I wandered aimlessly around the main square in Trabzon, checking and re-checking my guidebook map, trying desperately to get my bearings. It was 6:00 a.m. and I was fresh off an overnight bus, feeling not-so-fresh and searching for my hotel to at least drop off my bags. Suddenly, a welcome sight jumped out at me.
The Golden Arches.
Yes, on the corner of the square in this Black Sea coast town in Turkey was a McDonald’s and I was almost as happy to see those golden arches as I was to find my hotel about five minutes later.
And as soon as I had left my bags at reception, I was back at McDonald’s enjoying a breakfast of a double cheeseburger (minus the bun of course), french fries and Coca Cola Light.
People (and by people, I mean travelers-not-tourists who seem to look down on anyone who even sets foot in a McDonald’s abroad) give McDonald’s a bad rap. It seems to be taboo – like you just aren’t a good “traveler” if you hit up a McDonald’s during your journey.
Well, I say to heck with that.
Like many Americans, I grew up with McDonald’s. After coming to enjoy it as a special treat as a kid, it soon became a regular hangout as a teenager. With a McDonald’s just behind the football field from my high school, that was where we went to gossip, to flirt – heck, even to date. A lot of really important high school stuff went down at McDonald’s.
In college, I went to McDonald’s for three things: the Arch Deluxe with Bacon (their best burger ever), Teenie Beanie Babies (I once stopped at every McDonald’s from Minneapolis to Iowa City in an attempt to collect them all) and Monopoly (who doesn’t love winning free stuff?).
McDonald’s might be as quintessential American as it gets – which is probably why a lot of people tend to shun it when traveling. They want to experience the local culture and cuisine, not hole up at McDonald’s with the local teens or other fanny-pack toting tourists. And I generally feel the same way – without a doubt, I prefer sampling the local fare over McDonald’s almost any day.
But sometimes you just need McDonald’s.
And by you, I mean I, but probably you too.
Like when you arrive in Trabzon at the crack of dawn after an overnight bus ride, are starving because you thought you could grab dinner at the station before departing and ended up eating just potato chips and a banana, and nothing else is open.
Or when you have been living with a family on the outskirts of St. Petersburg, eating nothing but boiled chicken and potatoes for dinner every night for a month.
Or when it is Christmas Day in Warsaw and nothing is open within walking distance of your hotel except for McDonald’s. Hey, a girl’s gotta have Christmas dinner.
Or when you are in Kiev for a few weeks and can’t connect to wi-fi at any other restaurant or café in the entire city besides McDonald’s.
Or when you arrive in Tbilisi at the crack of dawn after an overnight train ride spent drinking cognac with three crazy Georgian guys and, well, see Trabzon above.
Or when you are in Helsinki and learn that McDonald’s has gluten free hamburger buns there and you tell yourself you have an obligation to test one out for readers of your gluten free travel blog but really you just want a Micky D’s hamburger for the first time in 2 years.
Or when you have stayed out all night drinking, dancing and listening to bad karaoke in Istanbul and you’re hungover and need to muster the energy to visit the Aya Sophia and the Blue Mosque, McDonald’s will likely be screaming your name. It’s okay to give in. Trust me, McDonald’s might be the best hangover cure on earth.
Or when you just really crave a fountain soda or a chocolate milkshake or what I firmly believe are some of the best French fries ever made.
Or, of course, when you really, really, really need to pee.
Do you ever eat at McDonald’s while traveling? (Come on, I know you do…) What’s your excuse?