Updated: Mar 6
Probably the most common question I get next to "how do you afford to travel?" is: "How do you stay vegan when you travel?"
After going on a decade of being a vegan - and traveling for a significant portion of that time - I've found a tips and tricks that can help you stick to your ethics while on the road.
Do You Feel Deprived or Like You're "Missing Out?"
Before I went vegan I was the person who always eagerly stepped up to try the local delicacies: scorpion and snake on a stick, fried spiders, live grubs, sheep brain, goat blood, guinea pig, llama tartar, putrified shark, and... to be honest, the list could go on for awhile.
I also thoroughly enjoyed the more Western cuisines, such as buttery croissants and oozing eclairs in Paris, or heaping seafood platters in a coastal Mediterranean village, or cheese fondues with a full-fat cappuccino in the Swiss Alps. Initially when I went vegan back in 2013, I was concerned that suddenly I'd feel deprived without trying all these different kinds of food around the globe, but all it took was a solid perspective shift for me.
The devastating environmental impact of eating animal products, not to mention the inexcusable cruelty, does not magically disappear while on vacation. While I do think that one of the best ways to experience a culture is through their cuisines, I hold myself to the mindset that ethics don't bend for a momentary meal; and plus, you'd be surprised how many cuisines around the world are already plant-based, or can be made plant-based.
Some of my favorite vegan meals have been abroad: couscous and slow-cooked vegetable tagine in Morocco; falafel gyros stuffed with tahini sauce and paprika fries in Turkey and Greece; heaps of grilled vegetables drizzled with olive oil, garlic, toasted bread, and sea salt in practically every seaside country along the Mediterranean and Adriatic coasts; plates piled high with gallo pinto (rice and beans stewed together with fresh herbs and spices), sweet plantains, and fresh salads in Costa Rica; avocado smoothies and yuca fries dipped in mouth-watering flavorful sauces in West Africa; dark chocolate roasted with hazelnuts in Switzerland; vegan wienerschnitzel in Austria and dairy-free gelato in Rome; all the curries and matars and naans and samosas and chutneys in India and Nepal; fresh, steaming vegetable dumplings and hand-pulled noodles in bustling Shanghai markets.
I could go on and on.
And, sure - there will certainly be moments on the road when you might want to try an animal-based meal, but it's important to remember that just because something is traditional doesn't mean it doesn't cause harm. Most Americans wouldn't eat dog at the Yulin Festival in China, and annual petitions calling for an end to the festival make their rounds on Western social media every year, despite the fact that dog is a traditional, highly-valued meat in China. Why should that practice be banned, and yet around the corner, tourists tuck into pig belly and octopus?
Tradition isn't an excuse to harm any animals, and in this day and age, we can travel and enjoy wonderful, diverse cuisines without doing so.
That's nothing to feel deprived over, and instead, is something to celebrate.
Tips & Tricks for the Vegan Traveler
Be sure to book a vegan meal before your long-haul flights. Oftentimes airlines won't offer a vegan meal if you don't book it before your flight. This is something that can be done usually online, or by contacting the airline directly.
COOKING on the ROAD
One of the safest (and often, economical!) ways to ensure you'll have a 100% vegan meal is to cook it yourself.
When booking accommodation for my travels, I always try and book somewhere that has a kitchen I can use, or if I'm going camping, I make sure to bring a cook stove and basic cooking equipment.
Then, when I arrive in a new destination, I waste no time finding the local grocery store to buy anything I think I'll need. Even in the smallest towns in the most remote places, I've been able to find at least some staples that are fairly nutritious and cheap. In 80 countries I've yet to travel somewhere where I haven't been able to find, at the very least, potatoes, beans, onions, rice, pasta, tinned goods (corn, mushrooms, tomatoes), oil, seasonings and sauces, and bread.
But it's only on rare occasions will options be that limited. Veganism is spreading, and even in far reaches of the world, I've been able to find plant-based alternatives (such as non-dairy milk, cheese, and meat replacement products) in places where they wouldn't have existed even five years ago.
That said, while the meals can tend to make on the road will change depending on a number of factors - such as produce availability, vegan options, and costs - these are the vegan meals I tend to make myself again and again. Paired with different hot sauces, condiments, and spices, most of these meals can be changed enough that they stay tasty and interesting.
Muesli with plant-based milk and fruit (fresh or dried)
Oatmeal cooked in water or plant-based milk, with fruit (fresh or dried)
Baked beans on toast
Avocado on toast
Toast with peanut butter and jam
Vegetable sandwiches. The veggies I use depend on what's available, but usually I love cucumber, tomato, vegan cheese (if available), tofu or plant-based meat (if available), avocado, onion or pickles, and whatever spread I have available (e.g. mustard, vegan mayo, hummus, or olive oil and vinegar).
Peanut butter and jelly
Bean wraps. Smash and season some beans with a fork and put it in a tortilla with lettuce, avocado, vegan cheese, and tomatoes.
Bean salads. Drain and rinse tins of beans, then toss them in a bowl or tupperware with diced veggies (such as tomatoes, bell pepper, onion), season, and add a simple store-bought dressing or oil and vinegar.
Bean and vegetable curry over rice or couscous
One-pan Mexican-spiced fry ups, with diced potatoes, beans, onion, and chopped veggies (also delicious putting this into a wrap with avocado)
Pasta with tomato sauce and any vegetables on-hand
Baked potatoes and roasted vegetables (can be done in the oven in foil pockets over a campfire)
Vegetable stir-fry with tofu
One-pot chili, stews, or soups
Mixed nuts and dried fruits
Vegan protein or energy bars, such as Cliff Bars
Durable fruit that doesn't bruise easily (such as apples and bananas)
Dark chocolate (check for dairy on the ingredients)
Potato chips (okay, maybe not healthy, but let's face it - delicious).
When you get tired of cooking your own meals, or if you're staying somewhere without access to a kitchen, Happy Cow has your back.
As much as I enjoy cooking, one of the most exciting parts of travel is to find vegan gems wherever in the world I may be. Happy Cow is an excellent resource for finding vegan and vegetarian restaurants (or at least restaurants that offer vegan options) all around the world.
Thanks to Happy Cow, I've been able to find and enjoy vegan paella in Uruguay, vegan empanadas in Argentina, decadent vegan pastries in France, vegan fondues in Switzerland, vegan tacos in Mexico, vegan carbonara in Italy... the list, genuinely, is endless.
It's an incredibly exciting time to be a vegan traveler, and with every passing year, more and more vegan options and restaurants are popping up around the globe. It's never been a better time to do plant-based travel.
Happy carrot munching and globe trotting!