RoadTrip America

Routes, Planning, & Inspiration for Your North American Road Trip

Road Food: Articles by Dennis Weaver
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Picnic Tips and Tricks


The most difficult task of a picnic is remembering everything. Make a list on the computer of everything you might need for a picnic. Then as you pack, check off the items that you really need. Save the list for the next picnic or camping trip. When you return, add items that you wished you had taken. Eventually, you'll have the perfect list for your family.

  • Everyone likes to lounge on a picnic blanket but sometimes the ground is wet. Bring along a plastic tarp to put underneath the blanket. The tarp will last many years if kept out of the sunlight and can be hosed clean at home if needed.

  • Pick your picnic spot strategically. If mosquitoes are a problem, choose a higher, drier spot that is in full sun and exposed to a breeze-mosquitoes have trouble in the wind and don't like heat. On the other hand, if staying warm is a problem, choose a spot exposed to the sun and protected from cool breezes. If it's hot, pick a spot that will be in the cool of the shade in the hottest part of the afternoon.

  • Think safety. If you have kids along, make sure there are no hazards nearby: busy roads, deep water, or cliffs.

  • Don't forget the tablecloth. Inexpensive plastic coated ones make great picnic equipment, especially with kids.

  • Speaking of kids, don't forget paper towels for those spills and cleaning wipes to cleanse dirty hands and faces. Put a dry towel and a wet washcloth on your list. Stick the wet washcloth in a zip-type plastic bag.

  • Bring plenty of liquids. Active kids playing in the hot sun need to be reminded to drink. Water is the best hydrator but consider juices and slushes. Try mixing soda pop with juice-half juice and half soda or try freezing punches or juices to a slush to take along in the cooler.

  • Include fruit in your picnic basket. It keeps well, it's nourishing, and it's refreshing. Often fruit satisfies a craving for something sweeter. Add fruits and fruit pieces to green salads and turkey or chicken salads.

  • Bring along a cutting board and a couple of good knives. You'll be surprised how often you will use them. Cutting boards are especially useful if you are without a picnic table. The hard plastic types are great for picnics. For cleanup, just stick the cutting board in the dishwasher when you get home.

  • Perishable foods must be kept cold. Bacteria grow best above forty degrees, and it takes plenty of ice in a cooler to keep foods below forty degrees. Perishable foods should only be allowed to remain above forty degrees for a couple of hours.

  • Stick a first aid kit in the car and leave it there all summer. If you have kids, chances are you will need it. Likewise, keep sunscreen and calamine lotion in the car.

  • In the heat of the summer, be prepared for a summer thunderstorm. Know the rules of lightning safety. Be prepared to retreat to a place of shelter. Waiting out a summer storm is much more pleasant with a few good books or a game the family enjoys.

  • If you are going into the mountains or woods-or anywhere off the beaten track-be sure that someone you trust knows where you are going and when you plan to return. Remember that you may not be able to use your cell phone in more remote areas or in the mountains.

  • Consider adding folding camp stools to your arsenal. They are comfortable, inexpensive, and compact. With these, you can stop anywhere and have a comfortable picnic and even in the best park, these beat a picnic bench.

  • Include games and books. Frisbees and balls work for the kids. A badminton set works for adults. And it's nice to have a couple interesting books along that you never find time to read at home.
Dennis WeaverDennis Weaver -- having burnt food from Miami, Florida to Point Barrow, Alaska -- is RTA's road food expert. He has logged thousands of hours on the roads, trails, and waterways of America including many of Alaska's wilderness rivers and has consistently been elected the trips' "chief cook and bottle washer." Dennis is currently general manager at The Prepared Pantry, a company in Rigby, Idaho, that produces ready-to-eat meals and baking mixes packaged in Mylar. Weatherproof, bug-proof, and critter resistant, they're ideal for both roadtrips and back woods camping. Dennis may be reached at


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