Whether you lead a vegetarian, vegan, or plant-based lifestyle, finding diet-friendly food and restaurants while you travel can be challenging. You may be faced with cultural differences, language barriers, a lack of menu options, or all of the above. However, as a vegan who has done her fair share of traveling, Iâ€™ve learned how to stick with my diet while still enjoying local cuisine and, more importantly, not going hungry! With a little extra planning and forethought, you can overcome any inconvenience that may face youâ€¦ just follow these tips for stress-free and tasty vegan or vegetarian travels!
Planning Ahead for Vegetarian Travel
Planning is your key to a successful trip. Before leaving, researchÂ vegetarian or vegan restaurants, bakeries, and markets in the country youâ€™ll be visiting. The HappyCowÂ website is a great source of veg-friendly restaurants around the world, and includes customer reviews and ratings.
Itâ€™s also helpful to get a phrasebook and learn basic food vocabulary. Without knowing local words for items like chicken, milk, eggs, cheese, yogurt or butter, it will be difficult to determine whether a dish is safe to eat. Knowing the translation for foods you want to avoid will make your life much simpler and menus will be easier to understand. Travel Maestro tip: A great resource is â€śV-Cards,â€ť which contain a comprehensive description of veganism in over 70 native languages. These handy cards have saved my life on multiple occasions! Simply show the card to your server to give them a full understanding of what you can eat.
Understanding the local cuisine also gives you a huge advantage. You canâ€™t always tell if a dish is cooked in butter, or if a soup is made with beef broth, but by researching the ways in which foods are traditionally prepared, you can be aware of any red flags.
Aside from researching local cuisine, vegetarian travelersÂ should also talk with friends and travelers who have been to your destination. Ask for restaurant suggestions, or connect with people via social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.
Finally, ask your travel advisor to request a vegetarian or vegan meal when you book your flight, and call a few days before you leave to confirm that your specialty meal is still available. Being stuck on a long-haul flight without anything to eat is not the best way to start your trip!
You may have requested a diet-friendly meal for the flight, but airplane food wonâ€™t always be to your liking. To avoid becoming hungry, pack extra snacks in your carry-on. Liquids are restricted, but foods such as bars, nuts, crackers and fruit are great options. Travel Maestro tip: Keep in mind that you may have to throw away any extra produce when you arrive at your destination. Some of my favorite travel-friendly snacks include Larabars, Pure Organic Bars, Go Raw Flax Snax, and Justinâ€™s Maple Almond Butter packets. For more veggie-friendly travel snacks, see Kaylin’s Kit blog post.
If you are vegan for ethical reasons, make sure to pack your own beauty and cosmetic products, such as shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, and soap. Your hotelâ€™s complimentary toiletries are not guaranteed to be cruelty-free, and such personal care items may not be readily available in the country youâ€™re visiting (or they may be considerably more expensive). Purchasing a travel-sized cosmetic collection from a vegan company like Tarte is a great way to go, as the smaller sizes fit easily into your carry on.
My last packing tip is important â€“ donâ€™t forget to bring necessary supplements, such as B12, Iron, or a quality multi-vitamin. It can be hard to eat how and when youâ€™re accustomed to while traveling, and you donâ€™t want symptoms such as fatigue, nausea or headaches to ruin your trip.
Maintaining a Vegetarian Lifestyle at Your Destination
If you follow the above tips, you’ll be one step closer to a stress-free trip that caters to your dietary restrictions. However, there are a few more things you can do at your destination to guarantee an enjoyable, diet-friendly experience. First, consider cooking! If you are staying in accommodations that include a kitchen, take advantage of this convenience. Cooking is a great way to experience foods native to the culture, especially if you shop at local farmersâ€™ markets. You will probably save money as well!
If you go out to eat, be very clear about your dietary restrictions, and keep in mind that the definition of words like â€śvegetarianâ€ť and â€śveganâ€ť vary depending on the country youâ€™re visiting. While living in Spain, many waiters misunderstood my request for a vegan meal. They assumed I could still eat fish and dairy, or thought that â€śvegetarianâ€ť was simply a meal that included vegetables. Instead of asking for a vegetarian meal, be more specific. Ask â€śIs there anything on the menu without red meat, chicken, or fish?â€ť This way, you will avoid any potential miscommunications.
Unfortunately, there may be times when you are unable to find a suitable dish on the menu, especially in countries in which meat, cheese or yogurt are a major staple of local cuisine. If such a situation arises, ask to customizeÂ a particular dish – prepare with vegetables rather than meat, or omit any dairy products. For example, ask for pizza without cheese, or pasta without meat or fish. Most restaurants will be flexible and oblige.
Itâ€™s also helpful to carry a small stash of vegetarian or vegan-friendly foods with you. Otherwise, you may be forced to skip a meal or eat something that makes you uncomfortable. Pack homemade sandwiches, carrots and hummus, or fruit in a small Tupperware container for times when you are unable to find diet-friendly options.
My last tip is probably the most importantâ€¦be open-minded! Many countries have a variety of interesting and exotic vegetarian dishes, so be willing to try something new. If I had avoided certain foods because they were unfamiliar or different, my travels would have been much less culinarily appealing. Eating local cuisine is a huge part of experiencing a culture; itâ€™s not something you want to sacrifice!
Helpful Apps for Vegetarian Travel
Luckily for us, traveling vegans and vegetarians now have the option of accessing information via mobile applications. There are several vegan apps that are extremely helpful in locating restaurants and assisting with language translation while on vacation. Consider purchasing one of these useful apps before you leave:
- Veg Travel Guide by Happy Cow ($2.99) – AÂ location-based app that shows vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurants, bakeries, and health food stores around the world. It also provides helpful travel tips.
- VegOut: Vegetarian Restaurant Guide ($2.99) – The largest international listing of vegan and vegetarian restaurants around the globe.
- VeganXpressÂ ($1.99) – AÂ guide to vegetarian and vegan menu options at popular chain restaurants and fast food establishments. It also features a list of vegan and vegetarian beer, wine, liquor, snacks, and candy.
- V Cards: Vegan Abroad (Free) – A comprehensive description of veganism in over 70 native languages. Simply show this app to your server to give them a full understanding of what you can eat.
If you follow these tips, youâ€™ll find that traveling as a vegetarian or vegan can actually be quite simple! Wherever you go, there will most likely be healthy, whole-food options such as vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds and fruit. Furthermore, many countries cater to vegetarian diets for a variety of religious and health-related reasons. Donâ€™t be surprised if a highlight of your trip is all the amazing food youâ€™re able to eat. That creamy almond gazpacho or Moroccan vegetable tajine could end up being the best meal youâ€™ve ever had!
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Danielle RateauÂ is a Virginia Tech Hokie who graduated in 2013 with a BA in International Business. Before joining Covington Travel, she spent six months in Spain as an English Language Teacher. She loves traveling and has been to 13 different countries and 4 continents, but plans to visit many more!
Photo credits: Danielle Rateau, except where noted.