When I was 18, I went to Europe for the first time. A tour from London to Athens was my graduation present from my parents – they paid for my airfare and the tour, but I was responsible for saving the money for sightseeing, souvenirs, and any meals that were not included in the package price my parents paid. Thankfully, I received enough money from family at graduation that saving was not really an issue.
At the age of 18, I was not very adventurous when it came to food. I did not even like sushi and I refused to even try it, as I was convinced that it was all raw and disgusting. Sushi is one of my favorite foods these days, but I digress. When I was 18, I was the tourist that I now shake my head at.
Picture this – Paris. It’s dinner time, and there are Parisian cafes and restaurants all over the Champs-Elysees. There is also a McDonald’s. Guess where I ate? McDonald’s. I had chicken nuggets and French fries, which I found completely amusing at the time – French fries in France totally counted as “local cuisine” in my teenage brain.
In defense of 18 year old Becca, I was on a budget. I had already spent way more than I anticipated on sightseeing (as I booked every available side tour available to me, instead of one per city as I had budgeted for), and Paris was the first stop in the trip. I had to make a little bit of money stretch for almost two weeks. But even so, I totally could have afforded to eat somewhere a little more authentic to the French experience.
At 18, I did not think I was missing out on much by eating chicken nuggets while in Europe. 9 years later, I know that food is one of the most important aspects of any country’s culture. Now, I avoid any “chains” like the plague whenever I am abroad. Point me to the hole in the wall taco place in Acapulco, Mexico, where I have to use my very basic Spanish to order. Send me down the side streets and away from the touristy areas to find “real” Italian pizza. Put me in a cab going to the local marketplace where I can buy food from a street vendor. Where do the locals eat? That’s where you’ll find me, trying new things, and observing local life.
If you are traveling abroad, or even domestically here in the US, I urge you to find the local hot spots. Do not eat at chain restaurants, do not eat in your comfort zone. Venture out and try something new, something different! McDonald’s will be there for you when you get home.