Eating Vegan or Vegetarian While Traveling

cauliflower tacos in pink tortilla
Vegan tacos in Mexico City.

I remember back in April 2016 when my family and I decided to do an around the world trip in 30 days. My husband was trying to eat a gluten-free diet at the time. 24 hours prior to our departure, I found myself on the phone with the airlines pre-ordering our in-flight meals. None scoffed at the requests for vegetarian and gluten-free meals until I called Aeroflot, the Russian airlines.

Recalling the conversation even today makes me giggle. I asked the customer service agent if we could have a vegetarian meal (yes) and a gluten-free meal.

“What is this gluten-free?” asked the customer service agent.

I responded that I wanted a meal without gluten.

“Gluten?,” he asked.

Yes, I said, “Without bread.” This was the best way I could describe a meal without gluten.

And he responded, “What’s your problem with bread?”

It was a fair response.

But traveling as a vegan, vegetarian, or as gluten-free is so much easier now in the world. Here are tips on how to eat as a vegetarian or eat as a vegan when traveling the world. It’s how I eat as a nomad when traveling the world as a vegan.

Finding Vegan and Vegetarian Food Around the World

It doesn’t get any fresher for a vegan than the local fresh market!

Fast forward to today, and we’ve completed an Around-the-World circumnavigation and added many more countries since then. While traveling, we strive to eat vegan but we’ll drop into vegetarian occasionally to eat something we’ve never sampled before, to actually get something to eat, or to complete a meal that would otherwise be potato chips.

But mostly, we try our hardest to make our meal choices around vegan options.

It takes planning to eat vegan around the world.

How to Find Plant-based Eats around the World

chopped up veggies, cactus paddles, corn fungus and nuts!
My haul from the central market included chopped up veggies, cactus paddles, corn fungus and nuts!

Although well-laid plans often crumble at the site of a good panini, we do try to plan ahead. Here are a few tips for eating plant-based food around the world. As a traveling vegan, these meat-free tips have helped me find good vegan meals everywhere in the world.

  1. Google and yelp for vegan restaurants. We prefer plant-based places because these cafes will have more choices than just a black-bean hamburger. We can eat the entire menu with glee.
  2. Find salad-oriented places or places that have salad bars.
  3. Peruse standard menus to find the one vegan/vegetarian entree on the menu.
  4. Make up meals with the sides and appetizers on a standard menu. I’ve often ordered four sides of veggies or two appetizers to put together something resembling a meal.

Even with advanced planning, especially if you’re in a country where you don’t speak their language, it’s handy to know a few things ahead of time.

Quick Go-To Rescues for Vegetarians and Vegans on the Road

Tabbouleh salad and watermelon
Tabbouleh salad and watermelon from the co-op.

Here are a few tips on how to stick to your vegan, plant-based or vegetarian diet when in a pinch while traveling and eating vegan.

  1. Use Google to determine how to say “I don’t eat meat or fish.” Then trust that what they bring you is something more than a plate of broccoli! One time I got a plate of bok choy covered in oil, but another time I got a delicious salad with hummus!
  2. Search Happy Cow for a suggestion on where to go that’s nearby. The app is loaded with vegan and vegetarian restaurants all over North America, Europe and Asia.
  3. Find an Asian or Indian restaurant. These always have vegan and vegetarian options.
  4. While you’re at a Happy Cow location or an Asian location, ask the locals inside for other suggestions.
  5. Search on Meetup for vegan and vegetarian meetups and groups at your destination.

Avoid Getting Hangry–It Leads to Bad Decisions

bags of nuts
Nuts and fruits make handy snacks for plant-based eaters.

One of the biggest challenges for us while we’re traveling is the mid-travel hungers. This is the scenario where you’ve been traveling all day, you’re tired, and your bed is still several hours away. It’s important to avoid getting hangry at this point because being hangry–hungry and tired together–leads to bad decisions and poor meal choices.

Therefore, I always try to stock up on snacks and I readily have a snack or two available in my backpack. If I’m in the US before I leave on a trip, I’ll stop in Trader Joes for handy vegan snacks that will do in a pinch. Some of these snacks are as easy as a bag of nuts, some trail mix, or a vegan/vegetarian bar that travels well.

I’ll also hit up some online shopping with some of my favorite other treats. These include

In Country, Find the Central Market of Fresh Eats

Bags of spices
Don’t forget the spices for delicious plant-based meals!

When you’re in country, though, one of the best things to do for food and for a fun cultural experience is to find the central market. (In the US, we call these Farmer’s Markets.) You’ll find stands full of fresh produce, grains, and nuts where you can not only taste new flavors on the fly, but you can buy as much as you want of any item. Don’t be afraid to buy a piece of fruit you’ve never seen before, or snag a head of a purple lettuce that smells divine.

tree tomato
Ever tried a tree tomato? As vegans, there are so many choices for good food around the world.

If you can find the central market and avoid the western-style grocery stories, you will find the most fresh products at amazingly cheap prices. You’ll be surprised at how cheap the world’s produce is compared to the US. You may have a language barrier, but smile, be kind, and buy one of each. What do you have to lose? A few cents?

Before leaving the market, also stock up on portable and non-perishable items you can enjoy by adding water. Find the oats, granola, farro and quinoa that’s hiding in the market. You should be able to buy it by bulk and feast on it when you have water (and a stove or microwave) available. Grab some bulk spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, oregano, and basil to flavor your food. You might even be able to find these spices in their herbal and fresh versions. How about picking up a new spice that’s local and untried?

Eating Organic Food While Traveling

6 different varieties of maracoya i
6 different varieties of maracoya in Colombia

In addition, just like in the US, locals concern themselves with finding organic and knowing their vendors. If organic produce is your gig, look for signs that say organic in the local language, or learn how to ask if it’s organic using Google Translate. Often, there will be complete sections in the central markets dedicated to organic produce, just like in the US.

Finally, if you can’t find the central market or you’re in a small town that doesn’t have one, look for co-ops or health-food stores. In these places, you’ll find more prepared foods like hummus, guacamole, and spreads. Dip some carrots or cucumbers into these spreads and you’ll be able to tide yourself over until you can cook or find a meal.

When you get to your overnight stay, store the items in the mini-bar or the fridge so you’ve got good options to eat when you wake up. If you’re lucky enough to have a stove or oven, cook up some of those fresh veggies you picked up at the market. My nomad diet food list includes lots of fruits, veggies, nuts and grains. Cuz what is the nomad diet? It’s eating the freshest foods whenever possible, and around the world, the nomad diet is easy to eat fresh plant-based foods.

Eating vegan or vegetarian while traveling isn’t any different than how you manage it at home. Research, plan ahead, don’t get hangry, and take on the adventure. You never know what you’ll find.

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