Embarking on a new travel adventure is always exciting, but for those who follow a plant-based diet, it can also bring a sense of uncertainty. The thought of navigating unfamiliar cuisines, language barriers, and limited options can be intimidating.
I have learned first-hand that maintaining a plant-based diet while traveling can present several challenges. This is especially the case if you’re following a more whole foods plant-based approach and trying to avoid ultra-processed foods.
However, fear not! In this blog post, we not only cover potential challenges you might encounter but equip you with the essential survival tips for eating plant-based while traveling.
Whether you’re exploring bustling cities, immersing yourself in local cultures, or venturing off the beaten path, we’ve got you covered. So pack your bags and let’s take your plant-based journey on the road (or in the air)!
Before You Go
So, even though you might encounter some common challenges finding plant-based options while traveling, you’ll find that with the right amount of preparation you can kick those challenges to the curb.
You might even find that these challenges turn into opportunities to create a richer travel experience. I know I have. I love finding those hidden plant-based gems that only locals know about!
To start things off, here’s a couple of tips to get you prepared for travel:
To ensure you have plant-based options readily available, pack your own snacks for the journey. This has been a lifesaver for my own travels.
A few good options that travel well are: nuts, seeds, dried fruits (apricots, cherries, apple chips), dry roasted edamame, LARABARs, mushroom jerky, energy balls (you can make these), veggie sticks, cut up fruit, shelf-stable tofu and peanut butter (or other nut butter) and all fruit jam sandwiches.
Instant cups of oatmeal (Good & Gather), pre-cooked quinoa, plant-based protein powder (Orgain Simple is one of my favs), and McDougall’s or Nile dehydrated soups are all great portable options that can keep you satisfied between flights and only require added cold or hot water.
Research Ahead of Time
Before your trip, take some time to research the airport(s) you’ll be passing through. Check their websites to see if they have any plant-based dining options available.
Also take a look at your destination and what your plant-based options are around the area that you will be staying.
This is a great time to whip out the Happy Cow app. It will search for the nearest vegan/vegetarian option based off of your location. Super handy!
Looking at the menu ahead of time can help you feel confident in the fact that you have options to choose from.
Check With Your Hotel
Ask if you have the option of a microwave and small fridge. This will be super helpful if you’re looking to heat up and make some of your own food. If your room includes a kitchenette even better!
Research local grocery/health food stores nearby so you can buy some staple foods to prepare main meals without having to rely on eating out all the time.
If you haven’t chosen where you are going to stay yet the website VeganWelcome is a great resource to find vegan/vegetarian friendly places to stay.
Plant-Based Options at Airports
A few of the major international airports in the U.S. such as San Francisco (SFO), Los Angeles (LAX), Dallas Fort Worth (DFW), Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta (ATL), Chicago O’Hare (ORD), and New York’s John F. Kennedy (JFK) offer some tasty plant-based options. But, unfortunately not all airports provide the same experience.
The following are a few plant-based tips to get you by at the airport:
Seek Out Salad Bars or Fresh Markets
Some airports have salad bars or fresh markets where you can assemble your own plant-based meals. Look for these options, as they often offer a variety of vegetables, fruits, grains, and plant-based proteins.
Explore Ethnic Cuisine
Airports with diverse food options often have international cuisines represented. Look for restaurants serving Mediterranean, Indian, Thai, or other plant-friendly cuisines. They are more likely to have plant-based options or dishes that can be easily modified to fit your needs.
Check Airport Lounges
If you have access to airport lounges through your airline or credit card, they often offer a more extensive food selection. Inquire about plant-based options at these lounges, as they may have dedicated sections or menus catering to different dietary preferences.
Don’t Forget Beverages
While it’s important to find plant-based meals, don’t overlook beverages. Look for smoothie bars, coffee shops with plant-based milk alternatives, or fresh juice stands to quench your thirst and keep you nourished.
Depending on your destination, finding plant-based options can be challenging, especially in areas where meat-centric diets are prevalent.
Traditional local cuisine may heavily rely on animal products, making it difficult to find suitable plant-based meals. This is your chance to be creative!
Learn Key Phrases
I know I struggled a bit when I was in Japan. Most dishes contained seafood, fish/meat broth or bonito flakes (smoked, fermented and dried fish).
Before I left, I lamented a card written in Japanese stating my dietary restrictions and would show it to the server. This came in handy but not everyone was able to accommodate me.
This is where I leaned on the snacks I brought with me and ordered sides like salads to get me by.
Learning key phrases in the local language can also help to communicate your dietary preferences effectively. This includes phrases like “I am vegan/vegetarian” or “Does this dish contain any meat, dairy, or eggs?”
Speaking a few words in the local language shows respect and can lead to better understanding and assistance from locals. I felt more comfortable doing this when I was in Mexico, Costa Rica or even Italy since Italian is similar to Spanish, but my Japanese phrases were pretty limited.
Seek Local Advice
Consult locals or connect with fellow travelers who have experience with plant-based eating in the region. They can provide valuable insights, recommendations for vegan-friendly restaurants, or tips on how to navigate cultural differences.
Online forums, social media groups, and travel apps can be excellent resources for connecting with like-minded individuals.
Be Flexible and Open-Minded
This is probably the most important tip while traveling! Recognize that cultural differences may limit the availability of plant-based options in some regions. Be flexible and open-minded, willing to make compromises when necessary.
You may need to adapt your plant-based diet to the local context by focusing on vegetable-based dishes, grains, legumes, and fruits that are readily available. Don’t be afraid to try new things!
Remember, cultural exploration is a significant part of travel, and embracing the local food culture while staying true to your plant-based diet can lead to incredible culinary experiences.
Approach each situation with an open mind, a sense of adventure, and a willingness to adapt, and you’ll discover a world of delicious plant-based options wherever you go.
Trusting the cleanliness and hygiene standards of street food or local establishments can be a concern especially in countries where you can’t trust the water source.
When I was in Mexico, Costa Rica and Nepal I used bottled water to brush my teeth with in addition to avoiding things like salads which are rinsed with local water and can be a source of contaminants.
No one wants to get sick while traveling. In certain countries it may be safer to stick to cooked vegetables instead of raw. It’s not always necessary, but a judgement call when you’re unsure.
On the Road & Convenience
Travel itineraries can be fast-paced or if you’re on a road trip you may have limited plant-based options to choose from.
This can lead to relying on quick snacks or convenience foods, which may not always align with a healthy plant-based diet but can provide another opportunity for you to be creative.
Embrace Convenience Stores
Besides packing travel-friendly snacks you might have to embrace convenience stores.
Look for fresh fruits, veggie wraps, nuts and seeds, granola bars, dill pickles, plant-based yogurt, popcorn (SkinnyPop, Angie’s Boom Chicka Pop), Hippeas (chickpea puffs), Healthy Choice country vegetable soup or single-serve hummus cups with pretzels (Sabra snackers). A lot of pre-packaged salads contain cheese or meat but you might find a vegan option.
Fast food is usually foreign territory to me, but in desperate times sometimes you have to swallow your whole foods plant based pride.
There are actually a number of chains like Starbucks, Chipotle, Taco Bell, Subway, Panera, Jamba Juice and Panda Express that offer plant-based options.
Of course, you can also get an Impossible burger at Burger King and a Beyond burger at McDonald’s but just know that these are going to be grilled on the same grill as the other hamburger meat.
When eating at fast-food or quick-service restaurants, opt for salads if available. Look for customizable options where you can add plant-based proteins like grilled tofu, beans, or chickpeas. Skip the dressings or choose oil-based or vinaigrette dressings instead of creamy ones.
Apparently at Taco Bell besides a bean burrito you can also order a Black Bean Crunchwrap Supreme but you want to order “al fresco.” This means it will be topped with salsa instead of sour cream and cheese. Great tip!
While not as ideal as whole foods, convenience and fast foods can be a viable solution when faced with limited options.
Focus on making the best choices possible in the given circumstances, and try to prioritize nutrient-dense plant-based options whenever you can.
Recap: Survival Tips for Eating Plant-Based While Traveling
While you’re likely to run into challenges, with proper planning, research, and a flexible mindset, it is possible to overcome them and enjoy a fulfilling plant-based eating experience while traveling.
Focus on creating experiences and making social connections along the way. By using the above tips you will be more prepared to ensure you eat well, stay true to your lifestyle and not feel deprived.
I don’t know about you, but after going through some of my travel pictures I am ready for my next adventure!
If you’d like more tips on how to get started on a plant-based diet check out my starter guide + 5 day meal plan.
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