I’ve done a lot of travelling both as a vegetarian and a vegan with pretty mixed experiences. It’s not always been easy to find good food or have my dietary requirements understood.
Though I can’t pretend that travelling as a veggie isn’t more challenging, it doesn’t have to be scary.
Over the years I’ve learnt a lot – often the hard way – so here’s my top tips for my fellow vegan and vegetarian travellers:
1. Research, Research, Research
Not all destinations will be as easy as others for vegan travellers. Before you go, investigate how veggie-friendly your destination is. Learn about the local culture and the history of and attitude towards vegetarianism.
Find out if any of the traditional cuisine is “accidentally” vegan-friendly. I’ve had amazing pizza marinara in Italy, dolmades in Turkey, and kürtőskalács (chimney cakes) in Hungary.
Look up local vegan and vegetarian eateries and book accommodation close to these places if possible.
2. Ask (the Right) Questions
The word “vegetarian” doesn’t mean the same thing worldwide (in many places they assume you eat fish) and often the term “vegan” is still a foreign concept.
Rather than simply ask “is it vegetarian/vegan?”, ask exactly what’s in a dish. This avoids potentially being sold bruschetta with tuna hiding in it (true story), soup with pork stock (true again), or rice with chicken “you can just pick out” (sigh… true).
If you’re travelling to a non-English speaking country, learn a few key phrases in the local language to help you when you’re out and about: “I am a vegan”, “Does this dish have meat/fish/dairy/eggs… in it?”, “I do not eat any meat/fish/dairy/eggs…” etc.
A great cheat option is to order the Vegan Passport by The Vegan Society. It contains useful phrases for the vegan traveller in around 80 different languages and is available in both hard copy and app form (Android, iOS, and Windows).
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3. Pack All the Snacks
Snacks can be a lifesaver when travelling. You won’t always be able to find vegan food easily or if you have a hectic schedule, you won’t always know when you’ll have your next proper meal.
If you’re flying, pack snacks in your carry-on luggage and when you’re out and about, chuck a snack or two in your day bag.
I always carry a selection fruit/nut bars (nakd are my fave), dried fruit, and sweets or chocolate for times when an extra energy boost (aka sugar rush) is needed.
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4. Be Flexible
Obviously I don’t mean be flexible with your diet! I just mean that you will have to accept that some towns or cities may not be particularly vegan-friendly.
If you’re travelling with non-veggie friends or family, hopefully they’ll be understanding and try to find somewhere that you can all have a decent meal. However, as much as everyone should be able to enjoy a good meal, it can be super-awkward being the one turning down every single restaurant or cafe you pass…
There may be times when you have to suck it up and have a boring salad for lunch or a chip sandwich for dinner (guilty).
It’s times like those when you’ll be glad you packed all those snacks!
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5. Stock Up on Multivitamins
Whilst I’m a firm believer that you should try to get most of your essential vitamins and minerals from your diet, it’s not always so easy when you’re travelling and not as in control of what you eat.
I do try to take vitamins daily (B12 is a tough one on a vegan diet) but I’m much more vigilant when travelling. As I’m often not eating quite so well, I want to ensure I don’t get run-down or ill.
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6. Fill Up on Free Breakfasts
If your accommodation has breakfast included, eat up! Not only is breakfast the most important meal of the day but it’s often one of the easiest meals to find vegan food.
Of course it will vary from place to place but at the very least most hotels and hostels will have bread and fruit on offer. If there’s a full buffet, you could be lucky enough to load up your plate with cooked tomatoes, mushrooms, hash browns, veggie sausages, and salad. In bigger hotels, I’ve found dairy-free milk for cereal and even soya yogurt. Score!
If you’re not sure what options you’ll have throughout the day, at least you will have had one good meal to help you power through.
7. Go Self-Catered
On the other hand, going self-catered can be a great option for all budgets. From campgrounds and hostels with kitchens, to Airbnbs and self-catered holidays lets, you can be in control of what you put on your plate each day.
Self-catering can also be a great money-saver if you’re away for any length of time, stopping you from eating out several times a day, every day.
8. Happy Cow is God-Send
If you’re not familiar with review site Happy Cow, sort that out ASAP! It’s like a vegan bible when travelling with info and reviews on everything from vegan and vegetarian restaurants to veg-friendly B&Bs, to health food stores.
I look it up before each trip, as although I can’t always enjoy a city’s traditional cuisine, I like to support the local veggie and vegan businesses. If you want to check out some of my favourites and recommendations around the world, take a look at my Happy Cow profile!
There’s an app (available on both iOS and Android) with a free and paid for version. I used the free version for years but if you want full features, it’s worth the few quid to upgrade.
9. Travel with Veggie Friends
Okay, I realise that this isn’t possible for everyone (including me right now) but seriously, travelling with a fellow veggie is the best! They will be just as excited as you to seek out veggie and vegan restaurants, you won’t feel like a pain for critically scouring every restaurant menu, plus you’ll have someone to share food with; a rare treat!
Photo by Dani Vivanco on Unsplash
10. Be Aware of Animal Welfare
Lat but certainly not least, look out for the animals. Animals can often form part of a holiday’s adventure activities, tourist attractions, or cultural experiences. Think horseback riding, dog sledding, swimming with dolphins, horse & cart/elephant/camel/donkey rides, bull fights, zoos and aquariums, monkey forests, bear pits, tiger temples… The list goes on.
For me, most of these activities are an outright no. Its not natural to be able to pet a sedate tiger, bears don’t belong in concrete pits nor orcas in swimming pools, and donkeys shouldn’t be reaching the point of collapse from dragging overweight tourists up hillsides in 45 degree heat.
However, there’s some activities that I’m on the fence about, like dog sledding and horseback riding. If you’re not sure about these activities, then research them and make up your own mind. Look into suppliers’ backgrounds, check welfare conditions of the animals, and read reports and reviews. World Animal Protection has a great guide on animal-friendly travel.
If you’re travelling with others keen to participate in any activities you want to veto, let them know in advance that you’re going to do your own thing, educate them if you feel comfortable, or suggest an alternative activity that everyone will enjoy.
Overall, with a little research, advanced planning and understanding travel buddies, travelling as a vegan doesn’t have to be difficult or restrictive and food can be an exciting part of your travels, whatever your diet.