Travelling as a Vegan: Tips for Thriving and Surviving
So you’re vegan. And like me, you’re probably a bit worried about communicating to the rest of the world not just what you eat, but why. In all honesty, being a vegan in any non-English speaking country isn’t easy, but, it is very possible with a bit of effort, patience, and flexibility.
You cannot be picky:
If you’re picky about which vegan foods or how much of each food group you eat on a daily basis, you might not be so lucky to choose while travelling. Wether you like carrots and beans or not, dislike spice or not, or despise tofu or not, you may have to eat these things in a pinch. While on the go, there will be fewer options than if you’re at home making your own meals, especially if you’re in a country where having access to a full kitchen is only a luxury. If you’re willing to branch out (while still eating vegan), you will not only learn to like new foods but you’ll also return home with a matured palate.
Prepare for the worst, hope for the best:
Worst case scenario: there’s nothing for you to eat and you have to look harder for a restaurant that will cater to vegetarians. In this situation, you’ll be happier if you brought snacks with you to eat while you keep looking for alternative restaurant options. Being prepared will save you from becoming hangry and it will also make your day of travel that much more enjoyable.
Expect some restaurants/vendors to simply say no:
As surprising as it may sound, some people just don’t want to cater to vegetarians and vegans. Either they don’t have the ingredients, they don’t want to mess up and upset you, they don’t understand what you’re asking, or they just don’t want to adapt their family recipe. Whatever the case, you have to keep in mind that you cannot take a “no” to your request for vegan Pad Thai personally. Their answer could be embedded deeply within culture, tradition or even religion and might be hard for you to understand.
You can’t expect anyone to know what “vegan” means:
Vegan is a relatively new term, and it’s only grown in popularity in the last five or so years. It’s not fair to assume that anyone (let alone everyone) will know what your dietary needs are. Even if you successfully explain yourself, there might still be a lack of understanding between you and the person you’re talking to. Most of the world is well versed in the word vegetarian, but it will be some time before the same can be said for vegan. Instead of relying on “I’m vegan” when ordering, tell them what you can and cannot eat in their local language. And if you can’t pronounce it, then write it down as a note on your phone or on a piece of paper.
Study the local vocabulary for vegan words and terms:
Learn how to say phrases such as “no meat”, “no fish sauce”, “no egg”, etc. in the local language. If you plan on travelling in smaller towns and villages, many of the locals will not know these terms in English and some may not even be fully literate. It’s also a good idea to find out if there is a local term for vegetarian/vegan where you’re travelling. For example, “Gin Jey” roughly translates to vegan in Thailand (with a few more restrictions than a normal vegan diet) and “an chay (pronounced “chai”) means I eat vegan in Vietnam.
Be extra patient and thankful:
If someone messes up your meal and you end up with chicken soup instead of chicken-free soup with vegetables (it happened to me a few times while travelling Asia), be patient with the locals. Find a way to communicate your concerns in a calm, cool and collected way rather than getting upset. The latter will only lead to frustration on both ends and someone may end up sneaking meat into your new “meatless” meal. If a mistake happens and the restaurant is willing to try again, show your gratitude and maybe even leave a tip if you’d like. This communicates to them that you’re grateful for their willingness to make you a special meal.
Do NOT rely on Google Translate:
Fun fact: When you translate “no meat” to Indonesian in Google Translate, it will come out as “ada daging”, which actually means “with meat”. Whenever possible, ask locals to translate phrases for you and write down those translations somewhere instead of using Google Translate. You never really know what you might be saying otherwise.
And lastly, enjoy yourself! Eating vegan while abroad isn’t all that stressful when you get the hang of it and it’s a fantastic opportunity to try amazing new foreign foods!
Till next time,