1. Make a List of Places to Eat
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
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
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
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
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.