Traveling is stressful. There’s no use in pretending that it’s not. There’s always something to contend with whether it’s unpredictable weather, flight delays, or simply the stress of being in a new place. When you’re vegan and traveling, you have the added stress of trying to figure out where and what to eat. How easy or difficult that will be depends on where you’re traveling. Major city? Probably not too difficult. French countryside? Good luck.
By nature, I’m a pretty anxious person and can find a way to worry about just about anything. When I’m traveling or about to go on a trip, I’m extra anxious. Over the years I’ve found ways to manage the anxiety that comes with being in an unfamiliar place and being vegan.
1. Research and plan ahead
Which is way obvious and a smartypants like you already knows because you’re reading this blog. Research resources that will be your best friends are review sites like Happy Cow and Yelp. Tripadvisor can be useful too, especially if you filter the reviews for “vegan” or “vegetarian.” Your mileage may vary with those sites depending on the location you’re researching. If it’s in your budget, also try checking out some fancier restaurants in the area that you’re traveling. They may be more accommodating to special requests. Some might even have a separate vegan or vegetarian menu that’s hidden behind a sneaky healthy label.
I recommend making a personal Google map for the area that you’re visiting and adding the restaurants you find to the map. This makes it easy when you’re out and about to already have a pre-selected list of places to choose from.
2. Learn a bit of the language
If you’re traveling to a destination where you don’t speak the local language, it’s always a good idea to try and learn a few key phrases before you go. Putting in a little effort to be polite goes a long way.
If you’re traveling while vegan and want to go above and beyond, try expanding your vocabulary into food words and phrases around being vegan or vegetarian. Learning common words for different sorts of foods makes it easier to navigate a menu without needing to rely on Google Translate. I like to use Duolingo for learning basic vocabulary and Innovative Language podcasts for learning phrases and how to apply them.
When it comes to learning phrases around being vegan or vegetarian, I usually start with Google Translate. Depending on where you’re traveling, the concept of vegan may not be well understood and may be lumped in with being vegetarian. To avoid this I make sure to learn phrases like “ I’m vegetarian without eggs or dairy” or “without meat or cheese, please.”
I’ll put key words and phrases in a notes doc on my phone so it’s easy to access and doesn’t require data. That way if I’ve forgotten anything I have it handy when I need it.
3. Bring Your Own Meals
There’s no shame in stashing away meal bars and protein shake powders in your bag for your trip especially if you’re traveling somewhere you’re unsure of being able to find a meal reliably. For one particularly challenging trip I once packed a bag of soy curls and tofu scramble seasoning in my bag which came in handy. For another I purchased a travel kettle to be able to make tea and oatmeal for breakfast in my room. The added bonus of bringing your own food and snacks is that as you eat your stash you have more room in your bag for souvenirs.
When you’re picking out which bars to take, keep in mind that not all bars are created equal when it comes to being able to endure travel. If you’re traveling to a warmer destination, avoid chocolate coated bars or you’ll be left with a melty mess. Also seek out sturdy bars that will survive being smashed in your suitcase. I usually try and find what’s on sale at the local grocery store before a trip.
Some of my favorite bars and snacks to travel with are:
I also love to hit up local grocery stores when I’m traveling to see what their vegan specialty section looks like. I’ve been pleasantly surprised over the years by what’s available!
4. Keep an eye out
You may also be surprised at what you find when you aren’t looking. While wandering Oktoberfest, my friend spotted a “Gemüse semmel vegan” which turned out to be a vegan burger. Another time in Kyoto, my husband Carl and I were walking up some back roads looking somewhat lost looking for a shrine when we saw a sign in English that said “Vegetarian Lunch.” We took a chance and ended up having what was definitely an experience at a yudofu restaurant. It ended up being one of our more memorable meals from the trip.
It’s also helpful to know what types of restaurants typically have vegan or vegetarian options. Indian, Ethiopian, Thai, and Middle Eastern restaurants are usually a sure bet.
5. Go easy on yourself
This is advice I wish I had given myself earlier on. Being vegan or vegetarian is a long game and isn’t about perfection. I do it because I believe choosing not to consume animal products has a meaningful impact over the long term. At home, I’m a fairly strict vegan. (I say fairly strict because I don’t go out of my way to avoid honey.)
When I travel, I’m less strict. I’m still 100% vegetarian and do my best to stay vegan, but don’t get worked up over trying to be perfect. No matter how much you prepare something is going to slip up. Sometimes you think you’ve ordered something vegan and it shows up slathered some sort of surprise aioli. Sure, it’s a bummer but I’ve found that in those cases its better scape off the offending bit or set it aside and go on with the meal. Ultimately, it’s your trip and you decide what’s right for you. And I’ll decide what’s right for me. No judgement and no calling the vegan police. 😉