Before I went on the first big trip in my new life as a vegan, I was quite a bit worried, I must confess. I wondered what challenges I´d have to face and if I would have to live on rice and beans for the coming months.
But instead it turned out, that it is not difficult to stick to your diet. Even in the most remote places, where locals have never heard about such thing as veganism and a plant-based diet, you´ll find something to munch on!
Here are my tips for you, based on my own experience as a vegan backpacker. To come right to the point: Preparation is the key.
1. Research your destination.
I found the most useful app on my phone to be HappyCow. Which could actually also be called HappyVegan, for obvious reasons. The app finds you all the lo cal vegan and vegan-friendly places near your destination. Even at the back of beyond – a remote village in the very South of Bolivia that is… Get ready to be pleasantly surprised by the culinary gems that you’ll find.
2. Book a vegan meal on your flight.
This should actually stand first, because booking a flight is what every trip starts with, right? If your flight includes meals, the vegan option will for sure be free of charge, too. Nothing sucks more than to spend a 14 hours flight to Buenos Aires eating salty peanuts and crackers. Be smart. Book vegan.
3. Pack your own food and snacks.
Again. Be prepared. I always carry a clif bar and an apple in my bag. Maybe even a sandwich. Just in case… Your travel destination or mode of transportation (such as your flight) might guarantee vegan food, but still, do yourself a favor by packing snacks. Dried fruit, trail mix, bars, nuts, all work great.
4. Chose your hostel wisely.
I always go for the ones with a kitchen. It is probably the best way to make sure you can stick to your animal friendly diet. That way you also get to cook your favorite dishes. I go for easy comfort food such as oatmeal and pasta, or if I feel like having something lighter, I can chop up a salad any time. Lifesaver.
5. Check other forms of hospitation.
Helpful resources such as “Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms” (WWOOF), HelpExchange, Couch Surfing, Facebook groups, AirBnB and others, can help you find vegan-friendly hosts around the world. It’s essential to inform your hosts beforehand that you’re a vegan, as well as ensuring they know what this means and that they’re happy and able to meet your needs. This will save them from going through the trouble of cooking animal-based foods that you won’t eat and may even get them interested in a vegan lifestyle.
7. Don´t be shy.
I often ask staff at restaurants to make changes for me. “Hold the cheese, please.” You know the game. Don’t be shy to do so abroad. There is no reason to not do this when traveling. Be aware that throughout the world the terms vegetarian and vegan aren’t all understood the same way. In Spain you might still be served paella with seafood after having explained your dietary needs on an animal free diet. Because those aren’t “real animals”… In such a case I only have one tip. Stay calm.
8. Learn to communicate the basics.
If you’re going to a country where another language is spoken, learning a few words and phrases can go a long way. It does not only open the arms of the locals, but will make it easier for you to communicate your needs. The word ‘vegan’ is not universally understood, so learn to communicate the actual definition. Trust me, it will make your life a lot easier.
9. Get a vegan passport!
Traveling out of the country? You can try to use Google Translate to explain what a “vegan” is in different languages, or you can just carry around one of these bad boys.
10. Look for Local Farmers Markets.
I am a big fan of farmers’ markets. They are a great place to get the best local ingredients for your vegan meals at a low price. And a big plus: You support the local community.
11. Learn About Local Food.
Another thing you may consider researching before you hit the road is local vegan food for the countries you are planning to visit. You will be surprised that delicious local treats like gallo pinto, bean tamales, and areas are often vegan or can easily be changed to meet your needs. Which brings us back to point 6 and 7.
12. Stock up on cruelty-free essentials.
This might not be for the minimalists. After all carrying around a pound of toiletries is not what most backpackers are looking for. But if your mode of traveling and luggage restrictions allow it, carry all the vegan shampoos, creams and powders you like. Shoutout to the inventor of travel-sized products. If you prefer to travel with a carry on, you might want to check out the Leaping Bunny. The website has a section that lets you search for cruelty free, vegan products in countries all around the world. It couldn’t be easier to ensure the products you buy around the world are vegan.
13. And finally: Be sure about your veganism.
If you are new to this lifestyle or have been living it for years traveling to foreign countries you might find experiences that will test your commitment. It will be challenging sometimes, to find food that is a 100 % vegan and there will be a lot of unknown stuff, that though obviously not vegan, might be attracting you. Remind yourself why you turned vegan in the first place and what you have gained by doing this change. And at last, don’t be too hard on yourself. As my favorite saying goes: Strive for progress, not perfection. With the time you will learn how prepare for traveling and how to avoid tricky situations.