It’s almost here – that international trip you booked 6 months ago. The only problem is, you haven’t had a chance to plan your restaurant stops within the country. You want to taste the best the city has to offer. With our fail-proof tips, you’ll be on your way to a delicious and safe trip.
- Start With Food Tour Companies. Start on their websites and read customer reviews to figure out which types of food and restaurants are notable in your destination city. For example, when I traveled to Chicago I started my search by researching the best deep dish pizza restaurants. However, I also learned about Chicago’s large Polish population. What I thought was going to be a deep dish pizza and Chicago dog trip turned into a unique exploration of Polish pierogis and borscht.
- Read Menus & Listen to Your Palate. If you’re a vegetarian traveling in Buenos Aires Argentina, you’re not going to enjoy an Argentinian steak house no matter how highly rated it is. Instead, tailor your restaurant search towards “Top Vegetarian Restaurants in Buenos Aires”. If you’re traveling with meat eaters, look at the menus ahead of time and make sure there is something exciting for you to enjoy.
- Download Offline Maps. Most likely, you won’t have access to network data unless you have T-Mobile’s international 3G plan. I frequently use the TripAdvisor app which allows you to download city-specific maps onto your phone and save “starred” locations. TripAdvisor is also great because you can research top restaurants and add them to your offline map using the star feature. You can also use Google maps to do this but I prefer the comprehensive reviews on TripAdvisor. Seeing starred locations on your map helps you plan your food tour route efficiently so that you can fit more into your day.
- Sign Up for a Cooking Class. If you have the time, I highly recommend signing up for a cooking class. Most likely, you will be able to find a class in English that teaches you how to make signature dishes from that region. If you have a special diet, you can even ask instructors how to modify while you cook. As an added bonus, you’ll take home a recipe booklet to continue making those dishes at home.
- “Budget” Room in Your Stomach. If you only have 1 day in a city, you can still enjoy all the city has to offer. You just need to be smart about your portions. Traveling with a group of friends is the best way to sample a few dishes without having to eat a whole meal. If a dish doesn’t appeal to you, don’t waste your precious appetite on it! Eating at the bar can also alleviate pressure to order a full meal. Plus, bar tenders can be great sources for local food secrets.
- Do Street Food. Especially for budget travelers, street food can be a great way to try the country’s top dishes without breaking the bank. Still, you have to know the signs of a safe street vendor. Vegetarian foods (noodles, baked goods, sweets) tend to be safer than meat dishes sold by street vendors. Long lines in front of a vendor (especially if locals are in line) is typically a good sign. If you’re still not sure, use your gut and scope out the scene for signs of cleanliness (Flies? Clean cooking surfaces? Strange odors?). If travel guides caution about the country’s tap water, stay away from raw fruits and vegetables (unless peeled), homemade juices, ice, and drinking tap water at restaurants.
- Use Cash or Travel Credit Cards. When in doubt, cash is king. Sometimes you may want to pay for your meal with a credit card. Some credit cards waive international transaction fees and allow you to earn 2x points on travel and restaurants. I’ve been using the Chase Sapphire when I travel abroad and have been very happy with it. For ATM I use Fidelity’s Cash Management Card which reimburses you for foreign ATM fees. If you do decide to pay with a card, I recommend asking your waiter to bring the payment device to your table which is very common outside the U.S. (prevents your card from getting into the wrong hands at the back of the restaurant).
- 4 Star Hotel Lobbies = Base Camp. After walking around the city and eating rich food, you are going to need a place to rest your legs, grab a drink, and strategize your next stops. Not to mention there are great lobby restrooms in 4+ star hotels. Make sure to “star” a few rest stop hotels on your offline map.
- Make a Foodie First Aid Kit. Foodie adventures can be exciting but sometimes a little preparation can make them even better. Carrying stomach relief medications such as pepto-bismol can help. I also recommend bringing a small bottle of hand sanitizer in case restaurants don’t provide hand soap and before eating street food. Carrying a supply of bathroom tissue can be a godsend in Asian countries where public restrooms do not always provide.
- Take Advantage of Jet Lag. Those sleepless mornings mean that you can experience local food markets in their glory. For example, Toyko’s Tsukiji Fish Market opens at 5am and you can see fisherman bringing in their catch of the day. Surrounding vendors sell the freshest sushi you have ever tasted and cater to hungry fisherman (score hearty local breakfasts!).
There you have it! These are my top 10 tips for planning an unforgettable international food tour based on my travels to 19 countries. I hope this list helps you on your next international adventure!Please feel free to share your own travel tips in the comments below. Happy foodie adventuring!