Eating Vegan or Vegetarian While Traveling a Nomad Life
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.
Finding Vegan and Vegetarian Food Around the World
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. See my list of the best vegetarian food in the world!
But mostly, we try our hardest to make our meal choices around vegan options.
It takes planning.
How to Find Vegan Eats around the World
Although well-laid plans often crumble at the site of a good panini, we do try to plan ahead. Here are a few tips.
- 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.
- Find salad-oriented places or places that have salad bars.
- Peruse standard menus to find the one vegan/vegetarian entree on the menu.
- 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
Here are a few tips on how to stick to your vegan or vegetarian diet when in a pinch.
- 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!
- 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.
- Find an Asian or Indian restaurant. These always have vegan and vegetarian options.
- While you’re at a Happy Cow location or an Asian location, ask the locals inside for other suggestions.
- Search on Meetup for vegan and vegetarian meetups and groups at your destination.
Avoid Getting Hangry–It Leads to Bad Decisions
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 only buy my shoes at REI because they have an amazing return policy.
I’ll also hit up some online shopping with some of my favorite other treats. These include
- Skout Organic Protein Bars
- The Healthy Vegan Snack Assortment from Amazon
- Frooze Balls (great for a protein hit!)
In Country, Find the Central Market
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.
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 While Traveling
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.
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.