My main motivation to travel is the education and memories that come from really diving in and experiencing the flavors of a destination. No matter how many times I visit or where I go, it seems there is always something new to taste, hear, feel or smell. Each destination is unique, so any chance I have to bring home some local flavor to share with your family and friends is jumped on! There are certain flavors that so perfectly represent a destination that they undeniably take you back to an exact memory. A few of my favorites: Jamón Iberico from Spain, Parmigiano Reggiano from Italy, HobNobs from the UK, Tamarind from Thailand, BBQ Sauce from Kansas City. Each flavor transports you to the place and reminds you of memories that soon become distant, but can be vividly brought back in a flash with just one taste.
One of my most recent insights on travel has to do with buying treats for both my household and for my friends & family. Cleary, the average airport is well known for charging a premium, but I started really taking notice of exactly how expensive relatively inexpensive items were at airports. Why was I willing to pay $10 for a bag of coffee? $12 for some local candy? Certainly there were better options around. So what is a hungry traveler to do?
Head on over to the local Grocery Store. Seriously. You will save an absolute fortune and also be able to get your hands on some authentic local treats that will be hard to find in duty free. On a recent trip to Italy, I had the chance to put this to the test. I brought home some Baci Chocolates (Seriously, how damn delicious are these little things???), a large bag of bite-sized Daim Toffee Chocolate Bars, A giant Milka Chocolate Bar and a bag of assorted Italian Chocolates. The cost for all of this at Duty Free at the Milan Airport was 36 EUR (approx. $42USD). This same order at the Sapori e Dentiri grocery store in at the Central Station in Florence was easily available for around 19 EUR (approx. $22USD), a savings of $20! At the same grocery store, my husband and I were able to collect a bounty. Blocks of fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano were a fraction of what we pay at home at about 6 EUR/lb ($7/lb), Balsamic Vinegar & Olive Oil were absolute steals and top quality. My favorite find was a 5-pack of small Olive Oil Bottles that made perfect gifts for friends & family back home- easy to transport and a great taste of Italy. Authentic Coffee is the best buy at the supermarket, at times it’s marked up 10x at the airport, a bag of fresh coffee from Colombia, Kona or Jamaica will be the ultimate gift for coffee loving friends at home. A word of caution- be sure that whatever you buy is customs-friendly. Generally most cheeses and prepared foods are OK. Nuts, seeds and fresh produce generally are not allowed when traveling internationally, so steer clear! If you have any doubts on what you can carry, consult your airline directly, most of the information is clearly posted on major carriers’ websites. I also suggest talking to your friends who are from areas you are traveling to, or asking people you chat with along the way- find out what the local specialty is and stock up.
I also love visiting the Central Market in each city I visit- they really provide the most colorful and flavorful representation of the local culture. While these are great spots to pick up some genuine local food & artisan crafts, they can be on the pricier side, especially when you are in a mega tourist destination like Barcelona, Florence, London, Paris, etc. Because of this, when you’re looking to stretch your almighty dollar, take a step off the beaten path and venture into the good old local grocery store. It may not be as pretty or ornate as the Duty Free shops in the airport, but you will be able to bring back a tasty reminder of your trip and hopefully save a little cash for your next adventure!