5 Tips on Eating Vegan while Traveling

As I continue sharing my “Vegan Travel Blog” with those around me, new ideas about topics to explore begin circling my mind. I’ve been going on trips about twice a month (if you would like to hear more about how I do this, click here), and telling those stories has become my pride and joy- something I constantly look forward to in my travels. My other favorite thing about traveling (as you may already know) is the opportunity it brings to try delicious plant-based foods from all over the world- a mission I created as I started this blog and set off to explore. In the years to come, I hope to continue traveling and discovering both new places and new foods, documenting my experiences along the way! 

Often, people ask me if eating vegan is difficult, if it requires a lot of planning, and how I stick to a vegan diet when eating out, visiting my non-vegan family back in Maine, and especially while traveling. The truth is, eating vegan has it’s moments of inconvenience. But so does animal cruelty, global warming and heart disease. It’s all in the priorities, guys.

Because following a vegan diet is not the norm (I have hope that someday it will be!), it isn’t always easy to eat this way, but that doesn’t mean it has to be incredibly difficult. In my day to day life, buying groceries and cooking vegan food for myself is quite simple and straightforward. Although traveling and following a vegan diet can be a bit trickier at times, there are a handful of things I keep in mind in order to set myself up for success.

Here are five tips I have on sticking to your vegan diet throughout your travels:

 

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Do Your Research

One of the most important tools when traveling on a vegan diet is the internet. Regardless of whether you are taking a weekend trip to another city, or will be staying abroad for weeks at a time, it’s always a good idea to do some research. What type of food is eaten at your destination? What vegan options will be available to you? Are there veg-friendly restaurants nearby? Knowing these things prior to your travels eliminates a lot of stress and makes the process much easier once you arrive. 

If you are traveling abroad, it’s a good idea to consider what the traditional food is like and how it might be made vegan. I recently visited Southeast Asia and did some lengthy research on what type of food is eaten there. I was relieved to find that most Asian cultures do not consume much dairy in their traditional diet (different from the U.S. which seems to sneak dairy products into literally everything… Please tell me why there are cultured milk solids in this normal-looking bag of chips?) On the other hand, there was this ambiguous “fish sauce” that seemed to be a part of every recipe. I knew beforehand that this would be a potential obstacle upon my arrival in Thailand. 

Traveling within the U.S. on a plant-based diet will generally be a bit easier as many restaurants are beginning to include more plant-based options (yay!). If you are taking a domestic trip and are worried about whether or not there will be food available to you, do a little research and pick out some restaurants you would like to try.

Doing some research on plant foods at your destination is also an excellent way to show non-vegan family and friends that following a plant-based diet doesn’t have to be difficult or stressful. Many of my non-vegan family members make a big deal out of my vegan diet and worry that restaurants won’t be able to accommodate me when we are on vacation. If I come prepared with a list of veg-friendly restaurants, or am familiar with vegan menu options at the restaurants of their choice, the whole process becomes easier for everyone. Often my family and friends are surprised at how easy it can be to accommodate a vegan diet at most restaurants- and how delicious the outcome is!

Be Prepared

Traveling or not, being prepared is one way to set yourself up for success when eating plant-based. For me, this means stocking up on healthy snacks to take with me when exploring a new place. If you are new to this lifestyle, preparing snacks and meals ahead of time (especially while traveling) will help you stick to your goals instead of reverting back to old habits and eating meat or dairy products because nothing else is available to you. Although it is usually possible to find a vegan option near you, it can sometimes be tedious stopping into stores or gas stations and reading the ingredients on the back of every snack (or finding yourself in a fit of panic if the ingredients aren’t listed in English). If you have easy snacks planned and packed ahead of time, you will be prepared when your tummy starts making noise.

If you have been vegan for a long time, you may already know of some quick snacks you can pick up last minute, and you likely won’t be as tempted to consume something containing meat or dairy products. As a seasoned vegan, I have a long list of snack ideas which I’ve (somewhat subconsciously) collected over time, making it a lot easier when food is on my radar but I don’t have anything packed. Planning ahead, however, still saves time and money while traveling, and helps to maintain a healthy and balanced diet in moments when it can be otherwise difficult. 

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Stick To What You Know

While I am not advising that you shun all new and suspicious foods when you travel, I do think that it is sometimes easier to stick to the basics. We know that if a certain food came directly from nature, it is vegan! This is part of why many of us are vegan in the first place. Regardless of where in the world you may be traveling, it is usually not an issue to find fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds (candy of the earth as I like to call it). If you are ever in doubt about where you can find vegan options, or whether a certain food is vegan, try reverting back to nature. This is an excellent means of eliminating any stress, staying healthy, and feeling good about what you are putting into your body! 

Likewise, if you are traveling and eating out, sometimes it is better to stick to what you know: Think pasta, salads, pizza without cheese, etc. These may be some of your vegan favorites, and can be found at most restaurants. Sure, it is fun to seek out plant-based restaurants with unique and elaborate dishes, but if you ever find yourself sitting at a steakhouse next to your 6’3″ brother scarfing down a literal live cow on a plate, just be glad that even this place offers salads. 

Ask Questions

Being unafraid to voice your dietary restrictions and ask lots of questions is one thing so many vegans are uncomfortable with- But it’s so necessary! I find that even non-vegans (people with allergies, sensitivities, utter disgust for mayonnaise, personal preferences to make a dish a little tastier) are often hesitant to ask for what they really want when eating out. This is especially important when traveling and trying new types of food or new restaurants. It is near impossible to stick to a vegan diet and refuse to ask any questions regarding ingredients. Yes, it may feel like you are being a pain in the ass. But at the end of the day, people who work in food service are used to this kind of thing. Quite frankly, it’s part of the job. In all my years working in food service, I have had to accommodate hundreds of special dietary restrictions including gluten free, dairy free, ketogenic diets, WHOLE30 diets, liquid only diets as well as every food allergy under the sun. Trust me when I say that requesting a vegan option will be far from the most annoying thing anyone has ever done to your server. 

In my experience, when it comes to requesting a vegan meal, the best way to go about it is by avoiding the term “vegan.” I wish this were not the case, but I can’t help but imagine an evil chef maniacally laughing in the kitchen as he cooks my potatoes in butter, exclaiming “It would do you skinny, un-American vegans some good to have a little protein!!!” On the other hand, it might just be best to assume not everyone knows what exactly a vegan does and does not eat. For this reason, I usually try to ask questions about whether or not menu items contain eggs or dairy and stress to the staff that I cannot consume these products. 

Be Realistic

I like to call myself a realistic vegan, something I adopted from the friend of mine who urged me to go vegan in the first place. I learned the basics of veganism from a person who would pick the cheese off the veggie burger, eat around it in the salad, and consume the occasional muffin (which may or may not have contained eggs) because someone baked it for her and she didn’t want to be rude (Plus what you don’t know won’t hurt you, right?). I am not saying that being this flexible will work for everyone, but I do think it is important for all plant eaters to be realistic in their endeavors. We all know damn well that the rest of the world doesn’t eat this way, and It would be near impossible to ensure that every morsel of food you consume has not even briefly come in contact with an animal byproduct.

This may be a controversial idea within the vegan community, but I think it is important to keep in mind that nobody is perfect. As long as you are doing your very best not to contribute to factory farming, to improve your health or create less environmental impact (your reasoning for eating plant-based could be just one of these things, or it could be all three!), you are doing great. Traveling may be one of the hardest things when it comes to maintaining your lifestyle because it is often impromptu (if you are anything like me), and unfamiliar. This can sometimes make it difficult to ensure there is vegan food available to you at all hours of the day.

By doing some research, planning ahead, sticking to what you know and asking questions, you can almost gaurentee that eating vegan in your travels will be a breeze. But regardless of how well prepared you may be, there is sometimes that lingering ounce of doubt about whether or not a certain thing you ordered is actually vegan. In these instances, it is best to put your worries behind you and know that your intentions are good, and it is okay to slip up once in a while. There are too many moments in life that can be wasted obsessing over your vegan diet. Learn to enjoy the moment, the food and the people you are sharing it with.

Have Fun

Vegan food and traveling are quite possibly the two best things in the entire world. Putting the two together will set you up for nothing short of a freaking good time. Regardless of where you are traveling, consider it an opportunity not only to experience a new place, but to experience new food! Whether it be a trendy plant-based restaurant or a fruit you have never heard of, make it your mission to try at least one new thing during the trip. You will likely be surprised at how many vegan options there are all over the world, and the different ways they can be put together to make a tasty combination. 

In some of my recent trips, I have had the privilege of devouring a three course vegan meal by myself in Los Angeles, eating at my first fully raw restaurant in Chicago, trying all sorts of mysterious fruits in Thailand, and enjoying some authentic vegan enchiladas in Mexico. These are just a few of the places which have graced me with exciting plant-based opportunities, and provide for only a minuscule fraction of all the vegan food to be had in the world. 

Following a vegan diet is not always easy, but it is always worth it! Enjoying plant-based food from all over the world, connecting with other vegans, and embracing this lifestyle regardless of where you go will promote optimum health, animal well-being, and preserve the planet we’re all dying to explore.

Happy traveling (and eating), ya’ll!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thailand Thrills

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It was mid December when I received an urgent and rather unexpected phone call from my older brother back in Maine. Although we do make an effort to catch up from time to time, it was one of those out of the blue situations where I first received a text a from him: “I have to talk to you!!!!” and then “I HAVE BIG NEWS” followed by the blaring sound of my ringtone echoing on the train as he called.

If you are at all familiar with my brother Jake then you know how out of the ordinary this is coming from him. I love my brother dearly and he does have many great (calm and nurturing) qualities, but he is kind of a square. I answered the phone immediately, wondering what this “big news” could possibly entail. My mind began wandering to some quite comical images of him in a pastel RA polo restraining a drunk college kid, or being rudely awoken by a stream of water leaking from the ceiling and having to make an evacuation announcement in the dorms at 2am. To my surprise, my cautious and comfortable brother called to announce that he would be taking the semester off to work at a resort in Thailand.

THAILAND?? 

I have to admit that my very first thought was IM COMING WITH YOU followed by some skepticism about the reality of Jake leaving his comfortable bed and mini fridge behind to sit on an airplane for an entire day only to be greeted by a hot, sticky and unfamiliar place with lots of bugs and few English-speaking people. I congratulated him endlessly on the decision and asked a million questions out of jealousy and curiosity, wanting to live vicariously through him, wondering how this time it was Jake telling me about his travels and not the other way around. This was some Freaky Friday shit right here

Nonetheless, I could not be more proud of him for deciding to do something so wildly outside of his comfort zone, excited for all of the learning and growth that would take place in the next few months of his life. I was confident it would be a great experience- One that I just had to be a part of.

The weeks leading up to my trip were filled with frequent phone calls with my brother who had lots to share about the beautiful Thailand scenes, the people who were always smiling, the tasty Thai food and a few complaints about his uncomfortable sleeping arrangements. I became more eager to join him each time we chatted and he was excited to have the opportunity to show me around the resort and bring me to some of his favorite spots. It was almost surreal when the moment finally arrived: I was boarding a plane to Thailand. 24 hours of back pain and nasty airplane food later Jake and I were embracing in the dull and humid airport in Bangkok.

I like to think that Jake and I make pretty decent travel partners because we balance each other out. If I were entirely in charge of this trip we likely would have been staying in a dingy hostel without air conditioning, eating out of a dumpster to save money and engaging in some dangerous recreational behaviors. Jake, on the other hand, would have us getting authentic Thai massage twice a day and eating at some fancy fucking restaurant made out of glass that hangs from the sky. It’s probably not a bad thing that we were able to find some middle ground.

Anyways, here are a few highlights of our brother/sister adventure:

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The Death Rail

I have to be honest, after running around in airports and sitting on stuffy planes for 28 hours, I was not looking forward to the four and a half hour train ride from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi, but this happened to be one of my favorite parts of the trip. Jake had warned me that the train would be completely wide open, and that one could literally be decapitated if they were to stick their head out the window courtesy of the houses, street signs and jagged rocks planted only inches from the tracks. Not to mention the infamous section known as “The Death Rail” in which the train zooms around the side of a cliff, supported only by a few wooden beams. I was giddy just thinking about it.

The train ride was perhaps most unique because of it’s colorful and varied landscapes. As we pulled away from the station I began taking it all in, admiring the communities in which small homes existed only centimeters apart, miniature spirit houses decorated the entrances of buildings, and extravagant temples towered over us. Naturally, I also spent much of the ride sticking my limbs out the window and pulling them back in seconds before they were sliced by metal roofs while Jake sat in the fetal position telling me to cut it out because I could seriously get tetanus.

A few hours into the trip and even in my sleepiness, I was in awe of Thailand and all of it’s beauty. As we moved out of the city, the rickety train began exploring a green countryside filled with animals (I neglect to think of the true purpose of their existence on these farms), canopies of tropical plants, purple mountains jutting up into the sky, and long boats imprisoned by rivers which traveled for miles. 

When the train reached our destination, I was wind-blown and ready for adventure, but at the same time, I couldn’t wait to take the train back into the city at the end of our trip. Since my return from Thailand I have referred back to this experience with fond memories. Tell me, what could be better than a relaxing ride in the Thai countryside enjoying fresh pineapple on a stick while simultaneously staring into the face of death? Literally nothing.

Saiyolk Noi

Sai Yok National Park is perhaps one of the most famous destinations in Thailand for locals and foreigners alike. This park extends for miles across Thailand and Myanmar, consisting of nineteen protected sights known for their waterfalls and caves. Although I only had the opportunity to check out a single area of the park, it was impressive and calming to spend time at Sai Yok Noi, a waterfall and series of caves acommidating hundreds of people who had come to enjoy family picnics or a refreshing swim on a one hundred degree day. 

Jake and I spent the afternoon wading in warm waters, eating tamarinds which we purchased from a nearby tent, and exploring a cave, home to ancient buddha statues and the offerings of those who had come to pray. I learned about the religious rituals in Buddhist culture, including the lighting of incense which is said to purify the space, set a tranquil mood and pay respect to the Buddha. 

We spent the rest of the day investigating a variety of foods and goods in the tents which surrounded the park and then rode our bicycles back to the resort. It was so freaking beautiful, I didn’t even care that I was slightly nauseous and sweating profusely with a belly full of mysterious treats.

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Baanpufa Resort

This quiet and eclectic resort was an inviting place to stay while in Thailand. We were housed in a quaint little cabin reserved for the resort staff which was perched at the edge of the property. As we awoke on a Saturday morning and Jake made his way to the office to get some work done (or perhaps play on his laptop? Who can be sure?), I spent some time exploring my surroundings which included elegant guest houses on the water, an outdoor restaurant and performance area, and an abundance of fruit trees. The grounds were decorated with cute signs and little garden gnomes. When Jake was finished with his “work”, we made our way down to the water and peacefully enjoyed a cup of coffee. 

The resort staff was incredibly friendly and had a good sense of humor about my inability to pronounce any Thai words. One of the ladies in the kitchen declared Jake her honorary son in Thailand, and offered to cook a dinner of vegetables and rice for us as she knew I do not eat meat. Our final morning was so special, as I had the opportunity to work alongside the resort staff in serving breakfast to guests. It was pretty neat to experience a breakfast of rice, noodles, soups and salads rather than my typical fruit smoothie or bowl of cereal. We were able to enjoy this food together on the gorgeous outdoor patio before cleaning up and then packing our bags for the next adventure. As we pulled away from the quiet paradise, I felt so fortunate to have experienced this new culture alongside my brother and so many welcoming new people.

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Food 

I may, perhaps write more about this in another post because there is too much to be said for the authentic vegan Thai food that graced my taste buds. But I will say that as someone who used to visit my local Thai restaurant twice a week, I was incredibly eager to experience this part of the trip. I am a foodie, no doubt, and having read a lot of books about the dietary habits in Asian cultures, I figured being vegan in Thailand would be both easy and incredibly delicious. Although it wasn’t quite as easy as I thought it would be (especially due to the inability to communicate my dietary restrictions), it was certainly a treat to taste all sorts of new foods.

Jake and I didn’t actually eat out very much while in Thailand, as the resort provided us most meals, but we did purchase tons of fresh fruit, which happened to be a major highlight of my trip. Visiting the fruit stands in Bangkok was exciting and overwhelming. If you have read any of my other blogs, you know that I would be shunned by society for the ridiculous amount of fruit I eat on a daily basis. Being surrounded by produce of all shapes, colors and sizes which I had never seen or heard of before literally made me feel like it was Christmas morning. I wanted to try everything. (A formal thanks to my non-vegan brother for putting up with my demands to seek out only non-animal foods and spending 20 minutes photographing before digging in. Yes, I am that guy).

There were so many things that made my trip to Thailand wonderful: The food, the nature and the people, spending more time with my brother than I possibly ever have, and discovering him in an entirely new element. It was truly surreal to be riding bicycles, exploring caves and walking around the city with him, realizing holy shit, we are in Thailand right now. It seems like just yesterday we were stuffing socks in our shoes, desperately wishing we could fool the Fun Town staff into thinking we were tall enough to get on the big kid rides. At the time, our little minds must have been thinking that this amusement park was the coolest place in the entire world. And although Jake and I have grown a lot since then, harboring entirely different perspectives about this trip and about life in general, I’m certain we can agree on one thing: Thailand is dope. Fun Town is still a close second.