Few things suck the joy out of traveling faster than dealing with dietary restrictions. This can be especially problematic if you're traveling to a place that isn't exactly vegetarian friendly—the whole point of going on vacation is to relax, so stressing out about where, what and when you'll be able to eat sort of puts a damper on the whole "leisure" thing. Keep these handy travel tips in your back pocket, though, and minimize your chances of relying on house salads and French fries (or gas-station snacks) wherever you go this summer.
Like, really plan ahead. Sure, we'd all love to live super spontaneously—especially while traveling—but some recon ahead of time means you can avoid endless restaurant research and indecisiveness while you're enjoying your vacation. Ask friends and check sites like Yelp, Urban Spoon and Happy Cow (which lets you search based on 100% vegan/vegetarian or "veg-friendly") for recommended restaurants, then plot the addresses of those that look interesting on a Google Map before you go. Simply pull up your pre-plotted Google Map map (or one of the apps) on your smartphone when you're on the road; you'll see which of your choices are near you, and your GPS will get you there. Apps like VegOut and Vegman can also help.
Dining Out on the Road
It's 2015, and vegetarianism is widespread enough that most restaurants have a pretty good grasp. Especially in larger cities, many places will accommodate you by making substitutions or even letting you go off-menu, as long as you're polite. (Which we hope you are anyway!) Ask your server if there's a vegetarian alternative to certain menu items, or if you can make an entree out of some veg-friendly sides. (If the restaurant is going out of its way to accommodate you, thank them by tipping accordingly and writing a complimentary review online.) Ethnic restaurants like Indian, Middle Eastern and Mexican tend to have a lot to choose from, and you'll be surprised how many cities have at least one vegan or vegetarian cafe.
In smaller towns or foreign countries, "vegetarian" or "vegan" doesn't always ring the same bell, so make sure to ask (again, politely) whether soups have chicken stock, if a salad has bacon bits or if the toast comes buttered. If you're traveling by car for an extended period of time or spending a lot of time in airports, fast food or chain restaurants will probably be inevitable, so make sure to consult Munchyy Menus or the Vegan XPress app for a guide to vegetarian and vegan fast food menu items.
Pack Snacks—and Meals, If You Have To
If you're road-tripping, the second most important way to plan ahead—besides making an awesome road trip mix, of course—is to pack your own snacks, or even meals. Fill a cooler with ice packs, cheese and crackers, sandwich fixins, yogurt, pre-made quinoa salad, veggies and hummus, fruit, and other items that will keep your tank full on the road. Even if your cooler only lasts you a day or two, that's one or two days' worth of food you didn't have to buy from a gas station.
When I stay in hotels, I usually pack a couple of Thai Kitchen Rice Noodle Bowls (just add hot water) in case of food-mergency; I also try to book a hotel that offers refrigerators so I can keep perishables in my room. Even if you don't have access to a fridge, a stash of protein or granola bars, nuts, apples and almond butter packets will ensure you always have something to eat.
Map the Nearest Natural Foods Store
I worked in co-ops forever, so (nerd alert) I always make a point of visiting a town's natural foods co-ops when I visit. In smaller cities where there isn't a Whole Foods or Trader Joe's, this is probably your best bet for finding a wide variety of ready-to-eat vegetarian and vegan options, as well as convenience foods and staples you might need if you're staying someplace where you can cook. (I've tracked down tahini and tempeh in the woods of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, so have faith!) Make sure to map out where the supermarkets are where you're staying—or keep an eye out when you're passing through—so you can stock up on snacks or even throw together a DIY dinner in a pinch...even if it ends up being peanut butter and jelly.
If You're Traveling Out of the Country
Firstly, jealous! Secondly, is language going to be an issue? If you don't speak it, learn how to politely ask if there's butter in a sauce, where there's a grocery store nearby and if there's a veggie plate available. Depending where you're heading, vegetarians and vegans may or may not be ubiquitous, thus plates of plain steamed veggies, bread, desserts and/or salads might be the only vegetarian options. So study the local cuisine before you leave and have a few go-to dishes in mind. Be prepared to ask a lot of questions, to try new foods, to become a pro at creating makeshift meals in your hotel room and, quite possibly, to eat the same thing every day for a while.
What are your tried-and-true vegetarian travel tips? Let us know in the comments below. Bon voyage!
Market photo via Shutterstock
AWESOME article! Very helpful! Mentioned some things I hadn't thought of before! Thanks
When I travel in countries where I don't speak the language and English is not widely spoken (like China, Japan, etc.) I have someone (typcially from the hotel) write down in the local language "I am vegetarian. I cannot eat meat, chicken, or fish." In China they also included all sorts of other locally served meats like dog, horse, yak, etc. that I wouldn't even have considered and in Japan I asked them to include daishi and bonito, the fish broth and flakes that are put into everything. When I go into restaurants I just show the note to the server and have never had a problem with being served food I can't/won't eat.
If you happen to be traveling in Italy, vegan and veg options are always available. Everything is so fresh and delicious. I wasn't entirely sold on eggplant until my Italian vacation. It was so good I ate it almost everyday. I have also had abundant veg options in Jamaica as Rastas are vegetarians. My husband had good veg eats in India. Plenty of dal and naan. He said it was fantastic.
Ashley L. says
Good advice! I have one thing to add. Book a place to stay with a kitchen. Some hotels have them, hostels usually have a shared kitchen, and vacation rentals (renting an actual house or apartment) have them. This comes in handy being a vegan/vegetarian traveler in a not particularly veg friendly place, but I'd recommend it to everyone. First of all, you save serious money by not eating out twice a day. You should enjoy the food to the extent possible, maybe you want to eat out every meal in some places like big cities, but in a number of places the restaurants are not a big selling point anyway. Second, it's actually pretty fun and interesting to go to a grocery store or a local market in a foreign country and see what they have and try buying and preparing something that you never would have bought at home.
I would also recommend bringing a big bag of nuts, or trail mix in my carry-on. This saved me on trains and buses in Asia so that I could snack quickly and not just hope for the best at stations that often had non-veggie friendly snacks for sale, or were super expensive. It also gives you a chance to share which will help you make friends!
I also made sure to keep wrappers for vegetarian snacks in Japan since I could not really read kanji, but could recognize it from the wrapper. I asked my friend who lived there and strangers in the store to show me options. I ate lots of wonderful vegetarian sushi from convenience stores but would have never figured out which did not have fish without a little help.
Thanks for such an amazing post.
I recently came upon this web site where you can print off a card or download it onto your phone or iPad that has the phrases "I am a vegetarian. I can't eat fish, seafood, chicken or meat" in 9 different foreign languages. It would be great to take with you when travelling. You would just need to show it to your server: you wouldn't need to know how to pronounce the words.
You can find it at: http://www.worldaccent.com/blog/2012/10/vegetarian-translation-card.html
This is great - thank you for sharing!