Travelling as a vegan can be tricky. New environments bring new obstacles and it often takes some extra planning to overcome the linguistic and cultural differences you will inevitably encounter when abroad. HOWEVER, it's by no means an impossible feat. Having backpacked around 25 countries over the past decade I can tell you this: it's easier than you think. Granted, for those of us on a budget it may take some additional research and will occasionally lead to some less-than-stellar meals...BUT a vegan diet is by no means a significant hinderance when it comes to travel.
Here are some introductory tips for those curious vegans who feel a gnawing wanderlust when they look upon a map but don't necessarily have the money to hop around the globe with their own personal chef.
1. Consider: Your Destination vs Your Purpose
Before you decide to go anywhere you should put some thought into your potential destination(s) and the purpose of your trip. There are many wonderful places in the world to visit and explore but some of those places are not terribly accommodating to the vegan diet. Beautiful countries like Norway and Mongolia are well-worth exploring, however, they are great examples of places where being vegan can be a challenge. Impossible? Never. But if your goal is to visit exciting new places AND eat great vegan food than you will need to temper your wanderlust and research your destinations accordingly. Not every country is a vegan paradise, so make sure your destinations line up with your culinary ambitions. I wrote a guest post for Who Needs Maps about the best and worst places to visit as a vegetarian/vegan which is a good place to start your research.
Of course, if you are committed to a vegan diet AND are content not always eating the best food than the world is yours to discover! You may have some gloomy meals ahead of you (plain crackers, anyone?) BUT you will get to see some incredible places and no doubt level-up your vegan epicness. Win-win.
2. Airline Food
If you are heading out on a long flight you should find out if your airline has in-flight vegan options. This is something you are going to want to know if you have any long-haul flights in your itinerary. Several major airlines do have vegan options available (and some of those options are actually tasty!) but most budget carriers will not have anything for vegans. A ten hour flight with nothing but airline peanuts will start your trip off on the wrong foot so make sure you bring some snacks if your carrier doesn't have a vegan option. Worst case, you can try and buy food on the airplane but it will always be over priced and rarely be appetizing, nutritious, or vegan.
3. Carry An Emergency Stash
Of snacks, people. Vegan snacks. When you are travelling to destinations where there will be cultural and linguistic barriers you should always bring a back-up stash of vegan food. This gives you a buffer in case you cannot find the vegan restaurants you are searching for or cannot find anything to snack on before getting settled at your new destination. When I travelled across Russia I brought a hefty stash of energy bars to help overcome the inevitable difficulties I would encounter due to the language, culture, and climate. On those long train rides across the Siberian steppe my energy bars were worth their weight in dietary gold. Once again, the key here is to plan ahead.
If you are going to bring some food with you, make sure it isn't anything that will cause problems at a border. Avoid fruits and vegetables and stick to packaged goods like energy bars, nuts, etc. Restock them as you run out, so you never go hungry whilst wandering around.
4. Google Translate: USE IT!
When you are visiting countries where there will be a language barrier you should arm yourself with some phrases to help clarify your diet upon arrival. Google Translate is perfect for this. Before you depart, write down some simply phrases like “I do not eat meat” or “I don't drink milk.” Memorize them if you can, and you will be one step closer to avoiding a dietary disaster.
On top of recording some stock phrases you should make sure you have the Google Translate app on your phone. Prior to your departure you can download the language packs relevant to your intended destinations. These language packs will let you translate phrases even if you don't have internet access while you travel. It can be used at restaurants, grocery stores, and anywhere else you may need to ask questions about the food.
If you are fortunate enough to have data access while you are abroad, Google Translate also enables you to take a photo of any text and it will provide a translation. While it isn't perfect it can really help you when it comes to reading labels...and since reading labels is the #1 vegan past time this app is a life saver.
5. The Vegan Passport
If you want to go one step further you can actually order a Vegan Passport. The Vegan Passport is essentially a phrase book with all the relevant vegan questions and phrases in 74 different languages, which will cover you for most of the planet's languages. It might be worth a purchase if you are going to be travelling a lot and perpetually hounding servers about the contents of their menu.
6. Kitchen Access
When searching for accommodation, access to a kitchen is always one of my primary concerns. Whether it is at a hostel or something booked through a service like AirBnB or Couchsurfing, having access to a kitchen let's you simplify your hunt for food by allowing you to cook for yourself. Cultural differences and language barriers aside, a cabbage is a cabbage and so you will always have an easier time identifying simple ingredients and cooking for yourself.
Sure, it's sometimes challenging to find all the ingredients your heart may desire, but the basics are usually readily available and cooking for yourself will save you some money. I usually balance cooking for myself with visiting proper vegan restaurants in order to appease my budget AND still get to taste the best food each country has to offer.
7. Happy Cow!
Happy Cow is a great resource to find out specific vegan and vegetarian restaurants in your destinations. For those times when you want to splurge you can use Happy Cow to locate local vegan places, read about their menu, their reviews, and find out about their pricing and hours. It's my go-to app when hunting for food at home and abroad, and was very helpful when we walked The Camino this summer.
SO. As you can see, with a handful of planning and a pinch of perseverance you can wander the globe until your heart is content, all the while maintaining a vegan diet. It may not be as glamorous as gorging yourself at 5-Star resorts, but anyone with a backpack and a keen desire for adventure can hit the road and do so without infringing upon their commitment to being vegan. If I could manage walking The Camino as a vegan, then anything is possible. Easy peasy.