Tasting a new country’s cuisine is one of the greatest parts of the travel experience – for some, it’s even the greatest. While we need to be flexible when it comes to travel and our diets, most vegetarian and vegan travelers would rather not compromise their diets while on the road.
Research the region’s cuisine
Some destinations are easier than others to navigate through as a vegetarian or vegan. Thailand and Bali are safe-havens for those who don’t eat meat while in South Korea, it’s not considered a proper meal unless it can walk itself off the plate. Always research what the region’s top three to five staple meals are in advance. Then, see if they can be modified into something that’s veg friendly with a simple request.
Since you can count on most local restaurants having the ingredients to make their staple meals, you can ask for a simple dish made from those ingredients. For example, you can always eat spiced rice, whole beans, and vegetables in Mexico; rice, tofu, and fresh vegetables in Japan; boiled root crops and steamed vegetables in the South Pacific.
Download veg-friendly apps like Happy Cow
Happy Cow is basically the Tripadvisor or Yelp for vegans and vegetarians. While not all regions are represented on the app, it’s a great way to find veg-specific restaurants rather than rocking up to a restaurant and being underwhelmed at its single vegetarian option.
Book your airline meals in advance
“Chicken or beef? Coffee or tea? Chicken or beef? Coffee or tea?” Every vegetarian or vegan knows the dreaded “Chicken or beef?” question all too well on long-haul flights, where the vegetarian option was finished around row 11 and you’re seated in row 45. Always book your airline meal as a special dietary request in advance. You’ll get your food first and you won’t have to answer the dreaded “Chicken or beef?” question.
Learn to say “vegan/vegetarian,” “no meat,” and “no fish”
Vegetarianism and veganism have yet to become global concepts. Don’t expect everyone who works in a restaurant to understand what vegan or vegetarian is, especially since many people assume that vegetarians eat fish (they don’t – that’s pescatarian). You’ll need to clarify in the local language that you don’t want meat or fish.
Your beliefs versus your health
It may not be possible to get all the nutrients you need as a vegan or vegetarian if you are traveling somewhere remote. You’ll need to decide whether your beliefs or your health will take priority while you’re on the trip and how adaptable you’re willing to be. There is never a fully right or wrong answer.
Never invite yourself or accept an invitation to someone’s house for dinner without warning them that you are vegetarian. It’s unrealistic that others can consistently cater for your dietary needs without preparing for it – especially if their favorite meals to cook are meat based.
Book places where you have a chance to cook yourself
When in doubt, make it yourself. Just about every city in the world has grocery stores and produce markets. Booking a hostel or hotel with a kitchen is one of the best ways to enjoy the veggie meals you like without inconveniencing others or spending the day searching for food that’s both vegetarian and appetizing.
Pack snacks just in case
Stash some filling, protein-heavy snacks or easy to make meals in your suitcase just in case you get desperate. Having a handful of nuts can quickly curb a hunger pang and gives you time to find a decent place to eat rather than ordering at the first place where you see French fries listed on the menu.
Last, don’t forget that vegetarians get sick on the road too. Have a backup plan by getting the best travel insurance for your situation.