When it comes to travelers, I’ve come to think that there are two distinct types. There are those that travel while looking for the familiar: the Swedes who eat meatballs in Thailand and the Americans who eat McDonald’s in China is the great example that my friend Debora gave yesterday. These are the travelers who prefer to not push the envelope too far. Yes, they want to have the travel experience, but they don’t want it to be too authentic in terms of having to go too far outside of their comfort zone by eating fish and rice for breakfast, for instance. (A subset of this brand of traveler is those who tell you they saw all of Europe on their 2-week vacation – they have the 24 countries in 24 days approach. But that’s another story… ) And then there are the travelers who are comfortable taking risks to have the more authentic experience – they want to drink the local beer and eat the local meal and will do anything to avoid having Starbucks.
One of the reasons that I wanted to move to Europe in the first place was to have the authentic experience of living like a local. I’ve done my best to sample the local foods and drinks and have enjoyed the process thoroughly. So I perhaps relate to traveler number two a bit more. That said, every know and then when I am tired and hungry, nothing quite beats stopping in a McDonald’s where I know what’s on the menu and don’t have to translate what’s what.
Many years ago, I was traveling with my cousin Kezia in Madrid. We had been sightseeing and walking all day and were exhausted. We wanted the comfort of a familiar meal. One where we did not order what we thought was one thing and then receive another. In trying to find something, anything, that was familiar, Kezia said what she wanted was a Pizza Hut. We were in a neighborhood where we had not seen a chain type restaurant for hours, let alone something so specific as a Pizza Hut. But somehow, we turned a corner and there was a Pizza Hut. We almost cried we were so happy. It was so comfortable and familiar. Sometimes when you are traveling, a little bit of home is all you need. And then you can go back to exploring.
But now that I think about it, I can’t tell you the last time that I went to either Pizza Hut or McDonald’s. Maybe I am getting more familiar with my Swedish surroundings?