How Do You Decide What To Eat On Vacation?

Are you a spreadsheet-driven bucket lister, or do you take a more relaxed approach?

My prized possession is a glorious spreadsheet devoted to city-specific dining bucket lists. The cities are divided up into tabs; the tabs are divided up into neighborhoods; the neighborhoods are divided up into specific meals (breakfast, brunch, dinner, pastry snack, et cetera). Current tabs include Chicago, New York City, San Francisco, Madrid, Barcelona, Vienna, and Salzburg. Earlier this month, I created a new tab: Philadelphia, which I'm visiting for the first time this weekend. But my flight is tomorrow, and I haven't touched the spreadsheet.

Usually, I'd spend weeks before a trip diving into magazines, travel books, and foodie Twitter to populate my list. I'll ask friends for recommendations; I'll trawl local blogs. I'll acquaint myself with a city's unique flavors long before leaving O'Hare. But this time, I'm taking an uncharacteristically relaxed approach.

To be fair, I'll only have about one full day in Philly (the rest of my time will be spent at a wedding). I'm also visiting with my boyfriend, a Pennsylvania-grown lad who already has a grasp on the area's best eats. But this is also my first vaccinated foray to a new city, and I think spending so much time at home has chilled me out a bit. I'm just happy to be going somewhere. I seem to have misplaced my aggressive planning style; instead, I'm relishing the idea of wandering around and trying what sounds good in the moment instead of tormenting my travel partner with a food bucket list that may or may not leave me satisfied.

What about you? Are you a spreadsheet devotee, or do you prefer to take each day as it comes, stumbling upon local favorites by surprise? Do you temper your style depending on who you're traveling with? Finally, if you have any Philly food recommendations, I'm all ears.