It will surprise no one who reads this blog that travel and food are two of my favourite things. But when others find out I’m a vegan, they get wide-eyed. But what do you eat?
The concern isn’t misplaced. Travelling as a vegan is certainly a challenge. All the more so if you’re really into your food and don’t want to end up just eating rice. But it is possible.
When I first started out I had no clue – which is why I ended up slipping back to vegetarian a lot of the time in the year I spent travelling through South and Central America. But two years in and after many more adventures, I’ve become somewhat of an expert in how to find vegan food in the most unlikely seeming places.
Friends that are vegetarian and vegan often bemoan how poor the food is that they’ve eaten on their travels. Others have avoided travel all together because they fear how difficult it is. But while it can be challenging and there are odd days where you may only eat bread and bananas, I’ve also eaten the best food of my life since I started travelling and went vegan. So here are my top tips for finding vegan food on the road:
- Download the Happy Cow app. You have to pay but it’s the best £3 I’ve ever spent. If you’ve never heard of it, Happy Cow is a website that keeps a record of where to find vegan and vegetarian food around the world. While there’s an online version, the app is much better. You simply load it wherever you are and it comes up with a list of restaurants/cafes/shops that sell vegan food within a nearby radius. It marks whether they are vegan, vegetarian, or omni with vegan options, and users can upload photos and review of food they’ve eaten there. Happy Cow is the single biggest reason that I’ve eaten phenomenal vegan food in little Latin American pueblos where others have only been able to get rice. It often is hard in mainstream restaurants, but if you know where to go, there’s a vegan community around the world just waiting to be found. I even use it in the UK whenever I go somewhere new!
- Get on instagram. Yes I know it’s not for everyone and can be very artificial, but it’s also a mine of information about food. More specifically, food porn from the places that you want to travel to. Just type in the place you’re going with the vegan hashtag e.g. #vegancusco or #veganamsterdam and you’ll be flooded with inspiration from places other travellers have eaten. Following other foodies on insta has also inspired me to go on my own travels specifically because the vegan food there looks so good!
- Read and subscribe to vegan travel blogs. Yes, like mine, which you can subscribe to in the sidebar of this page or the footer. I know I’m biased, but a huge amount of my travel research comes from reading other people’s blogs. There’s a whole world of us out here on WordPress and beyond. My favourites include (probably the longest running and most comprehensive) The Nomadic Vegan, Cook the Beans and Veggie Vagabonds.
- Cook your own food: apart from being good for your budget, staying in hostels or Airbnbs with kitchen facilities gives you much more power over what you eat. While you still have to shop for ingredients, you can buy rice, vegetables and pulses pretty much anywhere in the world. Better yet, you can learn to veganise local recipes. Which brings me on to my next point:
- Try to find a vegan cooking class. Learning about places through their food is one of my favourite ways to discover the culture of somewhere new, as well as try new vegetables, fruits, spices, and herbs. Most destinations with some level of tourism will run cooking classes in the bigger cities, and many will offer a veggie or vegan option or be willing to adapt to you if you ask. I recently took great specialised vegan classes in both Thailand and Bali. In this way you also learn what goes into the options in the local menus and know what to ask to remove or substitute if need be.
- Try to learn a bit of the local language. We all know it’s often hard enough to explain veganism even in your own tongue, but it’s even worse if you’re expecting the waitress or cook to understand you when you don’t speak the local language. Learning some key phrases might not convince someone of why you don’t want to eat things that come from animals, but it often helps to explain how to adapt food for you.
- Not good with languages or moving around too much to get them down? Download the Vegan Passport from the Vegan Society. This handy app can be downloaded to your phone and includes phrases to explain your food preferences in 79 languages!
- Don’t be afraid to ask for something not on the menu if it’s a simple dish. While I try to find the excellent veggie restaurants on Happy Cow, sometimes there’s no other option than somewhere with a local menu that is exclusively meat based. But if you ask nicely, again while they might not understand why, most places can make you plain rice and veg, pasta, or something with potatoes. It’s awkward but better than going hungry.
- While veganism is not a universally understood word, many people understand that Buddhists and people of the Jain faith do not eat food that comes from animals. Sometimes it’s worth claiming it as a last resort. Or if you’re in Asia, often finding local eateries around temples is a good way to ensure your food is animal-free. It’s also worth knowing that Hare Krishna communities have restaurants around the world – even, I was surprised to find, all over Latin America – and with their peace-driven and minimalist ethos, you can be sure anything that you eat in a Hare Krishna place will be both vegan and very affordable.
- If all else fails, just load yourself up with snacks. It’s always a good idea especially on long travel days where you’re unsure whether you’ll get a rest stop or be able to find anywhere to cater to you if you’re going off the beaten track. Bananas and nuts are the best bet and you can find them in most parts of the world.
So don’t be afraid to travel as a vegan, and whatever you do don’t resort to eating rubbish food unless you really have to. Do your research and follow the steps above and you’ll find that it’s much easier than you think. Better yet, share where you’ve found good food and become a part of the vegan travel community. Whether it’s through blogging, instagram, or becoming a Happy Cow Ambassador, it’s a great way to give back and to make vegan travel more accessible to everyone.