A follow-up to yesterday’s piece, I was inspired by Janel writing at Frugal Hacks about packing food for the road. [A little plug here: I recently joined Frugal Hacks, and if you write about frugality, you can too! Follow the FH button in my sidebar. Readers can navigate to a variety of frugal writers using the links on the FH homepage.] One of Less Than a Shoestring’s frugal eating tips while traveling is to bring your own lunch and drinks. Janel gives her own suggestions for how to pack sandwiches from meat and cheese to salad variety to PBJ and prevent the dreaded sogginess. After the jump, I’ll give a rundown of travel picnic essentials and the best foods for traveling so that even a newbie can pull off meals on the go like a pro.
When eating on the road, you’ll find the following picnic elements essential:
+ ziploc bags (for storing prepared lunch items)
+ plastic silverware (those kits you get from the airplane are great, as they include napkins as well as salt/pepper)
+ hand sanitizer
+ water bottle
+ bags for trash
If you’re traveling by train or bus and purchasing/carrying your lunch items on the way, you will probably find a travel knife with corkscrew (for cutting/peeling and for opening cans and bottles), saran wrap (for protecting the end of your cucumber), a small lunch container for fragile items like fruit (and storing anything leftover), and rubber bands/twist ties useful additions to the above. I would also recommend a thermos for carrying hot beverages.
If you are driving and have more space, you can pack paper plates and cups and might even consider packing more food along in reusable containers rather than disposable. Anyone in a car should have little excuse for not carrying a cooler with at least drinks and snacks for everyone.
Foods you can prepare on the fly:
+ Meat and cheese sandwiches: supermarkets sell packages of pre-sliced bread, meat and cheese, making this the most straightforward of all on-the-go lunches. If you’re worried about keeping extra meat and cheese cold on your train ride, most deli counters will sell the exact number of slices you ask for — in a foreign country, this just means more pointing and confusion (which is part of the fun, right?). A cheap and travel-friendly addition (in Europe, especially, where they sell it in squeezable tubes) to liven up your sandwiches is mustard.
+ Crackers and cheese: sliced or soft cheese, as you prefer.
+ Carrots and dip: if you have a travel knife or veggie peeler (or don’t mind a little dirt), you can make a quick and filling snack of carrots and dip. Europeans sell a number of soft, herby cheeses or quark that mimic traditional American ranch dips; to mix it up, try hummus or salsa.
+ Cucumber slices: cucumbers are one of the most forgiving vegetables for traveling, allowing you to quickly add a little green to your sandwich. Related but messier are pickles.
+ Deli options: delis here and abroad offer a wide selection of salads, sides and hot and cold items for picnicking. Delis aren’t your cheapest option, but a “meal” here will still cost you less than eating in a restaurant and you can decide exactly how many slices, ounces, grams or stuffed olives you want.
+ Bakery options: freshly baked breads, rolls and pastries will simply cost less from the grocery than from a kiosk or chain.
+ Pretzels, chips and cookies round out every picnic lunch and are great for in-between moments when hunger strikes.
+ Dried fruits and nuts travel well. As for fresh fruit, stick to apples and mandarin oranges which don’t bruise easily and have minimal clean-up or prep. Purchase soft fruits like bananas, pears or peaches only for immediate consumption (these will only get damaged and make a mess in your bag, unless you can fit them in your lunch container). Fruits with a peel like oranges or grapefruits hold up well to travel conditions but make for messy hands — consider them only if you can peel them in advance or are certain you will have access to hand-washing facilities. Carrying grapes is just a bad idea.
+ Chocolate bar
Things I like to eat when traveling, but which could get messy and which are not TSA-friendly, include:
All of these can be purchased in travel-sized containers or prepared and packed ahead of time as individual servings in reusable containers. Hint: frozen applesauce keeps lunch items cool and makes a great ice cream substitute!
It goes without saying that the more time you have to prep and the more space you have for storage, the more options you have for types of sandwiches, fruits, snacks and beverages you can offer. Janel’s post (and her comments) outline the options available if you’re leaving from your own kitchen; by sticking primarily to on-the-fly options, I’ve tried to show just how much is possible even if you don’t have access to one.
What are your tips for staving off hunger while traveling? Have more suggestions for kid- or airplane-friendly snacks? Leave your suggestions in the comments.