The Surprising Reason I Visit McDonald’s Often When Traveling the World

JohnnyJet offers 5 reasons why people eat at McDonald’s when they travel.

And some of them are actually good reasons, or at least reasonable. I haven’t eaten at McDonald’s in several years. But I don’t judge the folks who explained why they do it.

  1. Dietary restrictions.

    since becoming a vegetarian who eats fish occasionally, finding food can sometimes be tricky. The thing I love about McDonald’s when traveling (or any major fast food chain), is that I know exactly what I can get

  2. Education.

    I’m there to learn about the local culinary customs. McDonald’s has long had a history of adapting its menu to better fit in with local sensibilities..These variations are a fantastic window into the local culture, and a fun way to learn about what foods they love the most.

    It’s certainly true, McDonald’s tempers its offerings to meet local demand. For instance there’s no beef in Mumbai McDonald’s but they do offer several different fry dips.

    In Bangkok Ronald McDonald greets you, sawadee krap:

  3. Efficiency. It’s quick and cheap. I’m not sure it’s the best thing that’s quick and cheap, but it’s also efficient in terms of not needing to invest in learning about options.

I actually have a reason to visit McDonald’s that doesn’t fit into the categories Johnny uncovers. Of course it doesn’t actually involve eating at McDonald’s. It just involves going to McDonald’s.

The reason is: reasonably clean and available restrooms

If I’m out in Mumbai all day, not everywhere I go is going to have a restroom. Or toilet paper. Toilet paper is getting more common in China than it was when I first visited, especially in major cities. (Although it can be a good idea still to carry your own.)

McDonald’s are easy places to walk in, relatively unnoticed, and use the restrooms.

Now in many parts of South Asia McDonalds delivers. But since they do not deliver clean restrooms I don’t really see the point.

I don’t find the McDonald’s restroom tip especially valuable in Europe, because of the prevalence of first world amenities you’ll find most everywhere you go. And yet on Las Ramblas in Barcelona, one of the most touristy of tourist areas, you have pretty much every fast food to choose from.

There’s plenty of Spanish food there, too. But if you’re going to eat tapas, try to do it somewhere other than Las Ramblas. The food will be better (not to mention less expensive, because of the rents).

Since there are clean restrooms all over Barcelona I cannot offer a justificiation for Western fast food. But I’m grateful that it’s popular in many of the places I travel where I couldn’t otherwise find a place to go.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Last time in Costa Rica when I was completely lost and needed help to find my hotel (even the cops couldn’t help me). I went into a McDonald’s and used the wifi. It didn’t work and they said it had been down all day. I suggested rebooting the router and that solved the issue. While there I saw they had a fancy-looking espresso bar with food much better-looking a typical than SBUX so I had an espresso and a pastry – actually VERY good, better than SBUX in every way. They gave me a Mc Cafe espresso cup for helping with the wifi!

    Not that I ever go into McD’s in the US. I grew up without fast food (no TV either) and so that stuff doesn’t appeal to me.

    Also a few years ago just outside Buenos Aires we saw a McDonald’s packed with people and my son, who was living there, said it was a popular “night out” for some people. We stopped to have a look and I saw the prices seemed very high compared to other food in Argentina and I asked if the beef was local and they said “unfortunately not”.

  2. Ironically, I go there when I get a bit of Delhi belly while traveling. I find that my stomach is sadly used to the ingredients that make up their burgers and fries…so when I have an upset stomach due to foreign ingredients from tainted street food in Bangkok or bad kebabs in Istanbul I pop into McD to get food my stomach will be used to.

  3. Another nice thng about McDonald’s when travelling abroad is they can serve as landmarks. They often have large signs that are easy to spot for Americans but there aren’t so many as to be confusing.

  4. I was once disoriented in Rio and couldn’t have been any more happy to see the famed Golden Arches. No food consumed, but I grab a giga-bite or two of the free wifi to get myself back on track.

  5. If you are in Hong Kong, Miami or New York check out the McDonald that have the new create your taste menu. The burgers are very good as well as the presentation. Interestingly the fries are not as good as the way they serve them on the economy meals. While mos McDonald’s store are on a race to the bottom with offering NY cheap solutions. There are upscale stores through out the world with great options.

  6. Take-out coffee is a very American thing, so when traveling, McDonald’s is often the only option if you need that. Y’know, like when you’re catching an early train.

  7. “since becoming a vegetarian who eats fish occasionally”

    Then he IS NOT a vegetarian and stop calling himself one. How does that fact that a fish is not part of a vegetarian diet escape him?

    In addition, their french fries are not even vegetarian…

    “McDonald’s said in a statement that the restaurant chain had never claimed its French fries were vegetarian.”
    http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=93386&page=1

    Nothing more annoying than when people say I’m a vegetarian but i eat…..fish, chicken, etc. As a vegan who travels. I found the logic that he eats a McDonald’s because it’s easier with dietary restrictions laughable. There is real vegetarian/vegan food available the world around. You don’t need to keep feeding the corporate greed machine of McDonald’s.

  8. One thing you didn’t mention was Wi-Fi. When we were driving from London to Mongolia(10,000 miles) for charity there were days we were offline. When we saw those golden arches there was a possibility of being able to go online.

  9. I suppose you can glean something about the culture from the differences in the local McDonalds, but surely there are much more enlightening things one can do if learning about the local culture (and especially cuisine) is the goal?!

  10. @What?? Right on!

    @Gary

    I remember when I used to go to the Pizza Hut in Chang Mai because it was the only place with the air-conditioning. I find myself going into 7-Eleven’s in Bangkok for the same reason (AC) .

  11. @What??

    There’s this old joke:

    Q: How do you know if someone is a vegan?
    A: Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.

    Quit being “that guy.” I’m also a vegan but love to have the occasional meat, fish, egg or poultry item…. whats the big deal?

  12. McDonalds was a God send in Hong Kong. The big breakfast was a great deal price-wise compared to the expensive restaurants nearby. Also the consistent quality was welcome. We had some questionable food at some restaurants there so we started seeking out places like Pizza Hut (although expensive). We also found a Loving Hut vegan restaurant and that was fantastic for a break from the fatty meats and soups.

  13. McDonalds are often the only place open for business when others have shut down — ran into this situation twice while living in England: Eastgate Shopping Centre, Basildon, England, on a Saturday around 6 PM, and then again in central Ipswich, England, on a Sunday around 4 PM (the latter involved a potty emergency with a toddler).

  14. As the blind taste tests proved, McD’s coffee is way better than Starbucks, and half the price.
    Free wi-fi is another bonus.

  15. @ KL

    There is this joke that goes…

    Q. How do you know when someone isn’t vegan?
    A: They “love to have the occasional meat, fish, egg or poultry item”

    If educating people on the horrors of the greed machine and how they abuse innocent creatures makes me ‘that guy’, fine by me. You sound moronic calling yourself a vegan and then following it with that statement. It’s like saying, “I’m a police officer swore to serve and protect, accept for the occasional shifts I go out and kick the sh#t out of someone for fun. What’s wrong with that?” You either ARE something or your NOT something and you clearly are NOT vegan.

  16. Some McDonalds in Europe charge for restroom use. I’m talking coin-operated locks on the door. But if someone else pays and comes out, there’s your chance to get to use the bathroom without paying per use.

    Is this how pay-per-use bathrooms on planes will go if regulations don’t prevent airlines from going to the a la carte fee approach for in-flight restroom use?

  17. Free wi-fi, restrooms and if I just want to sit down a few minutes with a cold snack, a cheap ice cream cone or sundae.

  18. For me, it’s a stupid tradition. When I started serious international travel at 11 years old, I came up with the great idea of going to a McDonalds I’m every country, just for the novelty. 24 years later, and I’m continuing the tradition.

    Not all Micky D’s are created equal though: Malaysia’s patty was grey and tasteless, while the burgers in Turkey, Morocco and Indonesia were actually pretty good! And who doesn’t love a “Royal Cheese” in Paris with a nice, cold 1664?

  19. McDs in Manila, Philippines serve, for breakfast, fried rice with fried egg and sausage/chorizo. They even have spaghetti.

  20. I live in Maine. Guess what the McDonalds’ up here have on their summertime menu?

    Lobster Rolls! Lol

  21. I go to non-US locations for the old fried apple pies (with the crazy-hot filling). I hate those baked pies now served in the US.

  22. At McDonalds in Amsterdam there was an attendant who sprayed the toilet, and mopped every single time someone came out of a stall. Made for a long line. She also charged 25 cents and if you didn’t pay her boy was she mad. She gave the death stare to quite a few people in line. Interesting experience.

  23. When I was younger I would go into McDonalds when I traveled to countries where I did not speak the language well, because I could point to the menu and easily order food. In some countries it can be difficult at local restaurants because you do not know what you are ordering. Mcdonalds also serve has good landmarks and I do enjoy seeing the changes they make to their menus. Now that I am older I am much more open to trying new foods. Having spent a few weeks in China recently I was really impressed by the chinese cuisine. That being said I did eat a lot of KFC there as well, but in fairness the chicken at the chinese KFC restaurants was soo much better than in the US.

  24. @Billy d Are they any good? It just seems wrong that you would buy a lobster roll in a McDonalds when you can get excellent ones all over Maine.

  25. Agree with others, Starbucks has surpassed McDs as the chain to visit. Nicer bathrooms, better wifi, and offers a product that I enjoy v. crappo fast food. The only time I visit McDs overseas are when my children are with me.

    In general one can find nice bathrooms in major hotel lobbies…though some in San Francisco are now off limits thanks to misuse by the thousands of homeless people there.

  26. On my first business trip to Japan, Macdonalds was the only open spot to eat. This was the first Big Mac I had ever been served that looked like the promo photos. It was presented with care unlike most US versions that are mashed in the box.

  27. Sorta related but not exactly : KFC in Thailand have some spicy items on their menu not found in USA . If you want a quick , uncomplicated meal KFC Thailand might be okay . McDonald’s , Burger King ,Pizza Hut are there also but I haven’t eaten at those places so can’t comment .

  28. I had a GREEK MAC in Athens a few months ago. Had to try the local twist on the classic. McDonalds have late hours, WIFI and bathrooms.

    PS. Who would think a post about Mcdonalds gets people wound up politically or otherwise.

    Gary calling himself a vegetarian should not create controversy.

  29. +1 for ice in drinks (and LARGE diet cokes at reasonable prices). But as an extremely non-adventurous eater, McD’s is very often my saving grace in much of the world–especially Asia.

    @what? Get off your damn high horse (or apple tree, or whatever is shoved up your . . . ) and stop being the language police. There’s no “vegetarian’s oath” in which one swears to never consume an animal. Be a strictly observant whatever, but stop trying to “educate” the rest of us. And, “abuse innocent creatures?!” Please.

  30. My wife and I were in a small town in Sweden, everything closed about 6pm. But McDonalds…we bought a kids meal to get a Swedish book that came with it, and enjoyed somewhere to sit that wasn’t a hotel lobby or our room after 9pm.

    And speaking of American stores, I went in a 7-11 in Stockholm about 25 years ago during the winter. They had a slurpee machine and I asked for one just to be told it was turned off in the wintertime. Another silly American thing to do 🙂

  31. Our kids loved the whoppers, expensive, at The Peak in Hong Kong. First burger on a three week trip thru Europe and Hong Kong, might have something to do with it. Memorable experience.

  32. @mbh

    I actually never tried to educate anyone with my original post on this forum, only mentioned that there are options, other than McDonald’s for vegetarian/vegan’s around the world, so using that as an excuse to eat at McDonald’s was not a valid argument.

    If you look back at the discussion, I was the one that was told not to be “that guy” by simply stating the fact that i am vegan. No preaching, no lecturing, nothing. So how is it being on a “high-horse” by stating the factual accuracy that by definition you are not vegetarian if you eat fish? Also, veganism is more than just a diet. By definition veganism is “a person who does not eat or use animal products.” So why would someone who clearly wants to eat fish, or in the case of KL, still wants to eat meat, fish, dairy, etc…even call themselves vegetarian or vegan?

  33. @what? your claim that you are not trying to educate anyone , no preaching , no lecturing is specious . Reviewing your posts they appear quite strident ,angry, self righteous . I noticed that you are eager to condemn others and even call them a moron . If my perception is contrary to your intention I recommend that you review your style of communication . Animals eagerly eat other animals and they aren’t particularly concerned whether you do or not .

  34. Food is safe snd wont make me sick. I skip local dishes when smtraveling. I want yo rnjoy my trip every day. McDonald food may be artificial but foes thr job

  35. I’ve got a Mickey D’s about a mile and a half away but in nearly 20 years of living in my current house I’ve gone to it less than a handful of times. Overseas is a different story. A few years ago in Zermatt I went to one just to get a break from the sticker shock of Swiss prices (i.e. double everything). Even then a Filet’O’Fish and drink was $20!

    Enjoy it while you can – entering my late fifties now, I am really starting to notice how my body rebels against fast food on the rare occasions that I have it. (Kinda like how my brain rebels against strident Vegans like @What?.). “Garbage in, garbage out” as the programming saying goes.

  36. We always try McDonald’s overseas. They always have better food than in the US, and it’s a familiar ordering experience. I had the best chicken sandwich I’ve ever had at a Burger King in Bangkok, and an almost as good one at a McD’s in Macau. They both used dark meat which is tastier and juicier than American all white meat. We went to one in Paris and will never do that again. $19 later for two cheeseburger combos that weren’t very good. Terrible exchange rate at the time.

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