While being a vegetarian can be an easy thing to manage in everyday life, travel can be tricky for vegetarians, with challenges arising from not knowing the destination well, living without one’s own kitchen and good hygiene standards, meeting new people and much more.
In terms of availability of vegetarian food, I appreciate destinations such as Thailand where they cook a lot of vegetables or tofu in many variations or London where the modern cosmopolitan lifestyle demands new kind of healthy, eco-friendly and alternative restaurants. On the other hand, in Bolivia it was quite challenging as they eat a lot of greasy food – so for example an egg swimming in oil was often the only vegetarian option. I can also say that Spain is always complicated in its options of vegetarian food, unless you know some good places in big cities.
Being a vegetarian who loves ecotravel, I’ve listed the most common challenges that a vegetarian must face while travelling and how to cope with them.
Choosing a Travel Partner
According to me, your travel partner is one of the most important choices to make for your journey. If not a vegetarian or vegan too (which is not always easy to find), your travel partner needs to be a very tolerant, respectful and flexible person (believe it or not, for many carnivores, vegetarians are still difficult people to eat with). But it should work both ways, therefore be careful not to restrain your partner from eating any local food as it’s an essential part of travelling and understanding the local culture.
Learn the Language
Knowing the language or key phrases is an important aspect of travelling as a vegetarian. If you don’t speak the language of the country you are visiting, at least learn the basic words – especially the meat types – in order to steer clear of from any “dangerous” words. For example, I don’t speak Spanish, but I knew that “cuy” in Peru is a Guinea pig. So I avoided any restaurant called “cuyería”. You cannot just choose food with your eyes, but you need to be sure that there is no hidden meat, bones, animal fat or whatever.
Do Your Local Food Research
One of the downsides of travelling as a vegetarian is that your food restriction will not allow you to try some of the most typical dishes of the places you travel to. On the other hand, the choice is easier for you. You should do your research on the alternatives to meat at your destination, so that you can eat balanced food and still try something local. For example, in Peru, I knew that quinoa which is rich in proteins is one of the major agricultural commodities of the country. In Bolivia I needed to try the local empanadas called “salteňas” as they also cooked ones filled only with vegetables. And in Thailand, I knew that tofu is widely used in Asian cuisine, so anytime I didn’t find a meat-free meal, I asked whether they could have replaced the meat with tofu.
Get Some Vegetarian Snacks
According to the Murphy’s Law, once hungry, you might be desperately searching for a bite to grab without success. Almonds, dried apricots, bananas, cereal bars (without chocolate that might melt in high temperatures) are my good travel friends and go-to snack in case of hunger where no meatless snack can be found and during my unending search for a veggie-friendly restaurant. Don’t worry if you don’t have enough place to carry one with you – you can also get these in the local supermarkets.
Enjoy Picnics and Local Markets
You need to check in advance if the restaurants at the destination offer some veggie meals too. Refer to your guide, TripAdvisor or Yelp. If there is no suitable place or you just don’t want to be dependent on the available restaurants, head to the local market and pick up some supplies for a picnic. Just be sure the weather is nice – and don’t forget to pack your Swiss knife, napkins, bottle of water and hygienic gel.
Be Careful With Fresh Salads
If you are travelling to countries that have issues with drinkable water or hygiene in general, beware of fresh salads. In Peru and Bolivia, I just could not resist salads and paid with stomach cramps. Try and find dishes with cooked vegetables, and choose establishments where you order a salad carefully and carry some home remedies and medicines with you.
Keep an Open Mind
Be ready to meet people that will not understand not only the word “vegetarian”, but also how it’s possible that somebody does not eat meat as they simply have no choice in what they eat if they want to stay alive. Then you might realize how lucky you are that you have the choice where you live. But good luck with your explanations to the locals.