Traveling as a Vegetarian: how to

Traveling as a vegetarian can be hard. Welcome to the golden guide to make vegetarianism exciting even while traveling.

In 2018 I spent 6 months in India as an exchange student. I did experience the notorious cultural shock everyone talks about, but not when I arrived there. Instead, I felt it on my skin when I returned to Europe. My home. 

To mitigate the constant sadness and rage, upon my return I decided to embrace a novel lifestyle and to take up some new habits. Among them, I decided to become a vegetarian.

I’ve been a vegetarian for 1 and a half years. And I have enjoyed every second of it, even while traveling.

Traveling as a vegetarian can be hard, but also incredibly exciting. Here are my golden tips to make the most of your “traveling as a vegetarian” experience:

  1. Be prepared

First thing first. After checking into your accommodation upon your arrival, go out grocery shopping in a local store. Get some fruit, vegetables and healthy snacks to carry them around in your backpack. In this way, you will have them on hand in case you can’t get a proper vegetarian meal. Besides, you will get to experience the grocery store local culture: one of my favorite parts about traveling!

In addition, make a list of vegetarian friendly restaurants and cafes. HappyCow.net  is a valuable resource to scout vegan restaurants near you!

person holding sliced vegetable
Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel on Pexels.com
  1. Vegetarian vocabulary

One day in my first month in Colombia, I was wandering around Zipaquira when I bumped into a cute food stall. Taking a look at it, I noticed that most of the dishes were meat-based. Yet I approached and asked if there was something without meat, specifying that “soy vegetariana” (I’m a vegetarian). The old owner perplexedly looked at me and answered: we have arepas with chicken!

Long story short: rather than learning the foreign word for vegetarian, better to focus on vegetarian-based vocabulary. You could learn some prior to departure and write them down as you go.

I always travel with my safety notebook, which gathers useful information (such as emergency contacts, my local address, information on my embassy in the country etc). Vegetarian food vocabulary may fit into the notebook too.

  1. Be one step ahead against diet-related fatigue

It’s not a secret: if put in practice in the wrong way, vegetarianism can increase the risk of certain nutritional deficiencies. In my opinion, traveling as a vegetarian can double the risk. 

When I travel, my attention is fully devoted to the local culture. “Adventure” is my traveling mantra, rather than “I gotta be careful to stick with a rich diet”. I start thinking about it the day I feel especially tired. Might it be because I’m not following a nutrition balanced diet? It is very likely.

That is why on my first day, back at the local grocery shop, I tend to buy some lentils, or other iron-rich ingredients. I cook them in the hostel shared kitchen and store them in my food container, one of my travel accessories. I eat them a bit every day, to make sure to make my diet as balanced as possible.

  1. Never be afraid to ask.

If there’s nothing on the menu, make a request!

Normally, restaurants can adapt their dishes based on the customers’ diet. Based on my experience in Europe and in Latin America, a vegetarian dish can be assembled based on a main dish – just without the meat components. The attending staff is likely to look at you just like the men in Zipaquira – astonished. But that could also be the beginning of an interesting conversation.

Never be afraid to ask, and unexpected doors will open up to you. Also food-wise.

One of my first meals in Bogotà.
Patacones, avocado, rice, eggs, salads. Colombia, April 2021.

  1. Open communication – with yourself and with your travel buddies

In case you are traveling with non-vegetarian fellows, it’s important to make them know of your eating habits. Before that, you should be honest with yourself: if you are vegetarian by choice, are you willing to incorporate non-vegetarian elements in your diet in some extreme cases? To what extent is compromise possible – and it feels right to you?

After you have made up your mind, open up about it with your travel companions. Better to have everyone on the same page from day 1.

  1. Be flexible

Traveling as a vegetarian does put limitations on you, but to me it’s totally worth it. To compensate, I just try to be as adventurous as possible. Vegetarian cuisine can be extremely diversified and full of surprises. If you are vegetarian by choice, try to leave your limitations at home and be open-minded about the upcoming culinary experience.

The results will be eye-opening, I promise.

Moroccan food in Brussels. Belgium, 2019.

I consider being a vegetarian as a privilege. I can afford to choose what to eat and what to exclude from my diet.

Vegetarianism to me is a political standing and has now become part of my identity. I am aware that I have to be very careful about how I express this. The concept of vegetarianism is still rather incompatible with many cultures. It happened that my local hosts got offended because I was not going to eat their meat-based food.

Learning how to present my case in a logical and respectful way is part of the learning process.

It’s a journey in itself.

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