I travel a lot, and one of my constant concerns is where I can get a good cup of coffee on the road. You would think, considering what I do for a living, that I would be constantly surrounded by great coffee. But it's a perpetual surprise to find myself in situations where it's either bad coffee or no coffee at all.
I think we've all been there when stuck at an airport or, heaven forbid, on the airplane.
But even when fully on the ground, you often find yourself in situations where it's difficult to find good coffee. One of the dirty secrets of people who travel in the coffee industry is that coffee in coffee producing countries is not good. To begin with, all the good stuff gets exported. Local coffee is generally floor-sweepings and rejects. Even in places where there is a strong local coffee culture (and therefore some of the good stuff stays in the local market), like in Ethiopia, there's still no guarantee you'll get a decent cup. It's just like in the USA — there's good and there's bad and you can't always control what you get.
When I travel I always take a small french press, like the kind seen here (I use the fiberglass "unbreakable" one for obvious reasons). It's small, it's elegant, and it's functional.
Also interesting are these travel presses. But I prefer to drink out of a real cup like a civilized person, and anywhere you go in the world, there's always a cup, yes? The travel presses would be good for driving, I suppose, or maybe camping (but really... is it that hard to bring a tin cup?)
If it's a short trip, I will pre-grind some fresh roasted coffee and store it in a ziplock bag. If it's a longer trip, I will take some ground coffee to get me through the first few days, and some whole bean coffee for later. If you look hard enough, you can always find a way to get your coffee ground. If I'm working a coffee job, I impose upon the people I am working with. If not, I hang out at the local café and make a friend on the staff.
If you bring fresh coffee and a way to prepare it, the only consistent problem you will have will be getting water that is hot enough. I learn how to say "really, really hot water" in the local language (in Amharic: "bet'am bet'am mook ooha"), but it still usually takes a while for a hotel staff to get it right. People often think you want water that has been boiled (at some time in the past, for health reasons), rather than water that is literally boiling hot. At the cozy little hotel I have stayed at many times in San Salvador, they know me as "hot water man." What a pleasure it was to have the woman who does the cooking there bring me super hot water as soon as I sat down at the breakfast table last time.
Uusally I do my best to blend in when I travel. But of course making your own coffee at the table is strange, whether you are in Addis Ababa or Alabama. It tends to make one stick out a little.
But there are certain things in life that must not be sacrificed.