There is so much to look forward to when traveling: seeing the sites, learning about a new culture, and of course, indulging in the local cuisine. (Who wouldn’t trade cooking after a long day of work for sitting back and enjoying a gourmet meal?). But if you have dietary restrictions, enjoying food while traveling can be a challenge. I know this because I stick to a vegan diet rigidly. (If you’re interested, I shared why in this article!).
Being vegan at home could not be easier, but traveling is a different story. I’ve found some locations have tons of accessible vegan options, but sometimes maintaining my diet can be a real struggle. Luckily, with a little trial and error, I’ve found easy and delicious ways to stick to my diet while traveling.
1. Prep For The Plane
I’ve found it’s best to start the trip off on the right foot. Vegan or not, I’ve never desired to eat airplane food, or really any food you can find at an airport. Before leaving for the airport, I’ll make sure to eat healthy that day by loading up on proteins, produce, and whole grains. Then I make sure to have plenty of healthy snacks for the airport. Here’s where it gets tricky: I have to pack non-nut based items, like these little packs of raisins or nut-free snack bars. For vegans, trail mix is a no-brainer on the easy protein front. But wait until the first time you board an 11-hour flight to Paris and it’s announced that no nuts are allowed. (I learned my lesson the hard way on that flight.) So now even if I do pack nuts, I always bring back up snacks too.
2. Hit the Grocery Store
If possible, my first stop on any vacation is at the grocery store. To make sure we feel our best, my husband and I stock up on tons of produce and healthy snacks that we can turn into makeshift meals. To make our food feel special, we indulge in really good bread. We never eat white bread at home, so a nice baguette with hummus feels like a treat. Of course, we also try out local snacks and candies when possible.
On our last trip, we even stocked up on oatmeal so we could eat breakfast in the hotel. We loved being able to hit the ground running in the morning without having to worry about hunting down a vegan breakfast. By having some easy and healthy foods on hand, we don’t have to stress when we can’t find vegan food in a restaurant. That way, we only spend time and money on restaurants that really excite us, without having to make compromises. Not to mention, a picnic with a stellar view can be way more appealing than a crowded restaurant full of tourists.
3. Do It Your Way
The first time I went to Paris, my mom and I searched high and low for a French cafe with vegan options. We’d just landed and were very tired and hungry. After half an hour of searching, we realized that neither of us actually likes French food very much. So why force it? Instead, we found an amazing Italian restaurant and had the perfect first meal on our vacation. Since then, I realized that as fun as it is to try local cuisines, there is no shame in mixing it up. I discovered Paris has many amazing Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and Asian cuisines to indulge in. On my second trip there, my husband and I had amazing Ethiopian food at a small hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Was it French? No. But it was an unforgettable experience nonetheless.
4. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
When I find a great restaurant while traveling that suits my dietary needs, I’ll go back again and again. When my husband and I had our first meal in Rome, it was great, but we assumed we could find better. Well, we didn’t. We quickly realized that same off-the-beaten-path restaurant from our first day was a local favorite and not on most tourists’ radar. So we went back again and again. We tried new things each time and had the chance to repeat our favorites. We joke about going back to Rome just to eat at that restaurant.
5. Ignore The Rules
There are a lot of “rules” while traveling. You must go to X museum. You must try Y cuisine. I’ve found that doing what feels right for me usually doesn’t disappoint, and that includes sticking to my vegan diet as much as possible. Has the occasional eclair snuck in? Of course. Have I mistakenly ordered pasta made with eggs and sauces made with yogurt? It’s happened. Beating myself up over these mistakes or “cheats” feels unnecessary after sticking to a strict diet all year long. But overall, I’m happiest when I manage to stick to my vegan diet while traveling. I literally wouldn’t trade it for any food in the world.