Road Trip

Chow down on these easy-to-eat road trip-friendly foods

Fast food and fast casual restaurants offer many options for road trip diners, who could also opt to BYO food from home.

Photo by Getty Images

Summer has come to a close, but road trip season is still in full swing as people journey to see their football teams take on rivals in towns near and far before then setting off to visit relatives for the holidays. Where to eat while you're on the road? AutomotiveMap has you covered.

Whataburger

Whataburger's honey butter chicken biscuit, fondly abbreviated "HBCB", is a perennial classic in the state of Texas. The fried chicken, flaky biscuit, and honey melt in your mouth. Enjoy a side of tater tots and wash it all down with coffee or orange juice.

For a car full of passengers, a tray of cinnamon rolls can make for an easy breakfast option. Heck, make it a tradition!

Note that the breakfast is only available from 11:00 pm-11:00 am though many Whataburgers are open 24/7.

If you're at Whataburger during non-breakfast hours we recommend the #14 combo – fried chicken, Texas toast, fries, and a drink.

Whataburger is currently only in southern states, but BDT Capital Partners (based in Chicago), recently bought a majority stake in the company. Might this mean expansion north? We can hope.

Houston hero J.J. Watt has another idea: "I say we all chip in and buy Whataburger back. Make honey butter chicken biscuits available all day, add kolaches to the menu and change nothing else. Especially not the ketchup."

Sonic

Located across the United States, Sonic offers a wide variety of menu items with a free side of nostalgic appeal. We recommend popcorn chicken, tater tots, and a limeade or strawberry slush. With its roller skating waitstaff and option to drive-in (vs. just drive through), Sonic is a unique on-the-go dining choice.

Buc-ee's

Buc-ee's is a modern-day general store. You can fill your vehicle with gas, use a very clean restroom (certainly not to be taken for granted when on a road trip), buy home dΓ©cor and clothing (some Bucee's-branded, some not), and choose from a plethora of food options.

Our picks? Kolaches and fudge (perhaps not together). Kolaches, a flavorful combination of meat, cheese, or other fillings wrapped in warm, puffy dough, are both delicious and a nod to Texas's past. Popularized by the Czech settlers in Texas in the 1800's, kolaches are still popular in the state today. Buc-ee's also has a wide variety of fudge flavors, ranging from classic chocolate, to peanut butter and chocolate, to nut-filled.

McDonald's

Many McDonald's restaurants (even in airports) allow you to order via their app. Get your family's order of nuggets (add dipping sauce at your own risk), milkshakes, and fries queued up so when you pull in, it's easy grab and go. Remember, kids can opt for apple slices instead of fries, but then you're trading greasy hands for sticky fingers. For a snack, grab an apple pie.

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Starbucks

Whether you opt for coffee or tea, you can enjoy a bite with your drink that will fill you up through lunch. Instead of opting for their hot sandwiches or eggs, try a piece of loaf or a small vanilla scone, both of which are easy to eat while behind the wheel. A meat and cheese tray from their prepared food section is also a good option.

In-N-Out

The glowing yellow arrow of the In-N-Out sign is iconic. Travelers often make this California-born chain their first and last stop when arriving in the state. Roadtrippers can find In-N-Outs scattered throughout California, from San Diego in the south to Redding in the north. In-N-Out continues to expand north and east with locations in Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and Texas.

For drivers, we recommend a cheeseburger, fries, and chocolate shake. Passengers can order similarly but should get their fries "animal style" – smothered with a delicious secret sauce that's a little messy so make sure extra napkins are handy.

Taco Bell

There aren't many things on the Taco Bell menu that are easy to eat while behind the wheel. The quesadilla is one of them. You could choose be a hero and attempt a burrito, but you might want to spend some time constructing a napkin bid and thigh covering before you dig in.

Chick-fil-A

This bastion of fast food, which was founded in Atlanta, Georgia, has spread throughout much of the United States. Chick-fil-a is best known for its chicken sandwich, nuggets, waffles fries, and lemonade. On an especially hot day, the frosted lemonade makes for a very refreshing treat. If you prefer some spice in your life, Chick-fil-a's spicy chicken sandwich is a palate pleaser. Kid-sized cones of Ice Dream are a good choice for kids who deserve to be rewarded for their in-car behavior.

For quick service in the restaurant or when going through the drive thru, order via the company's app ahead of arriving at the restaurant.

Gluten Free Choices

Need to be gluten free? Most fast food comes fried and breaded, but consumers can make their meal mostly gluten-free with a bit of savvy ordering. At burger places, ask for your burger to be wrapped in lettuce rather than placed in a bun. At Chick-fil-A, order the grilled nuggets over the grilled chicken sandwich on a crumbly gluten free bun.

Bring Food From Home

Another option is to bring food from home. Sandwiches wrapped in foil make eating with one hand simple, especially when cut into smaller portions. Bite-size food, such as cheese, crackers, sliced meats, and chopped vegetables, work well too.

If all else fails? Stop at the nearest gas station and load up on classic road trip fare – chips, candy, and sugary drinks.

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Yosemite National Park is a vast space primed for social distancing.

Photo by Getty Images/Jordan Siemens

In the first scene of the first episode of Aaron Sorkin's terrific HBO drama "The Newsroom", news anchor Will McAvoy rants during a lecture to journalism students. In the midst of a recitation of literacy rates and educational stats, he throws a question back to a student during a Q&A: "So, when you ask 'what makes us the greatest country in the world?', I don't know what the f*** you're talking about. Yosemite?"

The man makes a point. I'll leave the op-ed page to debate whether America is the greatest country in the world, but we can all agree that Yosemite is a national treasure, along with the rest of the National Parks system.

Joshua Tree National Park A stop at Joshua Tree National Park was on the interary. Photo by Seth K. Hughes/Getty Images

After four months of hunkering down at home, hiding from COVID, I'd had enough. I reached out to Kia to borrow a car, called a friend in San Diego who I thought might be interested in exploring a few of our National Parks and got cracking.

Our route would take us north of San Diego to Joshua Tree National Park, home to both extensive groves of the eponymous tree as well as some terrific stargazing. Then we'd head further north to spot some gigantic trees at the Sequoia and King's Canyon National Parks, followed by Yosemite itself. After Yosemite, we'd head west to Monterey, and south down California 1 along Big Sur, stopping for the night at Ragged Point Inn at the south end, before dashing back to San Diego. Four nights, four parks.

If you're looking for a COVID-friendly trip, a road trip to a National Park is a solid way to go. There's plenty of space for social distancing, and they're quite cheap. Yosemite, for example, costs just $35 for a weeklong vehicle pass. Though it's worth considering the $80 Interagency Annual Pass which is good for entrance at all Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, Park Service, Bureau of Reclamation, Army Corps of Engineers, and Fish and Wildlife Service sites charging entrance or day use fees. Then there are countless people who qualify for free annual passes, including all U.S. 4th graders and active military members, plus heavily discounted senior annual and lifetime passes.

We picked up the $80 Annual Pass at the scorching Joshua Tree West Entrance, stopped by the public restrooms there (which have prominent posters showing what color your urine should be to avoid dehydration in the 110-degree heat β€” brown is bad, by the way), and headed into the park. I don't have nearly the space to review the full park, and anyway, you should just go yourself. Cameras, too, completely fail to do it justice. The bizarre and wonderful trees, along with the spectacular desert landscape, make for a spectacular visit.

Scenic view of landscape against star field at night Joshua Tree National Park comes alive at night. Photo by Getty Images/Cavan Images RF

But at night is when Joshua Tree really comes alive. City-living β€” or even being near a city β€” really puts a damper on what you can see in the night sky, and both the Park and local communities have invested significant time and money into helping keep Joshua Tree dark. We easily spotted the Milky Way, Saturn and Jupiter, as well as Comet NEOWISE in the dark sky, along with countless other celestial objects.

After picking up a Date Shake in nearby Palm Springs, we headed north to Sequoia. This was a bit of a National Parks Express Tour, so we didn't venture into the fantastic hiking and camping options that these parks offer, but the views were spectacular even from the main roads through the parks. The massive sequoia trees simply must be seen to believe, making for a rather humbling experience when one considers how old these living things are.

Yosemite is even more awe-inspiring. The glacier-carved Yosemite Valley, flanked by Half Dome, El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls, is jaw-dropping. Staring up at climbers on El Capitan and knowing that someone even climbed the imposing 3,200-foot wall without rope is bewildering.

Yosemite National Park AutomotiveMap road tripped to Yosemite National Park late last year. You can see our guide to the park here.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

From the first view of Yosemite Valley from the famous Tunnel View lookout through to the drive out of the park, the landscape never disappoints. We even spotted a very healthy-looking black bear eating in a field, which is always a treat.

After the soaring peaks of the Sierra Mountains, we headed west towards the ocean and the Pacific Coast Highway along Big Sur. The twisting coastal drive along California 1, with the cliffs of the Santa Lucia Mountains rising out of β€” or plunging into, depending on your perspective β€” the Pacific Ocean, is one of the most beautiful coastlines in the world.

Our final stop, at the Ragged Point Inn at the south end of Big Sur β€” where we watched the sunset from atop the cliffs β€” was the capstone to an amazing road trip.

Highway 1 big sur Highway 1 near Big Sur includes the Bixby Creek Bridge, a famous landmark. Photo by Getty Images

COVID has stressed us all, with anxiety over mental and physical health taking a real and significant toll. And, luckily, the best antidote might just be to get outside. Even if you don't have the majesty of Yosemite nearby, I encourage you to just get in the car and take a drive somewhere new.

You never know β€” you might find what makes America the greatest country in the world.

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Navigating the ins and outs of a road trip during a pandemic can be tricky.

Photo by Jovanmandic/Getty Images

America is getting out, stretching their legs, willingly being cooped up in their car for hours rather than their homes. That's right, it's road trip time. Before you head out on the road, there's a few things you need to consider for traveling during this national health crisis - take it from someone who just got back from a lengthy road trip.

Check local regulations.

Not only do states have different regulations, there are variances between counties and towns as well. Check the regulations the day before you leave - they're prone to changing quickly. While some regulations effect dining hours and service, some impact things like public restrooms, wearing a face mask, and public gatherings.

Make planned stops.

Waitress with face mask serving family with children outdoors in summer on terrace restaurant


Photo by Halfpoint Images/Getty Images

Don't just play it by ear when it comes to bathroom breaks and meals. Planning ahead will help you determine what is open and where, as well as the regulations that come with dine-in service versus take out. Remember, not all service station bathrooms are open and you might not be able to just pop in to a fast food restaurant for a bathroom break. Many rest stops and parks also have closed bathrooms.

Remember to bring cash.

With the coin shortage and the switchover to cashless payment for most businesses, it's important to remember that tolls booths still run mostly on cash-only service. Bring an assortment of bills (lots of ones, not as may fives and tens) and coins to help you achieve exact change when going through toll booths to ensure that you don't have to get change and expose yourself (and the tollbooth worker) to additional risk.

Pack personal protective equipment and other supplies.

Young mother squeezing hand sanitizer onto little daughter's hand in the playground to prevent the spread of viruses

Photo by d3sign/Getty Images

If you have a few days before your trip, consider ordering a package of disposable face masks to keep in your glovebox or center console. You'd be surprised how easy it is to spill on your usual mask, drop it in a parking lot, step on it, or get it stuck between the seat and center console. What if it suddenly breaks? It's good to have a back up. The last thing you want to do is arrive at your destination out of luck.

Check and double check your car's emergency gear.

Being self-reliant is more important than it has been in recent memory. Before you set off, double-check the situation of your spare tire, making sure that you'll have the tools on-hand to change out a flat on your own if you need to. Don't remember how to change one out? Watch some YouTube videos and brush up on your skills.

You may want to consider purchasing a roadside rescue kit as well. These usually contain jumper cables, a shovel, reflective sign, tools, a flashlight, and more to help in the event of an emergency.

Refill fluids that need it. Stock the first aid kit and make sure that you have a few bottles of water and a clean cloth or two in reserve just in case.

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