Five ways to eat well (and cheap) on the road

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The cry of 'Are we there yet?' often really means 'When can we eat?' There's something about the joys of a road trip – hopping in and out of the car for new experiences, witnessing amazing scenery, and, yes, getting a chance to try lots of new foods – that fuels hunger. But all too often you can be harried by other experiences and end up settling for what seems easy and familiar: the dreary gas station convenience store or the generic roadside chain.

The good news is that you can eat well and even cheaply on a road trip by following the five tips below. Not only will your budget last longer but you'll enjoy the health benefits of your eats and drinks more than the fast-food alternative.

Eat local

Even if driving a fast-paced motorway/highway, there's no reason not to get off the road and do a little exploring. That's the reason for the road trip, right? Bypassing the rest stop or the cluster of familiar signs at the exit ramp will yield local favourites. If in doubt, just ask a local. A simple: 'Where do you like to eat that's locally owned?' can yield culinary gold - and at local, not tourist, prices.

Do your research

Websites, such as Roadfood.com in the US, are loaded with fantastic recommendations of places serving local specialties. Often these are modest in the extreme and don't just feature local tastes but also pure slices of local life. Other good sources, besides a guidebook, include Tripadvisor.com and Yelp.com, which are rapidly expanding their listings worldwide. With mobile phone apps also available for these sites that give results based on your location, one person can research while the other drives.

Stop at road-side produce stands

You'll find them worldwide: roadside stands selling whatever is grown and produced in the region. Incredibly ripe and juicy melons, bushels of beautiful oranges, berries in season and much, much more. What better way to experience a place than through its flavours? As an added bonus, such treats are often not only much better but also much cheaper than you'll find in stores. Also, if you know what foods are popular or produced locally, you can turn right in when you see a sign advertising the same. Whether it’s a special cheese, smoked fish or wine (to name a few) you are bound to be rewarded.

Stay cool and equipped

Having a little cooler in your car is ideal for keeping drinks cold between stops and for storing away local treats you pick up along the way. Cheap ones can usually be found in supermarkets. Learn the local word for 'ice' and you're set. Other useful items include a knife for slicing up melon, cutting cheese, divvying up fresh bread etc; reusable – and cheap – spoons and forks; and a very lightweight cloth or blanket you can spread on the ground for an impromptu picnic. And if you find a locally beloved condiment like a stellar hot sauce, add that to your collection.

Organise for picnic stops

It goes without saying that the best routes for road trips also have the best places to picnic. Along some roads you'll even find rest areas or parks complete with picnic tables. But don't limit yourself to an official site – look for that little bluff with the astonishing view where you can safely pull off the road and picnic. The possibilities are nearly endless.

This article was originally published in June 2012. This article was updated in October 2012.