Stress Free Vegan Travel (or How To Stay Sane While Traveling On A Vegan Diet)

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I made all of this vegan food in Chiang Mai, Thailand!

How do you piss off vegans the world over and maybe piss off non-vegans as well?

By writing what I’m about to write. ;)

Traveling on a vegan diet isn’t necessarily difficult, but it is more challenging than willy-nilly eating anything and everything in sight.

My veganism is out of respect for animals. A lot of my ideas on veganism are rooted in Buddhism. I am not, however, anywhere near a Buddhist. I am simply a fan of some of the philosophy.

An Overview (Paraphrased from the book Monk Chat, published by Wat Suan Dok, Chiang Mai, Thailand)

Monks must abstain from killing living things. Therefore, monks are vegan. Technically. There is a loophole.

Every morning they must go on their alms round. Which is a way for laypeople (Buddhists who are not monks) to make merit (Tam Boon). As the monks make their alms round, laypeople give them food. Monks are not allowed to refuse any food, whether it has animal ingredients or not.

And that’s the loophole. If the people who are making merit offer food with animals, the monk has to accept it. :(

There are, however, 10 kinds of meat a monk may not eat under any circumstances: human, elephant, horse, dog, serpent, lion, bear, feline tigris, leopard, or yellow tiger. Do not ask me why, as I do not know.

Monks follow the idea of “eat to live, not live to eat.” Most of Western society lives to eat, hence all the obesity and heart disease. We should eat for nourishment, as fuel for our incredible bodies, as opposed to simply for enjoyment. Food is for survival.

My Interpretation

It all boils down to respect. A monk cannot disrespect the layperson by refusing their food. And so, he must eat the food, whatever it happens to be.

I take this same stance. If I order food that is supposed to be vegan and it arrives un-veganized I have only 2 options.

1) Find someone who will eat it and order new food.

or

2) Eat it myself if I can’t find someone to eat it.

Under no circumstances may I throw the food away (by sending it back). An animal has provided that food with their life and I won’t disrespect it like that.

Fortunately, I have yet to come across a situation where I have been accidentally given meat. I’m still unsure how I will react in that situation, but I have a feeling I will not have a problem finding someone to eat the food.

Yes, I have eaten dairy products since going vegan. And I have absolutely no problems calling myself a vegan. I don’t purposefully buy non-vegan food and I don’t prepare non-vegan food when I’m eating at home.

When I was in Berlin recently I ordered a cheese-less pizza. Unfortunately it arrived with cheese and enough garlic to kill a man. Not a single person at our table wanted the pizza due to the overpowering smell of garlic. I ate it. Throwing it away would be extraordinarily disrespectful. Not only to the animal who was mistreated and eventually died to provide that cheese, but to anybody who has ever gone hungry (billions of people every day).

I submit that if you’re a vegan due to compassion for animals that you should follow this same path.

Think about it, which of the following is more compassionate?

1) Eating cheese that you didn’t order. The animal you didn’t want to die for you has been given to you to eat. If you eat it, at least it didn’t die for absolutely nothing.

or

2) Throwing away the cheese you didn’t order. The animal you didn’t want to die for you has been given to you to eat. If you don’t eat it, you’re pissing on its life. It died for nothing. And it will be your fault that it died for nothing. You do not have a worthy argument otherwise. (Except lactose intolerance, which I definitely understand.)

It’s an obvious choice if you truly are compassionate.

Stress Free Living

Stress killsStop it. ;)

A couple of years ago a friend of mine said, “Karol, you have the most stress free life out of anybody I know.”

At the time I laughed because that wasn’t true at all. In fact, it was quite opposite.

These days, however, most of my choices boil down to whatever is least stressful and I probably do have the least stressful life of anybody I know.

It is less stressful to eat a bit of dairy I didn’t order than to whine and complain that “the stupid chef (or cashier or line cook) is a god damned idiot.” They’re not idiots. They’re human. We are amazingly imperfect creatures and we make mistakes.

Eating vegan, in and of itself, helps release lots of stress. Not only on my mind, but on my body. Animal products are incredibly difficult for our bodies to digest. Especially dairy, which is meant for calves, not grown humans. From a health standpoint dairy is just nasty, no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

Preaching Veganism

I don’t preach. Yes, I do want you to eat a vegan diet. Not vegetarian. Vegan. But I don’t care if you’re an omnivore. I will date you (err, if you’re female, haha), I will be friends with you, and I will probably even pay for dinner if we go out and you order a meat dish. It’s not my place to force my choices upon you.

There are many arguments against veganism and every single one is unfounded. I won’t go into any of them here. I just ask that you do a lot of research if you really want the truth. Preferably research that’s not funded by the beef or dairy industries, which will be biased.

It sucks when somebody comments on my blog, e-mails me, or discusses in person their misinformed ideas about the meat and dairy industries. But I don’t correct them. I’m not interested in arguments (Life Lesson #8). I simply ask them to research what they’re saying. And so, if you comment below with misinformed arguments you should save your time because they will not be accepted.

How To Make Vegan Travel Easy

Now that we’ve determined that if there is a mistake made you will not disrespect the animal, let’s get into the details of how to actually eat a vegan diet while traveling to unknown lands where you may not speak the language. It’s actually pretty darn easy to eat vegan anywhere in the world!

1) Eat lots of fruit.

Fruit is available and plentiful everywhere. And, of course, it’s vegan and incredibly nourishing. ;) While eating only fruit (Fruitarian) would not work well for me, I have gone a full day eating only fruit on at least 1 occasion. Not sustainable (for me) for the long haul, but one day? Sure, I can handle that.

I eat a lot of fruit anyway.

In India I ate ~20 lady finger bananas per day. These are very small bananas, maybe the equivalent of 6 or 7 regular bananas. In addition to that I ate lots of whatever other fruit was available. Fuji apples, grapes, strawberries, and papaya were plentiful. And, of course, my daily fresh coconut for 20 Rupees. :)

Fruit is an important part of our diet and most of us don’t get enough. I definitely didn’t until I started eating vegan.

I call bananas the perfect travel food. You can pick a banana out of a mud pit, open it up, and eat it. :) No need to worry about the outside getting dirty because you only want the sweet fibrous inside. In addition, no utensils necessary.

My favorite fruit in the whole world (besides the not-so-easily-available Jakfruit) is mango, but I’m not a fan of the preparation. Thankfully, in Thailand I was able to eat mango a few times per day. For 10 Baht (~30 cents) it was freshly sliced and ready to devour. And it’s available everywhere in Thailand (along with many other fruits) at the ubiquitous Thai street carts.

When you arrive in a new city immediately go out and find the nearest market (or corner store or anything) that sells fruit and stock up. It’s simple, it’s cheap, it’s healthy, and it’s vegan.

Note: avocado is a fruit. Mmmm … I love avocado. Here is how to check for ripeness: do not squeeze! You will bruise the insides. Instead, push in the stem a little. If it gives it’s ripe. If it doesn’t give then wait a day or two.

2) Eat lots of beans / whole grains.

Whether you’re making your own food or eating out, beans and whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, etc.) are a perfect combination of food available in most parts of the world.

My favorite dish is a combo of black beans with either quinoa or brown rice (and avocado if I have a ripe one handy). Quinoa is much less readily available so I usually have brown rice. I eat this at least once/day and sometimes twice.

3) Eat lots of vegetables.

Due to so many vegetables needing some kind of preparation I’m not a great vegetable eater. While I eat them daily, I eat far more fruits than vegetables.

My favorite easy to prepare vegetables are tomatoes (crap, another fruit? haha) and broccoli. I eat these raw and sometimes I eat tomatoes like they’re apples. When I was younger I didn’t like tomatoes at all, but as I grew and my palate changed I grew to love them.

If you’re not a vegetable fan you might have to train your palate. Try something new every time you go to the market and you will eventually find something you like. And remember: different varieties of the same vegetable taste completely different. There are some tomatoes I’m not a huge fan of. And mushrooms have so many different flavors it’s insane. Continually test your palate!

Eating a nice salad every day is an easy way to get a lot of your vegetables in one fell swoop. I’ve been known to eat an almost 2 pound salad (lots of greens, LOTS of tomatoes) for dinner. :)

Salads are available in virtually every restaurant in the world. Eat a big enough salad and it is quite filling.

4) Eat nuts.

Nuts are also available everywhere and greats sources of many nutrients. Goa, India is known for its cashews (kaju) and you can bet I ate a LOT of them while I was there. They are my favorite nut. Unsalted, raw, of course. Nuts pack lots of much needed energy in the forms of protein and fat. You don’t want to make nuts your staple, but eat a little bit regularly. They’re also great while you’re in transit (planes, trains, and automobiles).

5) Research local restauarants.

HappyCow.net has listings for veg and veg-friendly restaurants all over the world. (Don’t waste your money on their iPhone app if you have an iPod Touch. It’s a waste.)

If there are a lot of restaurants listed on HappyCow I also post in the CouchSurfing.org Group (message board) for whatever city I’m going to be in to get favorite veg restaurant recommendations.

Restaurants where you should never have a problem finding veg food:

  • Indian – Channa Masala and lots of other stuff.
  • Thai – veg/rice/tofu.

You will find Indian and/or Thai restaurants in so many cities in the world it’s crazy. Even here in Wroc?aw, there are two Indian restaurants that I know about.

Bonus restaurant tip: If you pass by a health food type store walk in and ask about local veg-friendly restaurants. I had trouble finding a decent restaurant in Cairns, QLD, Australia and asked a girl at a health food store. She said there aren’t many options (boo Cairns!), but gave me directions to a Mexican restaurant. This Mexican restaurant actually had a vegan menu! :)

6) Allow yourself some junk food.

I promise once you start eating a whole food plant-based diet that your cravings for junk will almost completely subside. I rarely crave junk. But when I do? I go all out. I will happily eat a whole bag of chips or a veggie burger (or 3) or a pizza or a 2 liter bottle of soda. It doesn’t happen often, but when I have a really strong craving I let myself at it. Some people advocate having a “cheat day” once/week. For me that’s far too often and sometimes not often enough. It would be forced. As I sit here right now I am eating a 90% dark chocolate bar. :) I probably won’t finish it, but I won’t deny myself if I happen to want to eat every last bite.

Another thing about junk food: when you’re in new lands you will find some very interesting choices in vegan junk food! The best, by far, is in India. I’ll let you discover it for yourself. ;)

What About Soy?

You’ll notice I don’t mention soy above. I’m not a huge fan. In Thailand I ate soy regularly because it was part of a lot of local cuisine (in the form of tofu). For the most part I don’t eat soy.

That said, I’m currently in a phase of drinking one B12 fortified glass of soy milk every day. B12 is the one nutrient that I have had trouble introducing into my diet without drinking soy milk. I can handle that.

Claims that soy is unhealthy are incredibly overblown. (Again, I ask that you research it yourself. Don’t believe anything I state.)

Learn The Local Vegan Options Ahead of Time

If you can, do a little research about traditional meals that are already vegan. If you know ahead of time which meals should be vegan that will make things a lot easier on you. My best suggestion: utilize CouchSurfing again. :) Go into the Country Group (or any City Group) and ask what meals are traditionally vegan. There may be none, but it’s worth asking.

The Language Barrier

The language barrier is what can sometimes cause the aforementioned un-veganized food at restaurants.

It’s fairly easy to solve: learn how to say you don’t eat meat or milk or cheese or butter in whatever language you’ll be encountering. If you’re not willing to do that then you could always sit at home, watch TV, and do nothing. ;)

Back to keeping things less stressful: don’t worry too much about the language barrier. When you start traveling things seem to just fall into place. I could write for days about this topic (or any topic) and you’ll never learn as much as by experiencing it for yourself.

Emergency Rations

On the overnight train to Chiang Mai from Bangkok there was a menu with 8 or 9 meat options and 1 vegetarian option. I ordered the vegetarian option, but it wasn’t available. Dammit. The lady taking orders refused to accept that chicken was not a vegetarian option. I spent a good 1-2 minutes insisting she not give me chicken because it is not vegetarian. (I run into this a lot. Chickens and fish are animals people!)

I travel with some sort of emergency rations. Currently that is a Clif Bar. Important: these rations must only be used in an emergency! Like, when you haven’t eaten for 14 hours on your train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. :)

Emergency Rations For The Emergency Rations!

As you may know if you’ve gone through my whole packing list I carry a Light My Fire Spork with me everywhere. In case I need an actual quick “meal” and can’t find it this is what I do.

1) Head into any super market / convenience store.

2) Buy a can of beans (my preference is black or kidney) with an easy open top. (If not available, buy the can of beans and a can opener.)

3) Open the can a little and dump out the water. (I usually rinse the beans with clean water as well.)

4) Enjoy!

You might scoff at this, but a can of beans is a filling, healthy, nutritious meal. And it’s cheap to boot!

I don’t always use this as an emergency meal. Sometimes I just want to eat a can of beans and make this a nice little meal/snack. :)

Keep An Open Mind

Would you believe it if I told you that steak houses are one of the easiest restaurants to eat vegan? Think about it. Baked potatoes, beans, lots of salad options. If your friends want to go to a restaurant that is “obviously” not vegan, stop to think about it for a second. When my friends want to eat at a traditionally non-vegan restaurant I don’t usually have any problems eating a very filling meal.

A Learning Process

Eating vegan while traveling is a learning process. Before I embarked on my adventures I was as worried as anybody about being able to eat vegan. It has been a fun experience eating vegan in Australia, New Zealand, India, Thailand, Germany, and Poland.

On many occasions (usually while staying at hostels), when I’d make a meal others would comment on how amazing it looked. When you use lots of fruits/vegetables your meals look quite appetizing. ;)

If you’re worried about traveling to far off lands and keeping a vegan diet, stop worrying. Start living.

Special Note On Comments:

If you have anything negative to say, if you’re not willing to do your research (as stated above), or if you’re making stupid arguments your comment will be trashed.

Feel free to add positive thoughts or helpful points for vegan travel. Thanks!



149 COMMENTS

  1. I went vegan, cold turkey, several months ago. Today I had lunch with friends and there was nothing I could get – so I opted for something with a significant amount of cheese. I am up late with severe gastric distress. Am trying all sorts of things to calm my stomach, but to no avail as of yet. Wasn’t lactose intolerant before. Anybody else experience this?

    I also have gained 10 lbs since going vegan. Who would have thought!!?? But I am hypothyroid (on meds), so maybe some connection there? My thyroid panels come back normal as do my protein levels, potassium, etc…Maybe its all those nuts ;-)

    • Oh damn. I’ve never heard anybody gaining weight on a vegan diet … except maybe junk food vegan where everything is meat replacements and fritos. In any case, sorry the cheese is hurting you. It’s bad stuff. :(

      • Yeah be careful with what you consider vegan, Jerri. If all you eat is bread and pizza without meat on it, that will make you gain weight. There are plenty of junkfood vegetarians out there who are overweight.

        While it’s a good start to eat foods without animal products, just because it doesn’t have that doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Moral issues aside, I would say that the refined carbs and sugars in most processed foods and breads are far worse for you than a grass-fed steak.

        If you’re eating mostly plants (colorful plants, not just cereals & grains), and you’re still gaining fat/weight, then you may have some other issue going on. But I haven’t seen that happen with anyone sticking to a whole plant diet.

  2. Thank you for the replies.

    I do tend to eat something sweet daily – my only vice in life – but really it’s mostly veggies, olives, seeds, nuts, soy, fruit (primarily in the form of a protein smoothie), beans, lentils, etc…. I did break down and include free range eggs – because that made it so much easier to find things to eat – but now I use egg substitute. Yes, I know that is still an egg product and is probably not free range :-( I’m trying…..

    I am post-menopausal, so hormones and thyroid levels are always a concern. Am trying bioidentical hormones once again to see if it helps at all.

    If there are any post-menopausal Vegans on this List, would love to hear what your experiences have been!

    Thanks again!

  3. This article is more than I could have asked for Karol
    I like how you balance your advice with personal stories, you are a great ambassador for how easy being vegan really is.
    Society is dependent on putting dairy in everything, so you can’t blame people for initially thinking it would be complicated. Did you know dairy has an opiate known as casomorphin in it?
    As with most of the readers, I feel at ease about travelling now. Infact I kind of wonder what my worries were at all.
    I find it interesting what you say about being respectful with non-vegan meals. That is the approach I consider although I know a lot of vegans who down right wouldn’t. You have a very valid point about it also being disrespectful to people who don’t have the privilege to choose their meals, let alone have a meal. Although the idea of dairy can occasionally make me feel sick.
    Once my blog is up and running, this is definitely an article I have to link to, it’s so well written I hope you wont mind me sending people here.

  4. […] The problem here is that none of my ideas scare me. I don’t get a distinct “yeah, this one” feeling. (Deciding where you’re going to travel isn’t necessarily life changing or world shattering, although it can be.) Not every decision has to be a scary one, of course. Otherwise, I’d be eating a lot of stray dogs. […]

  5. Hi Karol, I’m 26 and I made the decision to become vegan in November last year but quickly realised I didn’t know enough about food in general to maintain this day in, day out. I made exceptions on Christmas Day and Boxing Day (read, ate meat) so as not to upset my grandparents who are getting on now (my nanna’s cooking IS spectacular!). I’ve been mostly-dairy-and-egg-free-vegetarian since then and am edging ever closer to veganism – it was always the end goal…

    Reading your article on making exceptions as the need arises is something I absolutely agree with; I grew up with a lot of Buddhist influence in the family, so the idea of respect for another being’s life is very high on my list of values, well, respect in general really. I was also raised with the belief that food should never be wasted, so I always find someone to eat what I won’t!

    I had worried about hardline vegans I have met who get very aggressive about relativising when it comes to food “accidents” like you describe, but Im reassured by what you express here. The interesting thing is that it feels like I cut out meat years ago. Being vegan looks like the way forward for certain and posts like yours only make that fact clearer for me :)

    Keep writing great articles!

    Sasha

  6. Hey Karol,

    So glad to have found this article. I also enjoyed the one about why you are vegan.

    I’m vegetarian but eat mostly a vegan diet. I still eat free range eggs and cheese occasionally. The only concern with making the move to vegan was vitamin b12 but I soon found out that there are plenty of supplements out there for that.

    I consider myself a healthy vegetarian and I hardly eat junk foods. I am interested tho, in whether or not the transition period to you becoming full vegan was difficult?

    Have you found that you are able to meet daily calorie requirements easily while traveling to stop fatigue? sorry if that seems like a daft question but I’m genuinely interested.

    Thanks Karol,

  7. Hello
    This has been a great find, thankyou for describing your approach and mindset. I wonder if anyone has any advice they can offer – a very very dear friend of mine is recently vegan and it is clearly a very profound and deeply felt decision.
    Because we are close we have frank discussions, where my friend is very honest about how they feel about non vegans, and it’s pretty hardline. I know these sentiments would not be expressed in day to day interactions but as a non vegan, I am feeling rather judged. They have said that they absolutely do not respect anyone’s choice to ignore the facts pertaining to veganism.
    I know it’s not all about me! And my discomfort is probably a big sign! I certainly don’t and couldn’t disagree with any of the arguments. But I’m not there yet.
    Do I just need to sit tight and avoid discussions?
    Maybe it is too fundamental a difference, and a time will come when my unenlightened habits will preclude me from their life?
    Any thoughts?

    • Hey Em,

      I guess I would either avoid discussions or avoid them altogether. Most of my friends are omnivores and I love them just the same. Change doesn’t happen with hate. It happens by leading.

      Karol

  8. @Em:

    Hard-line vegans like you describe in your friend are why I don’t discuss my food choices with people any more. As soon as you say “vegan” they assume you’re a food fanatic and get defensive.

    Your friend’s unwillingness to respect anyone else’s choice means is the same sort of judgmental crap that makes me despise organized religion.

    Why your friend feels like it is their privilege to judge you based on what you eat is beyond me. Presumably your dietary choices were not the reason you became friends in the first place. if your “very very dear” friend is willing to sacrifice your friendship over your choice of foods, then your friend is in no way “very dear”. In fact, hardly a friend at all.

  9. “Change doesn’t happen with hate. It happens by leading.” What a great quote: thank you! And ain’t it the truth? As vegans or vegetarians, we help far more people “get” it when we deal with the topic (or the food presented) without verbal aggression and/or self-righteousness. And how hard is that, really? Okay, harder when you’re hungry, but still… In your shoes, Em, I believe I’d tell your friend to stuff it if he/she continues to brow-beat you about your food choices.

    *Quick suggestion for vegan road food: dehydrate a bunch of seitan to take along, which could tide you over for at least a while. It’s a great protein source if you’re not gluten-intolerant. Happy trails!

    • I like the dehydrated seitan tip, but 2 problems (just for me). 1) I’d need a dehydrator (not going to happen). 2) Not sure it would be allowed on planes. :)

      Thanks for your support Lynda!

      • Thanks for your perspectives I feel reassured that this stance isn’t the universal vegan viewpoint!
        Um in fact, following a rather nasty accident, I seem to have gone the way of the bean! Am actively enjoying vegan dishes, and definitely not due to pressure from any source but with lots of encouragement from my friend. This has obviously made communications smoother, and I feel I can gently counsel a more understanding approach to other peoples choices, from the inside as it were, so far all ok.

  10. Hi Karol, I’ve gone vegan because I got cancer and read that it is better for you. I may go 80% raw as well. I am curious to know what vegans are basing their morals on when they say they don’t eat meat for “moral” reasons. If you believe in God, the Bible says it is fine to eat meat- Jesus ate fish and lamb. If you don’t believe in God, where does the moral code come from? We are all the result of an accident and it is the survival of the fittest. I don’t mean to Start an argument, but the more I research veganism, the more I run across this and wonder where you are coming from. Kt

    • I never mentioned morals. I don’t have the crutch to ask for forgiveness so I’m accountable to myself and my fellow man. No ghost or god will forgive me for harming someone or something.

      Interesting note though: Did Jesus viciously rape, abuse and mistreat the animals he ate?

  11. As someone who is vegan for my health and to some extent the health of the planet, I find some of those that are vegan for “moral” reasons to be fairly irksome.

    There are a lot of fantastic reasons to eat a vegan diet; improved health being the most significant. People who melt down at the idea of eating honey, or self-righteously go hungry when they get food with animal products (OMG *GELATIN*) merely make the rest of us vegans look like freaks. Enough so that I don’t call myself vegan, as there is a lot of baggage in many people’s minds about what that means. I just say I don’t eat dairy or meat, and if asked why I truthfully reply that it’s better for my health.

    • I’ll go with looking like a freak over blending in with the masses any day, but I do know what you mean. To be honest, the vegans who give vegans a bad name are the “vegans” (and “vegetarians”) who eat chicken, fish, and whatever else “sometimes.” It confuses everybody else as to what it means to be vegan or vegetarian.

      • Sorry. that comment was intended to be in response to Karin.

        I don’t mind being a freak on my own merits, but I have known people so extreme about their in-your-face veganism that it offended me as a vegan. An example – a friend was giving a dinner party and prepared both vegan and omnivore food, as he knew several of us didn’t eat meat. One of the vegan guests asked him *at the table* if the plate and cutlery she was given had *ever* touched meat and when receiving an affirmative answer asked if it was OK if she took them back to the kitchen and re-washed them. Now, *that* is the kind of behavior that makes everyone (certainly everyone at that dinner party) view vegans as nutcases. As a vegan I though that behavior was nutty and made a point of joking with the host about it, after the nut had left.

        Personally, if someone says they are vegetarian and then orders a chicken dish I call them out on it. If I, as a vegan, am given a salad that accidentally (after I ordered it properly) has dairy or bacon bits or some such on it I do my best to avoid them and eat the salad. The occasional bit of cheese or bacon isn’t going to damage my health.

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