Is Starbucks A Do Or A Don't When Traveling?

As of the end of 2017 Starbucks has 28,039 stores spread across 76 countries. Basically what I'm saying is that they are almost everywhere. In fact I have only been to two countries so far that have no Starbucks stores at all (in fact I live in one currently). So the question here is should you be drinking Starbucks on your travels or should you find a local alternative?


I realized one day when I was cleaning out our car (before we sold everything and became full time digital nomads), just how much we went to Starbucks. Aurora was sitting in the driver's seat pretending to be me. She was ordering her coffee out of the window and reaching her arm to the back seat saying "It's ok Aria, go to sleep baby". Apparently, those are the things I did most while we were in the car (it's a fair assessment).

We would head to Starbucks whenever we just needed to get out of the house, or I was bored, or the girls were asleep and I needed to keep driving for a while longer. I knew every Starbucks in our general area that had a drive-through. It was something quick and easy and familiar we could go do, and we did it a lot.

Fast forward to when we were brand new at the whole digital nomad game and we were staying along the Spanish coast about an hour outside of Barcelona. I didn't think I had been really feeling any culture shock until one day I was sitting in our living room and didn't have much to do. I looked up the nearest Starbucks hoping that by some stroke of luck one was nearby. I missed our little routine and wanted that familiar place to go. 

As it turns out, the closest Starbucks was an hour train ride away. Going from Long Beach where there are about 10 Starbucks stores within walking distance to the nearest one being a LOOOONG way away was a big realization. Oh man. We really weren't at home anymore. It was a bit of a mental adjustment for me (serious first world problem, I know). Instead of being something normal and regular, it became something special to do. I would find a Starbucks every couple weeks while we were in the city and grab something warm "para llevar".  

To be fair, they did pronounce it correctly...

To be fair, they did pronounce it correctly...

Luckily for us, the Spanish absolutely love their coffee and sitting in cafes to drink it, so it wasn't like there was no coffee to be had. We tried tons of smaller local cafes and bigger more popular ones in Barcelona and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves . In fact, if you want to know what to order and how to order it while visiting Spain you can check out this post.

Back to our question: should you be drinking Starbucks while visiting a new area or should you stick with something more local? For me it ends up being more of a both/and situation versus an either/or situation. I think there is a place for both local coffee and something more familiar and I typically choose between the two based on how long I have been away from home.

If I am on a short trip and want to fully immerse myself in the culture, I will pick something local with no hesitation. I love finding out where the locals are going and heading there. Cafes tend to be great spots for people watching and that is always something I can get behind.

On the other hand if I have been gone for quite a while or am missing home, I will seek out the nearest Starbucks. Why? Because once you get inside their stores are so consistent in branding and feel you could be anywhere. I might walk into a Starbucks in Romania but as long as I don't look out the window, it feels like I could be back in Long Beach. It's a familiar place to me and it's worth it to feel at home for an hour (even if perhaps the coffee won't be as good as a local spot).

The French Starbucks have epic pastries (as you might imagine)...

Similar to our McDonalds experiment, where we try to visit one in every country to check out the differences. We also tend to stop by a Starbucks at least once if there is one available. Sometimes the menus look really cool in different languages (particularly in Arabic and Cyrillic) and occasionally they have something that you just can't get at home - like a date latte for instance. I also like to see how they spell my name (Lacie rarely gets spelled correctly in English speaking countries so imagine the attempts elsewhere), it sounds odd but I find it endlessly entertaining.  

Menus are more fun at the only Starbucks in Marrakech... 

So while I do get a hard time from people at home and the occasional rolled eyes from other travelers we talk to, I will happily seek out a Starbucks to get a small dose of the familiar AND local coffee spots to check out the local coffee scene.

What about you? Are you a hard core local coffee aficionado, a healthy mixture type or a 100% only Starbucks type traveler? Perhaps you are even hardcore and bring your own coffee and brewing equipment along with you? Leave a comment and let us know your coffee preference. 

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