We’re Loving It: 6 Reasons Savvy Travelers Eat at International McDonald’s

Dec 14, 2018

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There’s a ‘dirty’ little secret that I’m sometimes afraid to admit to serious travelers — I almost always eat at a McDonald’s when we visit other countries. In fact, the more foreign the country, the more likely you will find us at a McDonald’s at some point on the journey.

It isn’t some weird goal we have set to try a McDonald’s everywhere we go, that we don’t enjoy trying local cuisine or even that we are missing our McDonald’s fix. In fact, we rarely eat under the Golden Arches while back home in Texas. But, for a list of reasons longer than the line-up on McDonald’s Dollar Menu, time and time again we find ourselves at the self-service ordering machines in Spain, France, Austria, Norway and well beyond.

McDonalds in Vienna
McDonald’s in Vienna

And — my family is not alone. While some travelers undoubtedly will scoff at the thought of going to Paris and ordering Le Big Mac, based on conversations with frequent travelers, and polling our own TPG Family Facebook Group, retreating to McDonald’s while traveling abroad is a very real thing. Americans seem to enjoy recharging their red, white and blue reserves (and phones) while only spending a few euros, yen, francs or krona on a meal.

The inexpensive but somewhat familiar meal isn’t the only reason you will find travelers at McDonald’s around the globe. There are several other very compelling reasons you might find even the most seasoned traveler at a fast food joint.

Mommy Points’ daughter enjoying a McDonald’s meal in Paris circa 2014.

1. International McDonald’s Food Tastes Better

While you are likely to find burgers, fries and Coca Cola (with ice!) at most McDonald’s around the globe, the truth is that international McDonald’s seem to have much better, or at least more varied, food than what you will find back at home.

Potato Wedges can be found in France. (Image courtesy of McDonald’s)

Pull up a chair at a McDonald’s on foreign soil and in addition to staples of chicken McNuggets and apple pies, you might find salmon burgers, shrimp burgers, shrimp poppers, shrimp wraps, quinoa salad, Parmesan cheese wheels, mozzarella sticks, McSpacho soup, beer, carrots, sweet spaghetti, potato wedges, curly fries, curry dipping sauce and oh-so-much-more.

McDonalds Quinoa in Italy
McDonald’s quinoa in Italy. (Image by Ed Pizzarello)

Oh, and don’t forget the seasonal Cadbury Creme Egg McFlurry that TPG staffer, Jordan Allen, became obsessed with in Ireland a few years ago.

In parts of the world — like Europe — where food standards are more stringent than in the US, you may also find fewer fillers, preservatives or artificial flavors than at your neighborhood Mickey D’s. This makes even an old standby such as a plain old chicken sandwich taste … a bit different (i.e., better).

Even chicken sandwiches taste better in Europe
Even chicken sandwiches taste better in Europe.

2. A Different Take on Home

There’s a very real thing called the Big Mac Index put out by The Economist that attempts to determine whether one currency is over- or under-valued against another by comparing the relative cost of a McDonald’s hamburger. That’s fascinating from a financial perspective, but more fascinating for my own family is to see a different culture’s take on Americanized food.

Image courtesy of McDonalds

It’s almost like someone came into your closet and walked out wearing all your clothes, but in a totally different way than you would have thought. You learn something both about your own home and where you are visiting by having a shared reference point. Not only is it interesting to see how an international McDonald’s compares to one back in the US, but seeing how they vary country to country is wildly entertaining from a sociological perspective.

3. No Language Barriers

With the reliance on touch screens to order, McDonald’s makes it easy to get what you want without being fluent in the local language. These screens are becoming more popular in the United States, but they have been staples of some international locations for years. The only potential language issue arises when they call the number of the orders as they are ready, but that is usually easy enough to maneuver.

4. It’s Not a Dollar, But It’s Cheap(ish)

Eating abroad with a family can add up, so McDonald’s serves as a way to throw in a meal that will likely be cheaper than many other options. On a recent trip to Vienna, McDonald’s charged 3 euros for beer (or bier as it were), 2.30 euros for a large Coke, 3.60 euros for six nuggets, 2.20 euros for curly fries and 5.30 euros for shrimp. With the current euro-to-dollar ratio, add about 15% to those totals and that’s your USD equivalent price.

McDonalds meal in Vienna, complete with beer
McDonald’s meal in Vienna, complete with beer.

Compared to cost of some other meals on that trip to Austria, those were pretty darn fantastic options for a fill-up and move-on quick meal. Years ago, in Norway while on a tight budget, I remember being extra grateful for a McDonald’s meal after encountering some insanely expensive food and drink prices.

5. The McCafé Effect

Internationally, the McCafé might be even more popular in some spots than McDonald’s itself. Often found inside McDonald’s stores, the McCafé serves coffee, smoothies, pastries and more. Think of them almost like a Starbucks within a McDonald’s. Just like at Starbucks here in the US, I’ve noticed locals leisurely hanging out at the McCafé inside McDonald’s in a variety of countries. This makes the entire store environment more adult and (slightly) upscale than the red and yellow McDonald playgrounds of yesteryear.

A cashier at the McCafe coffee counter. (Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images)
McCafe’s are a store within a store (Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images)

6. Wi-Fi and Bathroom Breaks

Finally, but far from least importantly for families on the go, are the bathrooms and Wi-Fi available in many international McDonald’s. When you are spending the day exploring a historic city by foot, you may find very few public bathrooms, or at least few that you would want to actually visit. In some parts of the world, finding a “North American” toilet is an even taller order. However, for a small fee or purchase you can often visit a clean, bright McDonald’s bathroom that looks a lot like home. You may have to enter through a turnstile, scan your receipt or pay a small fee, but all are well worth it when you gotta go and there aren’t a lot of options.

(Photo credit STR/AFP/Getty Images)
(Photo credit STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Bottom Line

If you find yourself being drawn toward the arches in a foreign land, my advice is don’t fight it — at least for one meal. Use the restroom, post some pics of your travels to social media with the free Wi-Fi, try an old standby item plus a local favorite and then continue on with your exploration. This is especially true if you have some travel-weary kids along for the ride. Speaking of which, international McDonald’s can have some pretty unique kid play areas, even ones with stationary bikes. This McDonald’s in Italy had not only bikes, but also a timed obstacle course for little ones to burn off steam (and fries).

McDonald’s play area in Italy. (Image by Ed Pizzarello)

Oh, and if you want a taste of the wide-world-of-McDonald’s, but don’t have near-term plans for your passport, you can sample the international McDonald’s menu in South Florida and at the global McDonald’s headquarters in Chicago’s West Loop.

International McDonalds items available in South Florida

Before ordering a Stoopwaffle McFlurry or even a McGriddles Spam, just make sure you have brought along one of the best credit cards for dining (such as 3x on dining via the Chase Sapphire Reserve) and ignore those cards that only issue dining bonuses at US restaurants or charge foreign transaction fees. There’s no reason to leave valuable points on the table while getting a touchpoint of home in a foreign land.

If you also visit McDonald’s while aboard, we’d love to hear about it.

Featured image by author.

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