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:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!