Today we’re delighted to have Cristen Andrews of CircleOurEarth.com offering a two-part series on vegetarian/vegan travel. All photos are courtesy of Cristen.
Vegetarian Travel Tips by Cristen Andrews from Circle Our Earth
Are you a vegetarian or vegan? Are you itching to get out and explore the world but anxious that your diet might hold you back? Sure, it takes a little extra effort—but vegetarian travel isn’t really that tough. In fact, with the right combination of planning, patience, and creativity, it can be incredibly rewarding. I’ve got 20 tips that will help you make your next travel experience delicious, inexpensive, and fun. Here are the first 10 … and click here for the next 10!
1. Research Your Destinations
The most important thing you can do is plan ahead. This doesn’t mean you’ll need to micromanage every detail of your trip and adhere to a rigid schedule you decided on months in advance. It just means you’ll want to have an idea of the veg-friendly things that exist in the places you intend to visit.
Not sure where to start? Here are some great resources:
- HappyCow (Guide to veg-friendly restaurants & health food stores around the world)
- CircleOurEarth (A large collection of online tools available for vegetarian travelers. Includes country-specific vegan travel guides, a roundup of vegan travel bloggers, and other useful veg travel resources).
Learning just a few words will immensely enrich your travel experience. Make your own notebook of useful phrases and add to it as you go. Copy down characters in addition to phonetic pronunciations, learn to say “I cannot eat” rather than “I don’t eat” (your diet will be taken more seriously that way), and don’t forget to learn the most important words of all: “please,” “thank you,” and “delicious.” The Vegan Passport and SelectWisely translation cards can be useful tools if you want something you can just point to and make your diet understood. But nothing beats verbal communication, and the locals will applaud you for your efforts.
Menu in a Japanese restaurant
3. Notify Hosts in Advance
Vegetarianism is not a well understood concept in many places, and your hosts will likely assume you eat meat unless told otherwise. When possible, politely explain your diet well before a meal is prepared, as this will help avoid an awkward situation. People are usually pretty accommodating if you’re nice. And as long as you’re a polite, gracious guest, your hosts shouldn’t be annoyed or angered by your desire to eat only vegetables. They might think you’re kind of weird, but since you likely have other habits that are unfamiliar to them anyway, they probably already do.
4. Make Friends
Once you start seeking out other vegetarians, the world will start to seem very small. Hang around veg-friendly places in search of like-minded folks, join meet-up groups, or use a variety of online resources to make connections easy.
Here are a few places to start:
- Couchsurfing (Global network connecting travelers with members of local communities, who offer free accommodation and/or advice). Tip: Do a keyword search for vegetarians/vegan hosts, join vegetarian/vegan CS groups, and seek veg travel advice from locals.
- Vegan Around the World Network (Global network of vegan and vegan movements around the world)
- International Vegetarian Union (Global database of independent organizations that are promoting vegetarianism worldwide)
- Meetup.com (Global network of local community groups). Tip: Search for vegan/vegetarian meetups in the area you intend to visit
- PostPunkKitchen, VeggieBoards, TheVeganForum (popular veggie forums with sections dedicated to travel)
Eating at a delicious vegetarian buffet in Bangkok, Thailand
5. Be Prepared
Whether you’re staying a few days in a centrally located hostel, spending a week in a remote village, or going on a two-month camping trip, it’s important to plan ahead and pack accordingly. It’s a good idea to at least bring some snacks so you don’t get stuck someplace with nothing to eat. You can pack a bunch of food and some basic eating utensils, or just carry a few favorite spice mixes to spruce up otherwise boring meals. It’s up to you. But no matter where you go and how long you’re away, don’t expect other people to take care of you.
Examples of things I like to bring on backpacking trips (note the spork, travel knife, compressible bowl, and mini cutting board)
6. Learn About Regional Foods
International cuisine is generally more conducive to a vegetarian diet, and many cultures are centered around plant-based foods. Many dishes will already be vegetarian, and many more can be made that way with the removal of one ingredient (for example, fish sauce in Thailand or bonito flakes in Japan). Knowing the names of local ingredients will help you decipher menus, customize a menu item that’s already almost vegetarian, suggest veg-friendly dishes when communication is tough, and ensure you don’t miss out on all the delicious regional specialties.
Udon soup with rolled yuba in Japan
7. Seek Out Veg Versions of Local Favorites
Once you do a little investigating, you’ll be surprised to learn that most countries are much more veg friendly than you may initially think. Many places even have vegetarian versions of popular meaty foods. Sampling these is a fun way to try local specialties without actually eating meat.
8. Stay Somewhere with a Kitchen (or Bring a Travel Stove)
It’s obviously nice to try the local cuisine and support local businesses. But if you have the means to cook your own food, you can save money, eat healthier, pack meals to take with you on day trips, and eat whenever/wherever you’re hungry.
9. Be Creative and Resourceful
Be creative with what’s available, pack versatile ingredients that can be combined in numerous ways, and learn to make tasty meals with only a few basic items. It’s a fun challenge and a good skill to have if you want to travel light and cheap. Foraging skills are also useful (especially if you’re on a long-distance hiking or cycling trip). Learn to identify nuts, fruits, mushrooms, and edible wild plants.
Picking chanterelle mushrooms in Germany
10. Seek Help from Locals
The best knowledge is local knowledge. Locals can be your best resource, and don’t be afraid to ask around if you need help with something. They can explain menus, decipher ingredient lists, suggest places to eat, make you a list of important phrases, customize your meal to be veg-friendly, and speak for you when you have a tough time communicating. Remember to always thank those who help, as they’ll be more apt to do it again for someone else.
Cristen is a passionate vegan who loves to cook, eat, and travel. Having traveled to more than 25 countries, she has a diverse range of experiences and insight regarding vegetarian travel and loves sharing her stories with whoever wants to listen. Her website, CircleOurEarth.com, is a work in progress, but she aims to make it a comprehensive resource for vegetarian and vegan world travel. Her main goal with the site is to inspire more people – especially those who have chosen to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle – to get out there and explore the world.
Come back on Thursday for the second part of this series on veggie travel…and also visit Circle Our Earth to learn more.