After several months of contemplating, I decided to go fully vegan 6 months ago. Looking back it has been some of the best 6 months of my life (I’ll go into that later), but had you asked me to go vegan 6 months prior to that, I would’ve told you you were bat shit crazy. After all, I was the foodie who tried everything and anything – especially when I traveled. And more than that, I was the queen of new experiences. So why on earth would I ever specifically choose to limit myself in a world of cheese, pate, seafood platters, jamon iberico, gelato and pho among the many other thousands of delicacies around the world. In fact, I used to tell people that I traveled for the food. So going VEGAN certainly wasn’t something that ever crossed my mind.
Yet here I am 6 months later writing a blog post on traveling the world as a vegan and why it’s seemingly way easier than I ever could’ve imagined and, at the same time, just as rewarding, if not more, than being a non-vegan. Crazy how things change, huh? Of course, much of this is mindset, as is everything else in the world, but truly nothing feels better than standing up for your beliefs and values while doing something good for your body, your mind, your heart, the world, the environment and the animals – no matter where you are in the world.
So… how do I do it? A few things:
1. Download the app Happy Cow. NOW. Even if you’re not traveling, this app has saved my ass SO many times and has given me some of the greatest restaurants recs of life. Using your exact location, the app gives you the option to filter vegan, vegetarian or veg-friendly restaurants in your area and shows you customer reviews, location, hours, menus, etc. It’s like Yelp, but specifically for vegans/vegetarians/people with dietary restrictions, and actually gives you real, good suggestions – not McDonalds or Subway. Happy Cow works all over the world, even in tiny cities/towns (like Tilburg, Netherlands…) and helps you find local places you would likely never have been able to find on your own.. and we all know how frustrating and overwhelming it is when you arrive in a new city and have NO Idea where to even begin to look for a good local restaurant that’s outside of all the tourist traps. Yes, the app is $5, and we’re all a little cheap at times, but this is 100% without a doubt worth the investment. Not only will you be able to easily find good quality vegan food no matter where you are in the world, but you’ll also be supporting local businesses that have similar values while also getting to check out the vegan culture/movement/scene in an entirely different city or country. And as I’ve mentioned, it’s a sure fire way to avoid the all-too-common touristy restaurants you encounter while traveling. Plus, for all you other indecisive people out there, this will help you choose something quicker (and better!) than wandering around mindlessly hoping to find something good. Win-win-win if you ask me!
2. Learn the word for “vegan” in whatever language is spoken in the place you’re traveling in. In much of the western world it’s still just “vegan” or some variation of it: “veganisch” or “vegano,¨ but you should be able to easily find the vegan translation in whatever language you’re looking for. Also, be sure to download whatever language is spoken in the country you’re traveling in on Google Translate beforehand so you can automatically translate ingredients and menu items – even when you’re not on WiFi. Google Translate has been such a powerful tool for me while traveling (even aside from restaurants) and it’s a free app that you should definitely take advantage of. There are a number of features on it that you can use, like scanning menus with the camera function or even having somebody speak into the microphone in their language and it’ll give you the translated transcription. Again, make sure to download the language beforehand!
3. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Yes, being vegan is about being disciplined.. at least to a certain extent, and it’s something we’ve trained ourselves to do because of our values and morals. We know how to read labels and what to look for, we know what ingredients we can and cannot have, we know what the best vegan options are in most settings and we know what to ask for and be aware of. That being said, it can sometimes be a little more challenging when you’re in a new country with different labels, ingredients, languages, food regulations and social norms and if you slip up and eat something by accident or you want to try one of the local delicacies that you know is not vegan… its ok! Being vegan is all about intention and doing what feels right for you. Choosing to try, say, cheese while you’re in Paris, or waffles while you’re in Brussels doesn’t make you a cheater or a bad person. It’s natural to want to try something you’ve never tried before and/or take part in a local experience in a new place. I, for example, didn’t want to leave Paris without trying the cheese or Brussels without trying the waffles… and so I did! Some people may say that I cheated or that I’m not a “true” vegan for doing so, but, again, you have to do what feels right for you and find the right balance – whatever that means to you. And if you eat something non-vegan by accident, which is obviously inevitable at some point no matter where you are, don’t be too hard on yourself either. We live in a majority non-vegan world and it’s important to remember that we’re doing our best and living with intention. You also shouldn’t ever have regrets, and if trying something that’s non-vegan is something that you feel like you want to do – do it! Nobody is judging you but yourself. That being said, keep yourself in check and remember why you’re doing what you’re doing.
4. CHANGE YOUR MINDSET. If you think you can’t do it, you can’t. Yes, it’s a little more challenging when you can’t say yes to everything, but remember why you went vegan in the first place. One of the biggest takeaways I’ve had in the last 6 months is that food is a temporary satisfaction. And, yes, it’s so tied to culture and traveling and society, but you have to remember to ask yourself if it’s really worth harming an animal (or whatever reason you chose to become vegan) for a few minutes of satisfaction. If it is, fine! It’s ultimately up to you and about how you feel and what is best for you. That being said, don’t forget that every single culture and society around the world has some sort of vegan option (whether they know it or not…) and you will ALWAYS be able to find something. There’s some sort of vegetable, grain and bean staple in almost every local cuisine, and more times than not, people will happily accommodate to fit your needs. Most places in the western world (and many even outside the West) are fully aware of veganism and sometimes simply asking a waiter what the vegan options are will do the trick. Again, try to remember why you went vegan in the first place. Asking a few more questions and spending a little bit more time doing research shouldn’t stop you from living a compassionate life in line with your values and morals.
5. Go to the grocery store! I think we often have this idea that when we’re in a new place we need to eat out for every meal as if it’s one of the requirements of traveling. Yes, you’ll want to check out the local cuisine and restaurant scene when you arrive in a new place, but it’s important to remember that you have options! Yes, restaurants are great and, to a certain extent, it’s part of the experience, but eating out for every meal is: #1 EXPENSIVE and #2 Not what the locals are doing anyway. If you’re staying at a hostel or AirBnb don’t be afraid to go to the local market or grocery store to pick up some staples for breakfast and/or even some things to make yourself a simple lunch or snack to go. Groceries are actually MUCH cheaper pretty much everywhere outside of the U.S. AND you’ll get a more local experience by shopping where the locals shop and seeing what the local stores and markets sell. In fact, one of my favorite things to do when I get to a new city is browse the local grocery stores and markets for fun and different snack items, fruits and veggies, and you actually learn A LOT about a country and culture from its markets! I usually end up picking up some avocados, toast and local fruits, which serve as a good snack and/or breakfast or lunch, and I also end up getting some of the different snacks and candies they sell.
6. Share the vegan love! Going vegan was one of the most rewarding and compassionate decisions of my life (and I know that almost, if not all, vegans would agree!) Though it may seem limiting and crazy to some, it’s ultimately a beautiful thing that we’re doing to live a more mindful, intentional and compassionate life for ourselves, the animals and the planet. Don’t be ashamed to tell people you’re vegan and, if people ask questions and/or are interested, don’t be afraid to teach them a little bit more about it. After all, they’re asking questions because they’re curious. More times than not, people don’t even realize what they’re putting in their bodies nor the harm they’re causing themselves, the animals and the environment, and depending on how you speak about it, plenty of people will be open to learning more and possibly even trying veganism (or even just a vegan meal!) As a vegan, you are an activist – so proudly stand up for what you believe in and spread the vegan love. It may seem microscopic, but every vegan is truly helping to save the world and veganism is one of the fastest growing social movements in the world today – do your part! I would never be vegan if it weren’t for all the amazing vegans I met around the world who did such an amazing job educating me, inspiring and showing me the way, and I am forever grateful to them for helping me make one of the most positive changes of my life. You never know who you may inspire, too! 😊