For me, one of the most rewarding and exciting parts of travelling is getting to try the local cuisines wherever I am. I sometimes joke that I’m a foodie tourist: my favourite tourist activity is Googling restaurants and then seeking out amazing food! Some of my favourite experiences on my travels have been food-related: eating sweet onion beignets at an outdoor street fest in Montpellier while listening to Celtic music, passing the afternoon reading and eating fresh, homemade food on a shady terrace in Lisbon, lining up with locals in Paris in the drizzling rain for American-style burgers and fries, picnicking everywhere from on the lawn of a castle to the shores of Venice’s Grand Canal. Food is such an important part of life, both for survival (obviously) but also for quality of life, joy, it’s good for your soul!
But if you’re a vegetarian/vegan/whole foods eater, you’ll be familiar with that sense of disappointment or frustration that comes with having just one not-so-appetizing menu option to choose from. Sometimes when you’re travelling (especially if you’re on the move a lot), you don’t always have the luxury of a lot of healthy choices: train stations and airports, for example, are notoriously bad. So how to stay healthy if you’re plant-based and travelling?
Always carry snacks. Get yourself to a local grocery store and pick up some snacks to keep on hand. That way, in a pinch, you’ll have something to snack on. My go-to choice is nuts (cashews, almonds or walnuts), but also good are dried or fresh fruit, whole-grain crackers or granola/energy bars. I’ve bought plain chips before from a train vending machine, which works in a hunger emergency but isn’t ideal.
Find veg-friendly restaurants! This is one of my favourite things to do. I’ll use HappyCow or just Google it and read through some blog reviews. Then I’ll mark it on my map and go in search of healthy food! It’s always such a relief to get to one of these places, sit down, and realize you can choose from every single thing on the menu and you’ll get something healthy and delicious. This is also such a fun activity because seeking out the restaurants themselves usually takes you on an adventure to a new, interesting neighbourhood. Also, you’d be surprised: I’ve found a veggie restaurant pretty much everywhere I’ve been, even in some of the most meat-loving countries!
Get street food. I’ve had some really awesome meals from fun food trucks and market stalls. It’s been great to discover that most places offer a vegetarian option – I even found a great meal at a food truck specializing in hot dogs, for heavens sake. Even the most meat-loving döner/shawarma shop can make you a version featuring halloumi cheese or falafel instead of meat and you can just pile up on their delicious salads, sauces and veggie toppings. While this kind of meal usually isn’t vegan (of course, you can always ask them to omit the cheese and add some extra veggies!) or necessarily healthy, it’s always awesome to get some cheap, delicious food that fits your lifestyle.
Stay somewhere with a kitchen! I’ve been a bit hit-or-miss with this on my trip, especially because most days I go out *all day* and only come back to the hostel to sleep. I know, I know, that’s not ideal, especially if I end up eating junk for dinner. But I find that travelling alone means that I’m reluctant to buy whole boxes of pasta or jars of pasta sauce or veggies because I know I won’t eat them all and it seems like a waste. If I’m staying somewhere for a few days, I like to buy some breakfast foods and maybe salad fixings too, especially since the kitchen at a hostel is usually an awesome place to meet people! But since for me, eating local food is one of my favourite larts of travelling, I make a concerted effort to find healthy, fresh food whenever possible if I’m not going to cook.
Plan your travels. Okay, this one is a bit of a cop-out. Of course you’re not going to avoid going to a certain country or region because they’re not veg-friendly! You want to go where you want to go, and nothing should hold you back. But the local cuisine is definitely something to keep in mind. Spain, for example, I found to be very veg-unfriendly. You gotta be prepared to eat a lot of bread and cheese in Spain! Almost all tapas (even the lovely free ones that come with drinks at some bars) are piles of meat and cheese sandwiches and French fries. Carb-central. On the other hand, Italy, while also featuring lots of carbs, is much more veg-friendly by nature. All Italian menus have lots of vegetarian options. The Italian people also don’t seem fazed by vegetarians – at one very Italian sandwich shop in Florence, I said I was vegetarian and the man immediately asked “vegetarian or vegan?” – he had lots of options for both diets. Yeah, you’ll get sick of alternating between pasta and pizza, but at least you have choices. I recently met a fellow vegetarian who explained she ate seafood while she was spending a month in Brazil because she couldn’t find enough healthy options to eat. So while the cuisine of a culture shouldn’t be reason alone to visit it or not, it’s definitely something to keep in mind.
Enjoy. It might be a challenge to stick to your lifestyle choices while on the road, but it definitely can be done. I’ve yet to encounter a city or even a restaurant where I couldn’t find something to eat. You might not always feel the healthiest (its hard being away from your favourite types of produce or grocery store products – it’s not always the same in other countries!) but with a little foresight and preparation you can eat delicious food while on the road.
Okay, so that’s my two cents! Are any of you vegan? What kinds of steps do you take to stay healthy on the road? Please let us know your tips and tricks in the comments or on Twitter @greenguineapigs.