Do you (or people you know) travel with shelf-stable food
October 27, 2020 1:36 PM   Subscribe

... because they strongly strongly prefer their home cuisine? This is not a matter of bringing some dried fruit and nuts in case you get stuck at a bus depot. This is the bringing tubes of gochujang (Korean red pepper paste) to the hotel restaurant or packing a whole suitcase full of microwavable rice packs and instant ramen to Spain so you don't have to rely on the local food, which may not be to your taste.

I know, this is a pre covid-19 question. But it's been something that has bugged me ever since I took a few package tours with Korean travel agencies back in 2003 and 2004 and was surprised that my tablemates (in their 50s and 60s) were primarily eating rice mixed with gochujang instead of the braised pork belly at the Shanghai restaurant. I assume there are other people who also have strong food preferences and don't enjoy trying lots of new foods. I'm curious if people make similar preparations when traveling AND I'm super curious if there are groups of people who are similar to my Korean package tour mates and travel with the expectation that they may not like any local food.
posted by spamandkimchi to Food & Drink (54 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I have family who traveled to Hawaii with cases of ramen. For them, it was not a matter of preferring the taste of ramen but of saving money on food.
posted by Constance Mirabella at 1:43 PM on October 27, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I do this sometimes, but it's not because of preferences, it's because of celiac.

Some older folks do this because stomachs get more finicky with age--so it's less about food preferences and more about the preference to not feel/be horribly sick while on vacation. (To be clear, I'm talking about your body just not liking certain ingredients etc., not food poisoning.)
posted by purple_bird at 1:46 PM on October 27, 2020 [6 favorites]

Anecdotally, two different visiting grad students from NE Poland brought canned pork and potato products because they didn't care for the variety of US cuisine (although they didn't exclusively eat things they brought). I worked with one of them in Poland and when we ate group meals there she wasn't a noticeably picky eater.

ETA: and for what it's worth, we Americans were going a bit nuts from the lack of variety in Poland, partly because we couldn't self cater and there weren't many convenient restaurant options where we were working. There were also some regional specialties that were not generally popular with Americans - we were the picky eaters there.
posted by momus_window at 1:48 PM on October 27, 2020 [4 favorites]

it might be a health precaution. I know a couple of people who got life-changingly sick on (upscale) trips to mainland China (as in, effects are still not resolved years later.)

I myself love trying local food and consider it one of the best parts of a trip but after a couple of difficult food poisoning travel experiences, I am a lot more cautious, and do sometimes limit myself to things like bread and jam.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:50 PM on October 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

There are several border patrol shows on Netflix (or maybe Amazon)and aside from drugs, the most common thing being smuggled into Australia seems to be Chinese food products by students or tourists from China. Many claim it is a monetary issue, but it could be a quality or variety concern, too.
posted by soelo at 1:55 PM on October 27, 2020 [5 favorites]

Every time my parents visit my brother* (3 hours away) or extended family* (6 hours away) my mom loads up the car with her entire kitchen. Pots, pans, food of all sorts. Her cookware is nice, but it's not, like, transport several hundred pounds of metal across state lines nice. It's just what she prefers. She will fill several bankers boxes with pantry items, including things like generic brand canned kidney beans or russet potatoes. It's not like anyone lives in a food desert--my brother is literally a 1 mile drive from a Publix! And it's not like she does it so she doesn't have to shop--the first thing she does upon arrival is hit the grocery store. And most of it she won't even use while in town. I don't understand it at all but I've watched her do it for my entire life. My dad just sighs and says "we are out of space in the car, do you really need to bring TWO boxes of brownie mix??" (to Thanksgiving, where there is so much available pie that no one is making or wanting brownies) while schlepping a box full of measuring cups out to the garage.

I have asked her before why, what is the reason, and she says that if she's going to do the cooking it's her business. Which--ok hard to argue with that, but it's...a LOT. I mean, they have a Toyota Sequoia, that's a very large vehicle, and it is p a c k e d to the gills even when it's just my mom and dad traveling, because the kitchen comes with them.

*My parents came to visit me, 16 hours away, 8 years ago. They drove. Only brought half the kitchen that time, but my mom wasn't planning on doing any cooking at all while she was in town. But still had a traveling pantry and pots and pans that made the entire round trip.
posted by phunniemee at 1:59 PM on October 27, 2020 [32 favorites]

Not 100% the same, but when my godparents arrived for my college graduation, they had a full bar, complete with several boxes of wine and their own glasses, set up on the desk in their hotel room before they'd even taken their coats off. They didn't want to be caught in the middle of nowhere Indiana without their favorite drinks every evening.

This was May 2001, before restrictions on liquids and potential weapons on planes were in place.
posted by Fuego at 2:00 PM on October 27, 2020 [12 favorites]

Best answer: I have known people (coworkers) who were very strict with keeping Kosher and indeed only travelled with their own food as they could not or did not want to rely on being able to find kosher food en route. Although I think I'm blurring my actual coworker with the scenes in the Netflix film Unorthodox where the same thing happens. But people I know have done it.

Similarly, I have Muslim friends who will eat vegetarian under some circumstances as it's easier than dealing with non-halal meat in dishes.
posted by GuyZero at 2:12 PM on October 27, 2020 [3 favorites]

I do it because:

(1) To save money
(2) I don't eat meat, and in some cases the non-meat options available make me even more depressed about spending $$
(3) I'm often exhausted by the end of the day and don't want to have to leave my room
posted by metasarah at 2:17 PM on October 27, 2020 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a vegetarian who needs a certain amount of veggie protein to function well, plus there are common hidden ingredients that upset my stomach. Heck yeah I pack food. Sometimes frozen food, too. Oh, and we used two coolers in the car driving from Chicago to NC during the pandemic.
posted by amtho at 2:18 PM on October 27, 2020 [5 favorites]

Not quite the same, but I had an uncle that would only travel to places where there were McDonalds (this is inside the US, not even accounting for the international variations) and basically only eat at them because he was a picky eater and only liked really bland food.
posted by Candleman at 2:20 PM on October 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

When I went to South Korea with a group of friends one person brought everything she’d need to make her morning oatmeal. She’s someone who has a lot of food dislikes and wasn’t expecting to eat well on the trip since she doesn’t like spicy food or seafood.

I don’t think she ever ate the oatmeal though, we all had an amazing time trying new foods and she had an easy time avoiding stuff she didn’t like. It was more of a food security blanket.
posted by lepus at 2:20 PM on October 27, 2020 [4 favorites]

I have brought allergy-safe food with me before, specifically if I'm going somewhere and don't know the grocery stores that will be available. In particular, I always bring safe-for-me peanut butter and granola/protein bars.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 2:23 PM on October 27, 2020 [4 favorites]

I pretty much always bring a store of Clif bars with me for hangry moments, snacks, and especially breakfast. I don't particularly like dealing with other people or doing anything actually for the first hour or so of the day, so it's nice to be able to stay wherever I am with a cup of coffee and a nibble. This made the already-glorious act of taking Amtrak across country even better. (With no shade to the dining car, I not do conversation in the mornings.)
posted by kalimac at 2:28 PM on October 27, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: My vegetarian mother would take supplies when travelling to countries where that might be an issue either due to language or just some countries think if there is no obvious chunks of meat it's vegetarian. She was also diabetic so making sure that she had food that met both her needs was a big priority for her. So a bowl of sauce & rice might well have been a go to for her when everyone else was eating pork belly say.
posted by wwax at 2:29 PM on October 27, 2020 [4 favorites]

I'm a vegetarian, picky eater, and a person who gets terribly hangry. I travel with something basic like cheese oatcakes so I know I always have something to eat. I'm open to trying new foods, but sometimes there is literally nothing on the menu for me. That said, most places you can at least get something like an apple and some form of bread so I tend to mostly stock up at local shops once I'm there.
posted by stillnocturnal at 2:29 PM on October 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It's not usually shelf-stable, but many New Mexicans have to bring the fresh/frozen roasted green chile with them during travel because it goes on all food and because all their relatives from other states need their supply too. Only chile from New Mexico will do. As long as it's frozen, TSA in Albuquerque basically shrugs their shoulders and admits that all are powerless before the chile. When I drive to the relatives and friends in Arizona, I do bring a cooler of frozen roasted green chile and green chile salsa from Golden Pride. Don't talk to anyone from New Mexico about chile from other places... it's not. a. thing.

But the powdered green is shelf stable. When I'm flying, I bring a salt shaker full. It saves all bland food.
posted by answergrape at 2:29 PM on October 27, 2020 [14 favorites]

I pack my preferred brand of protein bar (Cliff's "Builders Bars") when I travel to places where I can't buy them. I'm allergicish to milk protein, Builders Bars are soy protein, and I know they'll do as a meal replacement in a pinch.
posted by BungaDunga at 2:34 PM on October 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

I used to have a colleague who did something like this, he would stuff his suitcase with Ramen and other snacks for business trips and subsist off of nothing else for weeks on end. The guy had a reputation in the office for being extremely frugal, so I think it was just to save money. Personally I couldn't do that voluntarily, nice meals were one of the few perks of business trips for me, although I do usually travel with a few granola bars and a bag of cashews in case I miss a meal.
posted by photo guy at 2:40 PM on October 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have food anxiety and generally do pack emergency food, and if I am travelling for business I get super cranky about having to procure food every meal so I do get especially picky about having a place to stay where I can cook and getting groceries or bringing food with me.

I personally wouldn't take it to a restaurant and eat it, but I suppose I have been on trips where I opted out of some available food because it fell below my personal acceptable food safety threshholds. But that's more on the level of not eating certain street food or skipping raw vegetable salads or dairy of questionable storage. If I didn't have anywhere else to eat and definitely was uncomfortable with the situation, maybe I would just get rice and eat my sauce on it.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:50 PM on October 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

What GuyZero said. We keep kosher, and unless I'm traveling to a place where I already know where all my meals are coming from, I always travel with tuna, nuts, jerky, sometimes TV dinners (protein sources are key), plus some snacks, so I don't have to worry. I was lucky enough to travel to Bangkok on business for a few weeks about 15 years ago, and I turned the hotel room safe into a pantry - other than one meal a week at the Chabad house, I didn't eat anything I didn't bring with me except fruits. It was a shame since so much of the food looked so good, but when you don't speak the language, and you're in a culture where so many recipes include shellfish sauces, there just wasn't another option. Every year it gets a little better, as kosher food becomes more available, but I never assume that it will be a given.

On the other hand, I always have lots of room in my suitcase for souvenirs on the way home.
posted by Mchelly at 2:50 PM on October 27, 2020 [3 favorites]

We have been world travelers for a while and bring some foods from home, but not to this degree. I would not bring these foods to a restaurant, however. They are for home cooking, particularly for when I am deeply homesick.

Of course, now that we've been world travelers for a while, we've found all new items from other countries that we deeply miss when we're away. Whenever we cross borders, our suitcases are full of some food that we can't get at our next destination. Won't be crossing for a while at this point, alas.
posted by rednikki at 2:51 PM on October 27, 2020

Amusingly, I remember my (Chinese) parents packed instant noodles when our family joined a tour group in China - they had signed us up with a group intended for Westerners since they wanted to make sure us primarily English-speaking kids understood the tour guides, and were concerned about what kind of food would get served to a bunch of white North Americans in early-00s mainland China. We usually ended up politely eating a few bites and then escaping back to our hotel room for noodles. (Looking back, I'm sure they would have preferred to go out and find actual food nearby to eat, but I assume dragging around a couple tired, hungry kids after a full day of travel in a strange city pre-smartphone era was not particularly appealing).
posted by btfreek at 2:54 PM on October 27, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: My family only does this with tea and tea accoutrements. So like their preferred tea bags, loose leaf tea, some sugar and candies to go with the tea, the tea glasses, the electric kettle and regular kettle, strainer, etc. I don't go quite so all out, but I will generally take some tea bags, tea, and/or my thermos that has a strainer. I guess the general expectation is that there will almost certainly be food we'll be willing and able to eat, but the tea options are probably going to be subpar, by our standards.
posted by yasaman at 2:54 PM on October 27, 2020 [9 favorites]

Best answer: There's a well known trope about Dutch people leaving on vacation with a car trunk full of potatoes and canned food. I believe it dates from the time (around 1960 - 1970) when it became generally possible and thus more common to visit other countries, such as France, in the summer, but most of us were not used to eating foreign food of any kind. Olive oil is scary stuff, apparently!
The trope also dovetails with the reputation for frugality that the Dutch had and have, and which exists for a reason.

Some people still do this and bring, for example, their own favourite coffee, hagelslag and cheese.

Here's a fun article that describes the practice. Worth running through your translator of choice. With recipes for food to prepare at the camping site, and some cute pictures.
posted by Too-Ticky at 2:55 PM on October 27, 2020 [7 favorites]

Best answer: My Chinese-immigrant parents do this, although not quite to the same extent as your Korean traveling companions. It's partly to save money and time, and partly as you put it, so they don't have to rely on local food. It's not just a matter of preference though, language and accessibility definitely play a part. Years ago as a kid, road trips to visit family usually involved overnighting at a random motel in semi-rural Georgia so they'd load up the car with ramen in case we arrived late and bagels so we could get an early start. Language is less of an issue these days, but it still takes them some extra effort to decipher unfamiliar menus (that might not be in English) and they're not using Yelp to help them find places. They're not entirely unadventurous eaters, but old habits die hard. They usually still bring lots of snacks (my mom took a Costco-size pack of string cheese on a two week cruise to Spain...), or immediately stock up on breakfast foods at the nearest bakery or grocery store, just in case.
posted by yeahlikethat at 3:03 PM on October 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

When we do it, it is a combo of frugality, convenience, healthier foods, and picky eaters.
I'd rather have my kid eat versions of the few things he does eat.
When you have a kid that will drink apple juice but you know he's going to get apple juice cocktail if we order out? I bring it along.
I'd rather make him a PB & J with good whole wheat bread and good peanut butter than have him get fast food. (when we travel we traveled with peanut butter because we heard there was no PB in some countries -- but virtually everyplace seems to have it).
I also bring real maple syrup.

Also when we travel (with kids) a simple lunch can be VERY pricey. If we hit a grocery store the first day and have drinks and lunch in the car we can save time and 1000 bucks.

[I LOVE eating in new places and new foods. When it's a girls' trip we eat our way through our destination. It's the most exciting part!]
posted by beccaj at 3:13 PM on October 27, 2020 [3 favorites]

I do this when traveling for business, because I prefer my healthy, home-cooked meals, and because I have dietary restrictions (vegetarian). I hate being forced to spend money on terrible meals from hotel restaurants, and unhealthy food makes me feel physically unwell.

However, when traveling for leisure, I love trying new foods and restaurants that I have looked up and chosen myself.
posted by aquamvidam at 3:17 PM on October 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best friends’ Mom—
1 gallon of water and a full loaf of bread.
(So she could take her medications with food.)
posted by calgirl at 3:19 PM on October 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This was a notorious habit of the Australian cricket team on tour in India (where they got sick of ‘the spicy stuff’) and had a crate of baked beans shipped to the team, care of Shane Warne.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 3:24 PM on October 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

When my parents (musicians from Poland) did gigs in Western European countries in the 70s / 80s, it was apparently very common for workers to take suitcases of cheap food from home with them, because the money they earned there was worth so much more back home. This was pure economics and had nothing to do with food preferences.
posted by confluency at 3:51 PM on October 27, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: This is super-normal.
My dad was in the military, and lived all over the place and when we went to visit after going to college, we always had to bring a number of traditional Danish foodstuffs with us. In my parents' generation there was a superstition that people who didn't eat dark rye bread and Danish dairy products were doomed to perpetual ill health. When I became an angry teenager, I questioned this, seeing that people with many different diets seem to thrive. But I still brought the rye bread, the special Danish yogurt and cheese, the pickled heering and the liver paté like a civilized person when I visited.
Thinking of the military, there's a reason that the American PXs provide all the American foodstuffs one can imagine.

I have a cottage that I rent out to summer tourists, and I can see from their trash (when the fox tips over the container and I have to collect it all and put it back in), that both Polish, German and Norwegian guests bring their own specialities. For Polish guests, there might be a cost thing, but Norway is far more expensive than Denmark. Danes who go skiing in Norway often bring all their food with them, because of the cost, but also because of the weirdness of Norwegian food (Norway has amazing food, but it isn't their everyday supermarket stuff).

Personally, I always like trying local cuisine when I travel, but every year when the cruise ships arrive in Copenhagen, specially many Chinese and Italian tourists rush in to get lunch at a restaurant that provides their regional cuisine. (TBH, if I was eating cruise ship buffets for a week, I'd race in to get some authentic smørrebrød in every harbor if I could get it). Thats not to say all Chinese or Italians are like that, or that other people aren't, they are probably just the travellers who are best able to find their cuisine relatively well made in the city. Copenhagen has a lively international food scene, but for instance the Japanese offers are mostly not impressive, there is hardly any Korean food, and we only recently got good Mexican restaurants. And on the other hand, if you are cruising the Baltic, there will other ports with even less to offer, so Copenhagen is where you go in to get a taste of home.
posted by mumimor at 3:56 PM on October 27, 2020 [6 favorites]

In the past, I definitely had students from China, Japan, and Korea who would bring a food suitcase with them for their study abroad in the US. I still remember one student telling his new classmates that they didn't need to bring food because he could drive them to 99 Ranch. Honestly, I think if you are going someplace outside your country for an extended period, you should bring your fave spices and homesick foods.

Personally, I always travel with protein bars because I've had bad experiences with long days that end in a place where everything is closed, restaurant workers who don't understand allergies, and food poisoning. I would rather not eat them, but they are there if needed.
posted by betweenthebars at 4:02 PM on October 27, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I know a fair number of autistic people who do this, or whose parents do this for them. Many autistic people prefer to eat familiar food and it's much simpler to bring it from home.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:39 PM on October 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

So like their preferred tea bags, loose leaf tea, some sugar and candies to go with the tea, the tea glasses, the electric kettle and regular kettle, strainer, etc.

Yep, this. Teabags, sugar, insulated mug. Making tea in hotel rooms sucks, especially in North America when there is virtually never a kettle available. I felt a little ridiculous when I bought myself a small electric kettle to take on work trips (not least because I almost bought the same one as we had when I was a kid!), but it's so much better when you can have all the tea you want.

When I was little and we'd go on road trips to fairly rural Ontario for vacation, we'd usually take some cereal and milk in a cooler because no one with small children wants to drive into the nearest town to buy milk when you just drove 12 hours.

My family also only stops at McDonald's on road trips. I assume this is partly a weird fixation with routine and parochialism on my dad's part, but they're everywhere, they sell almost drinkable tea (though maybe they've stopped? I encountered disappointment in Texas a few years back), and the bathrooms are reliably a) available and b) clean. Oh, and they will sell you a salad without the chicken, so there's a reliable vegetarian option. Also, I'm usually extremely low on mental spoons when travelling. Chains or bringing my own food on actual 'transit' days is a major win. Exploring the local cuisine or whatever can wait until I can make a string a coherent thought together.
posted by hoyland at 4:43 PM on October 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

Brits abroad will often take teabags with them (but probably not fancy tea - like bog-standard cheap teabags, PG Tips or something).

I might as well lean right into the holiday snobbery and say that there are also plenty of Brits who go on holiday to resorts (often Spanish) that are already so heavily colonised by Brits they they can have fish & chips and other British meals when they eat out, in restaurants/bars owned by British emigrants, and be generally unbothered at all by the fact they’re abroad, apart from the better weather.
posted by penguin pie at 4:48 PM on October 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

I travel with the expectation that Mr. Flowergrrrl may be napping when I am hungry. Always have nuts, dried fruit, chocolate and the like in my suitcase, just in case. This has also come in handy when Mr. F. (very high metabolism) wakes up ravenous and our dinner reservation is a little too far in the future.
posted by flowergrrrl at 4:48 PM on October 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The second part of your question made me remember this 2011 article about Chinese tour groups by the fantastic Evan Osnos that I used to send to friends before family vacations, so they had some cultural context for the barrage of exasperated txts they were about to get from me. I sent it to my dad too, and he agreed that it captured the spirit and evolution of Chinese tourism quite well.

This is educated spitballing, but I suspect Korean overseas tourism in 2003 was probably in a similar place as Chinese tourism in this article, something new where they were still working out how it was "supposed" to be done. I don't know if Korean tourists took the same approach that Chinese tourists did (they certainly didn't get the reputation that Chinese tourists did) but if you're interested in reading about a different perspective on travel, I think you'll appreciate this article.
posted by yeahlikethat at 6:08 PM on October 27, 2020 [9 favorites]

Growing up my American-born Canadian parents always brought food with us for breakfast, and often lunch too (or we’d replenish at grocery stores.) We also had a strict food budget. I remember one memorable three week trip to England where my sister and I snuck off to spend our fun money on cheese or jacket potatoes. It was a money-driven thing, not entirely out of necessity but more out of a sense of what an experience was worth. We also smuggled homemade cold popcorn into theatres.

My mum was also pretty germ-phobic.

In consequence when I started to travel on my own I considered a meal not eaten locally on the road, as new and different as possible, a moral imperative. My husband and I also, two incomes pre-children, kept an eye on new restaurant openings and ate a lot of very fine meals. And when I lucked into a women’s magazine job I was lucky enough to sample some incredible meals, in incredible places. I have been very privileged.

Now, in the non-Covid times I travel both with my kids/spouse and without. With my kids, I planned a road trip where we’d eat breakfast at the campsite and then explore some iconic (to me) American food, like a meal at Moosewood. My kids were game and living where we do they’re familiar with roti, goat, sushi, hot pot, adobo, pakoras, etc. Etc. As it turned out, they fell in love with tiny roadside diners for breakfast, which we identified via both Yelp and how many trucks were in the parking lot. And for dinner, they wanted hot dogs when camping and oatmeal and fruit when at a hotel. (Other than a memorable cheesesteak night.) They /loved/ just hanging out in a tent or hotel room for dinner.

With my girlfriend we usually do stuff like plan our trips around restaurants. And I still like it, but I’ve...shifted. I actually enjoyed aspects of the trip with my kids more. I honestly right now just do not have the patience and stamina for fine dining that much, or even hunting down the best street food. I used to consider it almost a cultural requirement to go. It’s a strange place to be but I think I’d bring food along now so that I can be in the moment more.

I’m also becoming much more of a tea and toast person, like...tea and a slice of toast makes me really, really happy.

So I kind of sympathize with the people in your story. I figure in another 10 years I’ll be packing my own homemade pickles to sneak into bowls of rice.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:22 PM on October 27, 2020 [8 favorites]

We moved to Europe from NYC when I was a little kid way back in the mid-1950s. We traveled a lot back before there were many tourists anywhere but the main cities. We had access to commissaries on US military bases and my dad would stock up on whole boxes full of multiple American candy packages. Like, say a box of 20 Hershey bars. It wasn't that we didn't eat whatever local food we found on the back roads we explored, it was just that we needed candy to keep us all happy while we were in the car and we would give it out to the begging children who surrounded our car, a bright blue Ford station wagon, which got a lot of notice in out of the way villages.

Years later I had a mother-in-law who would come to visit with a fully stocked liquor cabinet in the trunk of her Plymouth. She couldn't live without it.

I've traveled a lot since then and don't bring food.
posted by mareli at 6:30 PM on October 27, 2020

I used to have a colleague who did something like this, he would stuff his suitcase with Ramen and other snacks for business trips and subsist off of nothing else for weeks on end. The guy had a reputation in the office for being extremely frugal, so I think it was just to save money.

My work travel is almost all reimbursable (so whether I bring food from a grocery store or go out to eat, I just get reimbursed for that cost, no financial advantage to me either way). But I know people whose work travel is per diem -- they get $X/day, and anything they don't spend they get to keep. So some of those people have it down to a science how to eat frugally while traveling; some of them by being creative and making their own fine dining in their hotel room, and others by being willing to eat ramen or peanut butter sandwiches every day for weeks.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:23 PM on October 27, 2020

Best answer: My mom is Korean and in her 60s and if it’s a trip longer than 2 days, she will bring microwaveable rice and a small jar of kimchee and some barley tea with her unless we are going somewhere that has Korean restaurants. She says she doesn’t feel full without some rice and will not feel satisfied with just American foods (and now I think it’s become also a stomach issue thing—these are usually comforting to her stomach and the places we’ve traveled to often are smaller southern US towns with little variety to eat.)
posted by buttonedup at 11:24 PM on October 27, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: This is super common with Indian tourists, particularly middle aged and older ones. My aunt and uncle have gone on many driving tours of Europe and always traveled with a big bag of rice, a rice cooker and assorted shelf-stable pastes, powders and Indian pickles. Indian package tours usually advertise that they provide home style meals. When I moved to the US for grad school one entire 32 kg suitcase was devoted to food items and pots and pans. When my parents visit (hopefully soon given Covid) they bring pickles to outfit an army, currently cluttering up my fridge. I remember going back home after my first stint in the US and my aunt sympathetically asking me about how I was surviving on foreign food and how I must be missing home food. Part of it is vegetarianism or a preference for less meat-heavy meals, but a lot of it is a belief shared by many Indians that Indian food is the best, and in particular, their home-cooked food is the best.
posted by peacheater at 1:23 AM on October 28, 2020 [5 favorites]

My husband (Scottish) used to bring tea (Tetley’s) on our trips visiting my parents in San Francisco because the first time we went, we discovered that America is actually very bad at plain tea. It’s either herbal stuff or dusty stuff. I’ve lived in England long enough now that I would also seriously consider bringing some tea bags when travelling abroad.

(He’s gotten into coffee so we don’t do that anymore when visiting San Francisco because they may be bad at tea but it is very good at coffee. )
posted by like_neon at 3:18 AM on October 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Going back a bit, a mate of mine had a flatmate at uni in the English Midlands who would go to see his parents in Paris every two weeks and return with enough supermarket shopping to get him through two weeks. I'm not talking about foie gras here, he was schlepping rice krispies (with French printing) to Gare du Nord, over on the Eurostar, across London, on another intercity train and then a bus.
posted by biffa at 3:30 AM on October 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Tea bags. Irish need tea. A friends mother brought a travel kettle in her handbag to DISNEYLAND PARIS!! and made tea sitting on a bench having liberated an electric socket embedded in the ground for like lamps or some shit.
posted by J.R. Hartley at 4:45 AM on October 28, 2020 [14 favorites]

Don't know from personal experience. But there is a running joke in the Crazy Rich Asians books about exactly this situation...
posted by EllaEm at 7:21 AM on October 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Tea bags. Irish need tea. A friends mother brought a travel kettle in her handbag to DISNEYLAND PARIS!! and made tea sitting on a bench having liberated an electric socket embedded in the ground for like lamps or some shit.

Sensible lady.
posted by EllaEm at 7:22 AM on October 28, 2020 [4 favorites]

When we [Americans] went to Disney World with our four kids, we brought along a toaster and four dozen bagels (plus cream cheese and two or three jars or peanut butter) in our suitcase.

But we did it to save money, and so that we could eat breakfast in a reasonable amount of time and get to the parks extra early.

I will admit that one of my sons likes to bring along a big water bottle on campouts and trips, because sometime the water at Scout camps or the lake cabin upsets his stomach -- but that's as far as we go with packgin in supplies.

(The night we arrived at Disney, the belhops left our suitcase out in the rain and soaked it through. I got to complain to the customer service people that they had ruined the toaster & supplies which we'd brought along to avoid buying food from them, and they never batted an eyelash!)
posted by wenestvedt at 7:54 AM on October 28, 2020

I remember a Penn & Teller special where they went to China and brought all their own food. It wasn't even foods they especially liked, they just wouldn't touch local stuff. I think Teller was even brushing his teeth with bottled water.

I assumed they were bound by contract that would have penalized them heavily for missed performances, but that's speculation on my part. They might just be weird magicians.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 11:18 AM on October 28, 2020

Oh, yeah, someone mentioned this upthread with regards to doing it only on business travel and that is totally how I did when business travel was still a thing. I'll eat anything, but I learned over time that conferences and work trips often left me a) sick of rubber chicken conference meals and overpriced hotel food and happy hour junk, and b) sick to death of being around people or needed time for work, so I would usually either bring a bunch of shelf stable/microwaveable stuff from home, or on the few occasions I had a rental car and could escape the conference hotel, I'd supplement that with fresher stuff from the nearby grocery store.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 3:09 PM on October 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks to all! I marked best answer for folks who brought up the need to keep kosher/halal, language barriers, dietary needs, traveling with kids, digestion issues and other concerns that I had not considered in my focus on preferences. I also marked best answer for folks who corroborated my hunch that there are folks who, out of strong preference/allegiances, travel with their home culture's food or drink. The historical examples are especially great.

Also, I'm glad people brought up frugality, not dietary needs/preferences, as a reason to travel with food. I remember now that when I was traveling to Kauai, I got flagged by TSA during the security scan, but since the person doing the double check was a Hawaii local, they just looked at the xray of the suspicious item, said "Obviously that's a can of Spam," and waved me through. Food is even more expensive in the Neighbor Islands than in O‘ahu.

posted by spamandkimchi at 4:28 PM on October 28, 2020 [4 favorites]

I do this. I think my reason's one nobody's mentioned yet.

I love trying new food, but if I'm travelling alone, especially in a country where I don't speak the language, I don't feel comfortable eating in a café or restaurant. I'm scared of committing a faux pas because I don't know the rules: wait at the door, go to the counter or sit straight down? wait for someone to take an order or go and order myself? wait for someone to bring the bill, ask for it, or go to the counter? tip or don't tip? and figure this all out in schoolgirl French / phrasebook Italian, or be rude and use English? So stressful! And even in my own town, I don't like occupying a table on my own. Again, it feels rude.

So on a solo holiday, if I don't bring anything with me, I have to prioritise finding somewhere to buy groceries that I can turn into food back in my hotel room, using nothing but a kettle, a water glass and, if I'm really lucky, a couple of inches of space in a minibar. On a short trip, sticking a few Marmite sandwiches in my bag means I won't be eating anything exciting, but my ability to eat won't be governed by my ability to, say, find a supermarket that's open on a Sunday.

I have a nasty feeling Brexit will be putting a stop to this: there are strict rules on what you can bring into the EU.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 9:01 AM on November 10, 2020

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