An indisputable aspect of experiencing a place and culture is partaking in the eating of the foods. This can be stressful if you are a picky eater or have ever been described as high maintenance (guilty).
While I do make an effort to branch out and make sure to always try local foods, I also like eating some things that are familiar—preferably without shelling out at the Hard Rock Cafe.
A wonderful compromise I have discovered between the reassurance of knowing what I’m eating, saving money, and still experiencing a vital part of a place and culture is picnicking.
Picnicking isn’t just cost-effective, it also provides you with some very interesting places to eat. Some of my favorite picnics were the Piazzale Michelangelo (a wonderful hilltop in Florence, Italy), with my feet in a stream at the base of a medieval city walls in Kotor, Montenegro, and while sitting near countless famous historical sites. How else do you eat within an arm’s reach of the Roman Colosseum?
There’s another highly enjoyable part of picnicking: visiting foreign grocery stores.
Grocery shopping tells you a lot about a culture. Noticing what foods they have that you’ve never heard of, and which familiar items are missing, is always interesting. You may also see an abundance of options on a certain food that you didn’t know could be so varied.
My personal favorite thing is seeing foods I recognize written in delightful words. In England, the orange juice pulp was referred to as “juicy bits” on the carton. In Montenegro I learned that the word for peanut is kikiriki.
How To Picnic
To begin with, you need a daypack. You don’t want to spend your day lugging around a grocery bag, or paying for one in countries that charge extra for them.
You should also take into consideration the climate. Don’t buy a bunch of refrigerated items if it’s hot outside. Also worth noting is the combined weight and volume of what you’re purchasing. Chips are great but do you really want to argue with the bag as you try to stuff it and the rest of your food in your daypack?
Next, think in food groups. You need calories, things that make you feel full. Fresh baked bread or rolls are a simple, inexpensive base for a meal. It doesn’t go bad in hot or cold weather. You can make it into a sandwich or eat it as is. It also tends to be lightweight, although a whole loaf of bread can be difficult to fit into a smaller daypack. Crackers are another good option.
You also want to fuel your body, which is doing a great job of helping you explore new places. Think protein. Nut mixes, lunch meats, dried meats, hummus, and cheeses are great options. If you’re hiking in the Scottish highlands in winter, those refrigerated options will probably be fine. However, if it’s warm outside then avoid buying cold things unless you plan to eat them very soon.
Buy fresh things! Stay healthy when you travel. Grab some fruits and vegetables. They pack well and will help you to stay feeling good. Many fruits also provide extra hydration, which is important.
Go ahead and try some of those yummy treats you’re eying, too. You might never have the chance to sample that tart again.
Cooking Your Own
If you’re staying in an Airbnb or at a hostel with a kitchen, you can even cook food the night before and pack it away. We had great luck with roasted potatoes and chicken (it was cold out). You can also make quinoa, boiled eggs, sandwiches, bean dip, roasted vegetables… The options are endless. Think cold lunches you might make for work. Salads are also great because they’re light, easily assembled, and can be changed up with different toppings.
Enjoying fuss-free food any time you want to will also help you from feeling wiped out at the end of the day. No need to walk until you’re ready to collapse and then start looking for a place to eat. Just grab the plum out of your daypack and get snacking.
Picnicking is a wonderful part of travel. After trying it out a few times, you’ll quickly discover which foods work best for you. You won’t regret all of those magical picnicking memories, be they on mountaintops, while waiting in line, or while sitting on ancient steps.