Due to broadening my palette and getting more food writing assignments, I’ve made a vow to try as many local dishes and dine at non-chain restaurants as I can while traveling.
However, it’s a promise that I can’t always keep.
Part of that reason is because I travel about once every two years with a relative of mine who is strictly a meat and potatoes person. When traveling, his go-to meal plans often involve heading to the famous Golden Arch. I follow along, but I cringe. I rarely, if any, eat at McDonald’s at home (okay, maybe Wendy’s or a good fried chicken joint instead). But I join him, and I place my order. And at times, under certain circumstances, I find myself doing the exact same thing.
Though I do make eating locally a priority in my travels, going to a fast food or chain restaurant is acceptable. Here’s why it’s okay to eat at McDonald’s (or insert your favorite place here) while traveling.
Menus can vary.
When glancing at the menu at a fast food chain location overseas, you might be surprised to see some items. Depending on tastes, diets, and even government regulations, menu offerings can look different. There are similarities – fries, sodas, ketchup – but you’ll probably find a few twists. With McDonald’s, I’ve seen fried shrimp in Amsterdam; jalapeno poppers in Stockholm; and a chicken sandwich with what I swear was oregano or some other kind of herb on the bun in Windsor, England. In Lucerne, Switzerland, I saw what was claimed to be an All-American burger, a Californian style (I’m not big on burgers, so I didn’t validate that claim.). In Prague, a small can of pilsner came with my combo meal, and I saw one guy there having what was called a McBox. Yes, in a box. Likewise with Starbucks, I tried smores-flavored lattes in Stockholm, matcha-flavored ones in Kyoto. Both were different.
It can save you money and/or time.
Fast food is, well, fast food. Maybe you’re arriving right before the doors close or have to grab and go to get to your next stop on time. Though the level of service can vary, one good thing about fast food chains like McDonald’s is that you have a sense of what you’re ordering, and what it costs. When I was Lucerne, a few days after my wallet was stolen in Cologne, I was forced to curve my spending. I had to stretch out my Swish francs, and food became one budget area that required some wiggle room. Plus, if you know Switzerland, you know it can be a pricey destination. So for my remaining two days in Lucerne, I was able to get a sandwich and a small drink from McDonald’s for breakfast and lunch or dinner.
Getting help if you need it.
Like at home, fast food chains are where locals and even visitors go. So if you need directions or have a question that a native might know the answer to, these chains might be where to turn. Although it’s presumptuous to assume that workers behind the counter may be fluent or conversational in English or another language, chances are that they can understand and answer your questions. Or at least try to help. If not, there could be a customer who can assist you. One more thing: if you have food allergies, fast food is more than likely a safe bet. Also, based on my experience, these fast food chains might provide free Wi-Fi, which you can access while having your meal or drink. Log-in registration may be required.
Sometimes you want a taste of home.
From fries to ice cream sundaes, familiar food can be comforting. Like I wrote before, for the most part, you know what you’re ordering from a fast food restaurant. Menu boards are also pictorial, so you can have a better understanding of what’s available. Also, if you’re close to being “hangry,” you probably want to get something to eat. Or maybe it’s what you feel comfortable with eating at that moment. On the final morning I had in Tokyo, I couldn’t venture too far in search of breakfast. Luckily, there was a McDonald’s right around the corner from my hotel, where I was able to order a McGriddle Cake combo. I was able to sit and eat there with enough time left over to run back, shower, pack and check out. Plus, I had extra yen left over to get my final sushi meal at Narita Airport before heading back to the states.
So tell me: what’s the most interesting fast food meal you’ve had while traveling?