Our world is brimming with natural beauty, complex history, and fascinating cultures to explore through travel. Those hungry to experience the world's numerous treasures will find travel also unlocks opportunities for personal growth and connection with like-minded people.
So why vegan travel?
Traveling as a vegan can be tricky. Arm yourself with these tips, from learning local words for foods to avoid, to carrying airport-friendly snacks, and your next vegan travel experience will be smooth sailing.
Every individual has their own reason for adopting a vegan or plant-based diet. Whether it's animal rights, health, or environmental reasons, traveling does not have to compromise your values.
If you're a vegan traveler, like myself, you might be thinking "how do I travel the world, while sticking to a vegan diet?" The most common reaction when someone learns I am a vegan traveler is "that must be hard".
In truth, it really isn't.
Vegan travel is no different from other little difficulties you may encounter on any travel adventure. You learn to overcome them, and the next time you're in a similar situation, it's much easier.
I have been vegan for 14 years and have exclusively eaten a plant-based diet while traveling to 30 countries. I've picked up many tips along the way that make veg-friendly travel a breeze. Here are my top 25.
1. Happy Cow - The #1 Resource for Easy Vegan Travel
The Happy Cow website and mobile app (iOS, Android) is your secret weapon to finding vegan and vegetarian restaurants and health food stores as well as those with some vegan options. You can search for a specific city or town or find places nearby.
Each listing describes the type of dishes on offer as well as opening hours, contact details, and price information. Users can leave ratings out of 5 stars, written reviews, and photos, which makes choosing where to dine much easier.
2. Google Translate - Use Camera Translation
Reading ingredient lists to check for hidden animal products in items you intend to buy from a supermarket is a necessary part of vegan life. But what happens when you're overseas and the ingredient list is in a foreign language?
Use the camera feature in Google Translate (iOS, Android) to simply point your phone at any text in a foreign language and get a live translation to your native language. It's invaluable for translating menus only available in foreign languages as well.
The app's conversation feature is also helpful when communicating with locals or ordering food.
Download the local language of the country you're visiting for offline use when there's no internet connection.
3. Vegan Card - Print or Save to Your Phone
Carry a Vegan Card which displays a few lines of text explaining your dietary needs in the local language.
I used the Japanese Vegan Card quite a few times. It was handy to have in my wallet to pull out if I was struggling to communicate what I needed.
4. Use Google Maps
I have on occasion found restaurants with vegan options on Google Maps that weren't on Happy Cow due to their stricter requirements for listings.
Type "vegan" in the search bar to see options on the map view. I like to search "vegan" within the review section to find relevant write-ups.
5. Learn the Local Cuisine
Just when you think you're getting the hang of identifying vegan-friendly foods… some countries use animal products in dishes you may not expect. This can make sticking to a plant-based diet a bit tricky.
For example, in Japan, most meals incorporate the use of "dashi" which is a soup stock made from fish. A seemingly vegetarian dish can contain dashi and some restaurant staff won't realize it's not suitable for vegans or vegetarians unless you specifically ask.
Other examples include:
- Belgium: Chips are almost exclusively cooked in animal fat
- France: Butter is used in a huge range of pastries and other dishes
- Japan: Oreos are not vegan like they are in most other countries
- South America:
- A bowl of vegetable soup can contain a meat-based stock
- Plant-based milk and tofu are difficult to find, and expensive when you do track them down.
Do a little research about the country/region you are visiting to see if there are any cooking customs you should be aware of.
Learning how to speak a few phrases in the local language is very helpful too. Try to know the local words for ingredients you want to avoid, like eggs, butter, and milk.
6. Be Prepared with Snacks
While it's only getting easier to find vegan options all over the world, your wild adventures can lead to pretty remote locations where you won't always find plant-based meals.
I like to carry a few packets of dried fruit and nuts in my bag wherever I go. Other go-to snacks include fresh fruit like bananas and apples, which can be easily packed in a bag. If you're lucky, the local grocery store will have additional options like crackers and chips too.
7. Cook for Yourself
Eating delicious meals at local restaurants is one of the best parts of travel, but it's also good to have the option to cook. If you're on a tight budget, cook at home to save a bit of money, then live it up at the next epic vegan restaurant on your path.
Look for hostels and hotels with kitchen facilities or rent an apartment on Airbnb.
One of my go-to meals when traveling is lentil soup. It's easy to carry dry lentils with you and add local vegetables from the market or grocery store.
8. Bring the Flavor
Is it necessary to bring hot sauce with me everywhere I go? Probably not, but there have been so many occasions when I've been thrilled to have it in my bag.
For the times when you get stuck eating a bland rice and salad dish as the only vegan option, carry a few simple ingredients to give your food some extra flavor.
For longer-term travel, try to carry:
- Salt and pepper
- Hot sauce
- Garlic powder
- Mixed herbs
These will definitely come in handy if you have room in your day pack.
While you're at it, throw in a stash of toilet paper for emergencies too!
9. Restaurants - Plan Ahead
Look into your restaurant options ahead of time, preferably before you get hungry.
Keep in mind that opening hours Happy Cow or Google Maps are not always 100% accurate. I've been disappointed a couple of times arriving at a vegan-friendly restaurant only to find it closed. In Spain, restaurant operators seem to think of opening hours as more of a loose guide, and whether they open on time or not really depends on how they feel on the day.
Always have a plan B up your sleeve in case your first choice isn't open.
10. Bring Eco-Friendly Food Storage Products
A sandwich bag compact enough to leave in your day pack is the perfect solution for leftover food from a cafe or restaurant. On my last trip, I also bought a container that allowed me to cook double servings in my hostel and store half for the next night.
11. Find Online Vegan Communities
Head online to find Facebook groups like Vegan Travel to connect with friendly fellow vegan travelers ready to share their knowledge help answer any questions you may have.
For destination-specific information, see if you can find a vegan group for the country or city you are visiting. Some examples I have found useful include:
It's always a joy to connect with local vegans and try their favorite plant-based hangouts.
12. Read Vegan Travel Blogs
Travel blogs offer a wealth of information about vegan travel. I'm building a collection of posts with tips for vegan travel on my blog, The Green Adventurers.
Different bloggers specialize in different regions, so the blogs you will find most useful depends on the destination you're visiting. A few of my favorites are:
13. Flights - Book Your Meal VGML
On flights with food provided, you can usually request a vegan meal through the airline's website before or during online check-in.
The code for a vegan meal is VGML but double-check what you receive as I have definitely been given butter as part of a vegan meal before. If you can't find a VGML option, you may need to call or chat online with the airline to arrange your meal. Keep in mind that special orders, like vegan meals, may not make it onto the plane if there is a last-minute flight change or if you only book a couple of days ahead.
I highly recommend bringing emergency snacks to avoid paying airport prices. Dried fruit, nuts, and crackers are perfect. Also, bring a wooden cutlery set and reusable cup so you don't need to use single-use items on the plane.
Avoid items with liquids so you don't lose your snacks in the security check.
14. Try Your Best!
It's happened to the best of us, even in our home countries - when our vegan pizza arrives with cheese that's way too stretchy or the soy latte we ordered was made with dairy milk. Add the extra difficulty of a language barrier and unfortunately, mistakes and miscommunications happen.
In Edinburgh, Scotland, I watched in horror as the lovely man at a burrito shop put sour cream and cheese all over my "vegan burrito". Thankfully, he immediately realized his faux pas and made me a new one. Being very opposed to food waste and having noticed a homeless man down the street, I asked to take the burrito for him. The server obliged and the poor man was very happy to receive a meal.
When you have done all you can to make your request clear and a mistake still happens, view the situation as unfortunate, but don't be too hard on yourself or the venue staff.
15. Sunday = Day of Rest… Check Open Days
In religious countries, like many parts of South America, the entire country feels like it slows to a crawl every Sunday. I had quite a hard time finding vegan restaurants open on Sundays, especially in smaller towns where options are limited to begin with.
Look at Sunday closures as an opportunity to plan ahead and cook your own meal in your accommodation.
16. Support Local Businesses with Vegan Options
The vegan movement is quite advanced in countries like the UK, but in others, options can be few and far between. Imagine being the first vegan or vegetarian cafe or restaurant to open in a town.
I will never forget meeting the loveliest Taiwanese lady who just opened a vegetarian restaurant in Otavalo, Ecuador, a small town with very few vegan options. It was so interesting to chat with her and learn her story.
Meeting and supporting the people leading the vegan movement within their communities is an incredible experience and, in my opinion, what travel is all about.
17. Bring Ethical Toiletries and Cosmetics
In some countries, it can be tricky to find vegan and ethically-sourced products. It may be safest to bring what you expect to need for the duration of your trip with you. This can prove difficult on longer trips, so look for options that save luggage weight and space, like solid shampoo bars instead of bottles.
Consider bringing a back-up bamboo toothbrush or your favorite animal-friendly mascara as it might be hard to find these items on the road.
18. Share the Love
If you have a great meal, let the staff know, leave a review, and share on your social channels and Happy Cow. Your feedback is helpful for the next person looking to dine, especially if you leave a detailed review. Use searchable terms like "vegan", "vegetarian", "plant-based" and specific dietary requirements like "gluten-free" where relevant.
Reviews are an easy way to support local businesses and the wider vegan community.
19. Break Away from the Group
Vegan travel isn't hard but getting a plant-based meal in a randomly chosen restaurant can be. If you're travelling in a group, your friends and family may not always be willing to walk an extra 2km for the perfect vegan burger. Take the opportunity to do your own thing, appreciate your own company, and treat yourself to a nice meal.
20. Book a Vegan Travel Package
Companies like Intrepid Travel offer fully vegan food adventures to countries like India, Thailand, and Italy. This can be much easier than trying to go it alone.
Several other organizations offer vegan food tours in a range of countries. If your visiting Europe, try veganfoodtours.com, or if all-inclusive packages are more your style, plan your next trip through the Nomadic Vegan.
21. Try Vegan Versions of Local Dishes
Not all local delicacies will be vegan friendly, but you can usually track down a vegan version of local favorites, even the ones that traditionally contain animal products.
You don't have to miss out on empanada in Argentina, arepa in Colombia, ramen in Japan, or the best pizza in Italy, or even a custard tart in Portugal.
22. Prepare to Spend a Little More
Sometimes, the vegan goodies you're used to are hard to come by so you may have to pay a premium. This can include soy milk, vegan protein alternatives, and even fruit and nuts if they're not grown locally.
Try to be flexible and enjoy local produce which is always fresh and the most environmentally friendly option too. You never know what new favorites you might discover.
23. Take a Vegan Cooking Class
What's better than tasting a local dish? Learning to recreate it at home!
I have learned to cook some delicious dishes while traveling which I regularly recreate at home. In Vietnam, I learned how rice paper and rice noodles were made and how to make spring rolls. It's interesting to see the process behind how food is created from scratch and you walk away with a new, deeper appreciation of some ingredients we typically find in a packet.
24. Be Mentally Prepared
Mentally prepare yourself to see things you might not want to see. Unfortunately, in some countries, animal abuse is commonplace and can be quite confronting.
As vegans, we are all aware of what happens to animals in our own countries but it's a different story when it's right in your face. Just remind yourself that this is the behavior you have rejected and good change is happening all over the world for animal rights.
25. Volunteer - Give Back
Look out for volunteering opportunities while you travel - there are plenty. If you have spare time, donate it by helping out a wildlife rescue center, shelter for street dogs, or humanitarian courses. Depending on the role you serve, you may receive free meals and accommodation for your efforts.
Some resources to get in touch with hosts include:
- Travel and Volunteer - International Volunteering group on Facebook
- Workaway (subscription required to contact hosts)
- Grassroots Volunteering
- World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms
One tip missing from this list, perhaps the simplest thing you can do to travel as a vegan, is…. travel to London. The UK's capital is the definition of easy vegan travel, boasting veg-head restaurants around almost every corner.
Luckily for everyone not visiting the UK, vegans are a passionate bunch. Most of us are willing to put in a little extra planning effort for something we believe in.
When you travel as a vegan, you may not be able to eat at the first restaurant that catches your eye, but by following these 25 tips for easy vegan travel, you can enjoy your vacation while eating, delicious, nutritious and interesting plant-based meals.
Now you never have to compromise your values or go without. Bon appétit!