You're listening to the No-Bullshit Vegan podcast, episode 58. “Travel is so difficult” is a BS excuse to not go vegan, and I hear it a lot. So if you're thinking about going vegan, if you’re vegan already, or if you'd like to be able to help other people to go vegan, this episode is jam packed with lots of information about traveling the world on a completely plant based diet.
Hey, welcome to the show. I'm Karina, your no-B.S. vegan fitness and nutrition coach, and I'd like to start with a quick listener shout-out. Kac347 wrote on iTunes:
Love this podcast. This podcast has a ton of great info. As a health care provider, encouraging my patients to eat less animal products, it's always great to learn more about evidence-based nutrition and the benefits of being vegan.
Well, thank you so much, kac347. So awesome to hear that you're recommending to your patients that they decrease their animal product consumption. So if you want to support the show and possibly get your own listener shout-out, head to nobullshitvegan.com/itunes to leave a quick review. I'd really appreciate that.
So let's talk about traveling as a vegan. I've worked with countless vegan clients on getting them comfortable with travel and I hear from email subscribers and social media followers and random people I meet things like:
“I'd go fully vegan if travel weren't so difficult” or “I'm vegan except I'm vegetarian when I travel to make things more manageable”. So travel is a major sticking point when people think about making the transition to veganism. (Well, that and cheese, but that's a totally different podcast episode!)
Now I call bullshit. I realize that a lot of this type of resistance often comes down to a lack of knowledge or a lack of experience. So I'm going to fix that in this episode. I really think that if veganism is a priority for you, then you'll make it work in any circumstance. So basically using travel as an excuse to not go fully vegan is bullshit. But then I have a response to this concept, like does this come from a place of privilege? Maybe. Probably. I mean maybe not everyone can afford stay in accommodation that has a full kitchen or not everyone is able to choose where and when they travel, but there's a little more to it.
So let me tell you about my own travel. When I travel, my ethics are more important than my health. And I'm saying this as someone who does health and fitness and nutrition for a living. And this is definitely coming from a place of privilege. I mean, I don't have to travel. I travel because I can, and I just won't travel to places that don't have food choices for me, especially as someone with serious food allergies on top of being vegan. And I realize that not everyone has these options. Some people have to travel for family reasons. I've had many clients who had to travel to specific places for work, for example. But I really do still think that if veganism is a priority for you, you can make it work anywhere in the world. So two quick examples for you, both from clients of mine:
One is my awesome client Sonia. She just spent a week and a half in the middle of the Amazon rainforest working with an indigenous population there. And she was fully vegan the whole time. It definitely took some preparation and some knowledge, but she did it. And then I have another client I worked with, Nadia, who was actually the guest for episode 28 of this podcast. She lives in the middle of Outback Australia 10 hours away from the nearest city and she gets her groceries delivered to her on a truck every two weeks. So she's got to order ahead. And she's been vegan and kicking ass with her strength training for years. So I kind of feel like if these people can do it, so can we all. So I'm going to share my own approach to travel and then I'll share input from 13 vegans who have traveled the world on a completely plant based diet. They're going to tell us how they did it. Tips for you, challenges they faced, stuff like that.
So I've stayed in everything from tents in the forest of the Pacific Northwest, to a shipping container turned into a wilderness hut in the Australian Outback, to a mansion in the mountains of Hawaii. Oh, and also a tiny little hotel room in Shanghai where I asked for their seasonal vegetable dish and got a plate of plain bok choy. So traveling in the Outback in 2017 my husband and I spent three weeks in Australia, and one of those weeks was in Kakadu National Park. So we stayed in wilderness lodges, which are basically just empty rooms with beds and a shared camp kitchen. And we had to pack all of our food for the whole week. Now keep in mind that I'm deathly allergic to raw fruit and all nuts except for peanuts. So I can't just throw some apples and oranges and trail mix into a bag and have my snacks taken care of. So I kind of feel like if I can do it, so can you.
So what did we do? Well, we did eat a lot of baked beans! If you've traveled as a vegan, you probably know that protein options are usually the most challenging to find. Carbs and fats are usually pretty straightforward. You know, things like salads and fruit, veggies, greens, nuts, seeds. So especially as someone who strength trains, I focus on packing protein rich items, so that includes protein powder (I pack a milk frother to mix mine so I don't have to bring a shaker bottle. I can just use any sort of glass). And also hemp hearts and chia seeds, which I can sprinkle on salads or oatmeal, homemade or store-bought protein bars. Dry roasted edamame actually is a really good source of protein. It's about 50% protein by calories. So if you haven't tried dry roasted edamame, it's awesome. It's kinda like roasted chickpeas but higher in protein. And then also vegan jerky like Primal Strips or Noble Jerky. Those are all really good options for protein.
And then I also usually pack small meals like healthy instant soup cups, like lentil or split pea, and instant oatmeal packets - just making sure that it's not a crazy added sugar type of thing. And then a whole bunch of different snacks. You know, if I weren't deathly allergic to nuts than I would pack trail mix, but I've got stuff like pumpkin seeds and peanuts that I can have. And if I weren't deathly allergic to fruit that hasn't been cooked, I would do things like apple chips and fresh fruit. But I can do veggies and hummus and that kind of stuff. I just can't pack that when I'm in the middle of the Outback with no refrigeration.
So whether I'm traveling by plane or by car, it kind of feels like 80% of my luggage is food. Just recently we were actually in Vancouver, which is about a six hour trip from Powell River where I live. We brought a huge salad, homemade African stew, almond yogurt and fruit parfaits for my husband. We even had homemade lasagna packed, so it's basically just about preparation and prioritization.
So let's get to our awesome traveling vegans who will give you more insight into traveling the world. First up is Melanie and she says, “Any time I've ever traveled by driving (and we've driven to New Brunswick from Alberta and back), we always have a cooler packed with fruit we pick up along the way and I always have snacks like nuts and seeds to munch on.
I always look online ahead to see where there are any vegan cafes, restaurants, or places that offer options at least. I'm from New Brunswick and in the towns I grew up in, veganism is pretty nonexistent with limited vegan food options other than the regular fruit and veggies in the local grocery stores. So when I do go to visit my family there, I visit the city of Fredericton for some serious food shopping before going to the towns."
Rachel says, “I live in a culture where veganism is extremely rare”. And by the way, Rachel was a guest on this podcast talking about being vegan in the deep South of the U S so you can check out her episode at nobullshitvegan.com/021. So back to Rachel: “We just cook most of our food at home. I have to pack food pretty much everywhere I go. Last year when traveling by plane for work, I packed instant oatmeal, peanut butter, plant-based jerky, protein chips, protein powder and protein bars, Lara bars, almonds and popcorn.
I definitely look up restaurant menus ahead of time. Last year when we traveled for our anniversary, I called ahead to the hotel to see if they had a refrigerator we could keep some things in, since the hotel breakfast didn't include many options we could have. It's always difficult when we travel to see family and they cook meals we can't have; we always pack a ton of food to take with us. We rely a lot on peanut butter and banana sandwiches during these cases, but usually if they order food instead of cooking, we can find a work-around on the menu that accommodates us. It's all in doing your research and finding out how restaurants prepare the food so you can ask them to prepare it for you how you need it."
Belena says, “I travel a lot and first I always prepare to have enough foods to get me through a minimum of two days. I will pack extra snacks as well, but my second thing is looking for accommodations with refrigeration and a kitchen or kitchenette. I always look for farmers markets where I travel. I generally plan to eat out no more than one time per day. If lodging is not possible with kitchen facilities, then I do inquire if lodging is willing to provide dietary accommodations. Lastly, I research dining out options. Bottom line, it's more possible than people think."
Sam, who is an awesome client of mine, says, “A typical two day business trip by plane will include two freshly prepared meals for day one”, and he eats one of them on the flight. Then he also says, “Inform colleagues or business partners you won't be able to attend evening social activities. It's just not worth informing them of dietary requirements and then finding out they think fish is vegan or something.”
He also packs four protein bars and for day two he researches all delivery and restaurants near the office or the hotel in advance, and if those don't work, whatever is available at the nearest supermarket.
Lauren, who was an awesome client of mine as well, says, “For restaurant or grocery situations where you don't speak the language and in case they don't speak English, make little pieces of paper and write in their language that you're vegan and explain what that means. Also, try to become a master at putting together ingredients from different menu items and suggesting what they can make for you that will be healthy and vegan. I pack small Ziploc bags with a serving size of rolled oats, seeds, nuts and dried fruit, and then mix with hot water from a coffee maker or hot water from the tap if desperate in a hotel coffee mug. Next trip I will try adding protein powder into the mixture. Pack your own spoon and put all the little bags in one bigger bag to prevent suitcase mishaps.
Daniel says, “I believe in preparation. I always carry baked beans, nuts and seeds, oats and protein powder as essentials. They don't go bad and I can get hot water or nut milk anywhere. For the staying part, I make sure there's at least a microwave oven and a water heater. Canned beans can also be bought anywhere. The most challenging is getting protein on a vegan diet. You can have carbs everywhere and this is why I carry protein powder with me. The most challenging for me is traveling and staying at the locations of my races, typically in the mountains. But if I stick with the essentials I already mentioned, I found it easy to survive.”
Gabo says, “I always research vegan or vegan-friendly restaurants on happycow.net before traveling anywhere, or just use the app.
I also like to make my own map with pins on Google Maps so I can just pull out my phone, open up my maps and see which pinned places like shops and restaurants I've marked are nearby.”
Now we've got some great tips from Randy, who is in a new country every few weeks. When he wrote me these tips, he was most recently in Romania, Poland, Panama, Hungary and Columbia. He leads a minimalist lifestyle living out of one backpack, which is all he owns, and he is in incredible shape by the way. This dude is ripped! He has a really good point about mindset. Instead of assuming the world will cater to us vegans and getting pissed when it doesn't, Randy suggests focusing on gratitude and appreciation for what we do have and he says any grocery store has at least canned or fresh vegetables. Keep in mind that a heat source is not always available when you're on foot or on the go.
“Beans, chickpeas, dried fruits and nuts are more than enough to get you buy a single can of beans may not be ideal, but I am grateful for the abundance of food that gives me life and the life I saved by not eating flesh.” Most pizza dough around the world is flour, water, and yeast. So 99% of restaurants have pizza and Randy says, “get extra tomato sauce and don't complain that there is no vegan cheese and you'll be shocked how awesome some pizzas can be around the world. The sauce is what really makes the pizza.”
Arden says, “Full veganism is rare and not well conceptualized in Japan. You have to be able to say vegetarian in Japanese to get anywhere so it can be hard, but there are still a ton of options. There's every kind of tofu under the sun. Plenty of vegan restaurants in big cities and almost every convenience store has vegan onigiri, which is rice balls and salad, but you have to learn at least the Kanji for meat, fish, milk and egg to read labels. For those who can afford it, there's shojin ryori, multi-course and extravagantly prepared Buddhist cuisine that just happens to be vegan for religious reasons. The best vegan eateries that I've been to are all in the Kansai region, mainly Osaka and Kyoto. I use Happy Cow to find restaurants when I can afford it, and otherwise basically just eat convenience store and grocery store food.”
Kaylin has some awesome tips for us. She and her husband actually run the vegan deli here in Powell River called 7 Sprouts Plant-Based Deli. They have the most amazing soft pretzels and Kaylin will know how obsessed I am with them. I usually order like a dozen at a time and put them in the freezer. Mind you, they don't last very long in the freezer! So I asked Kaylin, “What sort of foods do you pack when you travel by plane or by car?” And she says, “This depends if I'm alone or with kids and what kind of trip I'm taking alone to another country outside of North America.
Granola bars, trail mix, meal replacement, powder, dried fruit, peanut butter, and always some chocolate with my kids. They usually get a travel box with many compartments, which I fill with anything I have on hand. Seitan, vegan cheese, fruit, veggies, nuts, seeds, cookies, dry cereal, anything that is easy and fun for them to eat while stuck in the car.”
I asked Kaylin, “What cultures have you visited where veganism is extremely rare and far from the norm? How did you deal with this?” And she said, “Well, I traveled across Africa for almost three months, about 10 years ago. Some places have literally nothing to eat, never mind vegan grub. So you learn to throw together what you can find and season it as best you can. I was traveling with a group and we took turns cooking and each group had a budget appropriate to the country.
We were in to feed everyone, usually around $1 to $4 per person for three to five meals. It was actually pretty awesome most of the time because the vegan food ended up being cheaper almost every time and so I was able to convince my group on several occasions to just make a vegan dish for everyone. We had to get uber creative a lot of the time and I love that sort of thing. When we ate out, I would always have to modify what I ordered and people were usually extremely confused why a white girl would only want veggies. In most of these countries, meat is seen as a pretty big luxury, so to turn it down was downright puzzling to most people. As a backup, I always carried my emergency pouch of seeds, nuts and dried fruit in my purse that I could add to salad or rice in a pinch if nothing else was available.
Something I found very useful was talking to locals and finding out about food staples that way. For example, in Egypt they have this wonderful street bread that's cheap and everywhere and after speaking with a lot of locals, I confirmed it was in fact vegan. Getting this stuff with sauteed veggies on the street was a dream come true. Once you chat with people enough, you learn what they eat regularly and actually a lot of it is vegan. It's not the stuff that's for sale on the street or in restaurants because they often think it's basic and not what the tourists want. In reality, a lot of those staples are exactly what a vegan wants, like hominy, injera, cassava, etc. I'd also hunt at each supermarket we went to for accidental vegan food. I found a brand of canned curry in Kenya that was vegan and that was carried in many stores in Eastern Africa, so I stocked up on those every few weeks for emergency food.
Canned curry on toast is actually not too bad. I also traveled to Southeast Asia but found it easier than African countries, so long as you don't mind being patient and having long conversations to explain what you want. For example, I ordered a veggie taco in Thailand, asked for no meat, just veggies and tomatoes and got a hard shell filled with pasta and tomato sauce. I learned that more explanation was needed. Europe was by far the easiest with lots of vegan options in most places. In Italy it was a little challenging and I did eat a lot of margarita pizza without the cheese while there.”
So I asked Kaylin, “What kind of prep do you do to ensure you'll be able to eat vegan while traveling?” And she says, “When I went to Cuba I had a letter in Spanish written to explain what I ate and took it everywhere with me. While it puzzled most restaurants (‘crazy girl’, they would mumble in Spanish), it worked and they accommodated me.
I usually do some research on places to go, but I'm more concerned with knowing where there might be an open air market to get fruit, veg, and fresh spices from. You can make a pretty kick-ass meal with very little money and planning when everything is fresh and delicious. Every time I've traveled out of North America, with the exception of Cuba, I have been backpacking and sleeping in a tent, roughly 27 countries this way, so I have to plan to eat with a little to no way to cook it. I grew up camping a lot, so I'm fairly handy in these situations, but I tell ya, it can be slightly overwhelming when you're preparing a meal for 25 people with one gas camp burner and hyenas howling nearby.
In these situations, one pot meals like stew or curries are ideal.”
My last question for Kaylin was, “What's the most difficult vegan travel situation you've been in?” And she says, “When we were in Zimbabwe, the majority of people I was traveling with went to a game restaurant. Mentally and emotionally, this was very difficult for me. I stayed at camp while they went out to feast on the very animals we had been admiring in the wild the same day. In ways it made it hard for me to fully bond with my fellow travelers and being the only vegan on the trip, I often felt isolated, especially around mealtimes. Another hard one was keeping bugs out of my food almost everywhere in Africa. Eating outside in the dark with a headlamp on made us prime targets for large beetles to fly at full speed. I unfortunately now know what a beetle tastes like and I can tell you it's not a protein source I'll ever be adopting.
Other tips, I've already touched on this, but visit markets and talk to locals. The selection is mind-blowing in most places and you're supporting locals directly. There is usually a meat and fish area, but you can smell it a mile away so it's generally easy to steer clear of. I also wouldn't bank on someone telling you something is vegan. People often don't understand this word and are also out to make a buck, so they will happily agree that it's what you want. I ask for ingredients if it's not obvious and if anything seems off, I don't get it. People often say to me, ‘it's too hard to be vegan and travel’, but I call BS on that because I've literally gone all over the world as a vegan and I've never starved. Sometimes you have to get creative and make stuff yourself. Sometimes you need to pass on activities that just aren't vegan friendly, and sometimes you have to settle for a salad and fries, but it is possible. I'm living proof of that.”
Next, we have Deborah who says, “When we travel, we tend to shop for food at grocery stores rather than relying on restaurants. When we travel by car, we take our Instant Pot and make simple one pot meals as much as possible with the convenience of frozen veggies, pop top canned beans, a bag of brown rice and a few spoonfuls of some nice herb or spice blend and some fresh fruit for dessert. We can have a substantial dinner for a fraction of the cost of dining in restaurants.”
Pat says, “I have traveled to many places in an RV so I can prep my own food. I own an RV but also fly to places like Las Vegas or Orlando and pick up a rental. It's also nice to travel this way as instead of being in a hotel every night you're outside having a fire and seeing stars.”
Misty says, “Traveling anywhere in Central and South America and Asia is easy, since rice, beans and fruit are always found in abundance. I always tell people to print out these vegan translation cards before they go” (and we're going to have these translation cards linked in our show notes, so go to nobullshitvegan.com/058 and there's a link to cards that you can print for over a hundred languages that say “I'm vegan” and what that means: no meat, no dairy, no eggs, plant foods only. So this is amazing. This is a really, really cool resource. So we're going to link that in our show notes at nobullshitvegan.com/058. Misty says, “It's always possible to be vegan as long as there are grocery stores.
Colin says, “I am a backpacker traveling by foot or hitchhiking. I do a lot of hiking too where space and weight is a factor.
So a lot of my food is high calorie per gram. I carry a dry bag in my large backpack that contains about five kilograms of dry food. I also carry a smaller day pack that has a couple of kilos of fresh fruit and veggies. I cook most of my meals with a portable stove. When I eat out, I opt for super fresh and green meals to revitalize. I pack most of my dry food in Ziploc bags and use bulk bins to restock. This allows me to save space and not have too much of one thing.” So in his dry bag, he has things like oats, flaked barley, millet, wheat flakes, chia, flax meal, hemp hearts, dried fruits, peanuts, walnuts, almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds, parboiled, brown rice, quinoa, quinoa pasta, soba noodles, different types of lentils, split peas, dried vegetable flakes, seaweed, many different spices, vegetable stock powder greens, powder nutritional yeast. He even has loose leaf tea and dark chocolate and B12 tablets. And then in his day pack he has pita bread, peanut butter, bananas, apples, oranges, whatever fresh veg is on special – things that he can eat in a day or two. Usually potatoes, yams, carrots, zucchini, tomato, Brussels sprouts, things like that. He says things that take the heat and don't squish. “I mix it up to get all my vitamins.”
So when I asked him what cultures he has visited where veganism is extremely rare, he says, “I hitched to the Arctic ocean through the Yukon and the Northwest Territories. Many people hunt and share their caribou and fish. I packed two weeks’ worth of dry food in anticipation in a small Arctic town. I met a lovely couple and they took me out to a restaurant. There were no vegan options, so I ate hot chips.” (I assume that's French fries by the way.)
“It's one meal. Big deal. Right? When the server asked if I wanted dessert, I said, no thanks, assuming there was nothing for me. She knew I was vegan. She came back with a beaver tail on the house assuring me it was vegan. Apparently there's a little fresh milk and this dessert was made with coconut milk. The thing was drizzled with dark chocolate sauce and was to die for. I was so grateful.”
Then I asked, “What kind of prep do you do to ensure you'll be able to eat vegan while traveling?” And Colin says, “Well, I don't do any additional prep as I carry my own food. I usually tell hosts I am vegan prior to travel so they don't prep non vegan meals for me eating out, I just go with the flow. People usually show me good vegan or veg places. All restaurants can make something vegan. If you ask nicely, fruit and veg are sold everywhere all over the world. If you have a small amount of cash, you will never go hungry. Even if you're flat broke. People are super generous and accommodating, so relax and have a good time. I never worry about food.”
So there you have it: input from me and 13 other vegans on traveling the world on a plant-based diet. It really is just about thinking ahead a little bit and prioritizing, as cliché as both of those things sound, but it's true. So I'll have the vegan translation cards and a few other goodies for you at our show notes, which you can access at nobullshitvegan.com/058. Thanks so much for listening, and a big thank you to all the awesome contributors for today's episode.