The Plant-Based Traveller

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Book Swap – An Ingenious Idea

On my recent trip to Italy, I stayed at Hostel Pisa. Although the hostel had perfectly adequate facilities and friendly, helpful staff, there was one thing that was noticeable for it’s absence. Apart from a few books left at reception, which I don’t think there were two of in the same language, there was no book swap.

One of the things I like most about staying at a hotel or hostel is discovering the book swap. It’s such a simple idea, but one that works so well. When you’re done with your book, you simply leave it for someone else and select another one. Although I didn’t actually require the services of the book swap on this trip (before I left Innsbruck my brother had loaded me up with enough English books to last me a year) I still missed sifting through the worn books to find hidden treasures.

I always like to imagine the journey that the books themselves must have been on, passing from traveller to traveller and book swap to book swap as they make their way around the planet. Sometimes you find clues left in the books as to where they might have been. Once, whilst travelling on the east coast of America, I picked up a book with a bookmark from San Francisco in it. Had this book come from San Francisco? Was it simply the bookmark that had made the long journey across the country? Who knows?

The more I thought about the books and their journeys, the more the idea fascinated me. I could pick up a book that I’d already handled five years ago in another country and not know it. That’s why I now leave my mark in every book I read (that’s not a library book, owned by someone or otherwise disrespectful to write in of course). In the bottom corner of the inside back cover, I leave my little juggler-man symbol:

I’ve also started to write where I was when I finished the book and the date. My hope is that, one day, I will pick up a book and find my mark already there. Or that other people will join in with my game and leave their own personal signatures in the back of books. Together, we could help the books to tell their travel stories.

 

Why I’m a Plant-based Vegetarian

I keep referring to the fact that I’m a plant-based vegetarian. So, what is a plant-based vegetarian?

Having been a regular vegetarian (I didn’t eat of wear anything that an animal died for) for seventeen(ish) years, I knew a few facts about the impact our diet has on the environment. I’m always keen to broaden my knowledge, though, so in November last year I watched the Planeat film. According to the scientists in Planeat, the less animal-based foods and the more plant-based foods you eat the better, both on a health and environmental level. Their mission is to create awareness of the benefits of a plant-based diet, encourage consumers to reduce their meat and dairy consumption and be inspired by plant-based cuisine. Already being a vegetarian, I fully admit that at the start of the film I was quietly confident that my diet was already pretty environmentally friendly. I was soon brought down a peg or two, though. As Gidon Eshel, prof. of Physics and Geosciences at Bard College explains, vegetarian diets aren’t actually that much better than an average omnivore diet, and in fact a poultry-based diet can have less impact on the environment. This is due to veggies tending to over-compensate by eating more dairy products. Which brings me neatly to another important message that I learnt from Planeat. In the Western world we are brought up to believe that we should eat lots of animal-based protein. The research of T Colin Campbell shows that too much protein from an animal-based diet is damaging to our health. As you may have guessed already, I’m no scientist, so please watch the film or visit the Planeat website for a more coherent explanation of this theory.

It’s important for me to differentiate between what I believe to be be a vegan and a plant-based vegetarian. I’m not a vegan. For a start, I eat local, ethical honey and use bees products as it’s an enzyme not a protein. Also, to me a vegan is someone who cannot eat or use any product where an animal is involved in the production. As a plant-based vegetarian, I try my best to eat organic whenever possible. To produce organic food on a mass scale you need to use animal fertiliser, ie cow dung. Fifty percent of cows born are bulls, and bulls cannot be kept together, so a lot of them have to be killed. If you want organic food, then you have to accept that animals will be killed.

Planeat inspired me to make changes in my life. My plan wasn’t to transform completely overnight, but simply to make small alterations towards the Planeat philosophy.

My first step was to convert from cows milk to soya milk. As I was born with eczema, I’ve always been aware that dairy isn’t good for me (I found out recently that I’m actually allergic to it) but, as a vegetarian I’ve always been told that I should have more dairy. I did drink soya milk once before for a few months. I was living in Austria at the time, where due to my vegetarianism I was fed so much cheese that I almost couldn’t breathe. Drinking soya milk in my tea and pouring it over my breakfast cereal was my attempt to compensate for the dairy-overload.

Since making that first step into a world without animal protein, my lifestyle has changed completely. My cooking skills have also greatly improved. I’ve been working hard in my little kitchen to find plant-based alternatives to my favourite meals and treats. Some of the earlier experiments were a disaster, to say the least, but here are some images of my successes:

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What started out as me trying to educate myself a bit more and make ‘a few small changes’ has evolved into a major passion. I never could have imagined where this path would take me. I now lead an almost completely plant-based lifestyle, I buy local and seasonal, and I am much more knowledgeable about where our food comes from and what it does to our bodies and the planet. And there’s still so much for me to learn.