More than answering the same questions over and over again from family and friends about my protein and iron deficiency, that plants also have feelings, and if I ‘don’t feel sorry for the lettuce’, I want to share here with you, the challenges and privileges of being a vegan traveler.
It is undeniable that it is much easier to be vegan in the comfort of my home and in my city where I already know all the markets, supermarkets, and shops, than on the road. Especially when I land in a place where I’ve never been before. Although this can bring excitement and an opportunity to discover new flavors! The “unknown” is part of the experience of traveling.
On top of the lack of knowledge of a new destination, few countries are known for having abundant vegan options. Probably only India will come to mind…
That said, I must add that I travel a lot and I never starved. Being a vegan traveler is not only possible but also very interesting!
Knowledge is power
Some countries are more vegetarian/vegan-friendly than others. So it is wise to do some research on the local cuisine before you leave.
Knowing what are the typical dishes and the common ingredients of the country, is quite important as well as culturally enriching. Everywhere in the world, there are foods that are naturally vegan, or almost vegan. With this knowledge in hand, you will know what dishes to order and what ingredients you can add, remove or replace.
The truth is that the Internet and travel guides make this task easy and fast.
When traveling by car, bus or train, it’s always better to take a packed lunch for the trip. If the trip is by plane, it’s important to order the meal when you buy the ticket. To date, all the airlines I have flown with offered vegan meals on long-haul flights at no additional cost (plus special meals are always served first 😉 )! Even so, since I’m a person that gets hungry easily and very often, I always carry lots of snacks like nuts, chocolate, bars, sandwiches, fresh fruit and protein balls.
When traveling to developed countries, it can’t be easier. The application HappyCow is awesome! You just need to write where you are and how many miles/ kilometers you can walk and the application gives a list of vegan and vegetarian restaurants close by. Then just follow Google Maps.
Unfortunately, this is not the reality everywhere. Many places are quite complicated, as is the case of Cuba, a safari in Kenya, Argentina or in the deserts of Mongolia. But even if it seems at first that it is going to be an impossible mission, you’re wrong, it is always possible.
Benefits of traveling as a vegan
For backpackers, and travelers that don’t go to the major resorts, where hygiene is probably somewhat similar to what we are accustomed to, there are always situations where the options are sparse and unappetizing.
When traveling to developing countries and getting off the touristic path in search of more remote and authentic places, the options scarce. True to be told that is a huge risk to eat meat or shellfish that is left to the flies on the roadside under the sun or from a shack without electricity. It seems to me that is always more encouraging to choose cooked vegetables and fruits that can be peeled.
On the other hand, I end up going to places that otherwise would never go, because that tourist restaurant located in the central square is not an option for me. I end up meeting lots of local people because I need to ask for informations and to explore well the cuisine of each country.
Meeting new people enriches any trip. Many have been the times that local people gave me a ride to what they considered to be the best restaurant in their city/village/town serving vegan food or walked with me to the place.
If I wasn’t a vegan I would never have discovered so many typical places off the beaten path. I would have lost lots of opportunities that allowed me to live and experience each place more authentically.
In the vast majority of big cities, it is usually easy to find vegan food, ( Los Angeles, New York, Portland, San Francisco, London, Toronto, Tel Aviv, Bengaluru, Chennai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Berlin, and Taipei), are some examples where it is extremely easy to stumble into an excellent vegan dish.
What I do not dispense
Regardless of the country I visit, I always travel with a small cabin luggage. So I can never carry a small switchblade or a knife with me, but it is one of the first purchases I make.
It is essential to have something sharp to peel and cut fruits and vegetables, and a spoon to eat some fruits such as papaya, dragon fruit, kiwi, passion fruit …
I have a To-Go Ware Utensil Set, which contains a knife, fork, spoon, and chopsticks all made from bamboo, and don’t worry the bamboo is very nice to eat from. The set is absolutely spectacular, really compact, light and easy to clean even on the road, I don’t go anywhere without it, I even take it to work. They’re very slim so it is easy to slip into my backpack. I can’t really recommend it enough.
Having a small backpack with you is also essential. Because you can carry snacks and water. What is not only a way to save money and time but also to keep you fed and healthy throughout the trip, of course, I do not dispense to have a good reusable water bottle. The plastic problem is real and we all need to do better choices as consumers.
My favorite ones are the ones from Vapur, they are absolutely fantastic. They roll up really well and can easily fit into the pocket on my backpack, or even into my pocket. They come with a carabiner attached which aids in keeping them compressed when rolled up, plus they don’t have any taste taint.
So for traveling, they are perfect, they come in deferent size and they are really light, great quality, BPA free and when empty the Anti-Bottle can be easily tucked away, conveniently fitting anywhere. For me is simply the most portable, reusable water bottle I know 🙂
Bar shampoo is another essential item for me. It is light, takes up little space, does not count as a liquid at the airports and lasts for a very long time.
To brush my teeth, I carry a toothbrush and toothpaste but also a miswak stick. Although I am not a fan of the taste, I make the ‘sacrifice’ when I am traveling. because the true is the miswak stick is very convenient, no toothpaste, no water, no rinse or spit, which means you can use it anywhere, anytime.
I’ve said goodbye to the sanitary pads and tampons many years ago, and when I’m traveling there are no exceptions. The menstrual cup is what I use all year round. Because is practical, and lightweight, and you can have the cup placed up to a maximum of 12 hours, so the issue of cleaning is not a big problem, as it can always be done at the end of the day when we are back to your accommodation.
Go to markets
Going to markets is not just a way of cultural immersion, but it is also a great place to buy and stock up on fresh fruit, sandwiches, vegetables, nut-butter, sweets, nuts and other vegan yummy goods.
Learn to speak the basics
From my experience, there are always vegan options everywhere, some better than others. In some countries to know how to speak English it’s enough, but in other countries, it’s imperative to know some keywords in the native language.
It is important to memorize them or to have them written on a piece of paper so you can explain what you are looking for.
Most of the time restaurants can fulfill our requests. It is important, however, to be patient and courteous, as not everyone knows what vegan or vegetarian means. I’ve lost count of the dishes that came with shrimps and chicken … So again being specific, patient and kind is the key.
Once in Borneo, I explained what I wanted. The waitress very attentive and friendly said: “yes, yes I know exactly what you want, don’t worry …“. When the dish arrived, I said: “But this has meat …”. To which she answered, confused: “that is not meat .., it’s chicken!” Well, another lesson learned!! Always be very specific. No meat, no chicken, no pork, no cow, no fish or shellfish, no prawns.. 😅
A great option is to buy a Vegan Passport. The booklet contains words and phrases that include the languages of over 96% of the world’s population and can be purchased on The Vegan Society page or you can download their app to your phone. The Vegan Passport works really well and has all situations covered. This will ensure that you have no problem explaining what you eat and what you don’t eat, no matter where you are in the world.
Where to sleep
Hostels and Airbnb are great options because they allow the use of the kitchen. As it is Couchsurfing where you can look for Vegan hosts. Some countries are starting to have 100% vegan accommodation, they are normally amazing but a bit pricey.
Follow vegan travel blogs
Following blogs from Vegan Travellers is one of the best ways to find good information. Because it is given by people with the same values than you and that have been before where you want to go and had explored how to have a plant-based diet in that country.
I hope this article will leave you a little bit more relaxed if you are going to embark on your first vegan adventure. The reality is that nothing is impossible, far from it.
All you need is a little bit of preparation and to follow my tips as of the other travelers who have been to the countries you want to go.
In practice, vegetables, fruits, cereals, grains, seeds, and legumes are everywhere with more or less abundance, diversity or accessibility.
Happy travels and a good appetite 🌿🚌 let me know if you have any questions, comments or tips.
Lots of Love Ana 💙
photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha