Van Gogh's drawing board, with snacks
I pulled a lot of all-nighters back in my twenties, when I was working as a graphic designer specializing in meeting impossible deadlines for ridiculously low amounts of money. I remember explaining to a corporate friend that I survived the long hours at my drawing board by eating plenty of gorp, the homemade precursor of trail mix, a combo of raisins, nuts, chocolate chips, and (my personal touch) a light sprinkling of grated orange rind. “It’s great,” I said. “You don’t even have to stop working to eat it; you just pop a handful in your mouth, and it gives you all the energy you need to keep going for hours. What do you use?”
“I take a different approach,” she said. “When I’m hungry, I eat. When I'm tired, I sleep.”
I was stunned. You could do that? I tried to remember back before working on deadline, before college…
From that moment on, I vowed to organize my life so that someday I could eat and rest in a more civilized fashion. And now I do. I almost never pull all-nighters, I stop for meals when I’m hungry, and thanks to living in Spain, I take siestas every day. But I still like to keep convenient, high-energy foods on hand, especially when I travel.
What’s the ideal road snack? A Google search revealed recipes for such homemade goodies as tofu jerky, beet chips, and protein-powder energy bars. They made me think of the popular Nepalese travel snack of dried yak cheese, a substance much harder, and less flavorful, than leather. On a long bus ride, I chewed a chunk of the stuff for more than an hour, and it was barely beginning to get soft by the time I surreptitiously threw it out the window. If I ever yield to curiosity and concoct my own tofu jerky, I suspect it will soon suffer a similar fate.
To me, road food should be about pleasure as well as survival. Here’s what Rich and I favor when we’re on the move.
1. Thai or Mexican take-out is a welcome upgrade on any long-distance flight. Unless you’re on a strict budget, it’s worth the extra few bucks to enjoy something wonderful in place of the airline’s rubbery chicken.
2. TUC crackers are possibly the best on the planet; they’re sold all over Europe, Asia, and Canada in a handy re-sealable package. Great on their own, they’re even better with cheese (preferably NOT pre-sliced, individually wrapped American cheese product).
3. Mojo Bars are a chewy blend of sweet and salty in various combinations of nuts, chocolate, pretzels, and coconut. For those tracking such things, they contain no cholesterol, trans fats, or processed sugar, are made from 70% organic ingredients, and are kosher. Just saying.
4. Gorp is still the best road snack ever. Homemade versions always taste better than packaged trail mix, and it’s worth the approximately one minute it’s going to take you to combine dried fruits (try cranberry, cherries, and/or ginger), nuts, and dark chocolate chips in a zip-lock baggie. If you have three more minutes to devote to the task, break up a high-quality dark chocolate candy bar to use in place of the chocolate chips. If you’re traveling in hot climates, use M&Ms to avoid melting, or (and I have personally tested this) wait until your melted gorp cools; it’ll harden into a handy candy bar.
Being on the road, there are often times when I need to grab a bite on the fly or at odd hours to satisfy a stomach that hasn’t caught up yet with local schedules. But I can still enjoy foods that delight my taste buds and lift my spirits along with my blood sugar, and will keep me cheerful as well as functional until it’s time for a more civilized meal. Bon appétit!
This post was written in response to questions I've been asked about preparing for long and varied trips. Unlike some of my better-organized and more practical blogger friends, I haven't obtained any free or discounted snack food, services, or gear in return for promoting anything on this blog. I'm just letting you know about stuff that Rich and I consider to be the most useful for our kind of travel.
I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
As we journey through the pandemic together, my blog provides a regular supply of survival tips, comfort food recipes, and the wry humor we all need to lighten our hearts on dark days.
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