Vegan Travel 101

by:  eternitysojourner

Vegan Meal on Korean Air Flight
Eating abroad is its own adventure, isn’t it? There are new flavors, new tastes, and new dietary norms to explore. Many adventurers affirm that eating the local or native diet—wherever you are and wherever you may be—is part and parcel of cultural immersion. I completely understand, but my vegan ethic travels with me. With mindful planning and a little research, you can taste your way through almost any destination while keeping your plate animal-free. So, whether you’re a newly-vegan traveler or a newly-traveler vegan, take note of the following tips to keep you well-fed on your journey!

Pre-book your flight meal AND confirm in advance.
One of the worst ways to experience your first big trip across the Atlantic is hungry! You can brave your way through a domestic flight with roasted peanuts but an international flight merits a meal. The Vegetarian Meal (VGML) option usually doubles as a vegan and vegetarian meal, so you should be covered there. The VGML may be bland but it’s always edible! If you want more “spice in your life”, select the Asian Vegetarian Meal (AVML), which is pretty much code for “Indian food” (and may include dairy), or the Vegetarian Oriental Meal (VOML), which is code for Chinese or Oriental-style cuisine. When the Asian Veg meal doubles as the Veg Meal, you won’t have to covet the sumptuous curries that your South Asian co-travelers are enjoying.

Don’t forget to confirm and re-confirm your meal. Call three days in advance AND don’t hesitate to ask again during check-in.

Consult the Happy Cow.
Happy Cow is an online vegan/vegetarian dining directory.  You can find “on the ground” info for vegan eating, health food stores, restaurant reviews, etc. that spans the globe. If during your travels, you stumble across a vegetarian or veg-friendly establishment along the way, you can share your findings with other travelers by contacting Happy Cow.

Vegetarian Restaurant in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Research the local cuisine.
Take the time to research regional cuisine and you can almost always come up with at least one vegan dish (or side dish). Visit a locally-available ethnic restaurant before your travels for field research and see what you like or don’t like. When you travel, not only will you have “guideposts” to look for when ordering meals or eating at a host’s home, you can negotiate the balance between tasting the local cuisine and staying purely plant-based. Some of the national vegan foods may be considered common by the locals but that doesn’t mean they’re not tasty! Have you ever tried tempeh in Indonesia, “doubles” in Trinidad, or frijoles in Guatemala? Also, the so-called common food is more likely available at a common price, so non-vegans on a tight budget should consider going green on their next trip! 😉

Comprehend the Culture
If the general cuisine offerings don’t appease you, dig a little deeper and research the religious and socio-philosophical culture of a country. You may find devotees who commit to a cruelty-free diet and will warmly welcome you to “break bread” with them. My husband still recalls the “bomb” mushroom and noodle bowl he shared with Buddhists in their monastery over ten years ago while teaching in China. Buddhism, Jainism, Hinduism, Hare Krishna, and various forms of Yoga are a few groups that you may be able to share a meal with without joining the flock, if you don’t want to.

Make your way to the market.
In many traditional societies, the market is still the best place for fresh produce and dried staples, like nuts, raisins, dates, etc. These are great allies to keep stashed in your backpack or at your lodging while searching for vegan eateries.

Learn the lingo.
If there’s one statement that every vegan traveling solo should learn in the local dialect of their destination, it should be: “I’m a vegetarian” or “I don’t eat meat”. It’s also really important to understand these statements in context of the culture because I still get offered fish, cheese, and chicken even from my own family members and friends after almost ten years of being vegan! The easiest essential language acquisition route would be to have a list of the names of foods you do or don’t eat, accompanied by very clear facial and body gestures. If you’re stuck in an Indiana Jones encounter, where you’re offered monkey brains, a firm headshake and grasping your stomach and mouth should convey the idea clearly. Also of importance: take the time to learn how to say “please” and “thank you” in the warmest ways possible, so your host or host country doesn’t take offense to your refusal. Informing your host(s) in advance is also a great idea. You’re more likely to enjoy a satisfying meal and your host is more likely to feel satisfied by watching you lick your plate clean. 😉

Special veggie platter prepared by our hosts in Nouakchott, Mauritania

Pack some supplies.
Depending on the length of your stay and circumstances you encounter, it would be wise to pack vitamins, supplements, or snacks to get you through. Vegan protein sources are often the most challenging to find (outside of Asia), so packing protein bars, nut butters, or dairy-free milk powders can help.  Secure adequate sources of calcium, iron, vitamin B-12, and essential fatty acids to keep your health in top shape and your immune system robust.

For the herbivore, omnivore, or veg-curious amongst us, don’t think it impossible to Go Veg! on the road. Not only will the planet thank you, but, as in my experience, your tummy will thank you too! Happy Veggie Travels!

This post was originally published at Women of Color Living Abroad.


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