How to do Road Trip Picnics – where to stop and other tips to make them easy

Road Trip Picnics


We’ve been talking picnics all month.  We’ve covered Day Trip Picnics and Vacation Home Food.

This week, let’s talk about road trip picnics.  I really like to pack our lunch for our first (and sometimes, last) day of travel.  We prefer our own sandwiches to fast food, especially when traveling.  A couple of my kids deal with car sickness and it really helps to have control of the food choices.  Not to mention that it’s much cheaper to pack.

I won’t talk too much about what to pack.  We’ve covered that pretty well already.

I do want to share some tips I’ve learned and I’d love to hear yours too!

Where to stop for a road side picnic.

When you’re on a long trip, trying to get where you’re going, you don’t want to spend a lot of time looking for a place to eat.  Convenience wins big over scenic views in this case.

Rest stops are an obvious solution.  Many of them have picnic tables.  We’ve found that as you enter most states, there are Welcome Centers that tend to be a notch above regular rest stops.

Tip: It’s nice to have a roll of paper towels to use as place mats or even to sit on if the benches aren’t the best.  Although, the adults tend to eat standing up to counteract all the hours in the car.

Eating in the car.

We’ve found it’s best to get out for a break, but there are times when it makes sense to eat in the car.  If it’s raining, you may want to skip the picnic.  Heavy traffic occasionally makes it hard to to stop.

Just in case you end up needing to eat while driving, pack the cooler where an older child or adult can get to it.  Have that person pass out the lunches and drinks.

Tip: For snacks like boxes of cheese crackers or grapes, small paper cups work great for handing out individual servings.  These are also easy for the driver to eat from.

Strategically splurge on treats.

If you’re looking at 8-15 hours in the car, you can bet you’re going to need a few treats.  Here are a few things that have worked for us in the past:

  • DumDum lollipops and Jolly Ranchers – It’s fun to choose a flavor and the small candy lasts a while too.
  • Planned afternoon breaks that involve purchased treats like soft drinks, coffees, or even ice cream.
  • Treat bags – When the kids were little, I would pack a bag of small games, toys, stickers, etc.  I tried to aim for one treat per hour.  Some of the most successful items were masking tape, pipe cleaners, dry erase markers (to use on the windows),  and blank notebooks.  The car was usually a mess when we arrived at the destination, but everyone was was (relatively) happy.

I’d love to hear your tips!

Many of us will be hitting the road this summer for long trips.  Share what works for you and your family in the comments.

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  1. Cassie Moses says:

    Since I have one with a severe food allergy, we typically pack lunch for a long trip. But I have learned for anything 7 hours +, it’s best to stop for lunch (we will do Chick Fil A or something that is quick but a little better than regular fast food) and then pack our dinner. We are always so exhausted and finding a place to eat is usually stressful. Last summer we were vacationing with friends so I made sloppy Joes (Pioneer Woman recipe), bought chips, and buns, and my friend brought fruit and dessert. It was SO much easier than getting 5 kids back into the car!! Love the idea about treat bags. Going to to try that for our trip to DC this summer.

  2. We use rest stops also. Even if we aren’t stopping to eat, we park the farthest away and get some exercise. The welcome centers are usually the best bet. They have lots of information too. I usually like to pack lunches and then eat out for dinner. We took a loooong trip out west and most days had a packed lunch. In some of the national parks we visited, we had beautiful views just pulling off somewhere. Other places, we shared a table with strangers. People from all over the world visit our parks and they are fun to talk to over lunch. Last week end we went to Canton OH and found a park just off our route to stop for lunch. Just for something new we try to avoid chains, but other times it is good to know what you’re getting when you walk in the door (esp if everyone is tired and cranky)

  3. One added picnic- a few years ago we were taking the train from Paris to Rome and bought lunch items at a little Parisian grocery. We ate lunch and watched the French countryside roll by. A fun time for two.

  4. Love the idea of dry erase markers on the windows!! So clever. My mom used to always send us off with a picnic of the best ham sandwiches, carrot sticks and chips for our road trips back home after visiting her. Somehow carrot sticks are so much better when your mom peels and cuts the carrots…even when you are an adult and a mom yourself. My daughters played with paper dolls on our trips that were really just pictures of people cut from catalogs!

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