It does sound glamorous, I’ll admit: Driving all over with nothing but food on your mind and a list of things you have to eat.
Reality: You end up at your fourth or fifth meal of the day, looking at a lovely plate with regrets while you muster the will to take one more bite. One. More. Bite.
Are you sure you want to do this? Are you sure you want to travel with only food on your agenda? You have to ignore the local sights, forget what you’re hungry for and focus only on what the chef or roadside diner is known for – even if it’s something you would normally never order.
Are you really, really sure you want to do this? OK, here are a few tips that get me through food-travel marathons:
Never miss a local story.
1. Pepcid AC. I keep a supply in my travel kit. On a night when I know I have to work my way through a food event with multiple small plates or I have to judge a contest that might have a couple of dozen entries, I grab an antacid in advance. I’m not prone to heartburn, but it seems to ward off trouble.
2. Alka-Seltzer. If the Pepcid didn’t work, the sparkling tablets are your friend. Many seven-meal days end with that quiet “shhhhh” in a water glass.
3. Laundry stain sticks. I’ve dribbled, dripped, dipped and dotted myself with more spills than snack time at a day care. If you’re packing light and you need that shirt to do triple-duty, be prepared. I’m fond of Tide sticks shaped like a marker.
4. Black shirts. See above. TSA agents who open my suitcase probably think I’m a roadie for a Goth band.
5. Hand sanitizer. I found a handy holder that dangles from the transmission shifter in my car. I’m partial to lemon-scented. It doesn’t just clean my hands, it can clear my car of the aroma of those onion rings everyone said were the bomb but turned out to be more like a belly bomb.
6. Toothbrush and a small tube of toothpaste. A chef once told me he always kept a second pair of shoes and fresh socks. He’d change footwear halfway through the night to refresh himself. Brushing your teeth between stops does the same thing.
7. Plastic forks and napkins. Forget tire gauges and Rain-X. The side pocket of my car door is loaded with those packs of plastic utensils and napkins that come with takeout food.
8. Willpower. Resign from the Clean Plate Club, kids. Let the passed hors d’oeuvres pass you by unless they really look special. At a restaurant, take a couple of bites and mess up your plate. (To all those chefs who notice which plates come back full: Don’t take it personally. It’s not your food, it’s me. Really.)
9. Packets of lens wipes. Not for my glasses – for all those greasy fingerprints on my iPhone.
10. Water. Never say no to water. I avoid bottled water at home – so much plastic waste – but on the road, I’m a water fanatic. If they offer free water at the hotel, grab it. If they don’t, go find a bottle. At a restaurant, empty your water glass faster than you empty your wine glass. You’ll be glad the next morning.