Travel Life: An intrepid unintentionally picky eater

Have a weak stomach and can’t leave home without popping a few Tums Tablets?  That’s me but I don’t let it get in the way of my wanderlust

Mezes in Damascus
Mezes in Damascus which were excellent and no regrets

Fresh fruit juices, grilled kebab, ice cream, “healthy” green salad, drinks with ice cubes and the list goes on.  These are just a few things that I can’t eat when I’m far from home.  The eating part of the itinerary unwillingly promoted itself to the priority section of most of my pre-trip planning. A few very uncomfortable food related instances happened early in my adventure travel days had a profound effect on how I travel today.

I have always wanted to see as much of the world.  Still true but minus the visit to the local shaman with an interpreter in tow.

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Food Market in Yerevan Armenia

A good amount of travel research time is usually spent figuring out where and what to eat a the next destination.  The location of my hotel/hostel hopefully is very close to a good food establishment whether it be a grocery store or restaurant.  There’s an added bonus if the restaurant is located in the hotel/hostel just for jet lag and precautionary reasons.   When I am starving, have just recovered from another case of food poisoning or just got off a 30 flight I usually  want a restaurant to be literally within crawling distance.

String Hoppers for breakfast
String Hoppers topped with spicy Coconut Simbal for breakfast in Sri Lanka
Pistachio Pastry in Alleppo
Pistachio Pastry in Aleppo – Worth the belly ache I got later

The back story and the naive beginnings of a hungry traveler

I decided early on that I’m not an adventurous eater –  wimpy eater is more like it.  I got burned trying to be like Anthony Bourdain.  I was on a three-week trip and going to meet a friend of my then boyfriend who was in the Peace Corps in Bulgaria.  This was a great trip in between all of my food mishaps that is.   It didn’t ruin my whole trip but I just have memories and wasn’t up to taking pictures.   The theory that everything bad happens in threes was proven.

Airplane food

First, minor but not so fun bout of sickness was a flight from Istanbul to Bucharest.  I was having a pleasant chat with a Turkish guy sitting next to me.  Lunch came and went and I was too busy talking that I just automatically ate what was in front of me.  Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten that chicken salad sandwich on that Air Tarom flight.  The gentleman proceeded to eat my travel companions sandwich he smartly declined.   Lets say I missed a day of sightseeing in Bucharest.

Lesson:  Bring my own food and don’t eat any meat/egg dish that has salad attached to the name on the menu.

Japanese Matsuri food outside of Tokyo
Not so tempting Japanese Matsuri food outside Tokyo

Doing too much to fast leads to bad things

Second, was the trip to the local doctor in Sofia.  I had just met Kathy for the first time and she was wonderful.  I realized that all the travelling from Bucharest to Sofia had taken its toll on me.  I was feeling well and we had a long trek ahead.  It was time to see a doctor again.  In short,  the doctor only spoke Bulgarian and at least Kathy was there to help.   I was glad to get to a doctor  after a very awkward back and fourth translation of my symptoms.  He gave me some mysterious pills,  I took them regardless and we were on our way. Luckily,  they  did the job.  I was a little terrified to eat for a day and a dropped a few pounds.  The beer I drank later made up for the lost calories.    The locals here think that  Rakia sipped while eating shopska salad (both very dubious)  cures everything.  I think they might be on to something or just like a reason to drink Rakia.

Lesson:  Bring Cipro and think about eating just bread and bottled water after a long rail/plane trip.  They are both available just about anywhere.

Fish sandwich cafes along the Bosphorus in Istanbul
Looks innocent right? Well they are still there a couple of years after my incident selling sandwiches

More food problems at the end of a rocky journey

And the third.  The 2.5 weeks were filled with seeing wonderful sites and meeting new friends (doctors too) along the way.  It was the last leg and the worst was behind me.  A friend had mentioned that one thing you can’t miss in Istanbul is the fish sandwich sold on small boats just off of the Bosphorus.  We found the boats like he said and grabbed a couple of dubious grilled fish sandwiches served in a very crusty bun. The fish just fileted, grilled and put inside a white bun with sprig of lettuce and slice of tomato.  No sauce.  I should have stopped after a couple of uncertain bites. The next day, I ended up waking up with a face that was so swollen that I could barely see in front of me.  It was a pretty frightening sight.
The only real adventure was a trip to the local ER in Istanbul early that morning.  The American Hospital of Istanbul is a comfortable facility and I highly recommend it to others in need of care – whether it be of itchy hives or other travel illnesses.  One dose of Cortisone IV – $5M Turkish Lira  – Relief from hives on my face for 24 hours – Priceless.

Lesson:  Make sure to know where and if there’s an ER near by just in case.  Resist those local dishes especially made with fish.  Additionally,  try to eat fruit with skin or  properly clean fruit without it when traveling.  There are many microbes that hideout on the surface of food and in liquids.  They are are usually harmless to locals but could be deadly to those without built up immunities.

What can a traveler do besides just drinking tea and eating bread the whole trip?

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There’s always plenty of chai where ever you go

We all have our weak moments when that chocolate covered banana at the street fair in Tokyo looks too good to resist and we want to try to eat like a local to save money.

Japanese Matsuri Food outside of Tokyo
Yummy Japanese Matsuri food outside of Tokyo

In the end, all that travelers can do is take preventative measures, use some common sense and have a good time. Here’s a few things I think about and do these days when I travel that seem to help me:

–  Be organized and plan the  exact route on how to get from customs to your bed

–  Get all required vaccinations and don’t be cheap on things like Malorone Pills

–  Bring your own food.  Remember you can even get food poisoning on the plane.

–  Take it easy when you first arrive and set out a reasonable plan of attack

–  Ease into the local food

–  Stay hydrated and try and skip that glass or 3 of wine on the plane (these days it’s hard to resist after the hassles travelers have to go through to get on a plane etc.)

Stay well and have happy and safe travels in 2012!

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