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We’re delighted to have Cristen Andrews of CircleOurEarth.com back to with part two of this special 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. Click here for the first 10 … and here are the rest.
11. Shop at Open Air Markets and Street Stalls
The small, locally owned markets and street stands are often the cheapest and tastiest places to eat. You can also see your food before you buy it and talk directly to the cook (less things get lost in translation that way).
Vegetable market in Hanoi, Viet Nam
12. Find Cooking Teachers
Learning how to cook popular regional dishes is a great way to discover the country and its culture. Consider seeking out cooking classes when they’re available. And if they aren’t, find your own cooking mentors and just ask them to teach you. You’ll find that most people are proud of their cooking, flattered that you want to learn from them, and more than happy to teach you what they know.
Learning how to make parathas in Kumily, India
13. Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
In many popular tourist destinations, there is usually a certain area of town that caters primarily to backpackers. These “tourist ghettos” usually consist of a cluster of streets where accommodation is cheap, English is widely spoken, and familiar foods are served. This can definitely be more comfortable (especially if you’re experiencing a bit of culture shock), and vegetarian choices might be more clearly defined (always nice if you’re exhausted from travel). But spend all your time in places like this and your overall travel experience will be bland, isolating, and much more expensive than it needs to be. And, most important, you’ll be alienating yourself from the culture you traveled so far to see. Instead, seek out local food joints and practice some phrases to make yourself understood. It might feel awkward at first, but you’ll gain respect for stepping out of your comfort zone and making an effort to interact with the community. You’ll most likely end up with some new friends, too.
Picking aronia berries in the Czech Republic
14. Set a Good Example
Like it or not, you may be the first vegetarian/vegan someone has ever met. Think of yourself as an ambassador for all vegetarians, and set a positive example. If you come across as arrogant, preachy, or rude, you’ll sour people’s opinions of vegetarianism and vegetarians. On the flip side, if you’re considerate, respectful, polite, and appreciative, people will be more helpful to the next vegetarian they meet. This also means don’t complain (even if there really isn’t a lot to eat wherever you are). The idea is to show people that vegans can be happy and content with the multitude of choices around, so don’t look like you’re suffering or that vegetarianism is about deprivation. (And besides, no one likes a whiner).
Vegetarian Thalis with Puri and Chapati in India
15. Stay Healthy and Hydrated
Travel is exhausting. And with the stress of being in a foreign place and trying to find meat-free foods, it’s easy to neglect your health. You don’t have to be a health fanatic. Just be aware of what you’re eating, try to get a balanced diet, bring along a few reusable water bottles and a water purifier so you always have clean water to drink, and pay attention to what your body needs to stay energized. Also tell yourself that it’s okay to take it easy sometimes and rest. Your body will thank you for slowing down occasionally (and it will pay off in the long run, as you’ll have more energy to go out and explore).
Reusable water bottle and SteriPEN (handheld water purifier)
16. Get Involved
Some people just eat to be full and then carry on with their day (and that’s okay, too). But if you’re a big foodie like me, food will probably become a big part of your trip. You could tour a spice plantation, visit an animal rescue center, volunteer at a veggie event, or start your own food blog. There are heaps of interesting ways to make your specialized diet fun while traveling.
Feeding babies at a cow sanctuary
17. Don’t Be Afraid to Speak Up
Most people are able and willing to accommodate a veggie diet. But if you’re too timid to speak up in the first place, the only person who suffers is you. Be upfront about your diet, state your eating habits firmly and specifically, and ask for custom options when vegetarian choices aren’t available. This can be nerve-wracking or awkward (especially if you’re really shy), but you’ll have to do it or you’ll have a difficult time enjoying yourself. And…you’ll miss out on some really great food. The good thing is that it’s entirely possible to explain your diet in a graceful, non-confrontational way so that you make yourself understood without offending others. And if enough vegetarians make special requests when veg-friendly options aren’t available, dining establishments will eventually react by modifying their menus to accommodate this growing demand.
Big plate of veggies with black sesame seeds in Cambodia
18. Don’t Be Difficult
When you do speak up….don’t be difficult. Don’t assume people understand what a vegetarian/vegan is (or your reasons for being one). You have a much better idea of your dietary needs and how to accommodate them, so don’t simply announce that you’re vegetarian and make people guess what to feed you. Instead, make it easy for them by describing your needs in detail and making suggestions to show that you really aren’t asking for something complicated (after all, creating a vegetarian meal is often just taking out certain elements and substituting others).
Tempeh and stir fried fiddlehead ferns in Borneo
19. Stick to Your Morals
Know the difference between being nice and being a pushover. While it’s obviously okay to make exceptions from time to time if you believe it’s the right thing to do in that particular context, don’t get bullied into don’t something you don’t agree with. If you ever get stuck in a tricky situation, remind yourself why you decided to be vegetarian in the first place. You shouldn’t ever have to take breaks from your diet or compromise your beliefs in order to please other people.
A wall full of flavored soy milk in Japan
20. Keep a Sense of Humor
Don’t be surprised or upset by misunderstandings and miscommunications. These things will happen (especially if you’re in another country where people have a completely different culture and belief system). Always take things in stride and don’t get too bent out of shape when something doesn’t go your way. Your entire trip shouldn’t revolve around food anyway, so just try your best and don’t stress. You can stick to your diet without being uptight or high-maintenance. Just plan ahead and allow for flexibility in your trip. If you’re adaptable, resourceful, and easygoing, you’ll have many great adventures!
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.
A million thanks to Cristen for offering these useful tips (as well as these fabulous photos!). Visit Circle Our Earth to learn more about vegetarian and vegan world travel.