I’ve been living a plant-based lifestyle for almost a year now, and one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced is travelling.
Travelling is one of my biggest passions, and I was determined to prove that it is possible to be a plant-based traveller.
I’m not going to pretend that I stick to a completely plant-based, organic diet whenever I travel. I do, however, try to be conscious of what I eat and choose plant-based options whenever I can.
I assumed trying to find suitable food when away from home and out of my comfort zone would be a nightmare, especially when faced with a language barrier, but it’s actually surprised me how little effort it takes.
At first, I had far more questions than I was finding answers for.
Where can you get vegan food at 1am in Rhodes Town after a night out partying with friends?
How do you explain a plant-based diet in Italian?
Why is it difficult to find parsnips in Austria?
That last one was a problem that both myself and my brother came across. Even when we found out the German name for parsnips and asked for them, people looked at us like we were making the word up. My brother later discovered that parsnips are considered pig food in Austria, so most people haven’t heard of them. Recently, some of the fresh produce shops have started to stock them to cater to us crazy Brits who like eating our pig food.
OK, so maybe you don’t want to be plant-based when on holiday. After all, holidays/vacations are generally a good excuse to let the health kick go for a week or two. Be careful if you are going to do this, though. I tried to go back to eating dairy for one weekend not long after I started living plant-based, and I got very ill very quickly because my body wasn’t used to it.
If you do want to travel plant-based, though, here are some tips that you might find useful.
- Be prepared. Without wanting to sound like your mum or a boy scout, this really is the best piece of advice I can give you. Research your destination before you get there. With the dawn of the internet age, gone are the days of walking round in circles in foreign destinations, map and guidebook in hand while you try to figure out where that great restaurant is that everyone talks about. Happy Cow is a great website that allows you to search vegan and vegetarian restaurants by location, and Lonely Planet also list good restaurants. As well as restaurants, check out health food shops and fresh food markets in the area.
- Think about the accommodation you choose. If you’re going for half-board, do they cater for vegans? I know from my experience working in the Alps that most hotels, even the smaller guest houses, will provide soya milk and other vegan options if you ask. On that note, please be aware that in some countries such as Austria the shops are closed from 12 noon on Saturday until Monday morning. If you’re flying in on a Saturday, you’ll need to let your hotel know in advance so they have time to shop. Self-catering is the easiest option, because you can prepare your own food. Personally, I choose to stay in hostels as they usually have really good kitchen facilities.
- When you are eating out in restaurants, don’t be afraid to ask. Any decent restaurant will be happy to accommodate special diets/allergies. They may look at you a little strangely at first, but at the end of the day they want you to spend money in their business. You have to accept that you’re not going to get a slap-up, 5 course vegan extravaganza everywhere you go, but you can usually find something. When at a works dinner once on the island of Symi in Greece I was given a Greek salad for my starter and then another Greek salad for my main! And when you do manage to find that great vegan restaurant that everyone has told you about, it will taste even better. Seasonal restaurants are also becoming increasingly popular, so you may want to include these in your research list.
- Learn the local lingo for ‘I’m a vegan’. Have it written down on a piece of paper to carry with you so you don’t have to worry about pronunciation problems. One of my guests in Rhodes once asked me to write down ‘thank you’ in Greek for him so that he could use it whenever he wanted to thank one of the locals for something, which I thought was sweet.
- Always carry snacks with you for those occasions that you can’t find a restaurant that will cater to vegans. Come to think of it, that’s a handy tip for anyone. I remember occasions when I couldn’t find any food at all, vegan or omnivore. Nuts and fruit are really handed to carry around with you, and I usually have a little sandwich box in my rucksack with pieces of seasonal veg in (carrots, peppers(capsicums), cucumber etc). It’s common practice now for supermarkets to label their fresh produce that is from the local region and/or organic, and most big supermarkets stock a ‘bio’ range (nuts/seeds/rice cakes) as well.
- Don’t forget your water bottle. Look out for water fountains where you can refill, and remember to keep drinking your 2 litres a day. It’s easy to forget to drink water when you’re disctracted by the tourist attractions.
If nothing else, leading a plant-based life always makes for interesting conversation. A friend in Kefalonia told me ‘If you don’t eat meat then you can’t drink red wine, it will make you too drunk’. As I don’t like red wine anyway, I never got to try this one out. It’s an interesting theory, though. Some friends in Rhodes very kindly invited me to their Easter BBQ, a big celebration in Greece. On explaining that I was vegetarian I was told ‘That’s OK, you can have chips’. Unfortunately, the chips were being fried in the animal fat dripping from the lamb spit. Needless to say, I politely declined and stuck to the Greek salad.