I’ve traveled abroad ever since I finished high school, but I’ve only been a vegan for about half a year now. Yet, I realised that traveling with a dietary requirement is quite different from traveling with an omni diet. It is harder at times, but certainly not impossible – sometimes even surprisingly easy and delicious!
From the incredible vegan fare I found in every corner of the Lake District to the vegan delights served up in Paris, my year of traveling so far has surprised me in many culinary ways. Soon I’ll be making my way to Thailand for the first time, and apart from the pure excitement to finally explore this part of the world, I’m a little nervous about the food there. Not that I don’t love Thai food – but the looming impossibility of avoiding fish sauce hovers above my anticipation.
However, I will do my best to find a way to travel Thailand as a vegan and still eat some local foods. Surely, these ten tips for vegan travel that I’ve learnt in the past months, will help too!
1) Research the local cuisine
Gone are the times where I can just board a plane, fly to a distant land and eat whatever the locals decide to serve me. Being a vegan means doing a lot of research. When you look into traditional dishes you might even find that there are local options that are “accidentally” vegan, particularly in places where meat is still treated as a luxury product and dairy is not commonly consumed.
Find out which animal products are most common, so you can try to avoid them/know what to ask for when you order.
2) Prepare a cheat sheet
Vegan means different things in different countries. In Central and South America I came across several local eateries, where a “vegetarian” diet could still include chicken, ham or fish… The chefs there might have not even heard of people with a plant-based diet…
I’d recommend to prepare a little cheat sheet in the local language, not just with the words vegan and plant-based, but also with the local translations of no meat, no fish, no eggs, no dairy/milk/cheese, no honey and so on. Ask locals to help you with the correct transcription of these words, for example in our Travelettes FB group! You can also find samples of these cheat sheets in several languages on this website.
3) Use the right apps
Whenever I travel I swear by the free app Happy Cow, where anybody can log in and add vegan, vegetarian and veggie-friendly restaurants as well as health and organic stores to the database. The app will then show you suitable restaurants in your proximity!
Furthermore, I use Google Maps to save places to my account, so that I have everything on my fingertip even if I’m not connected.
4) Find Indian & Middle Eastern cuisine
The good news is, you will probably find at least one local restaurant that will be able to cater vegan food to you. The bad news is, you’re going to get bored by it pretty quickly. To spice up your culinary experience, you should try to find restaurants that serve Indian or Arab cuisine, because these are traditionally veg-friendly. Many dishes are naturally vegan or can be prepared without animal products – think vegetable curries, lentil dhals, grilled vegetables, falafel and hummus galore!
5) Book self-catering accommodation
Whether you prefer to rent a holiday apartment or stay in a hostel, make sure your accommodation comes with access to a kitchen. Being able to prepare your own meals and store a few basics in a fridge can not only save you pennies when you’re on a tight budget, it also means that you have full control over all the ingredients in your meal!
I recently found out about VegVisits, which is a platform that works similar to AirBnB, with the difference that it caters to vegetarians and vegans in particular, and only lists local hosts that can provide a plant-based kitchen. You can even filter your search results for kitchen essentials, like blenders or juicers, to make sure you find the perfect holiday rental for you!
6) Call ahead
If however, you stay in a hotel somewhere, make sure to call ahead and speak to the hotel staff about vegan options for breakfast, lunch or dinner. So far this has always paid off for me, and I sometimes even received recommendations for vegan-friendly restaurants from hotel staff! If for some reason, the hotel is not able to cater to you, at least you know and can look for an alternative.
The same counts for restaurants, by the way. Whenever I go on a day tour, I try to find out where the lunch break will be and call ahead to find out whether any of the local restaurants/cafes will be able to provide me with an option. If not, I bring my own!
7) Pack lunches
Now, if you love eating out when you travel, this is going to be a bummer… Packing your own lunches or snacks might sometimes be your only option though, and if you do it right, you can still taste some of the local produce and ingredients. I love preparing a little DIY picnic with, for example fresh bread and vegetables from the market, or olives from a local deli.
8) Stock up on snacks
Snacks are an essential to bring on any trip, because often local snacks are not plant-based. I’m always amazed in what kind of stuff you’ll find milk or whey powder… I love bringing nuts, dark chocolate, fruit bars or homemade chia pudding, just to take the edge off and make it easier to stay patient until you find a restaurant that can cater to you!
9) Join a supper club
Instead of going to a restaurant, book a homestay-like dinner experience with a local and discuss your dietary requirements with them in advance. I have only tried EatWith before, but I am sure there are many similar platforms that facilitate meeting locals for a meal.
10) Don’t beat yourself up about it
Finally – and this might not be the most popular opinion among all vegans – I’d suggest not to beat yourself up about it. Personally, I think it’s important to try my best to eat vegan and not give in too easily, but I’m also just human and won’t beat myself up about it, if it doesn’t work. When the decision is between going hungry (and hangry) or eating a vegetarian meal that is not 100% plant-based I will probably go for the latter, without beating myself up about it too much.
While I really hope for the best, I might reach a point like this in Thailand – I’ll tell you all about it when I’m back!
Are you vegan or travel with any other dietary requirement? Share your top tips in the comments!