Vending machines are an incredible invention. Stuck at an airport with $3 worth of foreign cash that won’t buy you a meal in the food court? Boom, you’ll get a bar of chocolate from the vending machine. Missed your train and stuck at the station for another 30 minutes? Drown your sorrows in an ice-cold Cola for the small price of $2.50.
Sure they have their faults, and we’ve all had a run-in with the giant rectangle beasts. I know I’m not alone in saying I’ve been caught profusely shaking the machine because my pack of chippies got stuck halfway down, or my bottle of water has been caught at an awkward angle and is now lodged between the Nobby’s nuts and Twisties. Have I banged the glass while screaming “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME” as my parched brain goes into overdrive? Yes. Do I regret it? Not really. That’s $2 I’ll never get back.
On the flip side, many of us have had a vending machine surprise, either getting more than we paid for as it drops not one but TWO chocolates down (diet, what diet?), or finding a lonely and forgotten coin in the dispenser, as if a gift for you from the last user. Oh the swings and roundabouts in the vending machine universe.
Fun fact - The first vending machine was invented in ancient Egypt when a legendary mathematician thought ‘who cares about Pythagoras or the slope of the pyramids, this fella needs some holy water on the fly’. Next thing you know, he’s jimmied up a vending machine that dispensed holy water in return for a bronze coin.
Vending machines have come a long way since then, and different countries have put their own spin on the contents. With this in mind, we’ve put together a list of some of the worlds most unique vending machines that you can seek out the next time you are travelling. Some seem normal, with just a slight sprinkling of the local culture. Others, well they’ve just taken convenience to a whole new level.
Let’s start with a deep dive into some European gems. While they may look normal, there are a few suprises hidden in their depths.
I came across this three machine huddle in Riga’s central bus station. It was late, I had some time on my hands, so I had a deep dive into the convenience on offer.
Our first one was pretty standard. Chocolate, lollies, water, soft drinks - the usual. However, instead of the Cadbury that we are used to, they were bulked up with Bueno. I didn’t complain about this. Also, their Snickers are called Igna.
Next up we had the red and green beauty. Unsuspecting to look at, however, upon further examination revealed salmon and egg sandwiches (I pray they get refilled daily), croissants and raisin oat slice. First up, if you’re in Europe and getting a croissant from a vending machine, then you need to re-evaluate your life choices. Second, the raisins in the oat slice looked a lot like choc chips, so I suspect that has left a lot of chocolate hopefuls disappointed.
Finally, we came to the drink vending machine. Coffee and tea were on order, as well as mint hot choc (yum), hazelnut hot choc (double yum), and if you’re feeling a bit under the weather - soup broth! This was a great surprise, and I treated myself, only to burn my lips on the scalding liquid.
Overall Latvia had some pretty standard equipment, with only a few little sprinkles of local culture. Prices were reasonable, and I highly recommend having a few euros on hand to indulge in a Bueno and mint hot choc.
I like to call this one the Masterchef Mystery box.
We start with the usual suspects: soft drink, pringles, biscuits, lollies, etc. Then, it’s heritage starts to shine, and the following reveal themselves:
- Mini toasts. So hard to eat on their own. Are you creating a cheese platter only to realise you’ve forgotten the teeth-breaking mini toasts? Vending machine to the rescue.
- Quick oats. Weird but useful, except I need water and microwave or stove to cook them?
- Canned sardines. Should have come bundled with some toothpaste.
- Baked beans with no can opener. Makes sense.
- Camembert cheese. I mean, this is brilliant, but do they expect me to just walk along biting chunks out of it? Use some brick-hard mini toast to delve into the gooey goodness?
- Coconut croissants. I’ve already shared my opinion on vending machine pastry.
- Two-minute noodles. Once again, where is the hot water?? Where are my utensils?? What is happening??
- Condoms. Because when you’re kitted up with sardines, camembert, baked beans and vending machine pastry you are bound to get lucky, right?
Thanks for the whirlwind Estonia. Just like your language, I am perplexed by your vending machines.
Lithuania had a few machines similar to their Baltic counterparts; however, this one really sparked my interest. I present to you, the contact lense vending machine. No vision? No worries.
This particular vending machine does raise a few questions for me, though. Sure, it’s super convenient if you are on your last lense and need a new set. However;
- Are these lenses reasonably priced? Or have they jacked up the cost for convenience sake? As someone that doesn’t buy lenses, I have no idea.
- The letters are tiny, so if you have lost yours and need a quick top-up, then you have no hope of choosing the right ones.
- How often are they stocked up? There was no optometrist in sight, so who is monitoring this machine?
- This machine was also located at the major bus terminal. So are people just grabbing them before their trip, or just casually stumbling upon the machine and thinking ‘hooray! Just what I needed, some new contact lenses!’?
Excellent concept, I just have a lot of unanswered questions.
Now let's take a broader look at interesting vending machines around the world.
It’s a pizza vending machine with the ingredients to make 100 pizzas. This machine dubbed ‘Let’s pizza’ is a two-hour drive away from Milan and even makes the dough as you wait.
Super exciting and the novelty is cute, however my thoughts about this little guy mirror that of pastry. If you’re in Italy, the pizza capital of the world, and decide to skip out on a freshly made pizza at a local restaurant to grab one from the vending machine, then we need to have a little chat. The only excuse is if you have a few spare euros rattling around in your back pocket that you need to get rid of. If this is the case, then please, dig into your machine-made pizza. Bellissimo.
Running late and in need of a little pick me up? Look no further than the champagne vending machine that dispenses mini bottles of Moet and Chandon. Do you need to scan your ID? Unsure. Is it a ridiculous concept? Yes. Do I love it? Absolutely.
Four words: french fry vending machine. Yum yum yummo. The chippies are fried to order and dispensed in a paper cup with ketchup.
Pros: you can have as many serves of fries as you want without the cashier at Macca’s judging your life choices.
Cons: unsure how often they change the frying oil. Eek.
Let’s step away from Europe and move to Asia and the Middle East.
Dubai boasts two vending machines that I would like to mention.
- The gold vending machine or ‘Gold to Go’ for those of us that use it on the reg. Located in the Dubai Mall, the machine spits out 24-karat gold in a whopping 320 different forms including gold bars, coins and jewellery. I should probably mention it is closely watched by armoured guards, so maybe avoid giving this one a shakedown if your gold bar gets stuck.
- The gift vending machine. As the name suggests, this vending machine is perfect for any last-minute gifts you may need. Stocking everything from scented candles to lingerie, gift-giving has never been so easy!
Japan is known for its wide array of unique vending machines. I’ve listed a few of my faves below.
- Used underwear. There must be a lot of demand if they have resorted to a vending machine for dispersing them. Just a few little questions: is there more than one person supplying the undies or is one lady just churning out the panties like a machine? Also, how secluded is the machine? Are people buying their used underwear down a dark alley or is this in the middle of a food court?
- Eggs. Why not, right? Thankfully each carton of eggs has a little compartment you can open to get them out, instead of praying they survive the fall to the bottom of the machine.
- Hello Kitty merchandise. Socks, toys, books, purses, hair accessories - basically everything Hello Kitty can be purchased on the go with one of these vending machines. If this tickles your fancy, but Japan isn’t on your radar, why not visit them in Taiwan or Malaysia instead?
- Live crab. This seems incredibly unethical, and a little bit concerning, alas, who am I to judge. In both Japan and China, you can pop down to the local vending machine to grab some fresh crab for dinner, as well as vinegar and ginger tea to finish off the meal. All I’m gonna say is watch your fingers, chances are the crabs are feeling particularly nippy after being locked up in a vending machine for god-knows how long.
No list is complete without the wonders of North American Vending Machines.
There are a few notable mentions scattered throughout the US.
California - Burrito vending machine. Located in a gas station near West Hollywood, ‘Burrito Box’ allows you to skip the queues and grab a burrito out of a machine. As a lover of Mexican cuisine, the thought of this makes me shiver. People have enough issues processing spicy food and beans, why add the worries of vending machine germs to the equation? Eat at your own risk is all I have to say here.
Vegas - Cupcake vending machine! Aptly nicknamed ‘Sprinkles’, this pink box of fun allows you to have your cupcake and eat it too! Cupcakes range between $5-10USD and are the perfect way to end a night at the casino. If you don’t win, at least you can be treated to a sugar high!
Boston - Lotto tickets! Located in a small town grocery store, this vending machine dispenses lotto tickets and scratchies. Once again, no sure if anyone is checking your ID, but it’s a fun way to waste $10USD.
Funnily enough, these two vending machines were located 5 metres away from each other in one of Toronto’s malls.
Health food. If the fruit and vegetables printed across the front don’t already give it away, this machine dispenses only the healthiest of foods. Green antibiotic juices, power balls, quinoa salads and even healthy treats fill this vending machine. Everything was grossly overpriced, and it would be a lot cheaper to make it all yourself. However, if you need a fresh, healthy snack, this seems like a pretty good option.
Cake Boss cake! My favourite vending machine of the entire list, this vending machine is stocked daily with 180 slices of the moistest cake you will ever eat from Carlo’s Bake Shop. You may be familiar with Carlo’s shop from his show ‘Cake Boss’. This vending machine did not disappoint, and I was able to choose from red velvet, cookies and cream, rainbow, double choc and carrot cake. While the slices were just over 10 CAD each, they were incredibly delicious and comparably huge. If you’re ever headed to Toronto, be sure to visit one of the three Cake Boss vending machines scattered around downtown. This was a huge moment for me, so naturually I documented the whole process.
So, there you have it. The vending machine is a global concept, and it is fascinating seeing how each country adds its own little spin to the contents.
Have you seen a vending machine that should be added to the list? Please let us know!
Of course, you’re gonna need some foreign currency to pay for your vending machine treats. Before your next trip, be sure to visit your local Travel Money Oz to get a foreign currency solution tailored to your holiday. Who knows, the travel money experts might have a few vending machine hot spots of their own.