This Subscription Snack Box Is Helping Me See the World

Universal Yums is helping me keep the spirit of exploration alive.

This Subscription Snack Box Is Helping Me See the World

Monthly snack boxes are themed by country.

Photo courtesy Universal Yums

Welcome to AFAR Approved: a deep dive into the travel items that we’re totally obsessed with, never leave behind, and can’t stop telling our friends about. Next up: Universal Yums snack subscription box.

Whenever I travel to a foreign country, I always visit a local grocery store. First I raid the cosmetics and toiletries aisle, and then I head for the snack section. I load up my basket with products I’ve never seen before, and proceed to munch on them throughout my trip. So smitten was I with the vast selection of chips in Thailand, I actually shipped home a box packed with flavors like crab curry, hot chili squid, and cream cheese salmon.

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic grounded flights, sealed borders, and drove everyone indoors, I’ve been seeking small ways to keep the spark of travel aglow. But nothing transports me overseas as quickly and convincingly as a parcel from Universal Yums landing on my doorstep. The monthly subscription box is packed with sweet and savory snacks and candies from grocery stores around the globe, and each box is typically tied to a particular country. The March haul, for example, whisks its recipients off to Brazil with single-serving packs of cassava chips flecked with onion and parsley, passion fruit-flavored milk caramels, and crispy parmesan coconut cookies.

The boxes, which ship on the 15th of the month, come in three sizes: The basic Yum starts at $13.75 for six hand-picked international snacks; the Yum Yum at $22.92 for a dozen-plus snacks; and the Super Yum at $35.75 for upward of 20 snacks. Shipping is free within the contiguous United States, no matter what size box you choose. Even better, the subscription plan is flexible: I can sign up for a whole year right out the gate and get a free box of snacks, or I can pay as I go for month-to-month service. (Gift subscriptions are also available in one-, three-, six-, or 12-month amounts, making Universal Yums a brilliant way to cheer up a self-quarantined travel fiend.) If I fall crazy in love with one specific snack, I probably won’t find it at my local supermarket. But I may be able to order it in Universal Yums’ gift shop, which stocks extras of the boxes’ best-rated products.

Each Yums box comes with a little booklet packed with games and trivia about the snacks’ country of origin. I can only imagine how excited a kid under 14 would be to open a new box every month, because I know how psyched I am as a 38-year-old adult—it’s like Christmas morning, 12 times a year. I never just toss my Yums box on the dining room table like so many Lands’ End catalogs; I rip it open right there on the spot, sometimes before I’ve even shut the front door. I unpack each snack one at a time, turning them over in my hands and reading the labels, before choosing one (or three) to try right away.

The boxes are always well-balanced between sweet and salty, familiar and novel. I’ve tasted surprisingly good, shelf-stable versions of classic treats (nutty baklava from Jordan, marbled sesame halva from Israel), been introduced to new favorites (cream-stuffed alfajorcitos from Uruguay, purple yam shortbread from the Philippines, cornflake-crusted cookies from Greece), and had my mind expanded as to what, exactly, counts as dessert (floral cheese potato chips in France? Okay, then!). Generally speaking, the wackier the snacks, the better. From Italian truffles studded with strawberry pop rocks to crunchy Turkish kebab chips, I’m here for it. And while I don’t love everything I try (I’m looking at you, chocolate-covered “banana foam” from Austria), that’s part of the adventure of travel. Always being open to trying something new.

Buy Now: Universal Yums subscription, from $13.75 per box;

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Ashlea Halpern is a contributing editor at Condé Nast Traveler and cofounder of Minnevangelist, a site dedicated to all things Minnesota. She’s on the road four to six months a year (sometimes with her toddler in tow) and contributes to Afar, New York Magazine, Time, the Wall Street Journal, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Bon Appétit, Oprah, Midwest Living, and more. Follow her adventures on Instagram at @ashleahalpern.
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