Trip Tip: Cool Ways to Pack a Cooler

Image from Can't I Just Orbit?

A cooler is one of our roadtrip must-haves. While we primarily use it for keeping drinks icy cold for on-the-road sipping, we also use it to keep foods and meals cold for multi-day legs of the journey. Here are our tips and tricks for using a cooler while on the road.

  • Replenish your ice often. We always bring our cooler up to the hotel room with us to drain off excess water and refill the ice. You can also stop and buy a bag of ice if needed. Keeping your ice replenished is especially important if you are storing food in your cooler. If it melts into water, you’ll have a gross, soggy mess - and your food will almost definitely spoil. We typically change our ice once every 24 hours, or more often as needed.

  • Plastic containers are a lifesaver. Food storage containers that seal up are important, and we learned this the hard way. Using containers that don’t seal well will let melted ice water flow in, which is extra gross if you’re storing things like sandwiches or pasta. Using cheap containers also works well because in the worst case, if you just have to toss something, you don’t have to worry too much about it. For some foods, ziploc bags will also work well.

  • We pack lots of sandwich items for quick lunches on the road. You can make a sandwich kit by packing a sealed plastic container with extra sandwich bits - sliced cheese, butter or spreads in small individual containers, and any sliced fresh vegetables you like. This keeps them together for quick access if you’re making sandwiches in a moving car, and means you don’t have to worry about sandwiches you made in advance getting gross and soggy. We’ve also found that mayo in a squeeze container is perfect for on the road sandwiches.

  • If you’re bringing along prepared foods (like we did by freezing fully-cooked chicken breasts to reheat for dinner while on the road to Florida) put them in a well-sealed container and bury them in ice at the bottom of your cooler. That way they’ll stay cold until you’re ready to heat and eat. Just be sure to keep your ice changed often so foods that need to be cold stay cold.

  • Remember that every time you open the lid, you’re letting cold out and heat into the cooler, so you may want to minimize the amount of time you open your cooler. If necessary, keep drinks separately, or in a mini-cooler.

  • When in doubt, throw it out! I can’t emphasize this enough. If you’ve had food in your cooler a couple of days and you’re not sure if it’s still safe to eat, don’t take the risk. There is nothing worse than being sick on the road.

More tips, tricks, and roadtrippy goodness at Can't I Just Orbit?

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