to have enough snacks that you won't go hungry, but remember that you can always buy more if you need them.
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What's in your travel snack bag?