How to Eat Healthy on Road Trips: Stop in College Towns

Road trips tend to be about the experience, the journey more than the destination. For many, the importance of budgeting time is as important as budgeting gas and tolls. Travelers want to see as much as they can in the time allotted them. This often means driving by highway or other major arteries. This, in turn, often means feasting at fast food restaurants overrunning rest stops, or from whichever bag of mass produced corn chips hanging in prepackaged plastic along the aisles of the cheapest gas station contains the most real ingredients.

Eating healthy on the road isn’t particularly easy. Few items are natural, many are saturated with sodium and other preservatives that slowly rot the body from the inside out. Normally I’d recommend shopping ahead of embarking. Preparing food  is perhaps the most cost-efficient and time-efficient means of eating while on the road.

But if for whatever reason this is not an option, travelers can still enjoy healthy fare, picturesque scenery, and a hint of collegiate nostalgia.

Ahead of a recent road trip from Western Massachusetts to the Dayton, Ohio suburbs, my fiance and I decided against the most expeditious route– I-90 West, known colloquially to Mass. natives as The Pike — which would take us westward through Upstate New York, down the coast of Lake Erie, southwest from outside of Cleveland to Columbus, and finally due west again. We knew it’d be lined with stops peddling Auntie Anne’s, Burger King, Dunkin Donuts, Papa Gino’s, Roy Rogers, Tim Hortons, Sbarro, Subway, Steak ‘N Shake, and, well, you get the idea.

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UnChain AVL: Keep Asheville Weird

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North Carolina/ Image via the author

At a mom-and-pop bbq joint some 75 miles east of Atlanta we charted our course.

We had just arrived from Savannah, a nearly four-hour drive from the southeast.

We parked ourselves at two lunch counter stools in front of a window facing an Athens, GA sidewalk. The restaurant was small enough that, on busy days, a line forms out the door and stretches halfway to the University of Georgia.

The interior walls were plastered with autographed photos of past UGA athletes and upcoming team schedules.

At the rear of the place, which can be more accurately described as a cafeteria, was a display case full of homemade southern comfort food. The walls of the tin serving trays buckled under the weight of overflowing mac and cheese, collard greens, potato salad, mashed potatoes, wild rice, cole slaw, and baked beans.

In the back, a middle-aged couple tended to a stable of smoked, slow-cooked, dry-rubbed, and sauced-up meats; tender, juicy, and artfully charred. Wanna-be vegetarians, we willingly tossed aside our herbivorous morals into a pile of sustenance-stripped pork bones and drumsticks.

It was a no-brainer for us to order the sampler plate — in its own right a great smoky mountain of beans, mac and cheese, grilled chicken breast, pulled pork, ribs, and kielbasa. As we razed the mountain, we pulled up and pored over a map displayed on my mobile phone.

“We can either take this route straight north through the Smokies, this one that goes right along the foothills, or this one which is the most direct but skirts pretty much all of the range,” I said pointing to various points on the screen with a saucy finger.

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Southern Charm Stories: Welcome to the Hostess City

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Savannah, Georgia, James Oglethorpe Monument, Chippewa Square

We arrived in Savannah in the dead of night.

It was a fitting time for reaching the milieu made famous and increasingly popular in recent years by the bewitching novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

The City of Savannah takes its name from the river upon which it sits which also doubles as the border between Georgia and South Carolina. The stretch of highway that connects the South Carolina Lowcountry to the oldest city in the Peach State meanders through several miles of marsh and tidal flats, over the river, and across the state boundary.

After the sun has passed below the horizon, the only guiding light from the exit off I-95 and along US 17 is emitted from the city itself, a distant orb that grows as one approaches.

The aforementioned description paints two distinct pictures of the Savannah area — one dark and gritty amplified perhaps by the assumption of ramshackle huts scattered throughout sparsely-populated and under resourced communities that live and die by the fishing industry; the other an isolated, gleaming, and welcoming destination from which it earned the nickname “The Hostess City of the South.”

Both notions of Savannah hold some truth.

Both are bound together by a common thread.

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Portsmouth, N.H.: The Unpretentious Underdog of New England

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The author at Book & Bar, Portsmouth, N.H.

Mankind has a natural affinity for the underdog.

Endorsing dark horses is a humanistic trait, dating as far back as, and certainly beyond, the biblical showdown of David vs. Goliath.

It’s a psychological phenomenon that, according to research, helps explain the likes of the nation’s unbounded enthusiasm for March Madness, the worldwide popularity of Harry Potter, the meteoric rise of presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders and the surge of farmstand shopping over corporate supermarkets.

I would argue that the underdog role is one that can also be portrayed by locations, and that urban centers, for example, boast similar characteristics as those aforementioned. The Harvard Business Review described this twofold effect as having “a disadvantaged position… and a passion and determination to triumph against the odds.”

In that regard, Portsmouth, N.H. is the Northeast’s underdog city.

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Portland, ME: Beer, Industrial Parks & the Sharing Economy

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Foundation Brewing Company

On the outskirts of Portland, Maine lies a quaint industrial facility comprised of 12 garage bays fit for one medium-sized vehicle each. The bays are coupled off and interspersed between each pair are office spaces that make prison cells look like penthouses.

With six garage spaces per each oblong facade, the building has become a haven for the more craft-minded of Portland’s citizenry. In fact, it’s occupancy has become predominantly small-scale breweries and tasting rooms, the likes of which would make misanthrope Frank Gallagher of Showtime’s Shameless salivate.

“Small-scale” as a description for these scrappy upstarts perhaps lends an exaggerated  perspective to the size of these breweries. They rarely have more than three or four beers on tap, can fit just a handful of picnic tables or waist-high casks for sitting and standing, and are barely able to reserve a corner or two for peddling brand merchandise.

This particular park is anchored by three tastebud-tickling tenants: Foundation Brewing Company, Austin Street Brewery, and Bissell Brothers Brewing Company.

Separately each brewery operates in a distinguishing manner that echoes their own respective product and culture, but together they’ve established a cooperative that mutually benefits their business and beer enthusiasts alike.

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