I always find it a bit odd to see American fast food chain restaurants when I travel to other countries.
But I find it even more odd when I see them packed with Americans.
I totally get that they remind traveling Americans of home, and offer familiar food to those who don’t like gastronomic adventures.
It just seems odd to travel thousands of miles, just to eat in the same place that may be a few blocks from your home.
The last time I noticed it, it made me think about the dining habits of travel writers. So on my last media trip I conducted an informal poll to see what everyone usually likes to do when it comes to meals.
On a typical media trip, meals are prearranged and the group generally dines together, but my questions were about what & where they eat when they’re traveling solo, whether they’re on assignment or vacationing.
Surprisingly the group was fairly evenly split – about half said that they frequent large chain restaurants when traveling in the US, and occasionally even when abroad. A third regularly take advantage of room service. And three-quarters of them stick with familiar foods even when eating at an unfamiliar, or local (not chain) restaurant (chicken is still chicken regardless of how it’s cooked or where you are when you eat it).
I have to admit, it’s tempting to just relax and order up something from room service, and channel surf (even more so when you’re an introvert, like I am), especially when you’re tired.
And sure, if your assignment is to review the hotel, you should try the room service and pay close attention to the service as well as the meal.
But as travel writers, we must always be on the lookout for the next story idea. And your story probably isn’t waiting for you in your room. Or in that chain restaurant that’s identical to the one in every city in the US.
Remember that one trip should yield many stories – not just about the places you go, but also about the people you meet. The new and exotic (or just different) foods that you try. About all the experiences you can cram into one trip.
The key to getting great stories is to act like a journalist, not a tourist. Look for opportunities to meet new people and try new things. Ask questions about local customs and cuisine. Interview people. Interview the chef. Ask if you can try your hand at cooking something with him or her.
When you start accepting opportunities, others follow. Say no to nothing (within reason).
Are there other people traveling solo at your destination? Invite them to take a meal with you, and pepper them with questions! Generally speaking, most people do enjoy talking about themselves, and won’t find you annoying. There are as many different reasons why people travel – and why they wound up at the same place you did – as there are people. Take the opportunity to learn about other travelers.
So the next time you’re in a new city, near the end of your day, when you’re tempted to lie back on the bed, find a good movie on the TV, and pick up the phone to order up dinner – STOP and force yourself to get out and go find a decent local restaurant. Take a chance! It may just be a great experience and a great story.
And you can always eat at that chain restaurant when you’re back home.
What are your habits when you travel? Share your experience!