Being an ethically minded person can be tricky when travelling the globe, particularly in countries where meat and dairy are traditionally in every dish.
You feel rude rejecting their local cuisine and fellow travellers give you hassle for not being able to eat certain foods. Nobody likes to be the token fussy one, especially when in a foreign country surrounded by new friends, so it puts you in a bit of a predicament.
Don’t get me wrong, being vegan anywhere in the world is definitely doable, you just have to know how to do it right (and by right, I mean respectfully). Here are a few tips from someone who’s travelled Asia and Europe as a carrots and hummus enthusiast.
1. Learn the native tongue
See: Vegetariano, végétalien, ăn chay, vegano/a.
The first thing non-meat-eaters should do before landing is to learn how to say and write the word vegan in the local language. It seems obvious but it’s baffling how many travellers don’t bother learning a lick of a foreign language before entering a new country. DuoLingo is an easy-to-use app that’ll point you in the right direction. You might also want to learn a few phrases that will help to explain what a vegan is (e.g. no meat, no dairy, no eggs). Which brings me to my next tip…
2. Don’t assume everybody knows what veganism is
Again, as obvious as this one might seem to some, I know people who waltz into foreign restaurants (and even places in their own country) expecting all of the wait staff to be experts on veganism. Yes, the world is becoming increasingly aware of our individual impact and vegan diets are on the rise, but that doesn’t mean every chef in the world will know how to whip up a meat-free, egg-free, dairy-free feed.
3. Use Google Translate to read ingredients lists
Reading the back of packets is a pretty essential part of being a vegan. How else are we to know that most corn chips have milk in them and refried bean tins are sometimes squished in with pork lard? Don’t make the mistake of assuming a product is vegan overseas just because it is back home.
Funny story: when I first landed in Barcelona, I was craving orange juice so I ducked into a convenience store and grabbed the first bottle I saw. After taking a big swig and tasting the strangest mix of tastes ever shown to my buds, I looked at the bottle again and realised this OJ had ‘leche’ mixed in… Safe to say I palmed the bottle off to the first person I met and thoroughly checked my OJ purchases from that day on.
4. Make fruit & veg markets your best friend
Hunting down markets or searching for side of the road sellers is always my go-to for fresh fruit and vegetables in foreign countries. They’re usually the cheapest plus you’re supporting locals rather than corporate supermarket chains. Nuts, grains, seeds and bread can usually be found at markets as well.
5. Accept that there will be questions
Contrary to the stereotypes (and besides the fact that I’ve published this article), I’m not a very active promoter of my animal product-free lifestyle. I don’t share it on social media and I put off telling new friends as long as I possibly can. Not because I’m embarrassed by my ethical decisions or not educated enough to have substantial justifications but because I feel like everyone is entitled to their own choices (and I’ve never enjoyed debating).
Yet despite having mastered the art of politely refusing certain dishes and sneakily ordering vegan options in restaurants, people will eventually pick up on my eating habits, and a realm of questions will likely follow suit. The questions tend to differ depending on where in the world I am, but I’ve learnt to keep my answers polite, respectful and as short as possible. And if I start to feel a debate coming on, I just whip out the allergies card. Works every time.
Want to share your vegan travel tips with me? Leave a comment in the box below.