Monday, January 25, 2010

0 Travel Tip Tuesday: Counting Calories

As most diet books and glossy magazines will tell you, every calorie counts. I was obsessed with monitoring my food intake during our trip. But not for the typical reasons you might expect of a 26-year-old woman.Food, next to accommodation, was the biggest line item in our very tight travel budget. In order to save money for bus rides and museum entrances we needed to get the most out of every meal. I learned to think very strategically about food. It wasn't always pretty, but here are some food tricks we adopted to last us six months on the road:

  • The number one basic rule is to eat everything on your plate. When eating out at a restaurant at home it's pretty typical to not finish your meal. Some places it's even considered impolite to polish off your plate. And I don't know about guys, but as a self-conscious teenage girl it was almost a contest to see who could eat the least. Forget all of that--when we were counting every penny spent on our trip, we were darn sure going to eat every grain of rice off that plate. Don't particularly care for the fried fish heads that were delivered when you ordered a mystery item from a foreign language menu? Tough, because that's what you paid for and that's what you're eating. Plus remember how your mother used to tell you to eat up because there were starving children in Africa? Well, there are starving children in Africa. And in South America and Asia too. When you actually see people starving on your way to a restaurant it feels pretty despicable to throw out a plate of perfectly edible (if not delicious or entirely fresh) food.
  • Never turn down a free meal. Many hotels around the world include breakfast in their nightly rate. Sometimes it's a sad piece of toast and watered down juice, other places it's an all you can eat buffet. No matter what, it's worth getting out of bed to take advantage of those free calories. And if it is a buffet, eat like it's your job. Our mantra became "You never know when you're next meal is going to be." So yes, slather the butter nice and thick on that piece of toast.
  • You know where else you get free food? Airplanes. I've never eaten airplane food with such gusto as I have in the last six months. Mmmmm mushy pasta.
  • Even though we rarely had access to a microwave, toaster, or anything reminiscent of a kitchen, we still found plenty of options at the local grocery store. A loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter? Lunch for a week! There are lots of fun regional specialties to be found, too, especially in the bakery section. Exploring different grocery stores became one of our favorite cultural experiences.
  • I rarely eat fast food in my regular life. Before this trip, I could have counted on one hand the number of times I ate a Big Mac in the last ten years. But fast food is cheap, generally safe, and the disgustingly high level of calories really fills you up. A value meal could last you all day! In more expensive destinations like Russia, we dined at local chains with blini at Teremok and potatoes at Kartofka. And it was never hard to find a McDonald's, KFC or Subway--plus the regional specials like McAloo Puffs in India are fun to try. I may still be trying to lose my Chicken Licken weight from South Africa, but ceding some meals to fast food giants saved us a lot of money.
It sounds a bit like we were treating restaurants as gas stations, just fueling up our bodies when on empty. In reality, though, eating and trying new, different foods is one of my absolute favorite things about travel. Be adventurous, expand your palate, and enjoy! Just keep a few tricks up your sleeve along the way.

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