Wild Child West: Our Top 10 Road Trip Snacks

Well, it’s really happening: Geneva and I are about to start heading westward for my big cross-country move. That means we’ve packed up everything we love, picked out our road trip playlist, had a lot of emotions, and figured out the best way to purchase a steering wheel lock and fit vintage luggage into the trunk.

And it means we’ve had more than one decision to make about road trip snacks.

But after a few conversations and compromises, we’ve finally picked out our road trip snack shopping list, and it’s a thing of beauty. (We’ve got some dairy products on here, so it’s worth saying now that we’ll have a cooler, although even if we didn’t I guarantee I’d be buying string cheese at a gas station once a day.)

Tell me in the comments what you consider road trip staples!

10. White Cheddar Popcorn


Whether you’re a fan of Smartfood, Utz, or Pirate’s Booty versions of this classic, it’s undeniable that white cheddar popcorn is legend. That being said, I’m ranking it last because it makes a huge mess of your hands and always goes too fast. Also, Geneva would like you to know that it’s not that much healthier, or really healthier at all, to eat white cheddar popcorn instead of chips.

9. Raisinets


It’s a fruit. It’s a chocolate. It’s something that brings you back to your childhood and watching movies in theaters with your family in an instant. I want us to buy the concession-style package because nostalgia is everything.

8. Wasabi Peas


Geneva’s a huge fan of wasabi peas. I’m a huge fan of seeing how many of them I can put in my mouth at once before crying.

7. Sun Chips


Road trip snacks need to be kind of light and leave you feeling good, and not bloated or gross. A Sun Chip is quite possibly the epitome of all of these things, and it’s an actual healthy alernative to potato chips as well! I recommend Harvest Cheddar.

6. Snack / Protein / Granola Bars


I like Luna bars and Quaker Chewy bars. Geneva likes Clif bars and Nature’s Valley Sweet ‘n Salty bars. It’s okay with me that our entire car will be filled to the brim with granola bars, because in a worst-case scenario we will indeed survive and feel empowered by this choice.

5. Go-Gurt


Confession Time. When I first landed my real people job in May of 2013, I bought Go-Gurt once a week, every week, for months. It’s incredibly important to me. For this reason, I’d rather buy it for the trip instead of cheaper, healthier yogurts that do not come in a tube you can indulge in while skateboarding. They do sell adult versions of the classic portable yogurt, though! Just a point of information.

4. Combos


I think of Combos as the ultimate road trip snack: They’re available in every single gas station across America, they come in artificially flavored varieties like pizza, and they’re pretzels stuffed with what I can only imagine is equitable to EZ-Cheese. Keep it classic. Keep it Combo.

3. Chex Mix


The only question left is: Traditional, Bold, or Cheddar?

2. Small Cheese Products


I want string cheese, because it’s a part of who I am. Geneva wants Babybel cheese wheels, which I also think of as delicious and amazing gifts from the heavens. Together, we will be wealthy in dairy products to eat within five seconds of deciding to do so.

1. Trail Mix


It isn’t a trip without trail mix. We’re gonna go for a variety with some dried pineapple, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds, raisins or craisins, and a variety of nuts including peanuts which are not nuts but just let it slide right now please.

We’ll probably mix up our own trail mix, but this David mix comes damn close.

Wild Child West is a mini-series about this thing I’m doing with my life wherein I quit my job so I could pursue my dreams and fulfill my intentions as written in my copy of The Desire Map in Los Angeles. I’m also posting live from the road using the hashtag #WildChildWest on Instagram and Twitter, so.

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Carmen spent six years at Autostraddle, ultimately serving as Straddleverse Director, Feminism Editor and Social Media Co-Director. She is now the Consulting Digital Editor at Ms. and writes regularly for DAME, the Women’s Media Center, the National Women’s History Museum and other prominent feminist platforms; her work has also been published in print and online by outlets like BuzzFeed, Bitch, Bust, CityLab, ElixHER, Feministing, Feminist Formations, GirlBoss, GrokNation, MEL, Mic and SIGNS, and she is a co-founder of Argot Magazine. You can find Carmen on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr or in the drive-thru line at the nearest In-N-Out.

Carmen has written 919 articles for us.


  1. My gf always packs a bag of granola when we go on road trips for snacking on dry. I’m all about boiled sweets (candy?…British :/ ) like mixed bags of bassets mints or pear drops. Stops you feeling thirsty when you’re driving miles and the fans are on.

    • Boiled sweets yes! I’m all about the travel sweets; rhubarb and custards or mint imperials. But my Dad cannot drive for longer than an hour without wine gums and although I’m not that keen on them, they make a journey Imo.

      • I’m a Murray mint fan to be very specific. My mum has a bag of those blackcurrant licorice things in her glove compartment at all times, they’re my childhood trip maker :) I do love a wine gum though.

    • OMG maria bamford and the way she talks about gas station food, I just want to hug her all the time.

  2. Not necessarily road trip food, but a tip I picked up from doing volunteer wilderness Search & Rescue is to always keep a bag of Tootsie Pops in your glove compartment for those times when you’re starting to get tired, but are in an unsafe area to pull over and take a nap/break. Works every time. Obviously not the best solution (drowsy driving = bad), and not something to do if you have blood sugar issues, but for SAR folks, those stupid Tootsie Pops can be really really useful coming back from a nightlong search…

  3. I totally share your admiration for Babybel. But I have to watch myself with the wasabi peas — too easy to overdo.

  4. My girlfriend and I just got back from a week long road trip last night! These are the things we took, in order of how soon we ran out:
    – Pirates Booty (cheesey puffs)
    – other cheesey puffs
    – Triscuits and Easy Cheese
    – Fig Newtons (in 2-packs)

    We also had PB&J for lunch several times, and also actual real food and beer because we were camping but that doesn’t count as “road trip snacks” in my mind.

    Also she had Baileys for her coffee (I was driving)

  5. Good luck on the move and cross-country drive!

    Sun chips are the best chips. I’m normally not a big chip person, but sun chips are an exception.

    Kind “strong” bars are my favorite energy bars. They have tons of almonds and come in spicy/savory flavors, like jalepeno, honey bbq, and thai spice.

    Also, chocolate covered coffee beans, for your dose of caffeine and theobromine. They will keep you awake at the wheel without instantly filling your bladder like liquid coffee.

    • I so hear you on the sun chips thing. Sun chips are fantastic, and I can’t wait to get my braces off so I can enjoy them!

      • Sun chips just seem to have the perfect mix of savory and slightly-sweet. I remember the crunchy-food-avoidance back when I had braces. :( Maybe you could crumble them on soup?

        • Whoa there. Crumbling on soup? Obviously you are a culinary genius. I gotta try this, thanks! Also glad you relate haha

  6. on my last road trip we ate chocolate covered espresso beans that i impulse bought at the bodega because they are FUNCTIONAL.

  7. Obviously AS food posts are my favorite.

    Smartfood white cheddar popcorn is something I only discovered early this summer, and it is glorious. Another cheesy snack I adore is cheese puffs, specifically the reduced fat ones from Trader Joe’s. I seriously won’t eat any other cheese puff (like, get those neon ones away from me).

    You guys better have lots of fun. Happy snacking!

  8. Sun chips are Satan’s Candy. They are absolute trash.

    LUNA/Cliff/Quest bars are my go to snacks for long trips. They’re lower in sugar, sodium and carbs than most snacks I like, which all make me feel bloated and crash after the hyper spell passes.

    S/o to Chocolate covered raisins!

  9. I have literally never seen nor heard of Combos before. Are they a regional thing? I’ve been a PNWer my whole life.

    Last summer my gf and I took a 5,400 mile road trip and we did a lot of snacking. We had a pretty large cooler in the backseat that we kept stocked. We did our best to keep things balanced and ended up eating a lot of hummus with baby carrots, avocados and tortilla chips, grapes/other easy-to-eat fruits, granola, yogurt, cheese (which we bought at the Tillamook cheese factory on Day 1 of the trip and carted around half of North America for a month), Triscuit crackers, and peanut butter filled pretzels from Trader Joe’s.

    • I’m also a PNWer, and I’ve brought combos on backpacking trips before, though it was a few years ago. I think I found them at Grocery Outlet stores.
      Your 5400 trip sounds fantastic (and nutritious too!)

    • I am also a PNWite and I do remember Combos. But I forgot about them until just now, which I put down to my last 10 years being spent in Australia.

  10. I totally needed this last week when I moved from south mississippi to seattle. I subsisted mostly on poptarts on the drive.

  11. Okay, I looked back at my old journal entry from when I moved from Colorado to WA (semi-spontaneously leaving at 10:00 pm in the middle of record rains…). I apparently fueled myself on cold boca burger patties, lukewarm pudding cups, fruit, protein bars, coffee, and a packet of tuna that I shared with my cat. Oh, and 3 diet monster energy drinks bought at a gas station in Boise where I lost my pillow after setting it on the roof of my car. It wasn’t exactly gourmet, but then again, I didn’t do much planning.

  12. Ah yes road trip food, this is were my backround as Gulf Coast resident and the child of road trip vacationers shines like new quarter on the blacktop at noon.

    In the dry snack category:
    beef jerky, bread rolls, peanutbutter crackers, snack / protein / granola bars, cheez-its and the risky but beloved pretezel with rasins.

    I call pretezels risky because they make one thirsty and that potentially causes 2 problems. First and foremost extra bathroom stops, second depleting the water supply ahead of supply replenishment schedule.

    Ice box category:
    granny smith apples, go-gurt duh, satsumas/ tangerines/ clementines, pre-washed self bagged baby carrots and um cooked chicken or what for picnic style lunching at the rest stop.

    I don’t eat sandwiches, not really unless you count gyro, shawarma or toast cut in half with something between the halves or spread on them.
    Jelly toast “sandwiches” do great in just plastic bag in a cooler if you’re using cooler blocks, but if you’re all ice or cooler block/ice combo you’ll need a lil sandwich box to keep it from getting soggy.

    I wish to impart some knowledge on cooler on ya Carmen, but it may be useless.
    If you’re going to be stopping and spending the night somewhere with a freezer on this journey of yours get some cooler packs or blocks. What ever they may cost will infinitely cheaper than repeatedly buying ice.
    Also there’s this thing my dad does but uh it’s something you can only do if you’ve got a big ass cooler and is dependent on repeat access to a freezer and a sink
    Take a used gallon or liter bottle for water, cut the top half off while keeping the bottom nice and intact, then put water in it and freeze it.
    Ta-ta large block o’ ice.
    Take the blocks out of the bottoms and do whatever, but bring the bottoms with ya and just repeat the process when you next have freezer and sink access.

    So much cooler and road trip knowledge, but so hard to put it all into words and some there are no words just tetris motions. Packing is half the battle, sorry GI JOE.

    Once again don’t know your cooler situation but deli meat is good thing to put in a cooler, if you like deli meat and other traditional sandwich things that are veggies. And a “bread” of some type in your dry snacks bin or bag.

    Rest stop picnic lunching, consider it.
    Or public parks ect that are on the route, they can have bathrooms and picnic tables.

  13. GAH! SO excited you are moving west! And all those snacks!! I love combos but I don’t think I’ve had them for like at least 3 years now. They also remind me of Christine.

    I consider water a staple amirite. I love protein bars too but I go for Quest nutrition. To me they taste great and are pretty heavy so I don’t really keep digging into chips. My mom loves to have sandwiches on the road. Every time we drive out to San Diego she makes me a sandwich =)

  14. Maybe it’s because my roadtrips are usually 12+ hour affairs, my staple road trip foods are either meals (sandwiches and the like) or anything that isn’t sugary or starchy since a sugar crash while driving is a baaad idea. My go to food is beef jerky (especially if it’s the really thin/brittle/takes a long time to chew type) and coffee (either black or with a bit of cream if its really bad gas station coffee).

    Chicharrones/Pork rinds are also great in my opinion.

  15. those styrofoam pea-snack things are pretty ideal for roadtrips. also APPLES and a jar of peanut butter. it can pretend to be a meal if you need it to.

  16. we are just finishing a 10 day road trip down the west coast! gf’s little sister gave us one of those insulated keep-shit-cold bags which has facilitated gf buying fancy cheese in all the various locales (mendocino coast, home to lots of good cheese and annoying as fuck hippies). but we have gotten a lot of mileage out of salami, if you eat meats, and we always bring a knife and cutting board, though gf will be like “let me slice you some bread and cheese on this here cutting board while we are traveling down the interstate” and I’m like “OMG NO YOU WILL STAB YOURSELF.” so, bring a knife, use it when the car is stopped. also, grapes. bring some grapes. and when we have eaten the hell out of chips and stuff for most of the day and we stop in at a co-op because we are like that, I will often get a bran muffin, because protein + fiber. gotta stay regular even on the road, my friends.

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