It’s me, the weirdo foodie traveler who’s stuffing a pizza box in the overhead compartment of the plane and torturing you with the smell of pepperoni as you consider your tiny bag of pretzels. After spotting others like me in the wild, I’ve come to understand that there are a few traveling habits that set us apart—and make our family and friends back home really happy when we come back bearing treats instead of magnets. We’re the ones that can fill an entire daylong itinerary with restaurants, following food trucks, and never limiting ourselves to just three square meals a day.
You pack your own must-have condiments.
The question that plagues me when I’m about to travel someplace for a lengthy amount of time is always: “What if they don’t have Maggi sauce?” Maggi, the Nestlé-brand savory seasoning sauce, is hugely popular among Vietnamese people, so much so that many of us prefer it to soy sauce. While I was in college in Iowa, I packed my luggage full of carefully wrapped sauces that I picked up from Chinatown back home in New York City, from Maggi to sriracha to Lao Gan Ma chili oil. If I didn’t have time to go shopping, I would filch some sauce from my mom’s pantry and transport it in the three-ounce shampoo bottles that we all had to start using in 2006.
What if they only have ketchup? Be prepared!
You bring food souvenirs home on the plane via overhead bin.
You see this in a lot of foodie destinations: in Portland, the pink Voodoo Doughnuts box; in Singapore, vacuum-packed bak kwa in a red-and-gold gift package; and in New Orleans, the golden box of king cake from Randazzo’s. It’s a kind of souvenir that’s a bit too precious to put in your checked luggage, but it fits quite nicely in the overhead bin of the plane. It gives your family and friends an opportunity to taste something regional, and the box is definitely part of the prize. I’ve taken whole pizzas in the overhead bin: once a frozen deep-dish pie from Lou Malnati’s in Chicago, and a square, grandma-style pie with roasted garlic and dollops of ricotta cheese from Brooklyn, its slices individually wrapped and packed in a soft cooler. Just make sure nothing drips on your fellow passengers and you’re golden. The smell might drive them into a frenzy when those dry-ass pretzels come around, though.
You create an itinerary that includes five restaurant stops in a single day.
When traveling, the line between breakfast, lunch, and dinner gets blurred. Why limit yourself to only three opportunities to eat per day? There are too many things to eat, so making time for at least one day of intense power-eating is a must. I’m not saying that each meal has to be a full sit-down deal. You can have small snacks at each of the places that were mentioned in that one thread on the Chowhound forum. For example, a day in Los Angeles could include a Vietnamese iced coffee with boba, a few plates of dim sum, one of those grain bowls I keep hearing about, Xi’an-style noodles, and an oversized organic fresh-juice drink for dinner from one of those Instagram spots because you’re “healthy.” Maybe don’t do more than one day like this unless you have a death wish.
You pack a full meal for the plane/bus ride, plus snacks.
In general, the food you have access to while in transit is just bad. So I always pack something. And not just a little something. I think I inherited this attitude of “There won’t be anything good or cheap to eat there” from my grandma. The last time I flew out from the town where my grandparents live, she packed me a brown paper bag with two apples, three mini bags of goldfish, a half-consumed bag of crackers, and half a banh mi to hold me over for the three-hour flight. There have been times when I’ve brought food that I had lying around, like a quarter of a quiche or warm rice and dry curry. “Fuck you, fellow passengers! It’s my stinky-lunch revenge!”
Try to go with drier foods, since arguing with the TSA about whether your soup violates their carry-on liquid restrictions is never going to be a good time.
You strategically plan visits to landmarks or neighborhoods just because you want to eat at a specific place, but you don’t want to act like that’s the only reason (but it is).
You and I both know why we travel: to eat good food. We obviously get a lot from our journeys and meet cool people, do all the great things that we are privileged to be able to do. But really, in the end, what I remember most about traveling is the food. I arrange my memories around it, recalling the great conversations and interactions I had over a bubbling hot pot or remembering the taste of grilled shrimp when I think about the beach. I honestly can’t tell you what I saw the last time I went to LACMA in Los Angeles, but I can tell you all about the spiced kebabs with garlic cream sauce that I got from the food truck just outside the museum. There was also the time I dragged my friend all around Disneyland, weathering the nostalgia storm just so I could try as much of their food as possible. It’s just kind of how people like us relate to the world: by putting our jaws around it.