Sticking to a vegan diet can already be challenging enough in and by itself, but these challenges can often be amplified while traveling. If you don’t know the local area that well, it can be difficult finding any vegan-friendly shops and eateries. This can often lead to thinking it’s too hard to stay vegan, and ultimately giving up and eating whatever junk is available.
But these challenges can be overcome if you prepare for them with the right mindset to deal with a variety of issues that may come up. Here are my top 10 tips on how to eat a vegan diet while on vacation travelling.
1. Pick airlines with vegan in-flight meals
Most airlines these days offer a wide range of special meal requests, especially on longer international flights. Many options exist to accommodate a wide range of dietary choices and needs, such as vegetarian, vegan, Kosher meal, and even as simple as a fruit plate meal. Oftentimes the vegan meals will be pretty basic and bland.
The last time I was on an international flight, the vegan meal I ordered was just some rice and steamed vegetables covered in tomato sauce, with a cup of fruit on the side. It was okay, I know it’s airplane food and at least I got served a hot vegan meal that didn’t taste terrible, so I’m not complaining.
When choosing your special meal requests, it’s important you know what the airlines’ descriptive terms mean. The airlines might not state “vegan” for a vegan meal, but instead “vegetarian” which is technically different than vegan. Also, the meaning of these terms may differ from each airline, so definitely check with them before sending in your special meal request.
Here is a brief summary of some common special meal request terms:
Vegetarian meal (non-dairy) – This is basically a vegan meal. It doesn’t contain any meat or animal by-products such as dairy or eggs. The meal only includes cruelty-free plant foods.
Vegetarian meal (lacto-ovo) – Same as the above, but the difference is that eggs and dairy are included.
Asian vegetarian meal – This is an Indian-style vegetarian meal that contains no meat, fish or eggs. It is not vegan because it may or may not contain any dairy products. If you’re not a strict vegan, then this would work for you.
Vegetarian Jain meal – Basically a vegan meal. The only difference between this and the 1st one on this list is that a Jain meal caters to Jain customs which excludes all root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, beets, onions, garlic and ginger.
Muslim meal – These meals excludes all products derived from pigs, such as bacon, ham and pork. Also, alcohol would not be used in the preparation of the food.
Kosher meal – A meal that is kosher conforms to the standards of kashrut, a set of Jewish dietary laws. Kosher is very popular and gets requested a lot by both Jewish and non-Jewish people who perceive Kosher foods to be cleaner and healthier.
Fruit plate meal – Includes a variety of fresh seasonal fruits.This meal may be ordered by people who are on a special diet of only fruits.
Most airlines would require that you request your special meal at least 72 hours before your flight. Once you’re on board the flight, the flight attendant will confirm with you that you have ordered the special meal. One good thing about ordering special meals is that they get served before the other regular meals.
If for whatever reasons your special meal request didn’t go through, then you’re pretty much stuck with very limited vegan options – if you’re lucky they might have some extra cartons of fruit or vegetables, but there’s no guarantee. That’s why it’s important to bring your own snacks with you on the flight, just in case.
2. Always take food with you
Even if you ordered a special vegan meal, those meals are often times extremely basic and lacking flavor. Economy class airplane food is already infamous for being bad, on top of this your sense of taste is also reduced while in the air, this makes already not-so-tasty food taste even more bland.
If you’re not interested in being hungry on a long flight, then bringing your own vegan snacks would be a good idea. Clif Bars and Vega Bars are great options, these high protein energy bars are made with whole grain oats and come in a variety of mouth-watering flavors. Other vegan snack ideas include corn nuts, trail mix, hummus & crackers, roasted green peas, seaweed, and peanut butter & jelly sandwiches.
3. Research the locations of vegan-friendly shops
Before you travel, find out if there are any natural food stores near where you’re traveling. Search on google maps and do a little research on what shops and supermarkets you can potentially do your food shopping at. If you’re not staying at one place for long and you come across a natural food store, make sure you stock up on almond milk, energy bars, and other stuff like that in case you don’t find any more natural food stores in the near future.
4. Find vegan restaurants with Happy Cow
Happy cow is a free online service you can use to find vegan, vegetarian, and veg-friendly restaurants/shops from all around the world. Just go to the website and type in the city you’re in or will be traveling to, and it will show you a list of places to eat that are either vegan, vegetarian, or veg-friendly. You can also see how the restaurant is rated by other people and read the reviews left by other peoples, kind of like Yelp with vegan restaurants.
Vegan food is everywhere…
You don’t need access to vegan restaurants to eat vegan food. Even if you’re traveling outside of big cities to small rural towns where vegan-restaurants are non-existent, these places almost always have some kind of farmer’s market and grocery stores where they sell fruit and produce, go there and eat them.
5. Learn how to say “no meat, dairy and eggs” in the local language
In a lot of restaurants you can ask for your dish to be made vegan by substituting the meat for tofu for example. Ask the restaurant and check if there are any animal ingredients in the food you’re ordering.
It would be very helpful if you learned a few phrases that allow you to do this. Let’s say you’re eating at a restaurant in China, while ordering an item you want to express to the server that you don’t want any meat, dairy or eggs, you would say “Meiyou rou, ru zhipin he jidan.” Or if you just want to ask if a certain dish on their menu is vegan or not, you would say “Zhe shi sushi zhe ma?”
Not everyone knows what “vegan” means
Some people don’t know the difference between a vegan and a vegetarian. But if you know how to say “no meat, dairy and eggs,” then it would be a lot easier to let your server know what you’re asking for and to avoid any confusion.
6. Find vegan baby food
Yes, you read that correctly, baby food.
Baby food is incredibly vegan friendly because a lot of them are actually just jars of pureed fruits, grains and vegetables. Oftentimes it’s super-healthy because it contains only the main ingredient and water, without any additives and preservatives. They’re widely available and can be found in many places. But if you tell anyone you’re eating baby food, at best they’ll think you’re a bit strange.
If you’re eating at a food court or any public places where you fear embarrassment of being seen eating baby food, then just peel off the sticker of the picture with a baby on it, and it’s just a jar of pureed sweet potatoes, peas, brown rice, and other healthy things like that! The food of course would taste bland, but it’s a pretty good option when there’s nothing else around.
7. Getting rid of the purity mindset
Sometimes it’s just inevitable. You might have done everything you could to avoid animal products, but mistakes can still happen. Halfway through eating the vegetarian chow mein you ordered, you later realize the noodles were made with eggs.
Maybe it was a communication problem, whatever it was, there’s no need to be too upset about this. I used to get very upset over this, but then I realized perfection is not really attainable.
For example, just walking outside you will inevitably step on some bugs and kill them. Just by moving your body around, you will kill something somewhere. What really counts is your intentions, if you’re doing your best to reduce harm and suffering on all sentient creatures, then at the end of the day you shouldn’t feel bad about it.
When you’re food shopping at a market, a lot of times you’ll come across packages of food that doesn’t have a proper list of ingredients on the back, or if they do they’ll be in a foreign language that you can’t understand.
So how can you figure out if that product contain animal ingredients? Should I abandon every prepackaged food item because I can’t read the list of ingredients on the back, and just eat raw fruits and vegetables from the grocery store? The answer for me is no.
Personally I am not very strict when it comes to these types of situations. If I don’t know the exact ingredients, then usually I would just get it anyway and hope it’s vegan, and if it turns out to not be then I just won’t get it next time. Unless it’s something that’s pretty much never vegan unless stated otherwise, like cake for example, otherwise I’d just use my best judgement.
Stay active and keep a healthy diet
There’s no reason to eat more unhealthy than usual while traveling. If you eat crap your whole trip then you’d feel like crap, which makes the whole trip less enjoyable. Keeping your diet relatively clean with proper exercises while on vacation, and there’s no extra pounds to work on when you get back.
I hope you have found some of these tips helpful. Do you have your own tips you’d like to share with the community? Leave your comments and questions down below.