Let’s be honest. Traveling as a vegan can be tough.
Since moving to Barcelona, I have been traveling a lot more frequently and I’ll be the first to say that finding vegan food in a foreign country sometimes feels like searching for an apple tree in a desert. It just ain’t gonna happen. But maybe you find a cactus. And it’s the only plant food you can find, so you eat it. But then it’s the only thing you end up eating for a week and it gets old really quickly. Then you have a belly full of cacti and a heart full of thorns 🖤 You get it.
But we’ve all seen vegans online posting an endless steam of delicious plant-based food they enjoyed on vacation. So how do they acquire satisfying and tasty vegan meals while traveling? The truth is that unless you are organized and well-researched, finding vegan food can be extremely difficult.
Don’t lie. We have all had a meal that looked like this.
Shit like this happens when you didn’t plan ahead, and you are starving, and every restaurant you pass has zero vegan options. Then like sweet Jesus appearing from the heavens you spot a “veggie options!” sign outside a tourist trap restaurant. Sweet relief. Overwhelmed with pure bliss in knowing you are about to eat, you happily take a seat. Looking over the menu, you quickly realize “veggie options” meant vegetarian options and that the only vegan option is the overpriced bowl of mixed fruit.
Naturally, you pay 6 euros for two bowls of mushy, syrupy, seedy fruit.
Lets 👏 Avoid 👏 That 👏 Situation 👏
(Yes, that was my story from my first few hours in Florence, Italy. Shame on me for not planning ahead!)
As vegans, we cannot expect the world to cater to our very specific food requirements. More and more restaurants are offering vegan options, but we need to accept the reality of the situation — we are a minority and sometimes we will have to eat the mushy bowl of fruit. But this doesn’t need to happen every time!
My top 10 tips to eating vegan while traveling
1. Download the HappyCow app
In the past while traveling, I’ve assumed that if I just walk around for awhile I will stumble across a restaurant with vegan options. Everywhere has something that is vegan or can be modified, right? OH BABY, you’d be surprised.
With this “walk-around-until-you-get-lucky” method, you will probably…
- Pay for an expensive salad you modified by stripping away the meat and cheese, leaving only lettuce and tomatoes with a very disappointing olive oil dressing.
- End up eating a lot of french fries and potatoes. Not bad, but not the best – especially on repeat for a week.
- Waste lots of precious time walking around hangry.
- Possibly stumble across a super cool, delicious vegan restaurant. (But unless you’re in a super veg-friendly city — probably not.)
Save yourself time and a disappointing meal buy getting the HappyCow app. HappyCow has a whole database of vegan, vegetarian, and veg-option restaurants in your location. Filter by establishment type (bakery, farmer’s market, etc), by category (raw food, gluten-free, etc), or by cuisine (asian, italian, etc). You can see restaurant ratings and reviews, as well as operation hours, contact info, and price. The map view shows each establishment’s proximity to you, which is super helpful! No need to waste time mindlessly walking when you can see everything on the map.
The HappyCow website is free and helpful for research prior to travel. However, I recently invested a couple of dollars to download the app. The app is much easier to navigate than the mobile website and it’s worth the money!
2. Understand cultural differences
Whenever you travel somewhere new, it is helpful to research how veganism is viewed there.
When I visit the south of the United States, I need to explicitly state in restaurants that I do not eat meat, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, or butter. If I say I am vegan, sometimes they assume I am pescatarian. In places where veganism isn’t particularly rampant, you might need to elaborate on what you do and do not eat so you don’t end up with a big dead fish on your plate.
Also understand that vegan-appearing dishes might include animal products in different cultures. Once I ordered red beans and rice at a restaurant in New Orleans, and it smelled suspiciously like meat… I asked what was in it and learned it was made with pork broth. It is common for southern states to add animal products into vegan-appearing dishes, but I still felt silly for being tricked by red beans and rice. This is why I have trust issues 👀
3. Research the national cuisine
Learn the national dishes that will be offered in restaurants and see if any of them are vegan or can be veganized. National dishes should be available in many restaurants, which is particularly useful if you are traveling with non-vegans who aren’t keen on eating at vegan restaurants the entire trip.
Here in Barcelona when I go to a typical Spanish restaurant, vegetable paella and pan con tomate are my token vegan options. While these dishes are easy to find, not all restaurants offer them so it is still good to check the menu before taking a seat!
4. Learn vegan keywords in the national language
At the very least, you should learn how to say “I am vegan” and “I do not eat meat, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, or butter” in the national language of the country you are visiting. This will help you communicate your dietary restrictions to waiters at restaurants.
Also, you should download the Google Translate app. I love this app because it has a camera so you can easily scan and translate nutrition labels and menus! This can be particularly helpful if you’re in a country that uses a different alphabet than your language.
5. Stick to specific types of cuisines
If you cannot find a vegan option in the city you are visiting, head to an Asian or Indian restaurant. These restaurants are my go-to places to eat — there is always a vegan option and the food is delicious! 👌
6. Find nearby grocery stores
I love going to grocery stores in different cities and countries! It is so cool to see how stores around the world differ with their produce, snack, and prepared-meal options. Besides visiting a grocery store for the novelty, be sure to stock up on food! Buy lots of snacks for your trip, as well as any fun items you want to try that aren’t available at home.
7. Book an Airbnb with a kitchen
Speaking of grocery stores… you’ll want a place to cook your food! If you can, I definitely suggest finding an Airbnb that has a kitchen (or at least a fridge)
Finding good vegan breakfast while traveling is such a pain. You’d think you could cop a bowl of simple, dairy-free oatmeal somewhere? But nope, a lot of the time you are left with a dozen different pastry options and none of them are vegan. Buying some breakfast items from the grocery store is much more convenient, satisfying, and budget-friendly.
While it is nice to go out to restaurants, it is also great to cook lunch or dinner for yourself. I tend to feel really heavy and lethargic eating out too much, so I really value having a kitchen to make myself a meal at home. On a trip to Italy, I found some vegan potato gnocchi at the grocery store and cooked it up with some pasta sauce! It was a nice change of pace and made me feel energized and light.
8. Use a delivery app to order in
When we visited Egypt, outside the organized tours we booked that provided lunch, it was very difficult to find food. It was so stressful that we just ended up ordering food using a local food delivery app. Hahaha.
I am sure we could have handled finding food a bit better, but we actually really did enjoy ordering food into the hotel! We could read all the options in English on our phone, had tons of restaurants and cuisines to choose from, and could enjoy the food from the comfort of our hotel room. 10/10 would do again — I don’t care how antisocial it is 🤷♀️
9. Carry snacks!!!
This is an obvious suggestion, but pack up some snacks so you won’t get hangry.
On a recent trip to Mallorca, we took a bus out to a village for a hiking excursion. While the main city has several restaurants with vegan options, we knew it would be more difficult to find food in the remote village. We went to a grocery store prior to the day trip and loaded up on nuts, dried fruits, apples, and water to get us through the day until we got back home for dinner.
If you are worried about finding snacks in the city you are visiting, pack some of your favorites before your trip! Be aware that some countries might not allow you to take fresh produce on the flight with you. Stick to dried fruits, granola bars, nuts + seeds, and other packaged snacks if you are unsure.
10. Don’t let anyone guilt trip you into eating non-vegan food!
Many people say that when you visit a new place you must eat the traditional and popular dishes to get the “full cultural experience.” And I agree that it is a great thing to experience new foods and learn about the national cuisine!
But the reality of going vegan (or vegetarian) is that you truly do sometimes cut yourself off from the “full cultural experience” in terms of food. And that is okay! Food is a huge part of culture, but it is not the only part. You can still have a very meaningful experience while traveling without stuffing yourself with animal products. It is also possible that you can find a restaurant that serves vegan versions of traditionally meat-based dishes, so you can get the best of both worlds 😉
You should never feel like you are missing out on a great food experience because you have so many beautiful fruits and veggies to enjoy! I hope all these tips can help you plan your next trip. 💜
How do you stay vegan while traveling? Let me know in the comments below!