Should Travelers Only Eat At Local Restaurants?

Should Travelers Only Eat At Local Restaurants?

When you travel, do you only eat at local establishments? Or do you eat at chain restaurants?


Recently, I was having dinner with a good friend of mine and we were talking about our travels and all of the different kinds of food we’ve eaten along the way. We got into the topic of fast food restaurants and chain restaurants such as McDonald’s and Starbucks and whether or not we eat at them while we travel.


Buddy The Traveling Monkey Local vs Chain Restaurants

Eating curry chicken in Siem Reap, Cambodia.


I know there are a lot of people out there that will not eat at a chain restaurant while they travel. They want their experience to be more authentic and will only eat where the locals eat. They search for hole-in-the-wall eateries and little known hidden gems.


Buddy The Traveling Monkey Local vs Chain Restaurants

Eating escargot in Paris, France.


I think that is what travelers should do to really get to know the people and culture of an area. I know that when I travel I try to experience new things. I’ll try anything once. However, I do also go to places like McDonald’s, Hard Rock Cafe, and Starbucks.


Why? There are two reasons…


 1. Curiosity

I think it’s pretty cool that when you eat at McDonald’s in different countries, their menu is tailored more towards local favorites. For example, the McDonald’s in Thailand serve pineapple pies instead of apple pies. In Germany, they serve the McNürnburger, which has three Bratwurst served on a bun with mustard and onions. So a lot of times it just comes down to curiosity and wanting to know of any differences in the menu.


Buddy The Traveling Monkey Local vs Chain Restaurants

I stopped in to this McDonald’s on Kuta Beach in Bali, Indonesia.


 2. It’s Familiar

Being open to trying new things is adventurous and awesome. So let’s say you tried those crickets in Cambodia (good for you!) but now you just want to eat something that you know will not make your stomach turn. Then maybe it’s ok to go and get something that you’re familiar with? I know there have been times when I ate only local cuisine for a week. It was great and really tasty. But then there came a point where I just wanted a Papa Johns pizza. Does that make me a bad traveler?


Buddy The Traveling Monkey Local vs Chain Restaurants

Eating cuy in Cusco, Peru.


I think it all boils down to the constant debate of traveler vs tourist. If you don’t eat at local establishments, you’re an icky tourist. But I don’t think it has to be so black and white. Go ahead and get breakfast at a fast food restaurant, but make sure to try a local dish for lunch and dinner. While exploring Thailand, I ate breakfast at a Burger King but I also took a cooking class where I learned all about local dishes and ingredients.


Buddy The Traveling Monkey Local vs Chain Restaurants

Learning how to cook Thai food in Chiang Mai.


It’s important that when we visit new countries and cities we are open to trying new things and having new experiences. But that doesn’t mean I can’t stop in to a Starbucks if I’m craving a white chocolate mocha. It’s all about finding a balance…


What are your thoughts? Do you think it’s ok to eat at chain restaurants while traveling? We’d love to read your comments below. 🙂


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Buddy The Traveling Monkey Local vs Chain Restaurants


  • Michele says:

    There was a Burger King in Germany that we loved stopping at on the way to other destinations. It was part of a gas station stop, so very convenient. I also admit, every once in awhile I live a Starbucks coffee, regardless of where I am. Finally, in Rome, the Hard Rock Cafe was the only restaurant that was open past 11pm, which was the time we had arrived there and were starving!!!!

  • I eat at either. Depends on how I’m feeling, at the time. 🙂

  • Jake Wengroff says:

    You nailed it: it is indeed all about finding the right balance between cultural curiosity and familiarity. Bravo, Vicky, bravo!

  • Scott says:

    We make it a point to eat at non-chains when we travel. We can get the chain food at home!

  • Mindi Hirsch says:

    We almost always try to eat at local restaurants both at home and when we travel. Sometimes, however, there’s comfort in the old favorites.

  • I’m very adamant about buying and eating at local places so this definitely hits home with me. While I cook the majority of our meals at home, I like to keep the money local for those small business owners supporting their families. However, that McDonald’s Diet Coke is a weakness. 🙂 But I agree, you really don’t get all you can from traveling unless you indulge in the local culture, food and all.

    • Buddy says:

      Hi Melody! I think we all have a weakness when it comes to certain fast foods. I don’t see anything wrong with the occasional indulgence as long as we’re also trying to experience new local foods as well.

  • anna says:

    Definitely finding the balance. We live in Chiang Mai and although we LOVE thai food…sometimes we find ourselves craving for burgers and pizza!

  • if you are travelling with kids it’s something of a necessity sometimes I think. And, if you just want something familiar, why not!

  • I agree that when feeling a bit out of place in a foreign places, chain restaurants can make you feel a bit more at home I would never judge anyone for eating wherever the hell they want! I think it is nice to give back to the community a bit by buying from local businesses 🙂

    • Buddy says:

      Hi Natasha! Thank you for your comment, I think it’s important that we never judge each other. The whole point of traveling is to learn and be more open minded right?

  • Karla says:

    I usually just try local cuisines and avoid chains but then I noticed McDonalds would have local specials per country. I go for those too— what’s different. Back home we have chicken and rice.

  • Sia says:

    I am alway advicing people to eat at local places, but that also applies to your own hometown. I don’t particularly liek chain restaurants in general let alone fast food liek Mcdonalds. Of course sometimes you would crave pizz so why not hop into an italian restaurant and have a delicious Margarita. It doesn give a sense of familiarity.

  • Katie says:

    I think that each person should do whatever they want and not worry about being judged! Sometimes, if I’m traveling for a long time, and I see a Starbucks or McDonald’s I pop in just because! And you’re right – the fast food chains all over the world are different! Here in korea, there are bulgogi burgers and kimchi burgers at McDonald’s!

  • Lorayne Woodend says:

    Fully agree with your article ! McDonalds in Japan for instance will allow you to try all sorts you’d not find anywhere else but I wouldn’t think domeone was really experiencing a place if they didn’t try some local places/foods

  • I am a big one on embracing local cuisine, but I don’t feel like I should be judged for sneaking a maccas to try if I feel like it.

  • Interesting! I always try to eat at local restaurants, unless I’m not sure about the levels of hygiene. But each to their own, whatever people feel more comfortable with. I like going to McDonald’s when I’m travelling, as in many countries they have sandwiches based on local cuisine. It’s quite fun. 🙂

  • Shane Prather says:

    I agree – this is very two sided debate. I love checking out the differences in menus at McDs and Sbux around the world, but of course it’s always best to get a taste of culture by eating local 🙂

  • Carly Moore says:

    I do both. Cuisine is a huge part of the travel experience for me, so I eat local as much as I can. But sometimes you just have a bad day, all you want is a reminder of home, and nothing beats those too salty fries and a coke from McDonalds.

  • Dave says:

    We travel to get a taste of the country’s finest stuff they can offer. From their beautiful scenic spots down to their interesting food.
    We can get chain food easily. 🙂

    • Buddy says:

      That’s very true Dave. Keep in mind though that sometimes chains can have area specific items on their menus as well. It might be cool to try it! 😉

  • Great point on blending in with the locals where they eat. It’s a mixed bag for me regarding chains but I do notice when I go to places like McDonald or the last time was Chili’s in San Juan that zero tourists were there. It does make me appreciate the atmosphere if not the chain.

    I also do tend to put a higher priority towards local mom/pop restaurants because toursits hardly go there. Just the serious foodie traveler. Again, a mixed bag type of feel but in the end both types of places are supporting the locals.

    • Buddy says:

      Thanks for your thoughts Mark! I might have gone to the same Chili’s in San Juan! lol Not by choice though. The group I was with insisted, I would have rather gone to a local restaurant. But like you said, both support locals. So it’s not all bad.

  • Sometimes when we travel our budget requires us to do that $4 Wendy’s meal or perhaps pick up a sub at Walmart. Not ideal. We do strive to eat at local places and sometimes that can include a local and/or regional fast food chain that we do not have where we live. In fact, I wrote a piece just on these chains we’ve found in our travels. In specific parts of the country, there are items we seek out that we can’t get easily at home and often that means eating locally or shopping locally.

    I also remember the day my son and I spend in New York City. We were in that part of Manhattan where things were either way to pricey or it was all chain restaurants. We ended up eating at a McDonald’s and much to our surprise, they had the same value menu pricing we had back home in TN.

    • Buddy says:

      Hi Clayton, thank you for your perspective. I think it’s great that you do strive for local restaurants but are still open to chains. Sometimes you just gotta take what you can get.

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Hi! I'm Vicky, a South Florida-based blogger traveling around the world with my stuffed monkey Buddy. Tired of the 9-5, we recently sold all of our stuff and started traveling full time. Click on the photo to learn more!

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