Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Vegan Travel Guide: Tips for Vegans Eating Abroad

Eating out at Edinburgh Castle in Scotland
Whether traveling for business or pleasure, staying vegan is a big priority for me. Instead of using it as an excuse to stay home, I use it as an opportunity to explore vegan communities around the world. Below are some basic guidelines I follow as a vegan:

  • Safety is your #1 priority. Don't eat foods that could make you sick. I have a severe dairy allergy, so I avoid anything that looks like cheese. And just because those raw vegetables are vegan doesn't mean you should eat them unless you are sure they have been washed in potable water. For more on food safety, see this World Health Organization guide.
  • Bring your own protein. While carbohydrates such as bread or rice can be found almost anywhere, vegan protein sources may be harder to find. Even if you're in the Middle East, don't assume you'll find hummus around every corner.  A particular restaurant may not have a balanced meal, so don't be shy about filling in the gaps with your own snacks once you leave. Click here for some of my favorite travel snacks.
  • Learn how to ask for what you what. Before you leave, considering learning the polite way to explain your food preferences in the native language. If that proves difficult, the Vegan Society makes a Vegan Passport that explains veganism in 93% of the world's languages. Your experiences with this guide may vary, so use with care.
  • If you have a legitimate allergy, speak up. I've heard of people claiming they have allergies to all animal products, but usually it seems to be a moral choice for most of us. However, I do have a dairy allergy so I am always sure to mention it when asked. Airlines and tour groups can often be very accommodating for both allergies and food preferences, but you may need to just choose carefully when you're on your own.
  • Don't sweat the small stuff. When you're traveling abroad, consider the image you present to those around you. If you're the only vegan someone will ever meet, it's best not to be remembered as the girl who gave a big stink when her host father put honey in her tea. I accept that stricter vegans may feel differently, but I tend to believe that letting a few small things go will help ease international relations. I avoid anything that looks like it contains meat, eggs, and dairy products, but I don't recommend holding up a buffet line to ask if those veggies were grilled in olive oil.
  • If all else fails, just leave. Sometimes there really just isn't anything to eat. I know, I've been there (Russian buffet, anyone?).  You can just order a beverage and sit with your traveling companions. Or you can retire early and stuff in a couple of snacks from your suitcase before bed. However, if someone is pressuring you to eat something you don't want to, you always have the option of feigning illness and leaving. Just don't leave without paying! 
One of my favorite aspects of traveling is seeking out those with similar interests in each new city. When I was a little girl, I'd always check the phonebook in our hotels for local comic book shops. Now, I check websites such as Happy Cow for great vegan and vegetarian dining options before I travel. Bon voyage!

Do you have any favorite tips for eating vegan abroad? If so, share them in the comments below!

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