Travelling as a vegetarian can be a challenge – but rarely as big a challenge as people would have you believe. I can recall numerous times someone has said to me ‘Ohh if you’re veggie, don’t travel to so-and-such-a-place’ when it turns out I have been there with no troubles at all.
Of course, it does still require extra effort to prevent it from being a stress once you are away. However, with a bit of research before you hit the road, veggies can still enjoy local delicacies and travel with minimal hassle. These are my top tips on what to remember:
Before leaving home, do some research on the places you’ll be visiting and find out if there are any vegetarian restaurants or food shops. Check out their locations and earmark one near to your accommodation for your first meal once you arrive. You’ll definitely appreciate the stress this relieves after a journey – just be sure to print off a map and make note of the opening hours. Then you can get planning all of the other ones you fancy visiting!
Happy Cow has a database of vegetarian restaurants all over the world and should be bookmarked by every single veggie. I’ve been using their website for probably almost ten years and these days it is even more up-to-date and constantly growing. They even have an app that can be used on the go (info here) – I’ve yet to use it but no doubt will be in the near future.
Another benefit of Happy Cow is that you can search for ‘veg friendly’ restaurants that have suitable options – ideal if you have non-veg travel companions. Trip Advisor can also be a useful resource for this; filter search results by ‘vegetarian’ and it often brings up omnivorous places that have decent veg courses available.
2. Local dishes
Find out what the local specialities are and if any of these are, coincidentally, already vegetarian. Some local dishes can have popular options which are meat-free. It can be surprising how often this is the case and it makes life so much easier by vastly expanding your choice of eateries.
Do note though that it’s still always best to check that it doesn’t have any meat in as everywhere puts their own stamp on a dish, and for some chefs that might include adding animal products!
Just saying ‘I’m vegetarian’ in the local language is not a useful idea. If vegetarianism is not well known (and to be honest, even if it is – I still get offered fish/seafood dishes in the UK) then locals may have never heard the word before. Even if they have, it is still largely useless if they don’t know precisely what it includes/excludes. It’s much more helpful to learn/write down/print off the words for ‘I don’t eat meat/chicken/fish/seafood’ as then it is clear you do not want to be served any of those things.
It’s always a good idea to a bit of research and see if there is a tried and tested phrase used by other veg travellers in that country. For example, a translation of ‘I only eat vegetables’ got me through meat-free in China, whereas ‘I can’t eat meat or fish’ kept my food veggie in South Korea.
If you’re not familiar with the alphabet, or confident with the pronunciation, have a print out of the necessary phrases. This is particularly important somewhere like China where there’s a huge array of local dialects making your pronunciation redundant almost everywhere, whereas a print off would be readable country-wide.
In addition, do a little research on the local culture. Are there any ethnic or religious groups who follow a vegetarian diet? This can be a huge helping hand in finding vegetarian options. Do, however, double-check that all people within these groups abide by the same rules – for example, Buddhists in many countries eat a plant-based diet, but in other places (such as Cambodia) this is not the case.
4. Ask ahead
Sometimes when travelling you may be going on an excursion that includes lunch or dinner; always ask ahead if there will be veg options or if one can be provided specially. Provide clear information about what you cannot eat and, if they seem uncertain, make some suggestions based on other food you have had locally. Try booking as far in advance as possible to give them time to accommodate you and source any extra ingredients – this should reduce the likelihood of you just receiving the same as everyone else minus the meat (in other words, very little!)
Although trying local cuisine is a huge part of travelling abroad, self-catering ensures that you know exactly what you are eating. For fussier eaters or in parts of the world where the food may not be to your taste (for example, if you’re not into spicy food and that’s predominantly what is available) this is a valuable option. Likewise, for vegans in some parts of the world it may seem next to impossible to eat out. Search for apartments to stay in, scope out stores well-stocked with veggies, and potentially bring some seeds or similar from home to boost the nutritional value.
Have you travelled abroad as a veggie? How did you find it? Share you tips & experiences below!