For backpackers, tourists, or anyone who travels for work, trying exotic new cuisines is one of the best things about travelling. Who wouldn’t be excited to try authentic empanadas in Mexico, steaming-hot street food in Vietnam, or a plate of fresh gnocchi in Italy?
But if you don’t eat meat, fish, dairy or eggs, things can be more difficult. Though the vegan movement is growing quickly, in many countries meals still centre around animal products, and the very concept of veganism can be met with bewilderment.
I’ve spent the past 15 months travelling through Latin America, Southeast Asia and Australasia, and have written extensively about my search for veggie-friendly food in each country I visit. During my travels I made the switch from vegetarianism to veganism – something people told me I would be mad to do while travelling. It isn’t always easy for vegans to stay healthy on the road, but it’s not as hard as you might think.
If you’re a committed vegan and passionate traveller, here’s how to stay healthy on the road.
Travel to vegan-friendly countries
Ok, this isn’t always something you can control; if you travel for work you may not get a say where you go, and sometimes a certain country will be on your bucket list regardless of whether it’s vegan friendly. But if you’re travelling independently, you have the luxury of choosing countries where vegans are spoilt for choice.
Bali is quite simply paradise for vegans and the raw food movement is very popular here too. India offers a mouthwatering array of vegan food: a third of the population is vegetarian, and with very little dairy and eggs consumed it’s easy to ask for a vegetarian dish to be made vegan (just skip the paneer!).
In Southeast Asia, the pervasive Buddhist culture means vegetarian meals are plentiful, but to ensure what you’re eating is vegan, just ask for no egg or fish sauce. Plenty of tofu and tempeh means you certainly won’t be short of protein. The Middle East also offers a delicious array of vegan treats, from protein-packed hummus and falafel to baba ganoush. Do your research before you go and consider what vegan options will be easily available. It’s always a good idea to check out Happy Cow, the go-to resource for finding vegan-friendly restaurants abroad.
Don’t shun street-food
Some vegans are scared to sample street food, believing that it’s centred around meat, dairy or eggs. While this certainly can be true, in many countries the majority of street-food is vegan by default; animal products are universally expensive, and the whole point of street food is that it’s cheap and quick.
Take Guatemala. Unlike its meat-loving neighbours, this Central American country offers a wide-array of vegan street food. Here you can enjoy vegan snacks like soups, salads and pupusas, thick corn tortillas stuffed with refried beans and served with salsa and cabbage. Just make sure the vendor doesn’t add cheese, but as these snacks are made in front of you, you can keep a watchful eye out.
Don’t be afraid to ask
Admittedly the idea of veganism is still alien in some countries, particularly much of Latin America where the local diet often revolves around meat or fish. But take the time to learn a few key phrases and things become much easier. There’s no word for vegan in Spanish; the easiest way to explain is to say “soy vegetariana/o” (“I am vegetarian”), then add “no como pescado, huevos, leche o queso” (“I don’t eat fish, eggs, milk, or cheese”).
In Costa Rica the national dish is casado – meat, beans, plantains, salad and rice. When I explained I didn’t eat meat, the restaurant happily replaced it with another helping of beans and vegetables. This is an easy way to stay healthy in Latin America, as the prevalence of beans ensures vegans will get enough protein without having to look hard.
Supplement what’s missing
A plant-based diet provides all the nutrients and vitamins a person needs. Marmite is an excellent source of B12, and despite reports suggesting otherwise, is vegan. The best sources of calcium and iron are green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach, and a healthy diet automatically includes enough protein from beans, tofu, tempeh, lentils, quinoa, nuts and seeds. However, when you’re on the road it’s often not as easy to follow a balanced vegan diet as it is at home.
During my travels I did take regular supplements of iron and also turmeric, which contains curcumin and has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It won’t hurt to pack some supplements in your case before you go, but be aware that many capsules are made from gelatine and include other animal products. The cheapest vegan capsules are available online from Supplement Place and are made out of plant-derived cellulose.
It’s true that vegans may need to work a little harder to meet nutritional needs while on the road, but it’s a small price to pay for taking a stand for animals.