Do you have an adventurous spirit and every time you look at a picture of breathtaking mountains, pristine beaches or ruins of legendary cities you get a huge desire to rush to the airport?
If the answer is yes, I think we have something in common.
I felt the fascination for traveling long before going vegan and although I’ve never been the kind of person who tries everything exotic, I did enjoy trying the local cuisine.
My culinary experiences have changed a little because now it takes a bit more of imagination.
If I don’t find vegan versions of local dishes you may think that I’m missing out that part of the trip, but for me, it’s the opposite because it makes me discover many other things that perhaps I wouldn’t have paid attention otherwise. But while it’s true that as far as local foods go I may not try it all, that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy absolutely delicious meals.
Traveling opens the doors to a world of possibilities, and at the same time to unexpected events either if you are vegan or not.
Even if we’ve been planning a trip for a long time there is always the chance that things could not go as expected.
I’m sure that on more than one time it could have happened that you go to a place and try to explain that you’re vegan and don’t consume this or that; just for the other person to tell you that in that case, they can offer chicken or fish.
Or how about when they tell you that they’re “almost” sure that the food is vegan but you saw that it includes mayonnaise?
Or that in the vegetable soup they used beef broth?… Horror!!
To be a vegan traveler you need to always have an Ace up your sleeve.
Traveling always involves a bit of planning, but when you don’t have any restrictions on food it’s actually the last thing you worry about. You can stop to eat anywhere and try pretty much anything unless for personal tastes or allergy issues you have certain limitations.
As a vegan traveler, this is an important point in the organization and it should be noted that a good research can drastically change your experience in that place.
If you are a vegan and you like to travel then I hope this article is of your help.
Below are some of the challenges or barriers that I’ve encountered along the way and methods that have helped me to make my travels more comfortable and free of stress or inconvenience.
CULTURAL & SOCIAL BARRIERS
Let’s make this example; you are staying at a friend’s, family’s or acquaintance’s home in their native country.
You have explained that you are vegan and what it implies, they may be a bit curious because perhaps it’s a completely new concept for them. However, no problem!
They offer you a dish that only has vegetables: a vegetable soup. But, when you taste it, there is something off on the flavor and you are not sure why.
You see that everyone in your host’s house is eating the same soup, but in their case, it contains chunks of meat, then you panic.
But what happened? If you have said that you do not eat anything of animal origin or that it contains meat, chicken, fish etc.
-“Don’t worry!” Your hosts tell you
-“We have served you only the broth with the veggies without any of the meat.”
I know that surely some may have experienced a similar situation, and the feeling of being deceived and misunderstood is frustrating and disappointing.
And if it hasn’t happened to you, congratulations! I hope you never go through it.
How to deal with it?
Similar things have happened to me in restaurants or social gatherings, and it’s just one of many social or ideological barriers that we can find.
Like for example:
- When we get told-“It’s only a few pieces of cheese or bacon, you can scoop them out…” No big deal right?
- That seafood apparently grows on trees in that parallel universe that I still do not know and is considered suitable for vegans and included on the “VEGETARIAN/ VEGAN MENU”
- You say you don’t eat meat because you are vegan/vegetarian and get offered chicken.
- You ask in a restaurant what are their vegetarian options, and the only one is salad (lettuce and tomato but with mayo dressing so you can only eat the lettuce and tomato, maybe if you’re lucky they’ll French fries to go with it )
It’s not that you simply shouldn’t trust anyone, because then we’d live secluded and without any contact whatsoever with society, but the truth is that even as careful as we try to be, there is always the possibility of mess-ups and uncomfortable/ frustrating situations.
To some it’s difficult to understand why there are people who don’t eat meat, milk or eggs; or simply don’t use anything that comes from an animal. If that’s the most natural thing in the world.
We live in a society where animals are used for almost everything and although more and more people are making the connection, perhaps there will always be some rejection or unawareness in a percentage of the population.
First of all, we must try to take it calmly and try not to feel bad about ourselves if by mistake we have eaten something unknowingly.
I always try to have a plan B and usually bring some food if I can, unless I visit someone I’m sure knows all the details of what products are fit for me to eat or not.
If possible, it would be very good to have access to the kitchen to prepare my own things and not feel as an inconvenience for the host by doing something extra for me.
For your host not to feel rejected it’s a good idea to try to involve them, so why don’t you offer to help in the kitchen preparing the food?
Do something you know and share it with others to taste, in that way you also take advantage to explain a bit about your decision and lifestyle, what it involves and the yummy things you can eat so that they have a clearer idea of the kind of things vegans eat.
On occasions people honestly have no clue (remember how it was when you were learning and didn’t know many things) instead of getting upset it’s better to use the opportunity to educate and to show them a new aspect of our lifestyle, which may even end up interesting them.
Imagine being in a supermarket with hundreds of products, but you don’t have the slightest idea of what the ingredients are, or you go to a market and see that they have several snacks that appear to be safe and vegan, but it’d be too difficult to try to find out which is the composition of the sauce or the dressing when you don’t master the language.
How to deal with it:
I know that not everyone has the ability to learn Finnish, Thai or Swahili when preparing for a trip.
It’s always good to know some basic phrases, but that doesn’t mean you’d be able to ask the waiter to explain the exact procedure and the origin of your salad dressing as you would do it in your native language; it gets a bit challenging.
What we can do is research the local food and see what dishes are usually vegan, join groups of vegans living in that city or country and ask for recommendations on where to find food options or vegan versions of local specialties.
We should get familiar with some essential phrases that will help us explain our lifestyle and dietary requirements in the local language.
You can print cards that show what things not to include ( animal products in general, dairy, eggs, honey, fish, etc) For this, there are apps that allow you to download the basic phrases in different languages.
In the link at the end of this post, I include a complete guide with the info of where to find these resources.
Furthermore, Facebook groups can also help you in the case of translations, or why not even go out to eat sometime with a local that can speak the language of the place?
Get the Google translate app if you need to read ingredients-you can download the dictionary to use it offline and the option to take photos to get the translations.
There are even voice applications that let you-in a very rudimentary, but perhaps effective way-establish a conversation with someone to clarify a little more your doubts.
ACTIVITIES INCLUDING ANIMALS
For my travel research, I usually look into the activities I can do in a place, the sightseeing points and also the off the beaten path options.
It is not unusual that one of the recommendations is to go to the local zoo or to ride elephants or join a once in a lifetime experience with lion cubs.
This kind of things attracts tourists from every corner, people who maybe have no idea what goes behind these businesses and only want to have a close experience with a wild animal and believe that it doesn’t cause any harm at all.
How to deal with it:
Thanks to all the information that we have available right now we know better, and we know that these organizations mostly are getting profits from exploiting the animals.
It is important to avoid any activity that involves animals as most of the time there is a lot of cruelty involved, illegal captures and poaching.
There are some respected and certified organizations that don’t get a profit out of them and are truly doing something good to help. Such as rescuing wild or farm animals from exploitation activities or sick wildlife that need a place to recover and then be sent back to their habitat.
We can check for animal sanctuaries and it is a nice way to give something back as a volunteer. You would do something completely different during your travel and help a community in return, this is also a good alternative to recommend others to do instead of paying for exploitation/ animal entertainment.
Try to educate others in a respectful and fact-based way. As previously mentioned, some people are totally unaware of what goes on in the wildlife tourism business and it´s important for everyone to know. People may get curious about why you are refusing to ride that camel or donkey, or why you don’t want to visit the zoo; that is the perfect moment to explain your reasons and why they should consider not being part of that either.
THERE ARE ANIMAL INGREDIENTS EVERYWHERE
One of the most difficult challenges is when you find that in several places even the salads include bacon. Or dishes that should be considered 100% suitable for vegans also have meat, milk, or eggs added.
Vegetable soups with fish stock, spring rolls with chicken, beeswax added to fruits so they look shiny, or cereals with added vitamin D of animal origin, among other similarities that can make us feel in complete desolation.
How to deal with it:
I’ve found that one of the best ways to deal with this challenge is once again a good planning and research of the place and how vegan-friendly it can be.
For example, for my trip to Japan, I found out that fish is one of the favorite ingredients in the kitchen and is present in many things! Sauces, soups, biscuits, condiments. Likewise, other products that would seem harmless, such as soy milk, in some cases could contain animal additives or even cow’s milk.
It’s important to look for reliable sources of information, for example, through established vegan groups. These groups already have much information on how to live as a vegan in that place, where to buy ingredients and products and what things are safe or not to consume.
If you have any questions, check with the experts. Try to visit places that have already been (so to speak) approved by other vegans of the place. And as always super, super important-never forget to have a backup plan.
Through those groups, I was able to find which snacks, meals and restaurants had good options for me. I also packed some easy-to-prepare food with me which helped me a lot especially for the breakfast preparation.
Usually prepared meals or anything with sauces and dressings has a greater chance to contain some type of ingredient that we don’t know if are vegan or not. If you are not very sure of the composition of something then ask for simple dishes, ingredients or foods as less processed as possible. A visit to the market it’s always good to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.
Now, remember, that even though eating is part of the travel experience it’s not the only or most important part of the trip.
Try to not to focus only on that and bear in mind that maybe you won’t have a hearty or luxurious meal all the time. Sometimes a bowl of rice or lettuce salad will have to do. But that’s alright!
Don’t let those things ruin your trip and enjoy the landscapes, the people, nature, the culture; open your eyes to new things and grow as a person.
Anyway, you decide to do it I hope you have an amazing time wherever you go.
I have created an Essential Guide for Vegan Travelers with this and more information, tips and travel resources that are very useful for all of us who want to travel while maintaining our principles.
Best of all, it’s completely free for subscribers! Just click on the image below to get it
And you? What other circumstances do you consider to be a challenge when traveling and what do you think could be done to improve it?
Share your comments, concerns or tips!