A few months ago I found myself in the passenger seat of a rental car, winding through the steep, snow-capped Dolomites, a knife smeared with cheese and fig jam in my hand and breadcrumbs strewn across my lap. My boyfriend and I were road tripping from Vienna to Milan, and we had gone a bit overboard with the snacks.
The Importance of Road Trip Snacks
My love for road trips and snacks was inherited. My parents prefer long, cross-country drives to flights, so my brothers and I spent a lot of time in the back of our minivan making games out of road signs on family vacations.
About an hour in, my mom would crane her head back. "Anybody hungry? We have … " and then she would go on to list the wealth of snacks both in a giant canvas bag and in a cooler: fresh fruit, dried fruit, granola bars, carrot sticks, pretzels, organic chips, tuna salad sandwiches, peanut butter & jelly to be assembled on the road, homemade cookies, and on and on. You would think we were driving into the desert for weeks without food, not along major highways with fast-food stops every other mile.
Still, the habit stuck.
Now, if I know I'll be in a car for more than an hour, I bring a snack. I do it for sustenance, yes, but also because a treat brought just for the trip, no matter how short, makes it feel more like an adventure. This is never more true than in other countries, where trying new foods is one of the biggest joys of travel, and embarking on a road trip across foreign lands holds a sense of anticipation heightened by what sort of snacks I'll find.
Related: The 5 Rules of Road Trip Snacks
My Favorite Road Trip Snacks from Around the World
On that Vienna to Milan trip, we started out with soft pretzels and stone-ground mustard in Austria, transitioning to cured meats and cheeses as we moved into Italy.
Stopping for Parmesan at a shop in Parma was a highlight of the trip, as was comparing the breads we procured in different small towns.
A couple years ago in Baja, Mexico with my brothers, we stopped at fruit stands along the road for mango, watermelon, and pineapple liberally sprinkled with Tajín, an irresistible blend of salt, red chile, and dehydrated lime juice.
In Costa Rica, a friend and I pulled over in busy intersections for fresh coconuts, stopping just long enough for the tops to be whacked off before merging back into traffic, sucking the water through straws.
On a trip with a friend through Southeast Asia that included hours and hours on buses, we stocked up on puffy, shrimp-flavored chips, dried banana, crispy seaweed strips, and bags of candy we couldn't pronounce and I can't quite remember. I do know there were lots of jelly-textured, fruity flavors.
On past road trips in the Middle East, I've packed mixed nuts, dates, and fatayer jebneh, boat shaped pastries filled with cheese.
In Iraqi Kurdistan, where I live, there's a soft bread called samoon that opens perfectly to fit any assortment of fillings. We get creative with sandwiches, filling them with hummus, labneh, za'atar, grilled fish from the neighborhood stand, or egg salad when we miss home.
I'm moving back to the Midwest this fall for graduate school, a change that will mean less international travel than I've been able to enjoy the last five years, but more American road trips. I'm already planning the snacks.
Have you discovered a great road trip snack on your travels?