Foodie Traveler Melissa HieMelissa Hie is a traveling food guru. Here’s how you can follow in her footsteps.
Melissa Hie’s Instagram feed is the stuff foodie traveler dreams are made of. Every photo contains a glimpse of the 31-year-old’s hand gripping a local specialty at a far-flung site. There’s a sky-high glistening fruit skewer at a Chinese night market; a few perfect scoops of coconut ice cream in front of street art in Penang; a tightly coiled kebab wrap on a sunny Turkish beach.
It’s often hard to decide what looks more enticing: the food or its backdrop. “Usually I’ll read about what kind of local food is the best and what kind of street food is the best, and then find a beautiful site since I need to combine both,” Hie says. “Sometimes I plan in advance but I prefer to not plan that much in advance. After launching her Instagram account in 2014 with food photos from a previous trip to Europe, she posted it on Reddit Travel and soon found herself the subject of media coverage, boosting her follower base from nearly zero to 15,000 in just three days. “From then on it was just organic growth. I basically didn’t do much except keep eating and posting photos,” says Hie. The Singapore-based social media star now has an impressive 331,000 followers and has launched a blog where she details her trips more in-depth.
Over the last year and a half, Hie has visited Australia, Bali, Phuket, multiple Malaysian islands, and Jordan, snapping shots of everything from flatbread to fish and chips along the way, with her most popular photo to date being a pink-and-white Hello Kitty-shaped donut peering out at Tokyo’s chaotic Shabuya Crossing. “So many people love that photo,” she says. (Indeed, it has a whopping 16,100 likes.) Before you find yourself murmuring at your computer over the unfairness of life and the fact you just ate yet another office bagel, it’s worth noting that Hie actually has a full-time job as a designer at a startup and simply travels using her vacation days (that would be 18 a year) or on weekends. She also considers herself pretty frugal. “I’m not super rich or anything, but I make traveling a priority,” she says. “I save money and spend my savings on travel.” To keep her Instagram account active, she saves some photos from her travels, posting about one a week from home.
Later this month, Hie will be taking a five-day diving trip to Indonesia’s Komodo National Park. And she recently decided she wants to hit North Vietnam after Anthony Bourdain recently posted a pic of his $6 lunch with President Obama in Hanoi. “It really inspired to go to there,” she admits. “I’ve never been to that area and I really like Vietnamese food.” Here’s how Hie manages her globe-trotting and all that eating … and how you can too.
She sticks with street food
Hitting a city’s hottest new restaurant might be tempting, but grabbing cheaper meals and snacks without the fancy fanfare nearly always gives you a lot more bang for your buck in both authenticity and how many spots you can hit in a day without breaking the bank. (If you buy a $3 item, you’ll feel less bad about only eating half and then trying something else two hours later). ” Michelin star restaurants are nice but when you’re traveling somewhere new, I just think you should probably eat like a local,” she says. “A lot of my best experiences have been with street food. I almost never pay more than 5 dollars for something,” she says. Hie hits about four different vendors in a typical travel day and snaps each item only three or four times. “I still want to eat. I don’t want to spend all my time shooting something.”
She looks to locals’ blogs for good recs
While Yelp is go-to for Hie, it’s not always popular in every country, prompting many travelers to look to guidebooks or sites like TripAdvisor. “Usually whatever is ranked in TripAdvisor is by people who are visiting, so it’s a bit touristy,” she says. Local food blogs, meanwhile, are nearly always written by someone who lives there. “I just feel like they’re more authentic.”
She puts less emphasis on accommodations
This obviously depends on personal taste, but when you’re exploring a new city, chances are you won’t be hanging at the hotel all that much, so maybe you don’t need the room with the marble tub and 60-inch flat-screen. “You should be out and about when you’re traveling so I don’t book expensive accommodations,” says Hie. “If I’m traveling by myself, I’ll stay in a hostel.” And if plans change and you decide to leave early for somewhere else you just discovered, the loss will be much less.
She packs plenty into weekend trips
While Hie takes about two “big trips” of around a week annually, scheduling her vacation time and making flight reservations well ahead of time, she also takes a weekend trip every other month and is constantly on the lookout for last-minute deals, recently visiting Bali and Phuket for just two days each. Hie’s based in Singapore, of course, and visiting those particular places for just a few days wouldn’t make sense those of us in the U.S., but there’s most likely a city you haven’t explored close enough to pull off a weekend trip. “A lot of places are super easy to do in two days,” she says.
She’s fine going it alone
Yes, traveling is often more fun with someone else, but as a solo traveler you’ll most likely spend more time doing (and eating) exactly what you want and chatting with locals. “I usually try to find someone to go with but I’m not going to let being alone stop me,” Hie explains. “And, actually, it’s a bit harder to have to plan around someone else and accommodate their schedule.”
She just does it
“I always tell people, “Just do it!” she says. “A lot of people mull over it for way too long and then end up never booking travel. In Singapore, we definitely take vacation seriously. It’s something that you’re entitled to so why not just take it? If you make something a priority, you’ll eventually do it.”