Travel Food Tips – Gut Check

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
– Hippocrates

A balanced diet is essential. A proper and adequate intake of proteins, vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates will keep your energy level up, and help stave off any ailments that might come your way. Fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of vitamins. A variety of nuts and beans will provide you with necessary protein, and every culture has a staple starch dish to fill your carbohydrate needs. However, Montezuma’s Revenge or Delhi Belly can take you out for several days. Below are some travel food tips on how to eat well and avoid getting sick from the food.

Diane inspects the produce at the Fruit Market in Mysore, India

Diane inspects the produce at the Fruit Market in Mysore, India

Get It While It’s Hot

Busy restaurants are safest because they go through their food inventory relatively quickly, giving it less time to spoil. A restaurant popular with locals wouldn’t be popular with locals if it had a poor hygiene record. Eat the freshest food possible. Prepared food should be served steaming hot, and be wary of buffets several hours old.

Insect Skewers in Beijing, China
Seahorse and Scorpion Skewers in Beijing, China

Insect, Seahorse and Scorpion Skewers at a Night Market in Beijing, China

Night markets are usually pretty busy, and hence pretty safe. When eating street food, watch how the food is prepared, and observe the vendors appearance and hygiene. If they appear sick (such as coughing, sneezing, an eye infection, etc) it’s probably best to move onto the next stall. Also, wipe your cutlery with some hand sanitizer if there are any fingerprints or gunky stuff stuck to it.

Fruits and vegetables are safest if you can peel them. If you can’t, then wash them with water and rinse them with treated water. Some melons are notorious for harboring harmful bacteria in their flesh. Treat such fruit with caution. Some melon vendors inject their produce with water to tip the scales in their favor. This water will not be treated.

Many hotels offer the use of a communal kitchen, and some even equip their rooms with small refrigerators. With access to adequately stocked market or grocery store, you can cook the same meals from home when traveling. Or, mix things up by sampling local fare in restaurants on some days, and cook for yourself on others. One of the best travel food tips is to try your hand at some of the regional specialties you might have sampled.

Diane and Alex take a Cooking Class on Sichuan Cuisine in Chengdu, China

Sichuan Cooking Class in Chengdu

Veg Or Non-Veg

If you use a communal kitchen, be considerate, and leave it (at least) as clean a condition in which you found it. Clean up after yourself, even if others before you haven’t. Rats have a very keen sense of smell. If you suspect rats or roaches in the rafters, refrain from keeping any food in your room. Also, keep all lotion / toiletries bottle lids closed for the same reason.

Spice Market in Mysore, India

Spice Market in Mysore, India

Eating vegan, or even vegetarian, is a healthy and environmentally friendly choice of diet. In some countries, you may have little option but to do so. In other regions, it may not be so possible. Self-catering will offer more personal choices than restaurants in these cases.

Vegetarianism, and especially veganism, is a foreign concept in many countries. Locals may not understand why you won’t eat any offered meat, which is usually the choicest item. Refusing food offered to you will likely cause offense. Be a bit adventurous and remain flexible. Strict diets can interfere with basic nutrition in many regions around the world. Be polite and enjoy your food.

Yakity Yak Grub Shack in Zhongdian, China

Zhongdian, China

But, be careful about accepting free food from a stranger. You may be drugged and wake up with all your stuff gone, or worse. If you are unsure of their intentions, and do not want to appear rude, decline politely by feigning a stomach ailment or allergy.

Travel Food Tips

If in doubt about local eating customs, watch how the locals eat and order accordingly. If you are unfamiliar with the local cuisine, try deciding what to order by determining what other diners are eating. Pointing to items on other tables often helps.

In many countries, it is acceptable (if not expected) to eat with one’s hands. Just be sure you do so with your right hand, as your left is (presumably) used in place of toilet paper.

Vegetable Market in Mysore, India

Vegetable Market in Mysore, India

When you are on the road for a while and between hotel beds, you may be limited to bus station food which is generally baked or deep-fried and void of any nutrition. It isn’t always possible to maintain an adequate intake of all vitamins and minerals when traveling. If you feel your diet is lacking in any way, a daily multi-vitamin will help your body get what it needs. However, this can be expensive, and usually unnecessary. Stock up on fruit, veggies and water instead, and spend some time in the sun.


Sign Up for our Newsletter and Stay Up-To-Date
with our Latest Travel Tips and Blog Posts