How to Travel When You're a Picky Eater

Your Guide for Widening Your Boundaries and Having a Successful Trip

Street food on Jalan Alor © Lauren Juliff
••• Street food on Jalan Alor. © Lauren Juliff

For many people, one of the best parts of traveling the world is getting to try new local food. It's all about the flavours and the street food and the fun cultural experience.

But what if you're a picky eater?

What if you don't like spicy food?

What if you've never tried Thai food before?

Can you still travel?

Absolutely! When I first started traveling, I had never eaten rice or eggs before. I'd never tried Thai food or Indian food or Chinese food or Mexican food or...

I was the pickiest eater you'd ever come across. Yet, I've been traveling the world successfully for five years and counting. Here's how I did it. 

Grocery Stores Are Your Friend

If you're finding the local food to be too intimidating, head to the nearest 7 Eleven, or the equivalent grocery store. Even if you don't recognise the brands, you'll be able to find plain food that you know you'll be able to eat. I've always been able to find Pringles in every supermarket I've visited while I traveled, so that's a great backup option. 

In grocery stores, you'll also be able to find food for cooking dinners in hostel kitchens. Pasta is always a good option if you're struggling with the local food, as is bread for sandwiches, and vegetables to whip up a salad. 

Street Food Isn't as Bad as it Looks

I was terrified of street food when I first started traveling, but once I worked up the courage to try some, a whole new world was opened up to me.

 

Street food is wonderful because it's cheap, it's delicious, and it's extremely safe. In fact, after five years of travel, the only time I've ever had food poisoning has been when eating in restaurants -- I've never had street food make me sick

Remember to look for a busy stall -- that way, you're guaranteed the food is safe to eat and there'll be a high turnover.

Start with something basic -- curly potatoes on a stick, fried meat on a stick, or grilled squid. Once you've conquered the easier dishes, you can work up to something a little more hardcore. 

Try New Things But Don't Beat Yourself Up if You Don't Like Them 

Travel is all about new experiences, and eating local food is a great way to push yourself out of your comfort zone and expose yourself to something unusual. 

The best way to do this is to go out for a meal with some friends you've made in the hostel. Order something you feel comfortable eating, and then ask if you can sample some of their dishes. Just have a small mouthful and see how you like the flavours. It was doing this that introduced me to new dishes and helped me conquer my fear of trying new foods. 

What happens if you don't like the food? Absolutely nothing! You tried something and you didn't like it. There's nothing wrong with that. 

Research Where to Eat in Advance 

Before you head out for a meal, take a look online at a few restaurant options and check the menu to see if there's anything you'll eat. You won't have to worry about being faced with a menu full of items you don't eat, and you'll know from the reviews that the food is safe to eat.

The last thing you need is to get sick while traveling.

Try to Find One Staple in Each Country 

Let's face it: it's kind of embarrassing to be a picky eater when you travel. For a lot of people, it means you're a bad traveler, because you're not exposing yourself to the local culture. 

To try and mitigate that embarrassment, attempt to find one local dish in each country that you can eat, even if it's something simple like chicken fried rice. Once you've done this, you'll be able to avoid any embarrassing questions about your eating habits and can silence the haters.