Laurel grew up on a small California ranch raising dairy goats and a menagerie of other animals, which is what inspired her to educate people about sustainable agriculture and seasonal eating through her business, The Sustainable Kitchen®. When not sitting in her pajamas in front of her computer, Laurel can be found enjoying the outdoors, or backpacking around the world eating street food and acquiring new and exciting tropical diseases.
Read more about Laurel on her food and travel "not-blog,"Snacking on Xanax. She's with us today talking about what she brings on her culinary adventures.
When I travel, regardless of whether on assignment or for pleasure, I’m the quintessential dirtbag backpacker, and I’m also always on the hunt for the best regional and street foods. For me, food is intrinsically linked to travel, and I find it’s one of the best ways to really get to know a country or culture’s history, social mores, and indigenous and outside influences. Eating street food with a gaggle of locals, or being invited into someone’s home and cooking and dining with their family provides an intimate portrait of their daily life. Experiences such as these have yielded some of my most memorable travel experiences.
Being an adventure traveler/ravenous eater can have its pitfalls. No matter how careful I am, I still manage to suffer the occasional bout of food- or water-borne illness. As a food writer that just goes with the territory, but few things can waylay a trip like a case of amoebic dysentery (thanks, improperly boiled water on Thai hill tribe trek), Giardia (three times and counting), or salmonella (hello there, cross-contaminated poultry from Moroccan cooking class). Even generic traveler’s diarrhea is no fun, especially when it hits you on a 14-hour bus trip or while hiking the Inca Trail (again, been there).
I’d like to stress that most of these incidents occurred because I willingly pushed my comfort zone in the name of research. Every time I’ve gotten sick, I knew it was going to happen (that “beef” satay in Bali, the fly-covered carnitas in a literal one-taco-stand town in rural Mexico). If you’re careful, you can still be an adventurous eater, and generally avoid foodborne illness.
Because you can never be too prepared, here’s a list of my five essentials for travel, glutton-style:
You don’t want to abuse this potent anti-diarrheal, because when you have traveler’s tummy, the best thing you can do is, ahem, get it out of your system. But when you need to travel, trek, or otherwise do something that takes your away from the facilities, this is invaluable and potentially a life-saver (dehydration and loss of electrolytes due to repeated vomiting or diarrhea can be serious, or even fatal, if prolonged).
I travel with a small pharmacy because I’ve acquired infectious diseases, bladder infections, and other fun ailments while traveling, but all visitors to developing nations should see their doctor (preferably a travel or infectious disease specialist) pre-trip for prescriptions of Doxycyline, a wide-spectrum antibiotic that’s used for bacterial or some amoebic infections, Metronidazole (Flagyl), for anaerobic bacterial and certain parasitic infections, and Cipro, the big daddy for serious bacterial infections.
Be sure to carry a copy of your prescription with you, and try not to self-diagnose. You also shouldn’t resort to antibiotics unless you’re in a situation where you’re unable to get proper medical care. Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem world-wide, particularly with drugs like Cipro, so use this as a last resort.
Self-explanatory, and should, among other things, contain OTC’s like Pepto-Bismol tablets, Tums, Pepcid, ibuprofen, probiotics (I’m a huge fan; be sure it’s a brand that’s stable without refrigeration, and contains live culture; I recommend Jarro-Dophilus, by Jarrow Formulas) an Epi-pen (you’ll need a prescription, but this is a good one in case of food or other allergy emergency), etc.
I always pack a stash of Emergen-C packets and Honey Stingers, which help to restore balance after a strenuous trek, or in case of serious vomiting or diarrhea.
Even if you’re not a writer by occupation, if you truly love food and travel culture, it’s fun to jot down what and where you ate, so you can go back to that special street food stand (although be aware that they frequently change location or vanish overnight) or tip off fellow travelers. Just remember to ask before snapping any photos, as culturally, it could be offensive.
Whether you’re in a country that doesn’t use TP, or just tooling around developing nations, this is one essential you’ll want to have. You’ll always see experienced travelers with a roll hanging out of their pack. And remember, throw used paper in the trash, not in the toilet.
While I’m generally very anti-antibacterial everything, as a little immune system strengthening isn’t a bad thing, this is definitely a godsend when you’re traveling developing nations (see above). I always use after handing money to street vendors, as well.
TSA-approved combination locks
All travelers should use these, but it’s especially important for budget travelers staying in dodgy guesthouses and hostels, or taking public transit, to keep bags under close scrutiny, and zippers locked. Sure, someone can just slash a pack with a knife, or steal the whole shebang, but I’ve found this a worthy deterrent in these situations. Even though I never leave my valuables behind, I always lock up my big pack whenever I leave the room. A little paranoia is worth preventing getting ripped off.
Layers for long bus or train rides
Always carry a lightweight blanket, sarong, large scarf, sleeping bag, shorts, what have you stashed in your carry-on, because an overnight journey with blasting AC or steamy jungle heat and intense sun is simply not fun.
Mid-weight carabiners for your daypack
I am officially obsessed with these versatile, spring-loaded climbing clips, good for everything from carrying an extra pair of shoes or baseball hat to jerry-rigging a broken zipper. Buy ‘em in a variety of sizes.