What Are the Best Drinks to Pack on a Road Trip?

This is the first part in our Road Trip Food Packing series. Today we’ll cover beverages. How many drinks should you take with you on the road trip? Which drinks are the best for kids? Which drinks are the best for adults? Should you bring cold drinks and a cooler on your road trip? Quick answer to the cooler is “no”, because it’s a hassle, it leaks and it melts far too quickly to be useful. As for the rest, read on and look at our pictures and examples to show you what we recommend for road trips with or without children.

It’s tempting to buy a case of water, case of Coke, case of Gatorade and a dozen assorted other drinks. This is noble, but it’s a lot of weight to power down the road and you couldn’t possibly drink it all. More importantly, it’s going to be room temperature at best, so you probably won’t want to drink it.

You can stop for ice at gas stations, I’ve never seen one that wouldn’t let you grab a cup, but it’s still a hassle and takes almost as much time as it saves.

Bring car-friendly cups for yourself and all the kids along for the ride. Tippy/sippy cups are nice for young and old alike.

Here are some of our top picks: (click to enlarge)

This collection of drinks may appear excessive, and it is, but we are taking a 9-week road trip, and we also want to share from what we've learned over the years.
This collection of drinks may appear excessive, and it is, but we are taking a 9-week road trip, and we also want to share from what we

Broken down details on these drinks, from left to right:
Sippy-top, reusable Juice: We bought these to give the kids a special cup they can use and reuse on the trip. When they want something to drink that doesn’t have a safe means of drinking it at high speeds, we pour it into these unique, fun, attractive travel bottles.

Coke: These are for us, not for the kids. As long as you bury your supply of drinks deep enough under other things, you’ll keep them cold enough to enjoy when it’s ridiculously hot outside.

Gatorade: This is a great choice for everyone. Buying them one at a time is costly, so buy in (small-quantity) bulk to save as much as half the price, and open them one at a time to divide between the kids. Sometimes I’ll pour a couple ounces into the kids sippy cups, then drink the rest myself. Especially on a hot summer’s day, Gatorade can really replenish, like the ads used to say.

Sunny Delight: It’s sickeningly, sticky sweet, and it’s not the best for the teeth, but it is loaded with vitamins and tasty goodness, plus it’s shelf-safe, so it won’t spoil in the car. Don’t leave it in direct sunlight of course, but otherwise you’ll be fine.

Yoo-hoo: It’s not great chocolate milk, but it’s almost chocolate milk, and for the kids, that’s plenty good enough. It’s also shelf-stable, so it won’t spoil in the car and you won’t have to worry about packing ice.

Carnation (not instant) Breakfast: If you want something with a bit more nutritional value (and cost) than Yoo-hoo (but still in the style of chocolate milk) you can go for Carnation Breakfast. It’s not instant, it’s shelf-safe and ready-made, so drink it up and enjoy the vitamins, minerals and calories.

Mocha Frappuccino: This is an extremely expensive drink, and I’m not about to pretend that Starbucks is a noble company – even though I’m from Seattle and own Starbucks stock – but this peppy drink is much cheaper than a cup of premium coffee on the road, and it’s enjoyable regardless of the temperature.

Capri Sun: We bought two boxes in different flavors. They’re just sugar-water in space-man bags, and it’s popular with kids.

Minute Maid Juice Boxes: For almost as much sugar, but slightly better health, buy juice boxes for the youngsters. They are fun to drink, fairly good for them and they’re far cheaper than buying juice along the interstate.

Shorty-can Diet Cola: Shorty cans aren’t the most cost effective, but if you buy store-brand (kids don’t care) and buy them somewhere like Wal-Mart, you’ll get a good price on a fun drink for the kids. I choose diet because the kids don’t care, and I try to go for diet, caffeine free so it doesn’t have any of the road-trip negatives you get from wound-up children.

Little Hugs (juice): These are of painfully little nutritional value, but kids burn through calories like crazy and this is a very cheap solution. You can get a 20-case at Wal-Mart for under $3, and the kids really do love it.

Be careful not to give your kids drinks they will spill, and also avoid both sugar and caffeine as much as possible. If they just want something to drink for reasons of oral fixation, give them water. It may lead to more bathroom breaks, but they won’t drink it as quickly as sweetened drinks and they will remain hydrated, which is very important.

Don’t pack alcohol. If you really want it when you’re out camping or on the road, you’ll find it, but there’s no reason to bring it along. Driving long distances can be dangerous because of the sheer hours and miles you log on the road, so there’s no dulling of the senses you should wish upon yourself, lest you wish to risk your life, your freedom (jail) and your fortune (legal costs and potential loss of job.)

You may want to keep a gallon of water in the trunk in case of emergency. You can drink it or bathe with it of course, but you can also put it in your radiator in a pinch.

Check out the rest of our Road Trip Packing series:
Road Trip Food Packing Advice Summary
Best Road Trip Beverages
Best Road Trip Snack Foods
Best Road Trip Cup o’ Foods
Best Road Trip Microwaveable Foods
Comprehensive Road Trip Packing Checklist
Smart Things to Pack Before Your Road Trip

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