When you think of vending machine fare, bottles of soda or bags of chips probably come to mind first. However, that only scratches the surface of possibilities. Vending machines in many parts of the world tend to be stocked with their location-dependent audience in mind — think luxury cars in Singapore, flip-flops in Australia, and umbrellas in the U.K. But there are also some truly unique vending options out there, from local art to bars of gold to edible bugs. On your next trip, you might keep an eye out for these unique offerings you can actually buy from vending machines.
Japan has the highest concentration of vending machines in the world, with over 5 million nationwide. Known as jidouhanbaiki, they sell everything from wigs for dogs to canned bread. Even though travelers in Japan become accustomed to finding them on every street corner, vending machines that sell alcoholic drinks are far less common. Due to concerns over underage drinking, users must insert their driver’s license into the slot to verify their age. If you happen to indulge a little too much, you’ll find vending machines that sell hangover cures as well.
Australia: Guitar Strings
In the Melbourne suburb of Collingwood, help is on hand for bands who find themselves in a pre-gig panic. Outside the Clingan Guitar Tone store is an unusual vending machine that is stocked with guitar strings, picks, straps, leads, and even drumsticks. No matter what’s broken, there’s a part to fix it, though should you need expert advice or to service your gear, you’ll have to wait until the shop opens in the morning. There’s no need to travel as far as Australia, either: Similar vending machines exist in U.S. cities such as Portland and Nashville.
England: Farm-Fresh Milk
Farm-fresh milk has undergone a resurgence in recent years as consumers seek to reduce their food miles and carbon footprint. Those looking to ditch their cartons should have no problem doing so in Dorset in the south of England. There, Allen Valley’s herd of Friesian cows graze on lush pastures and supply the raw ingredient for pasteurized milk sold directly from local vending machines. If it’s your first visit, the staff will also sell you a reusable glass bottle to take your milk home. You’ll find similar outlets across Europe in countries such as France, Slovenia, Germany, and Greece.
Canada: Secondhand Books
Alongside its well-stocked bookshelves, the Monkey’s Paw rare bookstore in Toronto has a curious vending machine called the Biblio-Mat. Hand over $3 to the cashier at the desk and, in return, you’ll receive a token. The machine is old school, so you’ll experience plenty of whirring and clunking before the ring of an old telephone bell signals that your book is on its way. But don’t expect to choose — the books are randomly dispensed to add an element of mystery and suspense to your purchase. Incidentally, the team from Short Édition (based in Grenoble, France) has gone one better. Similar to vending machines, their innovative dispensers have delivered more than 5.6 million unique short stories to customers, free of charge. Avid readers will find the machines mostly in France and across the U.S.
Singapore: Mashed Potatoes
Although it’s no longer operable, this vending machine deserves an honorable mention. There was a time when you could serve yourself a tub of mashed potatoes directly from a vending machine in one of Singapore’s approximately 400 7-Eleven stores. These machines once dispensed a generous serving of the popular comfort food along with a dollop of gravy. But local tastes changed and demand faltered, so they were withdrawn from service. If you crave mashed potatoes in Singapore now, you’ll just have to head to the store and buy the ingredients to make your own.
When LEGO vending machines were first installed in the Munich and Frankfurt railway stations, German parents breathed a sigh of relief, as their children traveling in tow would no longer be bored on a long journey. Since then, the rollout has spread across the Atlantic, and travelers have reported seeing LEGO machines in U.S. airports such as Las Vegas and Orlando. If you’re impressed by the idea but don’t plan to travel anytime soon, you could always build your own vending machine out of the iconic toy bricks instead.
USA: Local Art
Art-o-Mat turns old cigarette vending machines into places to get local art in a hurry. American artist Clark Whittington, who is based in North Carolina, came up with the idea and stocked the first one with black-and-white photos. Today, the machines can be found in dozens of locations across the U.S., including in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Seattle. They are popular in art and music museums, where local artists fill them with surprise works of art small enough to fit in the cigarette box-sized packages. The novelty vending machines provide a little whimsy to those who stumble upon one.
Taiwan: Fresh-Squeezed Coconut Juice
There’s nothing uncommon about grabbing juice from a vending machine, but in Taiwan and other parts of Asia, they go one step further. Pop in your money and a machine will drill a hole in a fresh coconut. All you have to do is pick up a straw and enjoy the healthy and hydrating drink. If you prefer the taste of oranges, there are vending machines for that, too. Those will squeeze enough oranges to fill the cup you’ve selected; simply pop on a lid and you’re good to go.
Czech Republic: Gold Bars
Vending machines that dispense real gold bars and coins were first seen in Abu Dhabi in 2010. While that gold ATM is no longer operable, a new one was installed in Prague in 2021. Located side-by-side with more conventional ATMs, the machine is outside the Nový Smíchov shopping mall in the capital of the Czech Republic. In exchange for your hard-earned euros or Czech crowns, the vending machine from Gold.plus will supply gold bars in three different sizes.
Japan: Edible Bugs
Another visit to vending machine-obsessed Japan rounds out this eclectic list. There, you can find pretty much any kind of food in a vending machine, including piping hot pizza, fried chicken, and hamburgers. If you can stomach it, though, you can even try a giant cricket cookie or snack on oven-dried scorpion tails. A caramel giant hornet might satisfy a sweet craving, but you’ll need to have a truly adventurous palate to enjoy a zebra tarantula. Though relatively rare, these vending machines have been spotted in cities like Osaka and Tokyo.