Eating at McDonald's in a foreign country does not make you a despicable traveler. There, I said it. Hate me now.
In all honestly -- up until I took my career break and traveled around the world, I would have scoffed at that statement myself. I thought Americans who ate at McDonalds while traveling abroad were heathens; some lower form of tourist I was embarrassed to associate myself with. I'm not the only one who has that opinion. As successful as they are, McDonald's somehow has a terrible stigma associated with it. Lazy, fat Americans going to McDonald's instead of trying a country's local food items is often a picture that is painted. People wonder "Why go abroad?" if you are just going to eat at the same places you did at home.
However on the other side of the coin is the argument that there is something comforting in knowing what to expect and having something familiar when you are doing long term travel. This is how I found myself in a McDonald's in Luxor on one very hot day in July. I had been on the road for 11 months and had been in Egypt for a week touring temple after temple. I was tired of temples. I was tired of sweating and being constantly on guard from the touts. So when the group I had been traveling with all started lathering on sunscreen and getting ready to leave to see the Luxor Temple, I decided to be different. I didn't go.
Instead, I wanted some 'me time', I wanted to stand still and not explore; I needed a vacation from my around the world travel. After nearly a year on the road, I felt like I deserved this lazy day. However, I wasn't satisfied with a simple lazy day, I wanted a hamburger. I wanted a 'real' American hamburger with pickles, onion, ketchup and proper yellow mustard.
After my friends left to dig further into Egyptian relics, I left in search of American greasiness. I had remembered walking by a McDonald's the night before and it must have triggered a craving in me that wouldn't let go. I walked inside the familiar looking McDonald's and became suddenly self-aware of my Caucasian skin. For a moment I wondered what other people thought. I wished I could be invisible. However that moment lasted about 2 seconds until the freezing cold air-conditioned air mass hit my body and I stood motionless just soaking it in. I walked up to the counter and ordered a Big Mac, fries, and a Coke. I sat at a table with a pile of ketchup packets and enjoyed my greasy American feast while listening to old Paula Abdul songs being pumped through the speakers. I savored every moment of this familiar feast. A familiarity I hadn't had in a very long time.
Yearning for the familiar when you are on the road long term is normal. After all, you spend the majority of your time constantly trying to figure out how to communicate and get around in an abnormal environment; it's exhausting. I never really got homesick while I traveled for 16 months, however I did have these moments where I just wanted it to be easy for a few hours or a day; and those days were apparently a good day to go to McDonald's.
If you are a traveler, then I hereby grant you permission to satisfy your McDonald's craving. I, nor any other traveler will/should judge you.
That day in Luxor I sat in the McDonald's for a couple of hours, enjoying the air conditioning and my alone time; a time when I didn't have to think about how to get around or communicate. There was just one last thing I had to do with this perfect lazy day; order a hot fudge sundae.
Have you ever acted upon a McDonald's craving while traveling?