Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Cheap Healthy Vacation Food Part Deux: 10 More Tips for Travel Eats on a Budget

A few months ago, I wrote Cheap Healthy Vacation Food: 61 Tips for Travel Eats on a Budget, an extensive article about the 2004 Red Sox. (Kidding. The title’s pretty self-explanatory.) My recent India experience has given me a little more insight into the subject (including the wide, wonderful world of jet lag), so I thought I’d revisit the piece to add a few suggestions.

My limited range of experience might not be enough, though, so if y'all have time, I’d love a few ideas from readers. If there are enough new ones, I’ll publish them in a third article (Oo! A Threequel!) sometime in the near future. Together, we can create a vacation food guide the fine folks at Frommer's would envy.

That said, let’s get to it. Here are some more salient points for travelers who eat. (Which is all of us, no?):

1. Read at least one guidebook from cover to cover. The Lonely Planet series contains extensive text and background on local cuisine, while the DK books include pictures and terminology. Both have restaurant suggestions for all budgets and diets, and I’ve found the referrals to be pretty decent (especially Lonely Planet). Wikitravel and TripAdvisor are two other excellent sites for ideas.

2. Bring a portable guide (with pictures if possible) of foods native to your destination. This goes double if you’re visiting a country that speaks an unfamiliar language. Case in point: two years ago, I visited Barcelona with my family. I (repeatedly) ordered what I thought was pasta, and was (repeatedly, because I’m an idiot) surprised when it turned out to be something else. Knowing your cannellini from your cannelloni and your channa from your chai can save your cash and your digestive system.

3. Research health concerns before you go. Unless they’ve built up immunity like Westley did to iocane powder (Princess Bride, represent!), Westerners will become super-sick if they chug Indian water. (Hello there!) In fact, any unfamiliar cuisine or drink can mess with a visitor’s gastrointestinal tract. Before you go abroad, check up with the CDC on food and beverage restrictions. Taking some Immodium, Pepto, or an antibiotic along on the journey is good insurance, too. You’ll lay down some dough up front, but it could prevent lost vacation days or even an expensive trip to the ER. (Don't freak out, though. Most vacation destinations are just fine.)

4. Beware of tourist traps and commission scams. Tourist-oriented restaurants can charge up to three times what you’d normally pay for the same food somewhere else. Plus, in India at least, some restaurateurs give kickbacks to cabbies and drivers that bring foreigners to their eateries. Guidebooks and websites will have specific information about these, so read up.

5. Ask an expatriate. Our first day in Delhi, we ran into Ann, a French woman who moved to India in 1992. She spoke perfect English and Hindi (and French, duh), and knew India’s food customs and rituals way better than we ever could. Her suggestions were invaluable, and we ended up seeing parts of the city we wouldn’t normally have seen otherwise. The Anns of the world are faboo resources, and if you're lucky enough to stumble upon one, bask in her wisdom.

6. Know cultural mores relating to food. Are you eating with the correct hand? Should you tip an Irish bartender? Would you suggest Fuddruckers to a Hindu? These are questions world travelers must ask themselves before they hop on that plane. Being prepared culturally is just as important as being ready physically and financially. Otherwise – international incident! And no one wants to be caned.

7. Carry bottled water. Normally, I regard bottled water as a scam on par with triangle schemes and the Teapot Dome Scandal. However, it could be a good idea to carry an Evian around when you’re A) sightseeing, B) a little woozy, or C) unsure about the tap water. Hydration is important, when and wherever you are in the world.

8. Take steps to alleviate jet lag. Oh dear god, I did NOT fully comprehend the seriousness of jet lag before going away, and it kicked my butt from here to Tallahassee. The last five days are a nauseous, slap-happy blur. I’m okay now (finally), but besides exercising, taking melatonin, and adjusting my sleep schedule, I should have drank more fluids, avoided alcohol and caffeine, and maybe even considered the jet lag diet. For more information, see WebMD or the aptly titled No Jet Lag site.

9. Purchase food souvenirs from reliable sources. This tip actually comes from an anonymous reader. He/she says: “Be careful of buying spices abroad especially from markets - there is little or not regulation - and sometimes there can be nasties in them.” I’m itchy just thinking about it, so if you do shop for edibles, make sure the store is reputable and clean. Also, remember to check if the food’s even allowed back through Customs. Otherwise, this can happen.

10. Know the currency conversion rate. While this tip is relevant to all overseas expenditures, it’s especially important with food. It’s pretty easy to blow six pounds or 400 rupees on a beer, because the dough you (I) hand over is different from what you’re used to. Psychologically, it’s like Monopoly money. But when you (I) get home and discover you (I) blew $10 on a Kingfisher … oy. Keep the conversion rate written down somewhere. And when in doubt, use your cell phone calculator to compute costs.

Again, I’d love to hear more suggestions on this topic. Oh, and coincidentally, JD at Get Rich Slowly penned a nice travel guide yesterday, so don’t forget to scope that, as well.

Happy vacationing!

(Photos courtesy of Flickr member felibarrientos, cutglassdecanter, publicenergy, and Graham Spicer.)

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Daniel Koontz said...

Hi Kris, really insightful post.

I can add one incremental suggestion regarding jet lag:

Go see your doctor and get a prescription for Ambien. Use it to reset your clock for the new time zones on the first couple of nights.

I was in India a year ago for a one-week trip and that step alone made me fresh as a daisy.

Works particularly well for tips to places like India or China where you're basically trying to go to bed at the EXACT TIME you'd normally get up in your home time zone!

Casual Kitchen

smanukonda said...

Here is a cool website that provides "guided video tours and reviews of destinations around the world."

Michelle Dawn said...

I'd also like to mention that it is a good idea to keep a stash of protein rich foods on you -like trail mix or peanut butter!

Kris said...

61 Tips for Travel Eats on a Budget