My Guilty Travel Pleasures

I write a lot on this blog about my ideal type of travel, and my last post even gave advice for finding the offbeat. My best travel revolves around unique personal encounters with locals and quirky sometimes bizarre experiences. The kind that challenges everything you thought about the world and even yourself.

But I’m going to tell you a secret.

I have my share of guilty travel pleasures.

Let’s face it. Sometimes travel is hard work. Often it’s exhausting and we’re sick or just not in the frame of mind to seek out grand experiences (which can be trite if they’re not spontaneous anyway). Sometimes we’re homesick. Sometimes we just want what we want.

So here goes. Here are my guilty travel pleasures.

1. Eating at McDonalds in another country.

Yes, it’s true. The Golden Arches call to me in foreign countries. More than once, it’s even been my savior. But here’s something you might not know about McDonalds abroad. Often it’s surprisingly good. And sometimes the menu has culturally dictated items on it. In Japan, for instance, there’s a shrimp burger with wasabi mayo. In Hong Kong, you can buy a red bean sundae.

2. Getting coffee at Starbucks

Okay this one I am more ashamed of, especially with wonderful small local coffee shops abounding. But Starbucks is convenient if you’re in a hurry.

3. Eating pizza

After eating a certain type of food for awhile no matter how delicious, I just can’t do it anymore. Case in point: in Thailand and Vietnam, I ate local dishes for as long as possible and then hit my wall. My next meal? Pizza. Like McDonalds, pizza-eating in foreign countries can be a cultural experience. It’s fun to see what ingredients they like to put on it. In Japan, I’ve tried pizza with tofu and seaweed. In Taiwan, I had it with corn and mayonnaise.

4. Dining at a luxury hotel breakfast buffet

I don’t do this one very often unless I’m traveling with my husband (he insists on nice places), but a breakfast buffet at a 5 star hotel can set everything straight in the world. Once in Hong Kong, I was deathly ill and rather than hitting the streets to find a hole in the wall to eat, my husband suggested we eat at the Kowloon Intercontinental Hotel. Oh my! What a selection of delicious food! Every time we visit HK now, this breakfast is on our itinerary.

5. Taking a guided tour

While I generally don’t enjoy the confines of a guided tour, often it’s the easiest way to see a place. Not that I’m always looking for easy, but still. Letting someone else worry about how you’re going to get from the Great Wall of China to the summer palace can be liberating, and it frees up your mind for other things, like actually enjoying yourself.

6. Going to a mall

Instead of exploring the natural scenery or admiring World Heritage sites, at times you’ll find me in a shopping mall. Before you judge, let me say this. Shopping malls abroad can also be interesting encounters. It’s fun to see what kind of food gets served up in the food courts, what people are buying, what local fashionistas are wearing, and other features of popular culture.

7. Watching TV in my hotel room rather than sightseeing

I love foreign TV. Crazy game shows. The array of cooking programs. And best of all, local news.

8. Going to bed early rather than exploring the nightlife

I mentioned this one before, and I’m really trying to give up this bad habit. But the thought of crawling into bed and getting a fantastic night’s sleep is just so much stronger to me than salsa dancing the night away (although I always love that too when I actually make it there).

Are you horrified? Or do you maybe have some guilty travel pleasures yourself? Do spill…

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22 thoughts on “My Guilty Travel Pleasures

  1. Okay… here’s kind of a reverse one: I used to SMOKE only when on vacation in Europe. Forgive me. I’m from Virginia home of Philip Morris and it was the 80s. Now I want to go to Japan and try a McD’s shrimp burger!

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Margo,
      I hear you on this one. There’s something so European about sitting in a cafe and smoking, isn’t there? Guilty here too.

      On a side note, I really appreciate the smoking bans in the US in bars and restaurants, but at times, ambiance seems lacking when there’s no musty smoky air lingering!

  2. McDonalds in Indonesia serves lots of rice dishes and chicken. My first time at a Pizza Hut in Bandung we ate my wife’s families favorite pizza: tuna, corn and mayo. Then of course you top it off with sambal. They seemed shocked when I mentioned that this flavor would not be popular in the US.

    I’m all for the guided tour. At Prambanan we got a free tour guide who was so excited to tell us all the history and show us every single relief panel. It was cool that he also spoke 4 languages. Our guide at Borobudur was the same way. I don’t think our experience there would have been as fulfilling without their commentary.

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Matt,
      I think the tuna, corn, and mayo combination is a popular one all over Asia. But I never tried it with sambal… hmm that’s a thought.

      Absolutely, as a tour guide myself, I think guided tours can be very informative and open doors you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to find on your own. While I generally have a different personal “agenda” than most tours offer, I have had some great ones.

  3. Ahahaha, can I confess, I soo do #1 and #8! I tell myself: this is just another form of travel experience 🙂 I feel so much better to see/read it here too, as if I don’t have to justify myself anymore!

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Cecile,
      Thanks for your comment, but I don’t know that you’re alone in your cheese and croissants. I read once that the french olympics team travels with its own cheese!

  4. I am completely horrified, Mary. Not that I don’t share in some of your horrors. I’m still kicking myself for the experiences I’ve missed because I wanted to sleep instead of staying out all night. I can’t even do McDonald’s here but I will sometimes go to a Hard Rock Cafe when I can’t take anymore of the local food. Pizza? I just can’t take bad pizza and my experience is that there’s lots of ways to make it terrible, even in Italy. My horrifying travel standby are fries and if I can find them, turkey burgers.

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Fly Girl,
      I guess being from Chicago, you must have high pizza standards! I don’t know that I would be ashamed of fries though, but the Hard Rock Cafe? That’s a different story! (I used to seek them out all over the world to get the tshirt. Thanks for your funny comment!

  5. In a book I read called First Time Europe (you should try it, even though you’ve been to Europe before! It’s a great read!) the author had a whole box saying “You WILL go to and eat at a McDonald’s in Europe!” You WILL! And guess what? I did go and eat at a McDonald’s in Europe.
    Starbucks. The word itself is enough to pull me into its deathly aroma of coffee. I’ve been known to mutter the word in my sleep in a foreign place. I once even woke up in the middle of the night, got dressed, and headed to Starbucks. But at least I wasn’t sleepwalking!

    • maryrichardson

      Dear Corinne,
      Oh that’s a good one! I usually don’t fall into that trap bc I don’t travel with a laptop and I’m too cheap to pay internet cafes. I’d guess you’re are far from alone in that guilty pleasure.

  6. I’m with you on McDonalds. Sometimes it just calls my name. The same goes for KFC which is something I really only eat when I travel. It was perfect in Costa Rica when it was the only place open late at night. I do most everything else on your list too even though I try and limit them. Although, I’ve never eaten pizza while traveling before.

  7. After about a month in Costa Rica, I actually broke down from food cravings and rode the bus (3 hours) to San Jose to get Pizza Hut. After eating pizza, I went to the grocery store and bought an extremely expensive box of imported Captain Crunch (and I never eat Captain Crunch at home) – then I went to Taco Bell! That same day, I went for dinner to KFC (which is a little bit different in Costa Rica – they have yellow mashed potatoes made from real potatoes instead of the instant powdered ones we have here). How’s that for fast food cravings in a foreign country!!!

    • maryrichardson

      Ah Mika… the joys of American fast food in other countries. Wow, I’m impressed with the Costa Rican mashed potatoes. We were craving KFC mashed potatoes a while back in Japan and visited one here. There were no mashed potatoes to be had! That’s just wrong!

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