Food For Thought- Grocery Shopping While Traveling

This may be a controversial opinion, but I love cooking when I’m traveling. Now, I understand that for the most part, a holiday is exactly that: a vacation from the ordinary, day to day routine at home- including cooking- but just hear me out!

Now don’t get me wrong; I love going out to eat in different countries and trying out the different cuisines, but it can be equally exciting to explore a local food market. On longer trips, like my recent extended stay in Europe, eating in was not only a fun experience but a necessary one in order to take the strain off of our wallets. Is the food going to be as good as you’d get while eating at a restaurant? Obviously not- unless you’re a professional chef- but there’s something really satisfying and immersive about figuring out a meal while abroad.

We’d strategically chosen to stay in a location with a kitchen when traveling to more expensive countries. For this trip, that generally meant Airbnbs, but hostels typically have a kitchen available for use and cooking in the shared space can help net some new friends- especially if you make enough to share! I find that European hotels typically don’t have kitchenettes, but they do usually have a kettle and mugs if you’re feeling especially thrifty and have a package of instant oatmeal handy.

I like to make note of grocery stores while exploring the area so I can check them out later, but most Airbnb and hostel hosts will be able to point you in the direction of the nearest option if you need some help. Keep in mind that many shops close early on Sundays (if they’re open at all) and plan accordingly.

I find it fun to browse through the shelves and see the options that aren’t available in my home grocery store. Cooking doesn’t have to be too complicated- being cheap and a little lazy, we made a fair amount of pasta on our trip. All you need is some noodles and the sauce of your choice! The premade spaetzle and saeurkraut we’d picked up in Austria took us about fifteen minutes and 5€ to make, yet felt almost as satisfying as eating out at a restaurant!

My Duolingo lessons weren’t quite up to the task of translating cooking instructions, but it was a fun challenge and excellent language practice. (“How long do we cook the noodles?” Me, finger counting in German until I get to the number written on the instructions: “….Fifteen?)

In addition to main meals, grocery shopping is important for the oft-forgotten and incredibly crucial snack stash. As someone who typically grazes throughout the day, switching to a strict three (or sometimes even two!) meal-per-day schedule can be difficult. For years, I would get considerably more grumpy the longer I went between meals while traveling until I had the life-changing realization that I could literally just buy snacks.

It sounds silly, but the thought had never occurred to me before! With the addition of snacks in my travel diet, I found myself able to do many more activities without getting hangry- which has the added benefit of easing tensions between travel companions. Sometimes a day trip goes longer than anticipated, or a walking tour takes more out of you than you’d expected- a simple granola bar can buy enough time for a little more site seeing before dinner.

While cooking meals and stocking up on snacks are fairly pragmatic, buying an armful of fruit I don’t recognize is one of my favorite vacation activities. Once in Athens, I just handed a fruit vendor a small bill and had her load up a bag. Cue the fruit extravaganza wherein I borrowed a knife from our hotel kitchen went to town while watching Greece’s Next Top Model- and it was a great night!

The Caribbean and other tropical regions can be a particularly fun place to explore the local fruit. While the US typically had a large variety of tropical fruit, they’re never going to be quite as fresh or tasty as they are so close to their original region.

Just make sure to eat all of the fruit before crossing any borders- many countries restrict entry of foreign produce to prevent the spread of exotic pests and diseases.

While its comforting to know that the checkout line in Aldi is terrifying no matter what country you’re in, the problem with shopping in foreign grocery stores is when you can’t find a product when you return home. There’s a granola bar that I tried in New Zealand in 2018 that I’m still thinking about!

8 thoughts on “Food For Thought- Grocery Shopping While Traveling

  1. Seeing the wonderful markets in your and others’ blog posts, I can see how preparing a meal or two while traveling would be a fun experience. We don’t ever go out for breakfast when we travel, and if we’re on a road trip (which is our standard mode of travel) we almost always picnic for lunch. I enjoyed your post. Bon appetit!

    1. One of my favorite quiet travel experiences of this trip was dancing around and Airbnb kitchen with the music up and wine in hand!

      You guys sound like you have packed days- you must see so much! Don’t forget that half of road trip protocol is eating too many snacks! You should see how many desserts we end up with after checking out a Co-op 😂

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