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Because it’s strange and beautiful and hot, people from everywhere converge on Florida and they bring their cuisine and their traditions with them. The Zest celebrates the intersection of food and communities in the Sunshine State.

Season 5 finale: Food hacks for your next neighborhood vacation from travel blogger Carrie McLaren

Close-up of a fat sandwich with french fries and cole slaw
The Zest Podcast

She shares food-related hacks for your summer road trip, plane ride or cruise. You'll learn how to avoid sticker shock at the airport, how to make your own ice pack in a hotel mini-fridge, and the kitchen item Carrie never leaves home without.

Listen to the episode

With summer travel season upon us, we’ve invited travel blogger Carrie McLaren to share her best food-related travel hacks.

Carrie is the Jacksonville-based travel influencer behind the website and social media platforms Carrie On Travel.

She specializes in family travel, having been on countless trips with

her husband, Robert, and daughters Maggie, 13, and Molly, 11. Wherever

your summer travels take you, Carrie’s advice will help you eat better

while saving time, money and stress.

Items Carrie always brings:

  • Cooler or cooler backpack
  • Ziplock bags of various sizes
  • Pretzels
  • Reusable water bottle

Here’s Carrie’s advice for specific travel situations.
Road trip:

  • Pack breakfast to eat in the car. Mini muffins, oatmeal cups and fruit make a good on-the-go breakfast.
  • Bring a cooler. Carrie’s favorite not-so-messy items to include are cheese sticks and pepperoni slices. “It’s its own little meal,” she says. Her family is also big on carrot sticks, apples and oranges. A cooler backpack is handy for walking around when you reach your destination.
  • Bring munchies. “I never leave home without pretzels,” Carrie says. “And I always have Goldfish. Goldfish, to me, sounds like a kids’ snack, but really I find myself eating them just as much as I do anything else.”
  • Go nuts. Peanuts, almonds, pecans and other nuts are a good source of protein that don’t require refrigeration. Opt for the already-shelled option to avoid a mess.
  • Eat local. Avoid chain restaurants and splurge on dinner at a local hole-in-the-wall. “That gives you a feel for where you are,” Carrie says. “I do a ton of research before I travel.”

Airplane Trip

  • Avoid sticker shock. Skip the expensive airport snacks, and bring your own from the dollar store. Carrie likes Lemonheads and Gobstoppers.


  • Try everything. “I try to get a little more adventurous, and I challenge myself at least once a day to try something new, whether it’s frog legs, whether it’s the escargot,” Carrie says. “Anything fancy, I give it a go, because it’s included [in the price of the cruise].”
  • Grab and go. Before disembarking, Carrie grabs a few small boxes of dry cereal from the breakfast buffet. She also fills a Ziplock bag with cookies from the dessert buffet. This gives her family something to snack on when they leave the boat for an excursion.
  • Put a lid on it. Bringing food onto a cruise ship is like bringing sand to the beach, but there is a food-related item that Carrie packs: reusable cups with lids and straws—one for each family member. This helps minimize spills in their cabin.


  • Bring paper plates. Instead of trying to get her family downstairs to the breakfast buffet, Carrie brings the buffet to them. Having paper plates (along with cutlery packs she’s collected) makes it easy to set up a breakfast station anywhere. “I’ve almost got my own little picnic in the room,” she says.
  • Turn the fridge into a freezer. Pack the mini fridge with bottled water, because there’s a good chance it will freeze. “That’s one of those wonderful miracles that happens, when your ice does freeze,” Carrie says. “You’ve got an instant ice pack.” Toss it into your cooler backpack, and you’re ready for the day.
  • Don’t leave your cooler in the car. If the fridge is full of water, that means you’ll need your cooler and some hotel ice to chill cheese sticks, cold cuts and whatever else won’t fit into the fridge.

Vacation home rental

  • Keep it simple. If you’re not ordering groceries to be delivered, then hit the local supermarket for breakfast items, sandwich fixings, a frozen lasagna and the like. “The last thing I need to do is make extravagant dinners for everybody on vacation,” Carrie says.

Solo travel

  • Get some “me” time. “I think it’s such a luxury to go out to eat by myself,” Carrie says. Schedule a long dinner at a restaurant you normally wouldn’t try, and tell your server this is a special occasion for you. Bring a book, and order what you want without having to consider anyone else. “When you travel solo, you are in charge of what you want and definitely what you don’t want,” Carrie says. “There will be no chicken nuggets and french fries on my plate.”

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