Beth Waters does not know all there is to know about being vegetarian or vegan, and probably never will. She just does her best to eat, live, and travel well, and wants to help others do the same. For other silly-yet-informative blog articles, check out her new site http://www.carrotsovercake.com
I’ve been very fortunate and blessed to be able to travel around the world. I’ve travelled by myself and with loved ones to places including Munich’s Hofbrauhaus, the Great Wall of China,and the Pantheon and Parthenon, not to mention many destinations within the US.
I’ve been a vegetarian for almost twenty years now, and travelling while maintaining strict dietary requirements like being a vegan or vegetarian can get very difficult and drastically reduce your options for what you can eat (not to mention if you’re gluten intolerant or have other digestive issues).
That being said, it’s completely possible to travel with a full belly – no matter what your restrictions are – if you do a little bit of preparation.
Whether you’re road-tripping or spending six months in Tanzania, do a little bit of research before you go. Scan your favorite guidebook or look online for whether there are specific vegetarian restaurants in the areas you’ll be visiting, or whether the local ubiquitous fast-food options feature any animal-free items. (Fun fact: McDonalds adds meat to all of its salads to order, so if you tell them no meat, it’ll be suitable for vegetarians. Going as a vegan is a bit harder, though there are some menu items you can luck out with. For instance, it’s bland and simple, but I love a hot Wendy’s potato after a late night of travel. You’ll get to squeeze on your own sour cream, so if sour cream’s not your cup of tea, just don’t add it.)
Another option is simply to bring your own food. Whenever I travel abroad I bring a vat (i.e. big jar) of peanut butter and a package of double-stuff Oreos. It’s not an optimal meal by any means, but it’s always tided me over in a pinch.
Whether you’re going to a restaurant in the US or abroad, it can be very, very difficult to know what’s actually in your food. (Fun fact: I gorged on Thai food for years before learning that pretty much all Thai curries are made with fish oil, and had to cut a favorite cuisine out of my diet.) One way to deal with restaurant uncertainty is to learn the words for some staple foods that you do not want in your meal. Learn the names of basic animals and animal products that might be in your food, or if you’re too nervous to try the local lingo, have them written in advance with “no” in front, in whatever language is spoken where you’re going. For instance, if you don’t want fish or dairy, you might write or point to something in your guidebook that says “I can’t eat fish or dairy.”
If you do order something and you’re not sure what’s in it, or you think you’re sure it has some form of something you don’t want to eat, then you can try to communicate with your server, or simply don’t eat it. (There’s always the late-night peanut butter option.)
When in doubt, go for a plain salad.
Use Your Resources
The smartphone and internet access are very powerful tools against uncertainty. There are travel ready translation apps that will help you communicate pretty much anything. If you find your hotel has a microwave, or if your hostel has a public kitchen, do a Google search for nearby markets and shop for your own vegan food. You can even check specific apps like Veggie Passport to locate vegan-friendly options near you.
Wherever the winds may take you, travelling is a lot of fun. Whether you’re vegetarian, vegan, paleo (or even if you have a digestive disease and need to order ostomy supplies), there’s no need for you to go hungry on your vacation. Plan ahead, communicate, and use your resources, and you should be just fine. (Fun Fact: In some countries, like in the UK, much packaged food is marked if it’s veggie-friendly, and it’s even easier to decide what to buy than in the US, when you’re scanning the too-long ingredient list for gelatin.)