Becoming a vegan isn’t exactly the smoothest transition to make, but as all vegans know, the benefits outweigh the negatives. One common misconception, however, is that being a vegan makes it difficult to travel the world. Sure, it can be a bit harder than travelling as a non-vegan, but it certainly isn’t impossible.
Vegans make enough sacrifices for the greater good but exploring our beautiful planet shouldn’t be one of them! So, here are some do’s & don’ts that I’ve learnt while travelling as a vegan.
DO remember to select a vegan meal for your flight
This is especially important if you’re taking a long-haul flight. Although aeroplane food isn’t the most exciting kind of meal, you’re going to be hungry if you forget to select a vegan option when booking your flights.
Most airlines offer vegan/vegetarian meals, but you need to pre-select when booking as they are often made to order. Forgetting to do so will result in a very hungry tummy or the over-consumption of plain bread rolls!
DON’T get upset if there’s a mistake with your meal
Even when you feel like you’ve communicated your dietary requirements perfectly, mistakes do happen. If you’ve ordered a pizza without cheese and it arrives with cheese, don’t get angry or upset. Calmly explain what you ordered and why you’re unable to eat what you’ve been served.
Most of the time, they’ll take it right back to the kitchen and return with exactly what you need.
Sometimes when there is a language barrier, however, it can be tough. Still, you need to keep calm and not get upset. When I was in Japan a few years ago, I ordered a ramen dish and was very specific that I did not want meat. The lady taking my order seemed to have understood me, and when she served my ramen, she even said “No meat!”
Guess what I found in the dish?
I ended up not eating the meal and offered it up to my travel buddies, so it didn’t go to waste.
Sometimes you’ve just got to suck it up and try not to get too hangry until you’re able to get your hands on something vegan-friendly!
DO create dietary requirement cards in the local language
If you’re travelling to a country where English isn’t the native language, you’re sure to experience some language barriers. My favourite way around this is to create little business cards with phrases that explain your dietary requirements.
For example: ‘Sono un vegano e non posso mangiare carne, latticini, uova o pesce,’ which is Italian for ‘I am a vegan, and I cannot eat meat, dairy, eggs or fish’.
When you feel as though you’re unable to communicate to your server, you can simply hand them a card in their own language that they can then take to the kitchen and ensure you aren’t served anything you’re unable to eat.
Obviously, there’s no guarantee that this will work every time, but it is a lot easier than trying to learn and remember the phrase itself. If you are feeling confident, have a go at ordering in the local language, and use the card as a backup option.
DON’T miss an opportunity to inform
While there’s no doubt that veganism is becoming mainstream, there are still a lot of places where being a vegan is a very foreign concept. This is, however, an opportunity for you to help educate others about veganism!
Before I began my vegan journey, I knew very little about veganism apart from the obvious – that vegans don’t eat animal products. Like many others still do, I assumed all that vegans ate was lettuce and carrots. I couldn’t have been more wrong! Explain the reasons why you’ve chosen to give up animal products while remaining respectful and invite questions. What seems completely normal to you may be completely crazy to someone in another culture, and vice versa.
DO try to plan ahead
One of the first things I do when planning a trip to a new place is to research local vegan or vegetarian restaurants and make a note of how far they are from my accommodation and what options they have. It is also very helpful when restaurants have their menus online, so you can check if they have anything vegan for you before you go there. If you’re wandering the streets looking for lunch, don’t be afraid to ask to have a look at the menu before taking a seat. If there isn’t anything substantial for you as a vegan, then move on! There are also a few apps that are great for travelling vegans, such as HappyCow, which tells you all the restaurants and cafes in your vicinity that have vegan or vegetarian options so make sure to download the app before your trip!
DON’T be offended by other culture’s eating habits
Many countries in the world eat things that aren’t exactly vegan-friendly, but it is part of their culture. As hard as it can be, try not to be offended when you see questionable menu items, or if you’re offered something you’re disgusted by.
When I was in Japan, we went to a tiny restaurant in the infamous ‘Piss Alley’ in Tokyo, and the menu was pretty limited in terms of veggie options. I managed to find mushroom skewers, but the sight of the ‘raw horse meat’ on the menu was enough to make my stomach turn (did they really have to include a photo?). Even so, I laughed it off and prayed to the universe that no-one in my group would order it. Luckily, no-one was game enough!
DO keep plenty of snacks on you
Snacks – the saviour of travelling vegans worldwide. By making sure you’ve always got something on you, you’ll never go hungry, even if you can’t find a place to eat with vegan options. I usually take granola bars, bananas, apples or nuts with me when I’m out exploring. That way, even if I can’t get a full meal somewhere, I at least have something to munch on until I find another option.
DON’T feel pressured to do group activities that aren’t vegan-friendly
Anyone who has ever travelled in a big group can understand the difficulty in trying to do activities that suit everyone. Throw in the need for vegan-friendly activities, and it can get even tougher! Everyone is different, and while some people are comfortable visiting certain places, such as zoos with a strong conservation focus or breeding program, others will refuse to visit a zoo at all. When travelling with a group, don’t feel pressured into going to a place that you don’t feel right about, and speak up. You don’t have to make the others feel bad about wanting to go, but you shouldn’t feel as though you need to compromise your convictions to keep the peace. Who knows, they might even agree with you!
When I was in Bali for the first time, I was on a tour through Ubud with three of my friends and our driver. At this stage, I was a vegetarian but not yet a vegan, but when we pulled up to the civet coffee plantation, I started to feel a bit uncomfortable. When I expressed my feelings to the driver, he assured me that the civets were well looked after and were let out of their cages at night to roam free around the grounds and eat whatever they liked. I said okay, and off we went.
Once we got in there, I realised that he wasn’t being entirely truthful. The civets were locked up in cages, and it certainly did not look like they ever got out. As they are mostly nocturnal, the poor creatures were trying to sleep in the daylight, while tourists were making noise and prodding them in their cages. It was awful, and on my second trip to Bali, I absolutely refused to go back. When my travelling group asked me why, I explained my previous experience and they decided not to go either – winning!
DO try and stay somewhere with a kitchen
When booking your accommodation, it can be worth it in the long run to pay a little bit extra for a room with a small kitchen or kitchenette. That way, regardless of where you are, you’re always able to prepare your own meals to take with you for the day or to come home to at night. This takes away the pressure of finding vegan options, especially in places that aren’t vegan-friendly. When travelling in Rarotonga, in the Cook Islands earlier this year, I stayed in a villa with a full kitchen and it was great.
While there were some vegan options on the island, the whole concept of veganism hasn’t quite made it to the South Pacific yet, especially considering that a large portion of the local diet is seafood. Having access to my own kitchen, however, made things so much easier, and if I had to have hot chips or a bread roll for lunch, I always knew there’d be something more substantial waiting for me at home.
DON’T be scared to ask to amend menu items
In most places, simple changes to items on the menu can result in a perfectly delicious vegan meal. Ask for your Greek salad without feta, or your vegetarian pizza without mozzarella. You’ll find that many places are more than happy to accommodate your requests. You can also often make a decent meal out of the side options like garden salads, bowls of veggies or bread rolls. When you order, ask for all of them to come out at once. Make a salad roll with a bowl of veggies on the side – yum! Some places will even create a fully vegan meal for you – all you have to do is ask.
There you have it - travelling as a vegan doesn’t need to be complicated at all. What are some of your best tips for travelling as a vegan? Let us know in the comments!
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