What it’s like to travel as a vegan

Photo of Steph MarinkovicPhoto of Steph Marinkovic
By Steph Marinkovic

1 November 2018 | Updated 14 November 20184 min read

A picture of a small truck covered in vegetables and chillies showing the local produce of Calabria in Italy

The popularity of veganism – that’s a meat- and animal product-free diet – is growing exponentially in the UK. Yearly campaigns such as World Vegan Month every November and Veganuary in January have helped the lifestyle break into the mainstream – numbers of self-reported vegans quadrupled in the last four years.

Former Made in Chelsea star and entrepreneur, Lucy Watson, has seen the changes first-hand. In fact, she’s been part of the movement. She’s recently launched vegan ready meals in Waitrose and earlier this year, cut the ribbon on Tell Your Friends, her London-based vegan restaurant.

When it comes to eating vegan abroad, however, it’s a completely different story.

“I’ve been lied to by staff in foreign countries because it’s easier for them,” Lucy admits. “[But] it’s so much easier than it was say three years ago!”

Vegan travel today

The newfound ease overseas is thanks in part to the influx of vegan resources available as well as savvy herbivore travellers.

“I live by the app, HappyCow,” Lucy says. “It will tell you where the nearest vegan restaurants are or even just restaurants that are able to cater for vegans – life changing!

“I find that most places can rustle something up if you give them advanced warning.”

And HappyCow is just the tip of the iceberg. My Vegan Town offers a similar service and Vegan Passport, a paid-for app and book, by The Vegan Society is the new holy grail of on-the-go assistance.

Editor of The Vegan Society’s membership magazine, Elena Orde, says the book is the ideal failsafe for travellers visiting anywhere from India to South Africa.

“It [the Vegan Passport] includes statements and facts about veganism, from explaining what it is to including suggestions of how to veganise meals, in 78 languages,” she enthuses.

“It also includes illustrations of the kind of foods vegans can and can’t eat, for times when language is a particularly strong barrier.”

There's still a long way to go

Veganism is clearly on its way up. According to Elena, the number of vegans in Great Britain has quadrupled and more and more destinations are jumping at the chance to be part of the movement, even going so far as to label themselves as ‘vegan capitals’.

So what places across the globe are the most vegan-friendly? For Elena, Berlin, London and Portland are ahead of the pack, while Lucy says Los Angeles, Melbourne and Amsterdam have more options than you can shake a celery stick (with hummus) at.

However, the snag in this vegan wave seems to be air travel. Airlines may have on-boarded everything from menus curated by celebrity chefs to new-and-improved methods of cooking at altitude, but vegans say they’re dropping the ball when it comes to catering for their dietary needs. Offerings are sometimes so abysmal they make national news.

“I’ve had a few occasions where there’s quite clearly been dairy ingredients listed on the meal I’ve been given,” Lucy says.

“They [airlines] are getting better, though I recommend if you are travelling by plane to pick up something from the airport just in case.”

But in the meantime...

Be prepared. It’s a recommendation echoed by vegan travellers. Both Lucy and Elena agree that research is key.

“There’s so much information on the web,” Lucy says, encouraging fellow vegans to use the resources now literally at fingertips. “But also, sometimes it’s okay to settle for a less exciting meal of maybe chips and salad.”

Elena adds that mistakes may happen, especially when you’re away from home and out of your comfort zone.

“We can’t get it right 100% of the time,” she concedes. “But we can try our best.”

5 top tips for vegan travel

1. Research, research, research!

"Read articles online, have a look on HappyCow, post on vegan forums or Facebook groups for advice and local knowledge," says Elena.

2. Think outside the box

"One of the best options is to order plenty of starters and sides for the table and enjoy them tapas-style," suggests Elena.

"That can be really fun, plus you get to try more dishes!"

3. Be prepared, especially in remote areas

"If you’re out in the back and beyond, it’s always a good idea to carry a few travel-friendly supplies with you," Elena says.

"Peanut butter, dried fruit bars, crackers and other snacks will keep you going in a pinch!"

4. Be clear about your dietary needs

"To avoid having to send food back, always explain the foods that you do not eat carefully and ensure the staff understand," Elena advises.

5. Enjoy the unique travel experience

"On the whole, travelling as a vegan can be an incredibly rewarding experience, allowing you to tap into a compassionate community and find like-minded people wherever you go," she adds.

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