John B. Reyna
Teakwood Tavern’s Packing Guide for Road Tripping During COVID-19
On March 29, 2020, we posted our first article on this website, which was based on the cancellation of our March 28th wedding due to COVID-19. Like most sane people, we had no idea what to expect in the months to come. Personally, what would our risk tolerance be for dining out and traveling?
All these months later, we can confirm that our risk tolerance towards dining out and traveling has been nonexistent. Well, that is until we took the trip that forms the basis for this article.
We finally decided to rip off the Band-Aid and go on a road trip in search of cooler weather and the ability to dine outside comfortably. We booked a weeklong getaway in Ruidoso, New Mexico, where the average high in early September is 75°F and the average low is 54°F. That’s quite a change from DFW, which boasts an average high of 92°F and average low of 72°F in early September.
Before we left DFW, we set parameters for engaging with the outside world. We embraced outdoor dining; yet, we avoided dining indoors. We also avoided ridesharing. Those two rules resulted in an itinerary full of daytime adventures outside of the cabin and nighttime tomfoolery in the cabin. That's quite a change from how we would vacation in the past.
In the past, our vacations would be built around bars and restaurants. We’d map out destinations and hail a Lyft/Uber to shuttle around. Ah, simpler times. How I miss thee.
Don’t get me wrong, we had a blast on this trip. But we approached packing in a novel way due to the circumstances. With that in mind, below is Teakwood Tavern’s guide to packing for a road trip during COVID-19. If you prefer watching a video over reading, the following video summarizes most of what is below. But we recommend you continue reading if you want all of our tips and tricks.
Why go through this effort?
First, rental units rarely provide quality culinary and barware items. It’s not in the owner’s best interest to provide expensive items that may be broken, lost, or stolen, and thus require replacement. Honestly, that’s an understandable position. Yet, it’s not plausible to bring your entire kitchen and bar to make up for the rental’s inadequacies. Our packing tips focus on items that have one or more of the following attributes: enhance your experience (e.g., quality wine glasses), provide efficiency (e.g., knives), and minimize overall luggage without sacrificing luxuries (e.g., batch cocktails).
Second, COVID-19 has affected the hospitality industry and how we patron bars and restaurants. That begs the question: How do we adapt our travel habits during these crazy times?
One way to adapt is to plan on spending more time at your rental. Thus, pack with the intention of maximizing your vacation experience at your lodging. This guide does just that. The information is broken down to sections regarding bar supplies, batched cocktails, wine, kitchen supplies, food, and miscellaneous. Our hope is that you find few gems throughout this guide.
In our daily lives, we’re often exhausted after work and come up with excuses for not cooking. On vacation, cooking reinvigorates us because we have nothing but time. I’m not advocating for you bringing every pot and pan from your kitchen, but there are smallwares that travel well and help your efficiency in the kitchen.
Knives are the most important of all kitchenware when traveling. Even expensive rentals provide shitty, dull knives. Plus, dull knives are dangerous and inefficient. Who needs that on vacation? Not us. Since Shen and I cook as a pair, we bring two chef’s knives. A paring knife also comes in handy for certain tasks, as do kitchen shears, which are useful outside of the kitchen too.
To transport knives, we recommend purchasing a knife bag. Back in the day, we carried our knives in kitchen towels, but no more. These bags are relatively inexpensive and transport more than knives (as discussed below).
Resealable, zipper storage bags take up very little space and are clutch for leftovers. Bring multiple gallon size bags and pint size bags. Trust us, these always get used.
A sous vide might seem like an insane item to bring, but the Joule has earned its place in this travel guide. Toss a couple steaks in a Ziplock, plop the bag in the water, and get on with your vacation for a few hours without worrying about overcooking your steak. Also, it's quite small, and negates any poor performing appliances. That’s perfect vacation cooking.
If you plan on grilling or baking protein, we suggest bringing a meat thermometer. I don’t think we’ve ever come across one in all our stays.
After a long drive, the last thing we want to do is fight a crowded restaurant for dinner. Still, there’s no need to pack an entire week’s worth of food. Other than the first night’s meal and a few small items, you should purchase the vast majority of your groceries at your final destination.
For the first evening's dinner, we prefer a low maintenance meal that still packs flavor bombs. A cheese and charcuterie board is a good case in point. Head to your best cheese monger and grab a few of your favorite cheeses. We recommend bringing a variety such as a goat, aged, blue, and hard. Toss in a few meats and perhaps some påté to round out the two stars of the show. A small, unopened jar of mustard doesn’t require cooling during the ride, which is a plus. When it comes to crackers, we consider the packaging because broken crackers will break your heart once it’s time to sit down and make a plate. Buy crackers that can withstand traveling. To transport the cold items, which is only the cheese and meats, a small, well-insulated cooler does the trick.
The only other mandatory food staples we bring are pepper and quality salt. Often, the rental has neither one. Or they have giant cheap containers of iodized salt, which results in me buying another unnecessary carton of decent salt. Now, I fill a small kitchen container with salt. A small, inexpensive disposable black pepper grinder is also a highly appreciated addition.
While not quite making the mandatory list, we often bring a small (e.g., 5 ounce) bottle of olive oil. It no longer shocks me that a renovated kitchen with beautiful fixtures is not stocked for actual cooking.
If you bring a sous vide, consider bringing vacuumed sealed proteins. We buy steaks the day before departure, seal them, and freeze them for the journey. Then you let them thaw in the fridge overnight, and bam, gourmet dinner on night #2.
Before we discuss wine and cocktails, let’s talk supplies: everything from glassware to vacuum pumps for open bottles of wine!
We love glassware, whether it be for wine or cocktails, because glassware enhances our enjoyment. Glassware improves the taste of wine, and we appreciate how amazing cocktails look in a coupe or Nick & Nora glass. Shen and I usually bring four wine glasses and two cocktail glasses. For wine, this allows us to enjoy two wines at once (e.g., a red and white with dinner). For cocktails, we don’t double fist often enough to necessitate a second set of cocktail glasses. Or, at least I'm not going to admit it publicly.
To transport glassware, we recommend two options. First, if you’ve retained the original box that encased the glassware when you bought it, then you can use that to transport the glasses. If you’re a normal person (i.e., not like us), then you likely don’t store original boxes. What to do then, huh? Well, that's when you buy a glassware travel bag, like this one from Riedel. Beyond vacations, we use our Riedel travel bag for dinners at local BYOB restaurants. Maybe not so much recently, but it will be there when we need it again. Hopefully, sooner than later.
Other wine tools that we pack include a waiter’s corkscrew and a vacuum pump with bottle stoppers. Nothing is more frustrating than bringing a kick-ass bottle of juice with you on vacation and then finding yourself holding a wine opener that is a relic from the 1930s. I’m all for vintage, but not at the expense of pulverizing a cork into a million pieces and watching those pieces float in the wine. Plus, a waiter’s corkscrew takes up very little space. But what happens when you don’t finish that bottle of wine? That’s where the vacuum pump and stoppers come into play. As we discuss below, we firmly believe that you should bring exciting wines on vacation. So don’t let those opened wines oxidize. Pump the wine and have the confidence to open it later on the trip knowing that it is still in good shape.
For making cocktails, we bring a stainless-steel shaker, strainer, and jigger. While a shaker is generally used for, wait for it, shaking drinks with ice, it can also tackle stirred drinks. For the latter, we use the large tin in lieu of a mixing glass. The strainer is useful for both shaken and stirred drinks so that you can separate the cocktail from the ice. Lastly, a jigger is essential for measuring your cocktail ingredients properly.
If you plan on using citrus in your cocktails, then a citrus press is a fantastic tool to bring. Remember, juice is best fresh! Plus, you can maximize juice extraction with a citrus press.
Other miscellaneous items that you could bring, but aren’t as important as those stated above, are a bar spoon (that cabin must at least have a spoon, right?), a channel knife, and vegetable peeler.
Lastly, we transport all of these bar tools in the same knife bag that we discussed above.
Batch cocktails are a genius way to enjoy quality cocktails without lugging your entire home bar. The picture above reflects the three batch cocktails we brought (minus a few consumed drinks). Compare those three bottles to the nine (seven bottles of liquor and two bottles of bitters) that it would have taken if we made those cocktails on site. Talk about saving space without neglecting your cocktail game!
Batching cocktails is not inherently complicated, but there are a few components you must master to pull this trick off. Lucky for you, we wrote an entirely separate post all about batched cocktails here.
While variety is paramount when packing wine for a trip, there are a few considerations to make when selecting wines. Considerations like alcohol by volume (ABV) and specialty bottles will guide you to a memorable wine vacation.
ABV is our biggest concern. And not because we are scared of getting drunk. Rather, we prefer lower alcohol wines earlier in the day or without food and higher alcohol wines with food. Thus, we bulk up on medium alcohol (i.e., between 11% and 13.9% ABV) wines. Still, there is always room for a few high alcohol (i.e., 14% ABV and above) wines.
Vacation is a perfect time to pop that bottle(s) you’ve been saving for a special occasion. Trust us, it will taste that much better when it’s enjoyed in a state of leisurely bliss. This doesn’t mean that you have to break the bank. If you're normal, everyday wines are in the $15-$25 range, then splurge on a few $25-$35 bottles.
The following items might take a backseat to those stated above, but they are worth bringing. Hydration packs help you recover faster after a solid day of drinking. Skip the emergency room, and a case of E. coli or salmonella, by bringing a clean sponge. I don’t know what the last person was using that sponge for, and I don’t want to find out. A digital media player (e.g., Amazon Fire TV) allows you to easily steam your favorite TV shows on the road (without the worry of forgetting to log out). Games, like cards, hardly take up any room and bring hours of fun. A small, portable speaker provides ambiance.
Do I expect that everyone will follow these steps verbatim? Hell no. Only a crazy person would pack like this. Well, a crazy person and his equally crazy wife.
Still, my hope is that every reader departs this page with one new tip that will enhance his/her next vacation. If you are an oenophile, maybe traveling with glassware resonates with you. If you love to cook, a knife bag might be in your future.
Regardless of what tip makes the most sense to you, I wish you safe and incredible travels. But seriously, if nothing else, bring hydration packs.
Sending crazy, but hydrated, love from the road,