You’ve spent days or weeks traveling. You’re tired, a little hungry, but you just don’t want to find some local place to eat.
You want to connect with the locals, experience the culture, and see the sights. Then it hits – you are homesick and want something familiar.
You walk along the streets when you finally see them – the golden arches of McDonalds.
Do I eat at McDonalds when there are local places to eat? Does eating at McDonalds make me a bad traveler?
Those who love food and travel cringe at these questions.
However, I am not the first traveler to face this decision. Sherry Ott wondered whether it is OK to eat at McDonalds when you travel. Katie Aune contemplated the question as well when she found a McDonald’s in Turkey after spending months traveling through Russia.
Andy Jarosz got travel advice at McDonald’s.
I’ve stopped to eat at McDonalds in Poland, Germany, Spain, and France. I’ve eaten at a Burger King in Germany and Spain.
I’ve never made this choice because of the nutrition in McDonalds food. I didn’t even try and justify it by saying I would make healthy fast food choices. Yet I did it anyways.
If you’ve ever faced the fast food when traveling dilemma, here’s why eating at McDonalds in a foreign country can change the way you travel.
I promise you won’t read another McDonald’s on the road story like this one.
McDonald’s, Lebanon, and a taste of Paris
Here’s another travel confession – I haven’t eaten at a McDonalds in the US in years.
I don’t even like McDonald’s.
I am not a fan of fast food so the irony of eating at McDonalds in a foreign country isn’t lost on me.
However, I’ll never look at McDonald’s the same way after Paris.
My trip was nearly over. After a month in Europe, I was spending my final day in Paris. I had a great trip but I was tired, a little homesick, and just wanted something familiar.
I wandered the streets of Paris in a neighborhood I didn’t know. I was hungry when I spotted McDonald’s. So I decided to stop and eat.
Guilt washed over me and I felt ashamed to be eating at McDonalds – in Paris of all places. However, I hadn’t lost my sense of adventure.
As I sat down to eat, I noticed a woman a couple of seats away. In my best French accent and with what little French I remembered from high school, I said “Excusez moi, quelle heure a t-il?” (Excuse me, do you have the time?)
She answered me in French but quickly realized that I wasn’t French at all. After failed attempts to speak in French, we began a conversation in English.
After learning a little about Mina, I found that that this was the first time she had spoken English in five years!
I was in awe of this and wanted to learn more about her life. Mina was originally from Lebanon and had recently moved to Paris. While her family still lived in Lebanon, she left a few years ago after visiting Nice. Now she was working in Paris.
Today was her day off and she was on the way to the doctor for a quick appointment to complete some forms. I don’t remember whether she invited me along or I invited myself but since I had nothing planned for the day, I accompanied her on the trip to the doctor.
I rode the Metro to an area of Paris I had never been. I had never seen the inside of a doctor’s office in Paris but in talking with Mina, I learned a little about the French health system and what she had to do on this visit to the doctor.
After a trip to the doctor, we were off to see a movie in Paris at Montparnasse. Watching a movie in a local theater in a foreign country is quite the experience. You learn a lot about the culture’s sense of humor and find yourself watching them as much as the movie.
However, I did have to pay close attention to the screen. The movie was dubbed in French so I read the subtitles. (You didn’t think the French would watch a movie in another language do you?)
In the evening, we decided to skip a rendezvous at McDonald’s. So we opted for a Lebanese restaurant in Paris. I didn’t know anything about Lebanese food nor would I have discovered this place on my own. Located in a quaint Parisian neighborhood, the food was as fascinating as my company for the day.
As the sun set on a beautiful Parisian evening, we talked about our lives. Mina and I were going through some tough adjustments. She wasn’t happy with her life in Paris or her current situation. I was struggling with my own demons.
However, the day was a pleasant escape from our daily lives. I started my day tired of traveling, missing home, and wanting something familiar. For Mina, this was a day off from work that didn’t go as planned.
Who thought a bite to eat at McDonalds in Paris would lead to a day like this?
Today, Mina and I are still friends. I’ve only been to McDonald’s one time in the last few years here in the US. I’ve returned to McDonald’s a few times abroad but I will always remember the day I stopped to eat at McDonalds in Paris.
How to eat at McDonalds while traveling
I don’t recommend eating fast food when traveling. It is not something I do often at home and I prefer to eat local food and easy meals on a budget when I travel.
However, if you feel that need to eat at McDonalds while traveling in a country, here are some tips on making it a memorable experience.
1. Learn to order your food in the local language
2. Eat healthy or try something that is unique on the menu at McDonalds
3. Strike up a conversation with a local (many locals eat at McDonalds)
4. When you are finished, wander the local neighborhood and meet more people
If you eat at McDonalds while traveling, you don’t need to feel guilty. While I wouldn’t make it a habit, you can still make it a cultural experience you’ll always remember.
Maybe you will have your own story about the local you met when you ate at a McDonalds in a foreign country.
Do you eat at McDonalds or other fast food places when traveling? Do you have any fun stories to tell while eating on the road?