When I talk to friends, family, or co-workers about a trip I’m planning, I will often be told about a restaurant that they say simply cannot be left out of my itinerary. For instance, when I went to Maine, I heard about the lobster, and when planning my trip to San Francisco, I was directed to the best area for fish. I appreciate all of the well-intentioned advice, but the thing is…I don’t eat seafood.
In fact, there are a lot of foods I don’t eat. I am very particular when it comes to food, and I know I’m not alone in this. I keep meeting more and more people who would define themselves as picky eaters or that have a necessary dietary restriction, such as a food allergy. Still others practice vegetarianism or diet to lose weight. Yet, travel websites, articles, books, and word-of-mouth advice tend to recommend restaurants that won’t suit the needs or wants of many travelers. So what are we to do?
Plastic baggies of cereal, crackers, or fruit won’t replace a meal, but they can certainly come in handy as a temporary fix when you’re having a hard time finding something you can or will eat. They’re ideal for plane or car rides where your options are even more limited. Personally, I get cranky and less decisive when I’m hungry. This can start a downward spiral, as my hunger makes me less decisive about what to eat. Having a snack to prevent me from reaching that level of grouchiness surely benefits me and my travel companions!
I also make use of them when I am not fully satisfied by a meal. If the food I order doesn’t suit my tastes and I don’t finish all of it, at least I know I have a cereal bar waiting for me in the hotel room! If the only meat-free option is a salad, it can help a vegetarian to have something to supplement the meal later. Having these back-up plans helps me not stress about finding a meal that meets all my needs. As long as I can find something to eat, I can enjoy my smaller portion with the comfort of knowing I have more food waiting for me.
Scope out restaurants ahead of time
If you’re traveling with a less selective eater, they’ll probably want to experience at least a couple of restaurants to get a sense of local flavors. But I’ve found that walking down streets looking at menu after menu posted in restaurant windows usually grows frustrating quickly, as I become increasingly concerned that I won’t find something I’ll like. Instead, why not research restaurants ahead of time? Most restaurants publish their menus online now, and browsing these in advance can ensure that more of your travel time is spent on more enjoyable activities. I’ll usually start by looking for restaurants that get high ratings on review websites, and then browse their menus for food I’ll eat.
If you have a travel partner who’s excited about visiting a certain restaurant, previewing the menu can help you plan for the day that you’ll visit that restaurant. I can usually find something I’ll eat (as long as the restaurant offers some variety), but it is helpful to know in advance what that is so that I don’t eat it earlier that day. As much as I like the reliability of chicken Caesar salads, I really don’t want them twice in a day!
Don’t feel guilty about visiting chain restaurants
Many people will tell you that you shouldn’t travel just to eat at the same places you can have at home. I disagree. For those of us who aren’t adventurous when it comes to food, why risk an unpleasant meal? Travel is supposed to be a positive experience, so why make yourself eat things you don’t want to? You may want to step a little out of your comfort zone and try a local restaurant or two, but there’s no reason you should eat only at unique local restaurants during your entire trip. Personally, eating at familiar restaurants energizes me to explore the area more, knowing I don’t have to put much thought into food selection.
Chain restaurants can be a great safety net on domestic travels, but what about international trips? Depending on your location, some chains may still be around. However, don’t expect that the same foods will be offered. Even if they are, they may have a different twist. Therefore, while these still may offer tastes of home, prepare yourself so you’re not too disappointed if they aren’t quite what you anticipate. While traveling abroad, you may also discover a new chain. I found one on a trip that I ended up visiting several times over a 10-day trip because I quickly learned that their food consistently matched my desires.
Make a grocery trip
When you daydream about your upcoming trips, a trip to the grocery store is probably doesn’t come to mind. It’s more likely to be one of those mundane errands you’re looking to avoid on your trip. However, if you’re selective about food, making a quick stop at the grocery store soon after you reach your destination can save you time and stress in the long run. If you’re driving to your destination, you can buy groceries ahead of time so that task won’t interfere with any of your other plans.
Packing a meal or snack is especially useful if you’re visiting a more secluded area or plan to spend the day hiking in a park. Options are limited in many of these areas, and you don’t want to have to put your exploring on hold to find something to eat. In any area, it’s definitely a less expensive way to feed yourself and your companions on the road. Even if you only buy ingredients for a couple of sandwiches and a snack or two, you’ll spend a little less money and a little less time than if you went out for every meal.
Stay at hotels that have kitchenettes
Before you book your accommodations, try searching for a hotel with a kitchenette. Before ruling this out because of the price difference, consider the money you can save by preparing a couple of meals. If you choose to go this route, stick with simple meals, like soup, rotisserie chicken, or any of the countless frozen meals that can be heated in a microwave or oven. This will ensure that you don’t spend too much of your limited travel time in the kitchen.
Even if your hotel room only includes a mini-fridge and microwave, you can put these tools to good use. When you do visit restaurants with foods that suit your tastes, keep in mind that leftovers can be kept and reheated for later meals. These appliances also expand your options for grocery purchases significantly.
Whether your food restrictions are due to tastes, health, or religious reasons, planning ahead can ensure that your trip isn’t hindered by a search for foods that fit your needs and wants. Trying new restaurants and foods is often considered a key part of traveling, but a few conventional meals won’t ruin the authenticity of the trip. Sometimes, familiar foods are just what a traveler needs to fuel his or her adventures.