Backpacking Tips

A Gift Guide for the Vegan Traveler

I can’t believe it’s December. Not because the holiday season is fast approaching, but because the start of December marks the 11 month of our year long journey. It’s crazy to think back. It seems like just yesterday we were making very specific holiday wish lists, including only the most essential travel items.

With a whole lot of travel behind me, I’ve come to learn what you actually need to pack for vegan travel. Here are some gifts ideas to surprise and excite vegan travelers. And not only vegan backpackers, but vegans heading off on vacations, business trips, camping trips and more.

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How To Remedy 7 Common Travel Health Issues With Vegan Foods

First Aid Kit

flickr: By marvinxsteadfast

This guest post is by Heather Nauta from Healthy Vegan Recipes. Heather is a registered holistic nutritionist who teaches you how to live a healthy vegan/vegetarian lifestyle. Visit Healthy Vegan Recipes to check out her vegan travel videos.

One of the most important things to remember overall for vegan travel is to keep yourself healthy and support your immune system. There will be foods, viruses and bacteria that your body is not used to dealing with.

Exercise is often forgotten in the excitement of traveling. You also might miss a night or two of your normal sleep pattern if you have a long trip and if you jump a few time zones.

All of these factors will knock your immune system, leaving you more vulnerable to illness during vegan travel than you would be at home. Minimize them as much as possible, and if you do get sick the first step is to eliminate the cause.

Once you find the culprit, use these healthy food solutions to relieve the symptoms and get you back to your normal healthy self. Not only are these options cheaper than medication and drugs, but they are also much better for your system.

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How to Order Vegan Food at Any Restaurant

Buffet picks

Buffet Restaurant, Florianopolis, Brazil

Whether you’re backpacking for a few months, going on a short vacation or driving from city to city on a road trip, chances are you’ll be eating at least some of your meals at restaurants. I’m also willing to bet not all of the restaurants you choose will be strictly vegan or even vegetarian. It would be great if every city had a veggie restaurant but that’s not how things are today. Even if there’s a veg-friendly restaurant in the city you’re visiting, it may not be nearby when hunger strikes. So the question is: how do you order food at a restaurant that doesn’t cater to vegans and may not understand your preferences.

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Five Tips for Vegan Travel

1. Make a List of Places to Eat

Vegan Reseach

Vegan Research

Before you pack your bags and start traveling, do some research and learn about the local vegan options. One of the best places to start is Happy Cow, a website with a comprehensive list of vegetarian and vegan restaurants for almost any city you can think of. The second place I usually look is the local vegetarian or vegan association’s website, where restaurant and health food shop listings tend to be up to date. To find local associations, do a quick Google search for the city name and “vegan society” or “vegan association.” Don’t be scared away if the content isn’t in English, that’s what Google Translator is for. Between these online resources, you should be able to compile a list of places to find vegan food. 

2. Connect with Other Vegans

The Vegan Girls

Vegan Ladies in Dublin, Ireland - Glauce, Aoife and Jill

For major cities, your list of possible places to eat may be so long you’ll need help narrowing it down. For help, ask local vegans for recommendations. They’ll know which bakeries have vegan treats and which cafes serve the best weekend brunch. Online resources can only get you so far. The best knowledge is local knowledge.

To find local vegans, or get recommendations from vegans who have recently visited the city, start with a Google search. You can usually find them by Googling the city name and “vegan.” With this approach, you’re likely to find a blog by a local vegan or reviews by vegan visitors. You can also connect with vegans on Twitter, by searching for the city name and “vegan.” There are also online and offline communities, like the Vegan Around the World Network and Vegan Meetup Groups, that help connect vegans in far away places.

Lastly, I’d recommend looking for vegans on CouchSurfing, a website where people offer up their sofas, air mattresses, floors and spare rooms to travelers. It’s a free service, where no money is exchanged. You can filter your results by including “vegan” or “vegetarian” in the keyword search. There is also a CouchSurfing group for Vegans and Vegetarians members. Some large and vegan-friendly cities, like London, NYC and Berlin, have their own veg groups. If you don’t like the idea of sleeping in a strangers house, you can always ask people from CouchSurfing to meet for a drink or meal.

3. Carry a Food Stash

Picnic at St. Stephen's Green Park -  Homemade Vegan Sandwich

Homemade Vegan Sandwich

At some point during your travels, you’re bound to find yourself in transit, lost or far away from any vegan-friendly restaurants. This is why it’s necessary to always have a small stash of food with you. This isn’t a recommendation, it’s a requirement for vegan travelers. Unless, of course, you don’t mind skipping a meal or eating something that you’re unsure about. There are lots of things you can pack to avoid such problems.

For bus, plane or train rides, as well as outings in the city, pack easy snacks like apples, bananas, nuts, seeds, homemade sandwiches, granola bars, carrot sticks, bread, pitas, peanut butter or hummus. In your large backpack, take along some brown rice, lentils, spices, dry pasta, and vegetable bouillon cubes. These ingredients, along with a few fresh vegetables and tomato sauce, can be used to make a quick pasta, soup, curry or stir fry. A small Tupperware container and a spork go a long way, making it easy to take homemade food or leftovers on the road.

4. Know the Local Lingo

Vegan Passport

Vegan Passport

Reading labels is part of vegan life. Without knowing the local words for things like chicken, milk, eggs, cheese or butter, it will be hard to determine whether or not an item is suitable for vegans. You can look keywords up online, write down some vegan phrases or carry the Vegan Passport, a handy book that can be used to help communicate your dietary needs at restaurants and stores around the world.

5. Make it Easy for Others

Vegetable Burritos

Tacos, No Cheese

Don’t walk into a regular restaurant, cafe, bakery or supermarket and ask a staff member to point you in the direction of their vegan options. Don’t expect people to even know what vegan or vegetarian food is. Make things easy for them by asking if they can customize a menu item that’s almost vegan. For example, ask for cheese to be removed from pizza, pasta or a sandwich. If you’re in a bakery, don’t ask if a loaf of bread is vegan, ask if it contains or has been glazed with milk, butter, eggs, lard or any other animal product.

If you’re cooking with people who don’t have experience making vegan food, give them specific ideas, share recipes, or offer to prepare a dish for them. Often, people get confused about what is okay, and what’s not. They don’t want to offend you by accidentally adding something you can’t eat. Don’t be afraid to help and answer questions. In the end, hopefully everyone will forget about the missing animal ingredients and enjoy the dish as part of a healthy and tasty meal.

Use these tips and you’ll find it’s not hard to keep up a vegan diet while traveling. Chances are, wherever you travel, there will always be vegetables, fruits, grains, beans, nuts and seeds. The more exciting things may be harder to come by but the healthy, wholefood options are always available.

Backpacker Packing List

Packing is an art. If you’re backpacking, every pound counts and you have to pack smart. Deciding what to bring can be a challenge, especially if you’re planning to visit several places with different climates. In this feature post, I list all of the items I packed in preparation for a year long trip.


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2010: The Vegan Backpacking Adventure

Plane food

Vegan Airplane Meal

We’ve put our 9-5 life on hold, rented our condo, been vaccinated more times than we care to count, and packed our life into two small bags. For us, 2010 will be a year of travel. And with travel comes eating adventures…

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