Eating and drinking can be the greatest pleasure of a journey, as well as the greatest risk. While some travellers want to stick to familiar food, for comfort, health and ethics, others are more adventurous.
|“||One should eat to live, not live to eat.||”|
Buying food in supermarkets is usually the cheapest way to get fed. Without cooking opportunities, choices are however limited to ready-made food. Increasingly supermarkets are getting a more varied section of ready-made food. Some even provide a microwave oven or other means to heat food. In some countries or types of stores there is at least one on-site restaurant, often a rather informal one with affordable prices. Of course no US-style shopping mall would be complete without a fast food "food court". Other retailers, such as farmers' markets, can also be interesting; see agritourism.
If you will have access to a kitchen, then you can cook some or all of your meals. Consider the equipment available to you when you plan a menu. Do you have an oven, and is it working? Which kinds of pans and utensils are available? It's best to plan a menu, so that you can think through the things you want to eat as well as how well you'll use up the ingredients you buy or bring. Dinner can provide leftovers for an omelet or frittata, or be turned into a green salad or sandwich wrap the next day. When you shop, look for bulk bins that will allow you to buy just the amount of rice or nuts that you need, or a vegetable stand that will sell you two potatoes rather than a bagful.
Some common foods are available all over the world. You can expect to be able to buy rice, pasta, onions, tomatoes, and even Parmesan cheese in almost any city. If you're traveling to a different country, familiar brand-name processed foods and your favorite spices, including American chili powder, French herbes de Provence, and Indian garam masala mix, may not be readily available or may be different from what you expect.
If you love cooking, consider bringing a good (sharp) knife and a few favorite spices, as even a "fully stocked" kitchen might not have these. It's cheaper to pack a portion or two of your favorite dried spices than to buy a whole container of each upon arrival. Small amounts can be carried in pillboxes or tiny jars, or sealed in small plastic bags.
- See also: Camping food
Travellers might want to carry food with them, for outdoor life and wilderness backpacking, or a casual stroll to the park. For long expeditions, travellers usually need to minimize weight and avoid excessive bulk, choosing high-energy foodstuffs with a long shelf life. In general, travellers have most use for food which is ready to eat, without cutlery. Many of these foodstuffs are considered liquids or gels, and might be confiscated at airport security.
Outdoor cooking requires more equipment to carry, but can provide a great experience.
- Fruit contains sugar and fibre. Fresh fruit also provides water, but is bulky and perishable. Dried fruit is preferred on long journeys.
- Biscuits and cookies are a good source of food energy. Shelf life can vary from a few days to near-infinite.
- Coffee and tea provide heat in cold weather.
- Non-perishable food that does not need refrigerating is a good idea on trips to next to impossible destinations. Sauerkraut for instance is one of the few major sources of vitamin C that could be stored on long ship voyages prior to the advent of refrigeration.
Eating in vehicles
Long vehicle routes can't always stop when you're hungry. What's allowed on a commercial service varies significantly by type of transport and route. While eating is prohibited on some buses and hired vehicles, an ocean liner can provide luxury dining difficult to find on land. Trains often have dining cars serving food that runs the gamut in both price and quality. Airlines generally permit eating and drinking onboard, and on most flights some food or drink (on very short ones, perhaps just water) is available from cabin crew, either included in the ticket price or at extra cost.
Bringing food along can cut your costs and make it easier to manage allergies and other special dietary needs. If you are packing food and drinks to take on the road, consider factors such as the hassle of serving it, how much space you have in your luggage, how long it will last, and how long it needs to last you. A bottle of water can be useful for washing hands even if you want to drink something else. Sandwiches or a bag of bread, cheese, and fruit may work well for a day-long trip. With a little prep work to wash the fruit and cut food into manageable portions, these hand-held foods work just as well while the vehicle is moving as it does if you have the chance to stop and admire the scenery while eating a roadside picnic. If you are driving somewhere but expect to be able to stop at regular mealtimes, a package of crackers or granola-type oat bars might be enough to stave off an untimely hunger pang (or a riot by your passengers). For larger car trips, or if several children are in tow, consider packing an insulated cooler, so that drinks and food can be kept cool.
On mass transit, in addition to following the carrier's rules, it is a good idea to consider the potential for annoying other passengers, who might not appreciate the aroma of your favorite treats. Similarly, there might not be a rule against drippy sauces or messy foods, but when you hit an air pocket or a pothole, you might regret the tomato soup.
|“||Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.||”|
—Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
In some countries, a cover charge is normal and expected. This is an extra fee per person added to the bill: in a sense, the amount you pay just to sit down. In some cases it is said to cover freebies like bread or tea if the restaurant provides those to everyone without having to order them.
A challenge for travellers is to find suitable opening hours. Dining times, and the variety of meals offered at different hours, vary according to local custom; restaurants in the Nordic countries might take the last order at 8 pm in a weekday; at the same time a restaurant in Italy would have just opened.
An international chain restaurant, or a hotel restaurant, might be a convenient choice for a traveller who is not in the mood for a surprise. However, they usually charge more than local restaurants (much more in low-income countries) and you miss out on the experience of local food.
Look for a restaurant frequented by locals: if a restaurant is busy with lots of local customers, the food is probably tasty and authentic. A restaurant that's empty at peak hours or only patronized by tourists should usually be avoided—it's probably either not tasty, not sanitary, or not worth the money. Along the highway, look for a restaurant with trucks in the parking lot; these guys can be assumed to know the good places.
Long-term and frequent travellers have an additional problem to contend with: all the wonderful and frequently rich foods you encounter on the road, plus the tendency to eat too much when you're tired or jetlagged, or just one more special treat, can add up to extra health problems.
See also Common scams#Food and beverage scams.
Most cultures have food-related taboos, often connected to religion and spirituality. They are often deeply held and may vary drastically from country to country, region to region or even person to person. Horse meat for one is a prized delicacy in parts of France and (traditionally) in the Rhineland, whereas many people in an area as close as Southern Germany are disgusted at the thought. With very few exceptions these taboos relate to meat and animal products, so tread with caution.
Though taboos are very differently motivated, there are two main categories: while some foodstuffs are considered to be unclean, other organisms are perceived to be inviolable, since they possess a soul or a personality. Unclean food can be associated with disease and disgust, such as meat from scavenging animals (pigs in Islam and Judaism, rats in the Western world, etc). Among inviolable animals are cattle in Hinduism, cats and dogs in many Western countries, and horses in many communities with traditions of horse riding. Even some vegetables are believed to possess a soul; Jains reject onions for this reason.
Rendered taboo ingredients are a grey zone. While Muslims might reject pork-based gelatin, many people who would never eat a serving of insects indulge in sweets with shellac or carmine, which are derived from bugs.
Combinations of foodstuffs can be taboo; for example, kashrut does not allow kosher-observant Jews to mix or even use the same set of dishes, pots or utensils for foods classified as "dairy" and "meat", so observant Jews typically have double sets of dishes.
Table etiquette differs a lot between countries. In parts of Africa and Asia, people designate one hand (usually the right) for eating, while the other hand is used at the toilet. Behaviour such as burping or slurping might be common at a fine diner in one country, but very impolite in another.
Many Europeans regard eating with a fork and knife to be a cornerstone of good table manners. However, cutlery were not commonly used in any country outside East Asia until the 19th century, and have only been recently adopted on other continents. The American custom to cut all food on the plate, and eat with the fork in the right hand, is commonly accepted today, and can even be seen at occasions such as the Nobel Prize dinner.
Chopsticks have been used as an eating utensil in China since at least the 18th century B.C., and subsequently spread to neighbouring Japan, Korea and Vietnam due to Chinese cultural influences. Etiquette varies somewhat from country to country, but it is generally considered rude to play with your chopsticks, and absolutely taboo to stick your chopsticks vertically into a bowl of rice as this is only done while honouring the dead.
A number of travel topics are available related to food.
- Chinese cuisine, which covers mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan
- Filipino cuisine
- Indonesian cuisine
- Japanese cuisine
- Korean cuisine
- Malaysian cuisine, which also covers Singapore and Brunei.
- Middle Eastern cuisine
- South Asian cuisine
- Thai cuisine
North American cuisines
- American cuisine
- Fast food in the United States and Canada
- Mexican food
- Pizza in the United States and Canada
- British and Irish cuisine
- French cuisine
- German cuisine
- Italian cuisine
- Nordic cuisine
- Russian cuisine
- Spanish cuisine