I basically live by the mantra fail to prepare and prepare to fail when it comes to eating vegan outside the comforts of your own home. Even more so when you’re venturing to a foreign country where local delicacies are laden with meat.
Though it may be difficult, following a vegan lifestyle while travelling can be possible if you bear a few things in mind.
1. Happy Cow is the bible of vegan eateries (to some extent)
If you haven’t already heard of Happy Cow it’s basically your best bet for finding vegan/vegetarian/veg-option restaurants in your local area. You can even download an app for your phone to log and browse for your potential eateries as well as read reviews from previous travellers who have eaten there. And even though there are Happy Cow ambassadors for each country who update the lists it’s worth noting that not every veggie restaurant or health store will be listed. I’d definitely recommend also having a browse around the web or asking vegan communities and forums about what they’ve found.
2. Pack snacks, protein supplements and vitamins
I’ll admit, begrudgingly that this is probably a necessity if you’re venturing to unknown territory. And although sampling local cuisine is a highlight of travel, it’s not always possible, nor convenient. So to be on the safe side, it’s always a good idea to pack vegan snacks (preferably protein bars), protein shakes (preferably flavoured for ease of consumption and with complete amino acid profile) and multivitamins (be sure to check for adequate B12 levels).
3. Learn the local lingo
I cannot stress how important this is! Learn the local words for ‘vegan’ (or vegetarian), ‘eggs’, ‘dairy’, ‘meat’ (poultry, pork, beef, fish) and potentially ‘does this contain animal produce cos if so get that outta my face please’ or ‘can you sub this for something vegan?’. You get the gist. Though jokes aside, don’t be rude. You’re visiting someone else’s home, eating their food and asking them to accommodate for what might seem a completely illogical lifestyle. It might also be worth mentioning that in some countries (e.g. Malaysia) the world for meat corresponds to beef (and probably pork but it’s rarely consumed there), and thus fish and chicken are completely different altogether. I learnt this the hard way after constantly being served chicken on my plate after asking for meat-free dishes. JSYK. Once you’ve got the vocab down, do vegans proud by announcing to the world your dietary requirements just so people can perpetuate the stereotype.
4. Ask for the allergy menu
Sadly you’re more likely to get a vegan dish if you’re super insistent that you’re allergic to animal produce. Sentences like ‘I WILL die if I eat this’ and ‘I could end up in hospital’ really go a long way. That being said, it’s a heck of a lot nicer to just ask for the allergen menu (if they have one) so you can be sure about what you can eat.
This has been a real lifesaver for me when costs of eating out were extortionate and/or if vegan food was limited. Most hostels have kitchens or alternatively you could book an airbnb. That way, you can easily pop to the local supermarket and pick cheap, wholesome ingredients to cook a fairly decent meal.
6. Veggie hotels
Dare I say, they exist?! I kid you not people, Veggie Hotels are a very real and legit thing. I don’t think I need to say anymore more really. Oh unless you’re not staying at a vegan facility in which case, perhaps call up the accommodation beforehand and try to verse them on what vegan food is (I stayed at the Shangri-la in Penang and they prepared this amazing vegan set lunch for us except the dessert was gelatin-based oops).
7. Consult others
Whether it be locally or online, there are plenty of resources and fellow tree-huggers who will be happy to help if you’re trying to avoid starving to death on your trip. Read travel blogs and look up vegan societies!
8. The clincher: don’t sacrifice your health
This one’s a controversial one, but for real. Do not sacrifice your health. In many respects being vegan is about doing your best and while a healthy vegan diet is 100% possible, living off fried potatoes for a week or two probably isn’t the best thing for you. Admittedly, I’m not very good at it, in fact I’m terrible, I will stray away from animal produce even if I know it’s doing me no good, but seriously, don’t be me. Put your health first!
That being said, when you get it right, you get it oh so right.