I’ve been to over 30 countries and in every single one of them, I was a vegetarian. I never found it particularly challenging to travel as a vegetarian. The only real concern was the people I was with because, let’s face it, some people are less understanding than others when it comes to dietary restrictions. I will never forget the trip where my friend drunkenly yelled at me saying my diet made things hard for her. That was a fun night.
I wouldn’t say that moment scarred me, but it definitely taught me a lesson. Just because I was steadfast in my way of life didn’t mean that everyone was along for that ride with me. And since traveling inevitably brings out the worst in people, I made the conscious decision to travel with people who feel the same way I do, eliminating the possibility for dietary squabbles.
Since I became vegan a little over two years ago, I wondered how that would impact my voyaging. As a vegetarian, going to a restaurant and ordering a dish without meat is easy. It might not be the most filling or authentic dish, but it’s definitely possible to find something at the majority of restaurants around the world. Vegans, however, like to challenge themselves. They ask, how can I avoid every single animal product and byproduct? Luckily for us, these ingredients tend to be omnipresent and hidden away in most recipes. (Please note sarcasm.)
Because of this challenge, vegans have become synonymous with ingredient detectives. We especially like to play a game called “reading the labels”. Have you ever played? It’s so fun, let me tell you. Essentially, you know someone is vegan when you see them in the grocery store, not looking at the delicious cookie image or even the calories per serving, but reading the smallest print in the world that tells you whether that product contains “whey”, “lactose”, or some other derivative of milk. Anyway, the learning curve for veganism can be steep. You are suddenly expected to be a chemist in order to identify what’s safe or not. (Isn’t that a little sad?).
As a traveling vegan, we like to up the stakes. No more billiards with grandpa Jo, it’s time for motha fuckin Russian roulette. Ok, I’ll tone it down a little.
When I walked into a Japanese convenience store to buy local candy, I knew I was in for a ride. I’m illiterate in Japanese, so I could only make educated guesses based on the product’s pictures. Since I’m human, I’ll occasionally say fuck it and eat a cracker that may or may not have milk in it. (Daring, I know.) I tried one mysterious cracker but decided the taste wasn’t worth it.
The good part about Japan is that if the products are foreign or sold in other countries, sometimes they will have a sticker with the ingredients in English. This was lovely. 🙂 But that was pretty much the only lovely thing about being vegan there. Since I thought of Japan as the land of rice, I was sorely disappointed in their inability to cater to vegans. I mean we were in Tokyo! One of the biggest cities in the world! And Tyler and I still had to hike around for 30 minutes to find somewhere where we could eat. I guess it’s an awakening that progress in California and the UK does not mean progress worldwide.
Besides Japan, I’ve been to a few other countries as a vegan and really didn’t struggle to eat there. I went to Costa Rica, Canada, Mexico, Taiwan, Bali, and currently New Zealand. Since I traveled extensively through NZ’s South Island, I think it’s safe to say that it’s easy to eat vegan here in the bigger cities/towns like Dunedin, Queenstown, Christchurch, etc. If you’re going to be in a small town, just buy your own food and make a sandwich on the road. Most people travel in camper vans anyway. I would say the same goes for Canada as well.
Mexico and Costa Rica are great places to be vegan if you don’t mind eating similar foods over and over again. Their food is delicious, and if you’re there for a shorter stay, you probably won’t get sick of it. I was very impressed by Taiwan’s number of vegan restaurants, and the quality of them as well- wow!! Lastly, Bali, which many proclaim to be a “vegan paradise”, disappointed me. I mean, it wasn’t hard to find vegan food there, but I didn’t think the food tasted good. It only looked good. And deceptive food is the worst kind.
On top of this already unfavorable impression of their food, I became violently ill there. I thought eating vegan would mean I’d be immune to traveler’s sickness and uncontrollable vomiting. I mean, isn’t undercooked meat what makes you sick? Or maybe bacteria are the culprit? Regardless, a few bites of rice and tempeh led to incidents involving heinous bodily fluids no one should ever have to name. We got so dehydrated that my brother became delirious. We spent that night in the hospital.
Besides all my silly and overdramatic anecdotes, the real substance of this article is to highlight different facets of a vegan traveler’s life. Here’s what I want to get across:
- If you’re vegan, make it a priority to travel with other vegans, vegetarians, really understanding people or alone. This is such a big deal!
- You will have to put more effort into finding good, “safe” food. Sometimes you might miss a meal or have to make food yourself. Learn to plan ahead.
- If/when you meet people, expect an incredible amount of questions/judgment (but really, is that any different than the US?)
- Vegetables can still give you travelers sickness! Come prepared!
- Despite all the trouble, it’s worth it to stick to your values and morals.