Vacation season is here, and is it just us, or did it take extra-long this year? Either way, here’s what to pack, how to handle your rental, and how to return home in style.
Credit: Getty Images/Sam Barnhart

The traffic, you can’t control, but what you eat on vacation is (flight delays aside) up to you. Here’s how to do it right.

The rental

Pinpoint and map out the nearest grocery store off your route to your rental, and ask the landlord beforehand what exactly they have on the premises. Will they have coffee? A grinder? Drip or French press? A bit of milk or eggs in the fridge, or sugar? This will help you pack accordingly and know whether you need to stop at a market or pack your own goods. I travel with my coffee beans, a grinder, a French press, and a small milk—iced all the way to my destination—because I’m a coffee diva. But your priorities might be different; do you like to eat a fabulous dessert when you land somewhere? Open bottle of bourbon? Know yourself, and know what will signify it “vacation” immediately upon landing: Bring a little of that.

Credit: Photo: Getty Images

The snacks

Dietary restrictions abound these days, but make sure your snacks satisfy the need for hydration, healthfulness, and satiety. Think: baby carrots and cherry tomatoes, cut fruit or crudité, and peanuts or a “road smoothie” for protein, all of which will help take the edge off the invariable fried food or Waffle House stop. (And no judgment there; this is vacation, after all.)

The stops

Speaking of stops, do a little homework before you head out and star the best-sounding local joints off your drive (or your cabbie’s drive, if you’re flying). Suss out what the region does best and make time for, say, fried chicken in Knoxville, a fromagerie in Paris, or clams in New England. If you’ve got time to spare on the road and see a short line at some sort of local shack, it’s totally OK to detour. And when you’re close enough to your destination, start looking for local dairies, butchers, and farmstands for fruits and veggies—stuff you can refrigerate shortly after purchase.

The home fridge

Sometimes the ramp up to vacay is just the worst—sick kids, crazy work, so much stress—so it’s hard to wrap your head around one more task, but if you can, try to throw together meatballs, lasagna, a tomato sauce, or an easy soup to toss in the freezer so at least you’ll walk in the door to a quickly-prepared, easily eaten meal. Also consider eggs or some sort of breakfast-y item that will stay good for the week or two that you’re gone. It’s so nice not to walk into a home without comestibles.

Bonus task, if you can stomach it: Eat or toss anything that will likely go bad while you’re gone. Your home might smell musty, but it won’t smell like trash when you return—and toss that, while you’re at it.

Happy vacation! You deserve it.

Alex Van Buren is a food and travel writer living in Brooklyn, New York whose work has appeared in, Bon Appétit, Travel + Leisure, New York Magazine, Martha Stewart Living, and Epicurious. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @alexvanburen.