Eating at McDonald’s while traveling is a bit of a controversial topic. Some travelers think it’s a waste of time to eat familiar fast food that you can get anywhere when there are authentic local dishes to try. Other travelers make a point to eat at McDonald’s in every city that they visit. If you’re wondering whether it’s ok to eat at McDonald’s while traveling abroad, the answer is yes, there is nothing wrong with it.
Personally, I always eat at McDonald’s while visiting a foreign city. I feel zero shame about it. I enjoy sampling different menu items. It’s a cultural experience. At the same time, I appreciate the familiar atmosphere and the convenience of it. It’s a great cure for homesickness. Sometimes, I just want a clean meal that I’m sure won’t make me sick. I also simply like the taste.
Of course, I don’t always eat fast food. For the vast majority of my meals, I enjoy local foods. One of the main reasons I travel is to sample the local cuisine. To save money, I cook my own meals. I often stay in an Airbnb or hostel with a kitchen. Sometimes I cook in my hotel room. Once in a while, I enjoy a familiar fast food meal. In this guide, I’ll explain why.
11 Reasons to Eat Fast Food While Traveling
1. Trying Different Menu Items
This is the main reason I eat fast food while traveling. Fast food restaurants offer different menu items in different countries. They adapt the menu to the taste of the locals. You might find menu items that incorporate different ingredients. Different types of cuisines may be offered. Sometimes restaurants add different sauces or toppings than are offered back home.
McDonald’s is famous for this. It’s one of the reasons they’re so successful abroad. For example, in Canada, McDonald’s serves poutine. In India, you can get a McMahajara Mac, which is a chicken version of a Big Mac. McDonald’s in Italy serve mini Calzones called Panzerotti.
In the Philippines, spaghetti is a popular menu item at fast food restaurants. Their local fast food chain, Jollibee, is famous for its Jolley Spaghetti. McDonald’s also serves spaghetti in the Philippines called McSpaghetti.
Sometimes different sauces or toppings are offered. In Paraguay, I ordered a hamburger at a local fast food restaurant. I was surprised to find that it came with corn on it. I didn’t really care for corn on my burger but it was an interesting experience. In Japan, I had a teriyaki burger at Burger King.
Pizza toppings vary as well. In Uganda, beef and chicken are common pizza toppings. They don’t really offer classic pepperoni. In Sweden, banana is a pizza topping that’s offered?
Sometimes there are specials that aren’t on the menu at home. In Bangkok, I saw an ad for a double Big Mac. After arriving early in the morning on a night bus, I was starving so I decided to give it a try. The cheese sandwich from Burger King Thailand that went viral that went viral this year is another example. You can’t get that anywhere else.
It is interesting to taste different menu items in different countries. The local taste can vary greatly.
Of course, your favorite items will always be available. You can buy a classic Big Mac in pretty much any country that has McDonald’s. The fried chicken at KFC tastes the same all over the world. If you order a cheese pizza at Pizza Hut, you know exactly what to expect. Your favorite fast food will taste just like you’re used to.
These companies are shockingly consistent. It’s actually pretty impressive. I guess it’s one of the reasons they’re so successful.
Travel gets exhausting. It also gets lonely. Sometimes all you want to do is eat something familiar. It’s comforting. In these cases, fast food is a great option. Most of us grew up eating it.
Oftentimes, I’ll treat myself to a fast food meal to cheer myself up if I’m feeling tired, lonely, homesick, or depressed. I usually end up feeling much better afterward.
While traveling in Peru, I started to feel pretty down. I had been traveling alone for several months. I was struggling to interact with the locals because my Spanish wasn’t very good. At the hostel I was staying at, I didn’t really meet anyone. I decided to eat at a big McDonald’s across the street from where I was staying.
I ordered myself a Big Mac with a large fries and drink and ate while I people watched. This cheered me right up. That night, I went to sleep happy with a full stomach and woke up in a better mood the next day.
After traveling in Africa for several months, I was just feeling tired. Between the heat, dust, mosquitoes, upset stomach, and constantly moving around, I was exhausted. I really started to crave McDonald’s. Unfortunately, most African countries don’t have McDonald’s.
When I arrived in Cape Town, the first thing I did after checking into my hotel was go to McDonalds for a Big Mac and a McFlurry. It was one of the best meals I ever had.
Sometimes the menu changes based on the local culture.
For example, if you’re traveling in Muslim a country where pork isn’t eaten, you won’t find bacon cheeseburgers or pepperoni pizzas on the menu. You’ll find more beef, chicken, and even lamb options on the menu instead. If you do find bacon or pepperoni on the menu, it will be made from some other type of meat.
I recently ate at a fast food restaurant in Cairo. I ordered a bacon cheeseburger not knowing what to expect. Pork isn’t served there . When my burger arrived it did have some type of bacon on it but it wasn’t pork. I’m not sure what it was but it did taste similar to bacon. It may have been cured beef.
In India, you won’t find very many beef options because most people don’t eat beef. Cows are considered a sacred animal in Hindu culture. McDonald’s there serves more chicken and vegetarian options instead.
In Israel, there are kosher McDonald’s because many people keep kosher. They serve kosher beef and do not mix meat and dairy. There are non-kosher locations.
There are also different names for the different burgers around the world. In India, you can get a McMahajara. In China, you can get a Prosperity Burger. You can have a Samurai burger in Japan. This adds a bit of culture to the experience.
The restaurant designs also vary by country. In some countries, American fast food restaurants are considered high-end options. They are expensive for the locals. In these places, the restaurants feel a bit more premium. You’ll find more well-off people eating there. In other countries, fast food is considered a cheap option.
While traveling, you will get traveler’s diarrhea. There is no avoiding it. In many countries around the world, food hygiene standards are poor. You might be served some food that isn’t fresh. You might accidentally drink some juice made with tap water instead of purified water. A cook might cross contaminate your food with raw meat. Maybe they didn’t wasn’t their hands properly. Your gut also isn’t used to the local bacteria. Even if the food is prepared properly, you could get sick. It is extremely easy to get an upset stomach while traveling. In fact, upset stomach is the most common travel illness.
When you eat in a fast food restaurant, you know the food is clean, properly prepared, and safe to eat. You aren’t going to get sick. You aren’t taking a risk. Sometimes it’s smart to eat fast food when you really can’t afford to get sick.
For example, maybe you have a 14 hour flight the next day. You might choose to eat fast food because it is unlikely to make you sick. There’s nothing worse than having food poisoning on a transcontinental flight.
I’ve gotten sick a few times while traveling. In Vietnam, I ate lunch at a local restaurant. After enjoying my meal, I asked to use the restroom. The waitress led me up a steep flight of stairs, through the kitchen, and into the bathroom. The bathroom was right next to the kitchen. Inside the bathroom, I saw a large pile of dirty pots and pans that were waiting to be washed. They washed the dishes in the bathroom. That’s not the most hygienic setup. I also got a bit of a bad stomach after. In Mexico, I ate some bad tacos and ended up having to see a doctor.
5. The Amenities
Most fast food restaurants have decent wifi. If you need an internet connection, you can go buy a drink or an ice cream and get online.
This is great if you don’t have a local SIM card. It’s an easy and reliable way to get online. I have done this to check directions or contact friends. Recently, I was meeting up with a friend in Bangkok. I couldn’t find her so I popped into a McDonald’s, bought an ice cream cone, and used their wifi to call her.
Of course, there is also a clean bathroom you can use. If you’re out and about and you can’t find a public bathroom, a fast food restaurant is a great option. Usually, the bathroom is free to use if you buy something.
Fast food restaurants also have powerful air conditioning. This can be nice when you’re sightseeing on a hot day. You can pop into a fast food joint, grab some lunch, and cool down.
6. It’s Quick and Easy
In some countries, restaurants are incredibly slow. In India, Egypt, Kenya, and Uganda, it’s normal for a meal to take 30-45 minutes or more. I’ve waited over an hour for my meal to arrive on multiple occasions.
Sometimes you don’t have extra time to kill. You just want to eat something quick and get on with your day. Fast food is a great option in these situations. You can order and have your meal within 5 minutes. If you order a pizza, you might wait 15 minutes. Fast food is fast.
This is nice if you’re in a hurry. If you’re only in a city for a day or two and you want to see as much as possible, you don’t have time to spend an hour eating lunch. You just want to eat and get back to sightseeing. In these situations, I will sometimes order a hamburger at a fast food restaurant just to fill myself up quickly so I can get on with my day and maximize the sightseeing time that I have.
7. It’s Tasty
Let’s face it, in some countries, the cuisine isn’t too exciting. People eat the same types of foods for every meal. Sometimes the food is bland. Maybe it’s too salty. You may simply not enjoy the food in some countries. It gets boring after a while.
After sampling a few local dishes, you might prefer a burger or pizza instead of the local cuisine. There is nothing wrong with that. Fast food is tasty. It’s one of the reasons it’s so popular around the world.
For example, I didn’t much care for the food in the Philippines. There were some nice dishes but it wasn’t my favorite cuisine. I found most dishes to be too salty. I ate quite a bit of fast food there because I enjoyed it more.
8. It’s Convenient
Fast food restaurants are often conveniently located. You’ll find them near tourist attractions, in bus and train stations, in downtown areas, in airports, in malls, etc. These companies know how to choose the optimal locations for their businesses.
While you’re traveling, you’ll often walk right by these places. Particularly while you’re passing through an airport or train station. It’s extremely convenient to pop in and grab a bite to eat. You usually don’t have to travel too far to find a fast food restaurant.
After visiting the pyramids in Egypt, I walked across the street and had a pepperoni pizza at Pizza Hut. I could literally see the pyramids from the restaurant. It was a nice meal after a long day. The view was a nice bonus.
9. Ordering is Easy
Ordering food in a foreign country can be a challenge. There can be a significant language barrier. You may not be able to read the menu at local restaurants. Sometimes you just have to point at an item and hope for the best.
When you go to a fast food restaurant, ordering is easy. You can just tell the cashier the number and size you want. In most cases, fast food workers are younger people that speak at least basic English. Even if they speak zero English, you can still communicate. Everyone knows what a Big Mac and Coca Cola are.
These days, most fast food restaurants also have self-serve touch-screen ordering. The machine usually has an English option. You can also order through the app in many cases. This makes ordering easy. You don’t even have to talk to anyone.
There is usually a screen that tells you when your order is up. When your number is called, you can pick up your order and eat. It’s stress free.
10. It’s a Novelty
Eating in a fast food restaurant while traveling is an interesting experience. You’ll notice slight differences from back home. The food may look and taste a bit different. There may be different menu items. it’s a bit of a novelty.
11. You Can Find Something to Eat Even if You Have a Food Allergy or Dietary Restriction
In some countries, finding vegetarian or vegan food is nearly impossible. Most fast food restaurants offer meatless options.
If you have a food allergy, you can read the ingredients online and find a food that you know is safe for you to eat. There won’t be any surprises.
Maybe you’re just a picky eater. If you aren’t comfortable with the local cuisine, fast food is always a reliable option.
Reasons Not To Eat Fast Food While Traveling
1. It’s Expensive
Eating fast food is more expensive than eating in local restaurants in many countries. This is the case in many developing countries. Fast food is considered a luxury in many parts of the world.
A combo meal at a fast food restaurant might cost $7-$10. You might be able to eat street food or enjoy a meal in a local restaurant for $2-$6. You usually won’t save any money by eating fast food.
2. You Won’t Experience The Local Cuisine
When you eat fast food you’re not eating authentic local cuisine. You’re eating cheap, mass produced processed food. The flavors aren’t authentic.
One of my favorite parts of travel is sampling the local flavors. If I were to only eat fast food, I would miss out on that.
3. It’s Not Good for You
Fast Food is unhealthy. It’s greasy and salty. Chances are you’ll have a big sugary drink with it. Fast Food is high in calories and low in nutrition.
Even salads in fast food restaurants are unhealthy. For example, McDonald’s released a Kale salad that had more calories than a Big Mac.
When you’re traveling you want to eat healthy foods that will give you energy and keep you going. Fast Food isn’t it.
After a big fast food meal, you’ll feel bloated and tired. Your stomach won’t be happy with you. You won’t feel energized.
While traveling, you need lots of energy. If you only eat unhealthy foods, you won’t have a good trip.
4. It’s Low Quality Food
Fast food is made from cheap ingredients. Restaurants cut corners to achieve a relatively low price point. The food is also ultra-processed so it has a long shelf life.
If you’re looking for a quality meal, you’re better off going to a local restaurant that uses fresh local ingredients. The food will be of much higher quality.
5. It’s Not Filling
Fast Food usually isn’t very filling. It’s empty calories. You eat it then you feel hungry again a couple of hours later. It doesn’t stick with you.
If you’re really hungry you’re better off not going to a fast food restaurant. You’ll feel full longer if you eat quality food.
6. People Will Judge You For It
Travelers are a judgmental bunch. Some travelers will try to tell you that you’re traveling wrong if you eat fast food. They might try to tell you that you’re not a real traveler.
Personally, I think this is absurd. There is no right or wrong way to travel. These people stink and I avoid them. We’re all tourists and we’re traveling for entertainment and enjoyment. We can eat wherever we want.
My Favorite Fast Food Restaurants To Eat at While Traveling
- McDonald’s- This one is my favorite. One thing I love about McDonald’s is that they are shockingly consistent across the world. The fries taste the same in Lima as they do in Bangkok. McDonald’s is also the largest fast food chain with around 40,000 locations globally they operate in 118 countries. They are extremely common. When I’m in the mood for fast food while I’m traveling, McDonald’s is usually first choice. For whatever reason, I crave it while traveling but never eat it while I’m home in the U.S.
- KFC- Kentucky Fried Chicken is extremely popular all over the world. I have eaten KFC in India, Tanzania, Uganda, Vietnam, Egypt, and more. They’re everywhere. The fried chicken tastes more or less the same everywhere. Everyone loves fried chicken.
- Subway- Subway is the second largest fast food chain by number of stores after McDonald’s. They’re still everywhere and they’re fast. A Subway sandwich is also a reasonably healthy option if you order correctly. Personally, I think Subway is overpriced but I like the food.
- Burger King- In some countries, Burger King is more popular than McDonald’s. They are very common around the world. They’re also consistent. I’ve eaten at Burger King in Paraguay, Thailand, Turkey, and more. This is one of my favorite fast food joints.
- Pizza Hut- Pizza Hut is the world’s largest pizza chain. They’re everywhere. I’ve eaten at pizza hut in Uganda, Turkey, the UAE, and more.
- Starbucks- Starbucks is another one of the biggest chains in the world. In fact it is the largest restaurant chain by revenue. They are extremely common around the world. In some countries, decent coffee is hard to find. Starbucks may be the best option. When you grab a Starbucks coffee, you know what to expect. Starbucks is also a great place to go for wifi if you need to get online. They usually have a fast and unlimited connection.
Local Fast Food Chains
Many regions have their own fast food chains. There are burger chains, fried chicken chains, pizza chains, coffee shops, and more. These places are usually comparable to American style fast food chains. They may offer some local flavors.
For example, the Philippines has Jollibee. They’re famous for their spaghetti and their fried chicken. In Kenya, I ate at Debonair’s Pizza. I believe this is a South African chain but they have locations all across East and Southern Africa.
If you’re traveling somewhere with its own fast food specialty, consider trying it out. It’s an interesting cultural experience.
A great alternative to fast food is street food. It’s tasty, fast, and cheap. In many countries, street food is the local version of fast food.
Be Sure to Try the Local Food
You won’t want to exclusively eat fast food. You’ll miss out on a big part of the local culture if you don’t sample the food. Even if the local cuisine doesn’t appeal to you, you should at least give it a chance. You might be surprised. If you don’t like it, at least you’ll know.
It’s nice to strike a balance. I like to treat myself to a fast food meal once a week or once a month and eat local food the rest of the time. If I’m traveling in a region where I don’t care for the food, I may eat it a bit more frequently.
My Experience Eating McDonald’s While Traveling
On my travels, I like to eat fast food occasionally. Whenever I’m feeling homesick, I’ll stop by a McDonald’s. I also like to eat at McDonald’s when I’m in a country where it’s still cheap. Fast food has gotten pretty expensive where I live so I rarely eat it at home.
Sometimes I’ll reward myself with a fast food meal after a particularly difficult journey. A burger is nice after spending the night on a bus. When arriving in Cape Town after traveling across Africa, I celebrated with a Big Mac. After a long night bus ride in Thailand, I treated myself to a Big Mac.
While riding a motorcycle through Vietnam, I arrived to my hotel exhausted after a long and dusty day of riding. After checking in, I treated myself to KFC. It was one of the best tasting meals I’ve ever had. Probably because I was so exhausted.
While in transit, I may grab myself a burger. Fast food restaurants are usually the cheapest option in airports. I recently had Wendy’s while I was stuck in Seattle airport during a long flight delay.
When I was in Indonesia, I ate loads of fast food because it was so cheap. I could get a Big Mac combo for around $3. I couldn’t believe how cheap it was.
Fast food is a quick, easy, and affordable option when you’re in a hurry. It can also be a cure for homesickness. Sometimes you just want something familiar. Eating Fast food can even be a cultural experience. When you eat at your favorite fast food restaurant overseas, you’ll get to sample local menu items and ingredients.
Never be ashamed of eating fast food while traveling. It’s your trip. You can eat where you want. There is nothing wrong with enjoying a Big Mac while traveling abroad.
Do you eat fast food while traveling? Share your reasons in the comments below.
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Zachary Friedman is an accomplished travel writer and professional blogger. Since 2011, he has traveled to 66 countries and 6 continents. He founded ‘Where The Road Forks’ in 2017 to provide readers with information and insights based on his travel and outdoor recreation experience and expertise. Zachary is also an avid cyclist and hiker. Living as a digital nomad, Zachary balances his professional life with his passions for hiking, camping, cycling, and worldwide exploration. For a deeper dive into his journey and background, visit the About page. For inquiries and collaborations, please reach out through the Contact page. You can also follow him on Facebook.