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By The Way
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Go ahead, order the room service french fries

Not every meal while traveling needs to be an episode of ‘Bizarre Foods’

(Min Heo/Illustration for The Washington Post)

Welcome to The Upgrade, By The Way’s series on travel hacks and hot takes. See how to submit here.

When globe-trotters discuss the pleasures of travel, they often wax poetic about historic ruins, grand hotels, adventures that push you to your limits and once-in-a-lifetime meals. The humble-brag world we live in has us trained to think of travel as a never-ending cycle of discovery.

Every day should be filled with doing something you can’t do at home. If you’re looking to take it easy for a few hours of your planned-by-the-hour grand tour of insert-cool-destination-of-the-moment-here? Well, that relaxing moment better be locally and experientially contextualized.

All-inclusives want you to forget their cheesy reputation

This is especially true about the way we eat on our trips. The pressure to make every meal feel like an episode of “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern” is immense. Why else do we often hear criticisms of “tourists” fisting Big Macs in Paris?

But we all hit that wall, when our taste buds are begging for a break from culinary sightseeing. And that’s when you’ll find me in my hotel room ordering french fries from room service.

The joys of room service are rarely celebrated. No one tells you about the ways in which eating comfort food in solitude can improve your trip simply by putting it on pause. That’s why I never regret all the meals I’ve chosen to have in my hotel rooms. I’m in a robe, in my own space, not picking a menu apart in an attempt to suss out which dish is going to best represent the country.

For that one meal, I don’t have to make an effort; I order spaghetti Bolognese, Caesar salad or a burger — dishes that most hotels know how to prepare well, dishes that pair very well with a bowl of fries. Hard pass on anything that might read like it emerged from the imagination of an ambitious chef, like something with foam. The whole point of room service is to revel in comfort. A portion of flavored cloud isn’t it.

The long, slow death of the hotel minibar

To be considered a serious traveler, many will have us believe that we should be maniacally scheduling “foodie” moments, so we don’t “waste a meal.” Now, before you get it twisted, I believe local dining is a critical part of an unforgettable trip. I love and support being an intrepid eater. Balut me in the Philippines, tagine me in Morocco, pajata me in Italy. But too many of those in a row, and I’m going to start feeling as if every meal is for exploration. In the spirit of #selfcare, I’m taking a break.

The hottest new hotel amenity? Sleep.

I’m not telling you to abandon your sense of wonder and curiosity, especially when it comes to food. But I am suggesting you give yourself permission to wallow in comfort — in fries, chicken nuggets and grilled cheese — if you reach the part of your trip that desperately calls for it. You serve no one by force-feeding yourself a local delicacy you don’t want. Often, nights in satisfying our human desire for the familiar is what revs us up to be our most adventurous selves the next day.

Does feeling this way make me boring? It’s hard to care when you’re in a climate-controlled room, listening to the soothing vocal prowess of Toni Braxton, cocooned in snow-white terry cloth staring down a juicy burger and fried potato sticks crowned with dollops of ketchup. But please enjoy that grilled snake on a stick. Been there, done that. Now, I’m going to call down for a sundae dessert.

Chadner Navarro is Manila-born, New Jersey-based writer who covers travel, food and design.