Traveling as a vegan: how to maintain a vegan diet on the road

The decision of traveling the world and becoming vegan occurred to me almost at the same time. A stronger connection to nature and a study about the vegan diet made me decide to stop eating fish (I was a pescetarian) and become 100% vegan a couple months before hitting the road.

However, planning the trip a question came up: would it be possible to maintain a vegan diet while traveling?

Now, after almost 6 months on the road, I know the answer: it is possible. And it was way easier than I thought it would be. It only took me a little research before eating.

The best part was that finding vegan restaurants around the world allowed me to discover new ingredients and recipes. And I found out that a vegan diet has many more options than I thought it had.

My plan is to make a bunch of detailed posts about each destination and its vegan restaurants. However, I also wanted to make a more “general” post with tips on how to maintain a vegan diet on the road without starving, spending tons of money, or eating only bread and fries.

What does it mean to be a vegan?

Veganism is more than just a diet, it is a way of life that goes beyond food.

“Real vegans” avoid all kinds of animal products and brands that do animal testing. It is basically living towards a better relationship with nature and animals.

I am a little critical on extremisms and I believe any step you can take to help the environment is already better than none. So I am not a fundamentalist towards myself or others. I always try to do the best that I can. 

Therefore, I first decided to adopt a vegan diet, and it was a slow transition, reducing little by little the amount of fish I was eating. After that, I studied more and more about the subject and I became more vegan each day (with a few eventual steps back).

I believe that is what being a vegan means: avoid, as best as you can, everything that contributes to the exploitation of animals and the destruction of our planet’s nature.

What do vegans even eat?

Most people think vegans basically eat grass. That couldn’t be more inaccurate. 

Nature offers a large quantity of natural vegan ingredients and I found more textures and flavors than I ever thought I would find in vegetables, nuts, and fruits.

So cutting all animal products actually added more things to my diet and not the opposite.

And even better: I am now eating way less industrialized foods and focusing on very basic and natural ingredients. So my diet is healthier than ever.

A vegan diet is basically made of vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats. My personal favorite protein sources are tempeh, tofu, and beans.

I am constantly finding new ingredients, combinations, and recipes. And every new meal is a new opportunity.

Warungs are my favorite! Cheap, tasty and beautiful
Being vegan does not mean to starve: look at the size of my plate in a Warung in Bali (my favorite is Campur Campur in Uluwatu)

Advances in food engineering have been helping vegans a lot. Nowadays it is possible to find substitutes for almost anything. I even tasted a vegan burger in Hong Kong that looked, tasted and felt like a real burger.

This is 100% can you believe it?
“The beyond burger” I tried this one at the Green Common in Hong Kong, but I also found it at Umami, in LA

How to find options that fit a vegan diet on the road?

If you are a vegan, you probably already have a routine, a local market or favorite vegan store. So getting out of that “comfort zone” can seem like a real challenge, especially if you are traveling somewhere exotic.

But I have great news: most traditional cuisines already have vegan options. In every country I visited, I tried some type of national vegan dish (adapted or not), even in Russia.

And to help you eat well while traveling as a vegan, here are my golden tips:

  • Cook your own food

This is, without a doubt, the best option. The healthiest and cheapest way of guaranteeing that 100% of the ingredients are vegan.

I suggest you cook your own food even if you are not a vegan. Most times it will be the cheapest option. So look for hostels, homestays, or Airbnb with a kitchen.

I'm so fancy haha
Dinner I cooked for myself in an Airbnb in Paris, it looks fancy but it cost me less than 7 euros (with the wine bottle). 

The best part about cooking, in my opinion, is that you end up making a lot of new friends. Even when I only popped popcorn, a lot of people would show up in the kitchen wanting some, or just to watch. To my surprise, a lot of them had never seen how to pop popcorn on a stove.

At Soul Kitchen Hostel in St. Petersburg, the staff would cook every night. All of the dishes were vegetarian and, sometimes, vegan. Oh, and completely free. You are encouraged to help, but even if you don’t you can still eat.

Vegan Masterchef is missing on my culinary skills
Pumpkin gnocchi I cooked at Soul Kitchen, I only had to buy the pumpkin, tomato sauce, and mushrooms, the rest was available at the hostel.

And if you have difficulties reading the labels when grocery shopping, I suggest you use Google Translator app. Its camera instantly translates the words for you. It does not work perfectly all of the time, but it helps a lot.

  • Use happycow website/app

If you are vegan and never heard of happycow, brace yourself: it will change your life forever. It is what I call “vegan TripAdvisor”.

One of my soulmates, whom I met in Thailand, introduced me to this technological wonder. It saved my life during the trip. Before I found out about it I was basically surviving on fruits and bread.

To use happycow you only need to type in your location (or let it find it for you), and the website locates vegan/vegetarian restaurants and stores for you.

You can filter the options based on rating, distance, or price. You can also filter by vegan, vegetarian or raw vegan options.

They not only display restaurants, but also stores and organizations. It is an amazing resource for those who follow a vegan diet or way of life.

Happycow’s app is paid. I didn’t purchase it, so I can’t tell you if it is worth the price. But the website helped me a lot. 

It can be useful even in your own hometown. There might be a bunch of vegan restaurants near you and you don’t even know! It’s worth to take a look and find out.

Oh, and it is important to remind that happycow is basically kept by the members of the community. So I ask you try to leave a review that can help other people, or add new restaurants and cool stores you find while traveling.

  • Research on Instagram and Google

This option requires a little more time. I usually eat with my eyes, so I absolutely love to scroll through beautiful pictures of vegan cafés.

Bali is one of the most famous destinations for vegans, so there are a lot of vegan options everywhere. It takes a quick “vegan Bali” research on Instagram and many places pop up. You can do the same basically everywhere.

It’s worth to try other search words, such as “plant-based” or “vegetarian”. Even if you don’t find a specific restaurant, you might find an Instagram with vegan tips or a cool organization that also promotes nice coffee shops and vegan little shops.

Just be aware, a beautiful feed doesn’t always translate into a great meal. Sometimes it just represents a great digital marketing.

Look at these colors!
Feeds of @theshadyshack and @farmacy my favorite vegan restaurants in Bali and London

Good old friend google can also help you tons. Nowadays there are a bunch of blogs and youtube channels about veganism and plant-based diets. Who knows, maybe you can find a blogger or vlogger that has been where you are and indicated a cool restaurant?

  • Ask people around

Ok, this one might sound pretty obvious. Truth is, the best advice I got on the road came from other travelers. Not only about restaurants, but also hostels and attractions.

You know that quote “your vibe attract your tribe”? I was lucky enough to meet many vegan friends traveling, without even looking for them.

And the coolest part is that you end up finding someone to join you on the fun task of finding the perfect vegan restaurant. My Canadian friend loved finding new places together, and we ended up showing a lot of people how great vegan foods really are.

At hostels you can also get tips on restaurants and coffee shops, try asking at the receptions if they know any spots that might offer options for you.

  • Indian Restaurants and coffee shops

    Look at these beautiful dishes
    Govinda’s: an Indian restaurant in Ao Nang

Before traveling, I had never seen so many Indian restaurants in my whole life. It might sound shocking, but in Brazil, there are not a lot of Indian places, and Indian food is not as praised as it is in most places.

So I was surprised to find an Indian restaurant in every other corner in almost every country I visited.

I did not turn out to be a big fan. Maybe because I hate everything spicy, or maybe because it is still something too exotic for my palate.

It is still a great option if you are a vegan or a vegetarian, though.

However, a type of restaurant I do love and that is basically everywhere is coffee shops. You know what I am talking about, right? Those places that offer great breakfast and brunch, and where you can almost always find a great wifi connection.

In Southeast Asia, fruits are amazingly sweet and flavourful. In Thailand, I tried the best pineapple of my life, and in the Philippines, I tried at least 10 different types of mangoes.

So it might be really worth it to invest in a smoothie or smoothies bowl. I suggest banana and mango shakes (take my word, you won’t regret it).

Oh, and if you follow a vegan diet, don’t forget to check beforehand if they use yogurt or milk as a smoothie base. If they do, just kindly ask them not to.

 

look at this bowl! who knew a vegan diet would be so fun?
Smoothie bowl and coffee with coconut milk at Unni’s in Phi Phi

Conclusion

I think it is pretty clear now that it is possible to keep a vegan diet while backpacking.

The good news is: veganism and vegetarianism are becoming more and more common every day. Most restaurants already offer some options, and in almost every hostel I stayed at there were vegan options. At Hop Hostel in Coron, they even had scrambled tofu for breakfast!

So, if you are a vegan and is planning to go traveling you can relax: you will find plenty of options. It might only take a little research.

If you have any tips on vegan restaurants around the world, don’t be shy and tell us about it in the comment section!

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