If you've ever traveled abroad, then you know that food can be both an adventurous blessing and a cravings curse. Even if you love the local cuisines, there comes a point when all you need are the familiar tastes of home. Avoid this problem by bringing these hard-to-find snacks with you!
You HAVE to tap into your adventurous side and try new foods while living abroad! The traditional food of a country says so much about the locals and what they value. It's such a key part of immersing yourself in a new place and its culture. Plus, you may be pleasantly surprised by what flavors and foods you discover!
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Quick Facts About ILP You Need To Know
But, no matter how much time you've spent abroad before, or how much you love the local food, there will absolutely be days that you just need something comforting from home. Speaking from experience, it's probably snacks and junk food you'll crave the most. And plenty of our volunteers agree! For ILP volunteers, stuffing any spare room in your suitcase with your favorite light-weight, packaged foods is just as essential as packing your clothes, toiletries, and teaching supplies.
You can usually find plenty of snacks at your local grocery store or market while abroad, but certain American brands and snacks just don't exist outside of the US. And others can be found but are super overpriced since they have to be imported. We're talking $10+ for a little jar of peanut butter. Your bank account will be very grateful if you prepare beforehand, preventing moments of desperation. Here's a list of foods you will probably want and should consider bringing in your suitcase:
- About ILP Meals
- Salty Snacks
- Sweet Treats
- Savory Sauces & Spices
- +Things You Can Usually Find For $$
Heads up: When deciding what to bring, try to keep it simple. You might not have a full kitchen available to you. Tune in to @ilptakeovers where alumni regularly talk about their experiences, answer questions, and share tips. And once you've been assigned as a volunteer, READ YOUR CITY PAGE on my.ilp.org to get specific info about food and the living situation in your city/country.
About ILP Meals
If you're planning to volunteer with ILP, then you've probably already heard that meals are included in the program fee, right? That includes 3 meals a day that are provided by the host school or host family. But, that doesn't include scheduled vacation days or weekends when you're out traveling. All other meals, snacks, and treats that you're craving do have to be paid for with your own spending money.
Since the meals are provided by the locals, we don't get to be very picky about what is served. Usually the cooks try to make things that they know our volunteers will like! But some of our volunteers have allergies, or aversions to certain kinds of food, or just don't like the local cuisine, or want to eat out regularly. Whatever your preferences are, just know that you will want to try things, like trdelnik in Prague, or tamales in Mexico, or even make your own Pad Thai in Thailand. Just plan on spending some money on food, but also bring these favorite snacks that you won't be able to find abroad!
This is the highest priority on my personal list. Cheese-flavored snacks such as Goldfish, Cheez-its, Cheese Nips, Flamin' Hot Cheetos, etc. are especially hard to find! Actually, cheese in general isn't a very popular item in places like Asia and the Caribbean. If these are your go-to travel snacks, make sure you bring them from home.
Popcorn can be difficult to find as well, both the microwave kind and plain kernels. You may be able to find a small box at a big grocery store (even in places like China), but why risk it? Popcorn is small and light enough to just throw in your bags while you're packing! My own ILP group regularly stopped by the local movie theater just to get a bucket of buttery goodness.
Oh, can't get enough of fruity candy? Especially sour fruity candy? Let me try to break this gently. The chances you will find any abroad that will hit the spot in the same why your favorites do is very low. Consider bringing anything like Red Vines, Starbursts, Warheads, Hi-Chews, Swedish Fish, Air Heads, Mike and Ike's, Life Savers, Caramel Apple Pops, or Jolly Ranchers. Phew, that's a lot of candy!
So you're going to Europe, and think we're absolutely crazy for adding this one, right? Well, you won't be able to find things like Reese's Cups, Butterfingers, Peanut M&M's, or York Peppermint Patties where you're going. Guaranteed! But honestly if you're headed to Europe, I hope you just branch out and try new things because if you ask me, their chocolate is much better.
If you're headed to China or Thailand, don't plan on finding any locally made chocolate that you'll love. Definitely not Asia's specialty! The same is usually true of Central America and the South Pacific too, so just be prepared. And if you can, pack individually wrapped candy bars that are easy to throw in the fridge. Otherwise, they'll melt.
Although I will say that you can find Snickers virtually all over the world (even at a small stand on the top of a mountain hike in China). So no need to bring those if they're your favorite treat.
Mac And Cheese
This is a total lifesaver. If you love Mac and Cheese at home, you will crave it like crazy abroad. Luckily, it's an easy thing to toss into a suitcase. You can find milk and butter just about everywhere, and it's simple enough to mix up for dinner when you just can eat another bowl of cooked rice and veggies. Better yet, bring a few of the Easy-Mac packets so you don't even have to run to the store for those added ingredients. We've all been there!
Hear me out. This totally classifies as a meal when you're rushing to catch a train to a Buddhist Temple at 7 am, or when you've been at the Palace of Versailles for 3 hours and don't want to pay their prices for a subpar sandwich. There will be more situations like this then you'd think during your semester (especially if you end up taking a lot of night buses/trains while on vacations) so if you only have room for one snack, make it this! Granola bars are pretty much impossible to find in any other country, so pack an entire stash. Trust me on this.
Huge category, but includes everything from pancake and brownie mixes, to instant potatoes and noodle concoctions. Some of the volunteers in my groups have brought these for cooking classes at the school, but we always end up saving them for ourselves instead. While you can usually find things like Ramen Noodles abroad, they're not going to be what you're used to, and if you can find familiar brands, you'd better be willing to pay a lot more. Even if you don't eat much of this stuff at home. . .there will be days. Let me tell ya!
Savory Sauces and Spices
No matter what country you're spending a semester in, the local cuisine might seem bland in comparison to what you're used to. We Americans LOVE our flavor! The staple meal for our volunteers in the Caribbean and Central America consists of rice and beans. In Asia, it's cooked veggies and rice. And Eastern Europeans basically live off of bread, meat, and potatoes. Bringing sauce from home that you love will amp up any of these meals.
BBQ sauce is a uniquely American flavor. Some foreign restaurants may have BBQ on the menu, but it's usually more of a sweet, spicy ketchup. A little disappointing. Pretty much every country serves different meats that would taste delicious with BBQ sauce. Even just bringing little one-use packages is awesome because you can carry them in your purse. BBQ sauce not your thing? What about honey mustard or the classic Chick-fil-A sauce? Bring one, and thank us later.
Ranch is a staple in the US, but in other countries? Not so much. In most Eastern European countries, you can expect salads to be topped with mayonnaise or a simple vinaigrette. And in Asia? Don't plan on eating salads ... ever. If you don't have room for a bottle of your favorite dressing, just bring the seasoning packet version instead. These are easy to mix with sour cream, plain yogurt, or mayonnaise, all of which you can find pretty much everywhere.
This is one of the things that is totally hit or miss. In some places, the closest thing you'll find is sweet chili sauce (we're looking at you, Thailand and China). But in other countries, they have an entire variety (hello, Dominican Republic!). If you have a fav, bring it. Unlike other sauces, a little bit of hot sauce goes a long way.
If you have a spice blend that you use a lot at home, bring it with you! A little container of taco seasoning, or Trader Joe's "Everything But the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend" or "Chile Lime Seasoning Blend" hardly weighs a thing and is the perfect way to dress up some scrambled eggs or a bowl of plain rice and beans.
+Things You Can Usually Find For $$
Typically, you CAN find peanut butter abroad, but only in larger grocery stores that have an imported section. As we already mentioned, peanut butter abroad is very expensive, and might not taste the same (depending on the brand). I always bring a jar of peanut butter when I'm away for a semester. It's added weight in your suitcase but is a necessity in my book. You can always find apples and bananas at your local market — or bread and jam — so you can have a quick snack or sandwich on days when you miss home or need something quick.
Is a bowl of Lucky Charms or Cinnamon Toast Crunch a daily staple for you? Well, you'll either need to figure out a new international staple, or fit a couple of bags into your suitcase. But, if Cornflakes or Cheerios are your go-to, then you have nothing to worry about! You can find those pretty much anywhere. Also, don't be afraid to try local cereals.
Common American Snacks
At this point in my life, I've been able to visit/live in 30 different countries, and so far, every single one has had Coke, Pringles, Oreos, pretzels, potato chips, salty crackers, and thankfully, American candy bars (Snickers, Twix, KitKat, etc). If not the exact thing, then something really close. And although you'll pay more than at home, it's still comforting to know you have options.
If you are going somewhere with a lot of bugs (especially Thailand), then this tip is for you. Pack all of your snacks—yes, even the packaged ones—into an air-tight container with a lid. You don't want to be the volunteer who wakes up to find that thousands of ants have eaten their way through your Cheez-its bag and have hauled off bits and pieces of your favorite snack. Yikes!
If you don't have a container to take with you, once you arrive in your host country, stick all of your snacks in the fridge/freezer. NO joke. Crackers included. Those ants come out of the walls and the floors and can eat through any plastic bag or cardboard box like you can't believe. Plus, putting things like chocolate in the fridge will keep them solid since otherwise you'll just end up with a bunch of sticky puddles.
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