There are many challenges facing travelling vegans. Here are some quick tips to help you out.
Vegan is Easy…
..in the West, yes!
Supermarkets, restaurants and cafes have all recently jumped on the vegan hype. Whilst this is great news for those vegans living in the West, what happens when you go travel to a place where veganism isn’t even a thing?
Having travelled South East Asia and lived in Vietnam for the past 2 years and exploring some of the remote villages deep in the countryside, I feel I have some advice to offer when it comes to surviving remote areas of the world as a vegan.
So here are my top 8 tips to survive:
1. Plan & Research
Whenever I set off on a new adventure the first thing my partner and I do is research the options. Google is your best friend when travelling and it’s easy to find restaurants, hostels, hotels or cafes that serve vegetarian or hopefully vegan options. Happy Cow is also a great tool for finding local vegan places whilst on the move. Just search by the city, region or postcode of where you are going and it will list all the local places serving vegan/vegetarian food.
Most likely, vegan options won’t exist unless you are travelling somewhere very touristy or by luck, the local food is naturally vegan like India or Thailand for example.
Wherever there are vegetarian options there are vegan options. You just need to make some slight changes.
2. Mixing, Adding and Taking Away
Once you find a place with vegetarian options it’s down to you to be able to identify what dishes on the menu you can customize to vegan.
This process will become 2nd nature after a while. Most places you visit are likely to sell vegetables and it’s likely you can just remove the animal product to make your vegan dish. I find in most places here in South East Asia it’s case of removing fish sauce.
In some cases you may have to mix one or two dishes and remove the animal products to creat one new dish. I’ve found most staff are always helpful with this process but you might come across some that couldn’t care less about your vegan needs. Be mindful that you may have to settle for a crappy salad or a plate of fries. It helps if you can speak some of their language…
3. Key Translation
Get to know the basics such as ‘vegan’ (if they have a word for vegan that is…), ‘vegetarian’, ‘no meat’ and ‘vegetables only’. I spend half my time on Vietnam saying ‘ăn chay!’ or ‘không thịt!’
If possible, use the app Google Translate to assist in your conversations. If you have no data, it might be worth printing out the key translation. One of my Twitter followers linked me with this amazing PDF where you can do just that.
However, knowing a few keywords to help you order food goes an extremely long way and saves you so much time! I’ve also found here in Vietnam, learning a bit of the language makes people far more willing to help you out because they can see you are making the effort. One thing I hate to see when travelling is vegans that get short with locals because they can’t understand their dietary requirements.
Snacking is essential if you want to travel and maintain your plant-based diet. No matter where you are in the world it is very likely they sell fruit and nuts somewhere. Load up your bag just in case you venture somewhere that has no vegan options whatsoever. I usually find this is the problem whilst on group tours. You will be sat there will your coconut and peanuts whilst the rest of the group feast on plates full food.
Snacking on healthy food has tremendous benefits for your health anyway so even more reason to plan ahead pack a bag full of goods. My favourite snacks to include are:
- fresh fruit
- dried fruit
- homemade food in Tupperware
5. Ingredient Literacy
It’s important to be aware of the ingredients found in the local dishes and the local snacks. For example, if you are in South East Asia it’s likely that your dish will have fish sauce in it. Make sure you know how to ask for a dish without this ingredient. It’s astonishing how many dishes in Asia you would assume are vegan have hidden animal ingredients lurking in them. Watch out for milk solids in pretty much all snacks!
One of the most shocking discoveries I had in Vietnam was finding out that Vietnamese coffee is not vegan. The beans are soaked in butter and fish sauce!!
Where possible, try to book hostels or hotels that are self-catering. This means you can do a quick trip down to the local market and fetch some veg to cook up. In Asia, they have great veg and noodles. A stir-fry takes 10–15 minutes to make and will cost you next to nothing.
Not only is this a sure fire way to make sure you are not eating non-vegan foods or going hungry it’s also a great way to meet people by being busy around the kitchen and common areas.
7. Flexibility & Acceptance
Be prepared for times when there will be literally nothing you can eat and if you didn’t prepare snacks then you have to accept you are not going to eat. The worse thing you can do is get upset that a random restaurant in the middle of South Anerica does not have vegan food. Most countries outside of the west don’t even have a word for vegan!
At some point, it might seem pretty annoying not being able to enjoy a good meal and just eating snacks all the time. I have had plenty of frustration living in Vietnam and travelling, only eating the same things all the time. My partner and I once stayed at a guest house in the middle of the countryside for 7 days and ate nothing but veggie spring rolls, rice and peanuts for every meal.
Make peace with the fact that your travelling will not always accommodate your food requirements. Rest in the fact that when you do find a restaurant that serves good vegan-friendly stuff you will appreciate it that much more.
What about you?
Are you a frequent vegan traveller? If you have any tips you think I should include, feel free to comment on this post or email me.