The life of your cooler ice can be extended through several methods, and if you employ all of them you won’t need to buy more ice for several days. The best way to extend ice life is to invest in a new-fangled, high-tech cooler but even if you go this route, you’ll still want to know how to make ice last longer as you travel.
Even the best cooler will fail if exposed to extreme conditions, so follow these steps and master the art of how to make ice last longer on road trips, at the beach, and in your motel room.
Before you leave on your trip, bring your cooler inside to the coolest part of the house you can reasonably use. If possible, fill with ice or at least add some ice packs or cubes and let sit overnight. Ideally, pack with cold items and add ice when indoors before sealing. If not, outside is fine but avoid packing it up in the heat.
More ice means more critical mass and every bit makes a difference. Don’t add so much that you can’t get to your beer, milk or cold cuts, but don’t skimp on the ice. One bag usually won’t suffice and you’ll have to add more, after draining water.
It’s easy to forget to close the cooler drain, and then only notice you’ve left it open when you see a trickle of water on your car seat. Close tightly and do an all-around cooler check of seals and latches before you drive off.
If you have an item you need to get to every hour or two, like water or soda water for family hydration—consider keeping a second, smaller cooler. Most drinks don’t need to be frosty cold and a mini-cooler (especially a non-rigid type) can be easier to access. Cooler food only needs to be accessed two or three times a day and the less often you open it, the icier the contents will stay.
The #1 trick on how to make ice last longer is to minimize heat. To do this, follow three guidelines. First, do not place cooler in a part of the car that gets direct sun. This can be tricky, since the hatchback is often the obvious place but you are better off picking a shadier area like the center of the car. The “way back” also gets hotter because it is farther from air conditioning. Second, insulate the cooler by throwing a blanket or at least a towel over it. Third, when the cooler is outside, seek shade under your umbrella. Do not leave in the direct sun. A fourth tip is to avoid using the cooler as a seat, since human bodies typically run 98.6 degrees.
If you are staying in a hotel, it pays to lug the cooler indoors. If the night air gets cold (under 60) the car is fine but consider your environment. If you’ve been driving in 85 degree heat all day, it will take several hours for the temp to drop to mid-sixties and this will melt your ice faster than a temperate hotel room or cool vacation rental.
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