8 Rules To Live By When Traveling To Eat

"If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home." – James Michener

Michener is right; if you can't stomach the local fare, you're not really traveling. Pulling us away from our local haunts, travel is a way to explore new destinations, and what better way to get to know a place than through its food culture? The added benefit of travel is that it allows you to indulge. You might skip out on that dessert at home, but hey, you're in Greece... you have to try the baklava! And order that third beer.

If you're a food lover at home, then traveling like one isn't a difficult feat, but there are a few things to keep in mind to make sure you make the best of your foray into exotic palates.

1. Go off the beaten path

For those really looking for a culinary experience, you're not going to get it sticking to the major thoroughfares. Take time to explore. Make sure you seek out just as many local dive joints as you do three-star Michelin places. And no matter how hungry you are, try to avoid eating in big chain restaurants.

2. Choose a specific dish to focus on

If you're headed to a place that's known for a specific ingredient or dish, plan your itinerary accordingly. Olive oil tastings and olive grove tours in Italy, coffee farms in Hawaii and fish tacos in Baja. This gives you a base to start with and you can expand from there.

3. Employ the "just say yes" policy

Traveling is about experiencing, and even if the fried dish of bugs looks odd, at the very least you'll end up with a good story to tell. After all, tales of crazy eating experiences aren't born from responses of "No, I don't think so." Just make sure you have some pills for an upset stomach just in case.

4. Bring a journal... and use it

Whatever you are eating or wherever you are grocery shopping, you want to make sure that you are documenting. As much as you think you might remember the hole-in-the-wall restaurant with the great pizza, chances are, a year from now you will be hard pressed to come up with the name. Keep track of where and what you eat. You never know when you'll be back or when friends will need recommendations for their own travels. Another option? Use a check-in service like Foursquare.

5. Research... but not too much

It's always good to go with a few destinations in mind, especially if you're in a city known for its restaurants, but you don't want to over-plan either. Leave room for serendipity and plan for the unexpected as well as the occasional unknown food cart.

6. Get recommendations

Branch out of your favorite food blogs and guidebooks – the best advice is going to come from locals. If you're on the search for a specific local dish, ask people where they go to get their favorite version.

7. Go grocery shopping

Skip out on the restaurant scene and make your own meal (if you have a kitchen at your disposal). Grocery stores can provide some of the best insight into a local food culture. That's exactly how I discovered my obsession with dark chocolate spread in Amsterdam.

8. Bring it home

Head to the local bookstore and invest in a cookbook. Even in foreign countries, you can come across English-language books covering local eats. When you return, showcase some of your favorite dishes you recently discovered for friends at a dinner party. The best part about traveling to eat is that it expands your repertoire. Your friends and family will thank you.

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