How to survive traveling as a vegetarian

We all know it, travelling as a vegetarian comes with its own unique set of challenges.  These are the tricks I’ve learned along the way to make things easier.

We all know it, traveling comes with its own unique set of challenges.  Well, so does being a vegetarian.  When you combine the two, it can really go either way.  It all depends on how you prepare yourself.

I love eating and have quite a refined palette.  I’m a firm believer that food is a great way to learn about someone’s culture.  It’s also a way to share joy, pleasure and love.  There was no way I wasn’t going to take full advantage of the countries we were visiting, and try all their delicious dishes.  Luckily, I didn’t have to cheat on my vegetarian diet to do it!

Vegan burger and fries at Shaka Burger Bohol Philippines
Vegan burger and fries at Shaka Burger, Bohol Philippines

After a year on the road, I want to share some of the things I learned along the way, and help you avoid some of the mistakes I made traveling as a vegetarian.

Why I became a vegetarian

Short answer, for all the reasons.  Because of the way we treat animals, because of the environmental impacts of eating meat, because of health reasons.  All of the reasons.  But I won’t get into that here.  I’ve already shared my journey in another article.

Traveling as a vegetarian

I’m not going to lie.  Traveling as a vegetarian is not easy.  People will constantly question your motives and try to convince you that the animals were put on this earth for us to eat.  Some people may even laugh at you for it.

Just be respectful with the people you meet.  If they ask you questions, answer them as honestly and calmly as you can, but know that you will probably not change their minds with one conversation.  If they pressure you, understand that it comes from a place of love.

Mozarella di buffalo tomato and pesto brushetta in Athens Greece
Mozarella di buffalo tomato and pesto brushetta, Athens Greece

A lot of cultures are very meat-heavy and can’t imagine a meal without a dead animal on their plate.  To refuse more politely, you can tell them meat makes you sick.  After 3 years of not eating meat, I can tell you that my system can no longer digest it.  So I’m not even lying when I tell them that!

So here are some tips I learned while traveling as a vegetarian.  I don’t eat fish either, so it may be easier for those who do.

Stay positive

Don’t despair.  It’s true that some days will be tough.  You won’t find much to eat except rice and eggs.  People won’t understand your reasons.  They may even mock you.  Just stay positive and know there is a huge community of vegetarians worldwide.  In fact, there are over 375 million people in the world who are in our Veg crew.  So don’t let a few nay-sayers ruin the good thing we have going.

Do some research

If you’re a foodie like me, you probably want to eat everything in sight.  Do your research and see what the local delicacies are.  Find out if they can be made without animal meat.  See if any of the local dishes are actually vegetarian from the get-go.  In most countries we visited, we were able to find vegetarian versions of all their local meals… or at least the best ones!

Vegetarian Laska at Yun Shui Ge Vegetarian House, Penang Malaysia
Vegetarian Laska at Yun Shui Ge Vegetarian House, Penang, Malaysia

Ask a local

Once you get there, ask a local about their food customs.  They will be able to give you the inside scoop on what veggie options you can find fresh, in-season and locally without breaking your neck or your bank account.  They may even be able to teach you how to make those local dishes.  Double score!

Know that in most places ‘Vegetarian’ doesn’t mean much

Once, in Japan, I ordered gyoza (dumplings) with a mushroom filling.  I took one bite and knew the gyoza had meat in it.  When I asked the waiter, he said “No meat”.  Being with some locals, I asked them to inquire again, but to find out what the actual filling was.  The waiter then said “Mushroom and chicken.  No meat.

Surprisingly, not every culture categorizes meat the same way.  Some don’t consider fish or chicken to be meat.  Others think seafood is fine for vegetarians (and sometimes, some vegetarians think seafood is fine too).  So go beyond learning “I am vegetarian” in every language.  Instead, learn how to say what you can and cannot eat.  Or at least, bring a phrasebook with you so you can clearly translate what you are ordering.

Get a kitchen

This is something we do to save money, and to make it easier to eat vegetarian meals.  Often, we’ll book a room or Airbnb that has a kitchen or a kitchenette included.  This way, we can make our own meals with the fresh ingredients we find.  Curries are super easy to make and can be shared easily.  Because you know, sharing is caring.

Use Happy Cow

If you’re already a vegetarian or vegan, then you know about Happy Cow.  And you probably love it!  It’s the easiest and best way to find veg-friendly restaurants in town.

Fried sesame pau at Yun Shui Ge Vegetarian House, Penang Malaysia
Fried sesame pau @ Yun Shui Ge Vegetarian House, Penang Malaysia

And if all else fails, just find the closest Indian restaurant.  When we were in Korea and Japan, the least vegetarian-friendly countries we visited, we would stop by the Indian restaurant. They’re almost always delicious, cheap and have tons of vegetarian options.  SCORE!

When in doubt, order a bunch of starters

Sometimes, the restaurant you find only has meat dishes or things made with animal meats as mains.  It’s happened to us a few times, when we get caught eating very late, with only a few options available.  Or we’re with friends who want very specific things to eat.  If there are no main dishes that are meat-free, chances are, you will find starters or sides that do the trick.  So don’t despair, and don’t forget to share!

Make a request

Usually, if there is nothing meat-free on the menu, you can still make a request and see if the kitchen can accommodate you.  Chances are, they don’t want to lose the potential business and they will create a vegetarian dish just for you.  You can ask them to remove the meat, or substitute it for something else.  Just beware that this doesn’t always work.

2 Fruit bowls at Shaka Burger Bohol Philippines
Our favourite fruit bowls at Shaka Burger, Bohol Philippines

In the Philippines, we ordered nachos and asked that they remove the meat.  They said it was impossible to do.  But when we asked if they could remove the pork from the pancit, that was no problem.  Why?  We’re still not sure!

Pack snacks and stock up of fresh produce

If you’re traveling short-term, you can bring some snacks, protein powders or nutrition bars with you.  If you’re traveling long-term like us, we recommend stocking up on snacks when you find some that are protein-heavy or highly nutritious.

Fruit stand Langkawi, Malaysia
Our favourite fruit stand in Langkawi, Malaysia

There are many places where the only vegetarian options I found to eat were rice and eggs.  Those nights were less fun but I was happy to have bananas and apples with me.  In most countries, the produce is super fresh and local so fill up when you can.

Know your limits

Some people change their eating habits when they travel.  Vegans will become vegetarian when they travel.  Vegetarians will have fish once in a while from local vendors.  Know what you are ok “breaking the rules” for.

Kimchi at street market in South Korea
Kimchi at the street market, Busan, South Korea

If you are comfortable with eating something once, you shouldn’t feel bad about it.  For example, when we were in Cambodia, I chose to eat bugs.  Not sure what the rules are about vegetarians eating bugs, but I was quite ok with the idea.

Be flexible

Another time, in the Philippines, we had a meal at the home of a family friend.  She cooked the whole day for us.  But our friend forgot to mention I was a vegetarian.  So she cooked tons of shrimp, crab, chicken and rice.  I’m always happy when there’s rice.  I didn’t want to be difficult, so I had some shrimp.  I didn’t like it, but I didn’t want to insult this person who welcomed us into her home and fed us.  It was just not worth it for a few shrimps that were caught by her family a few hours earlier.

Traditional Morocan vegetable Tajine
A traditional vegetable tajine, Tangier, Morocco

In other countries, where soup was a main staple, I didn’t constantly question if the broth was made with beef or chicken stock.  I would have driven myself, the waiters and my husband crazy.  I just chose to have it and not make a fuss about it.

Know where to go and be prepared

It’s always good to know if the country or city you’re traveling to is vegetarian-friendly or not.  Make sure you look into their cuisine and available veg options.  The countries that I found were the least vegetarian friendly were Korea, Japan, and the Philippines.  Those are the places where I had the same veggie meal over and over again (every day, for weeks).  On the other hand, Australia, New Zealand, Greece and Armenia were great for vegetarians!

Vegetarian Rendang at Yun Shui Ge Vegetarian House, Penang Malaysia
Vegetarian Rendang @ Yun Shui Ge Vegetarian House, Penang Malaysia

These are the little things that I’ve learned to help me survive as a vegetarian.  Overall, just stay true to who you are, stick to your values, and keep an open, loving mind.

I’d love to hear what other tricks you’ve found too.  Has traveling as a vegetarian or vegan been easy for you?  Let me know in the comments.


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How to survive travelling as a vegetarian. It's not easy but it is a decision I would make over and over again. www.wediditourway.com

Why I became a vegetarian & can never turn back

Many become a vegetarian for environmental reasons, for health reasons, or for ethical reasons to advocate for the ethical treatment of animals.  These are the reasons why I chose to become a vegetarian.

There are tons of reasons people decide to become vegetarians.  In fact, worldwide, over 600 million people have chosen a vegetarian diet.  Everyone’s journey is unique, yet has so many similar and familiar aspects.  Many choose to cut meat for environmental reasons, for health reasons, or for ethical reasons to advocate for the ethical treatment of animals.  Whatever the reason, it’s a good one, because they are all the reasons why I chose to become a vegetarian.

My journey took some time, as most do, but now that I’ve been a vegetarian for 3 full years, I can’t see myself turning back.  I have cut meat, including fish, out of my life, and I feel great.  Although this was very hard for my family to understand at first, they have come to grips with it.  Being Armenian, we are a culture that relies heavily on meat.  They still do animal sacrifices for special occasions, after all!  But like most Armenians, when I have my eyes set on a goal, can’t nobody stop me!

Mozarella di buffalo tomato and pesto brushetta in Athens Greece
Delicious bruschetta with mozzarella di buffalo

Don’t get me wrong, I used to love meat, all types.  I was a serious foodie.  I would eat things that were questionably edible because, well… why not?  If you told me I was going to become a vegetarian back then, I would have laughed at you a little.  But on one random night, everything changed.

It all started with baby steps

I opened my eyes to the negative impact of eating meat quite randomly.  About 5 years ago, I fell down the rabbit hole watching Ted Talks when I stumbled upon one that spoke to me.  It was a simple and short video about the environmental impacts of eating meat.  After this, I decided to become a weekday vegetarian.  I loved the taste of meat way too much to give it up full time.

So I did with the next best thing – No meat on weekdays, but fish was ok.  On weekends, I had a choice as to what I ate (meat or not).  I thought I was doing my part, and that was good enough for me.  It was a good enough compromise – I could still eat meat when I wanted, but by reducing it drastically, I was doing my part to save the environment.

Traditional Morocan vegetable Tajine
Traditional Moroccan vegetarian tajine

My big change

Two years after that, I came home from a very well-fed honeymoon to Portugal.  Hello fish, seafood and pork diet!  The next day, I watched a documentary that changed my life, called Cowspiracy.

Fruit bowl at Shaka Burger Bohol Philippines
Smoothie bowl at Shaka Burger in Bohol, Philippines

That was it for me.

When I realized the environmental impacts of eating meat and fish, the health benefits of a plant-based diet, and the brutal way we treat our animals, I knew I had had enough.

For the love of animals

I love animals. We’re a foster family for our animal welfare organization back home.  I hate seeing animals hungry or mistreated when we travel (we have even saved a few when we could).  So I knew I could no longer eat the beings I love so much.  I felt like too much of a hypocrite.

Traditional Japanease food at a Ryokan
Traditional Japanese food at a Ryokan in Hakone, Japan

Back home, we’re so blind to the idea of animals being our food.  We go to the grocery store, buy the cut of meat we want, cook it, and eat it without ever wondering how it actually got on our plate.

When we were in the Philippines, we attended a traditional Filipino wedding.  There, they served pork as the main course.  In fact, they served 3 pigs.  But just a few hours before the wedding, those pigs were alive and kicking in the front yard of the home we were staying in.  At 7AM that morning, those pigs were killed by slitting their throats.  They squealed and cried, and we heard the whole thing.  I lay in bed crying, thinking about these pigs, who saw their pen pals being murdered in front of them.

Pastries at street market in South Korea
Pastries in the markets of Busan, South Korea

These pigs were actually pretty lucky compared to how most of our Canadian and American livestock are treated.  We all see the graphic videos that one zealous friend shares on our feed showing how animals are mistreated in farms and slaughterhouses.  We all have the same reason of turning away, scrolling quicker to skip the harsh reality we impose on these animals.

We forget that these animals were actually living in cages sometimes smaller than their bodies.  We turn a blind eye to the fact that they are injected with hormones and growth agents.  We ignore the fact that they aren’t fed properly so they resort to licking the metal cages or eating their own feces.  And somehow, we’re ok with eating this meat.

I didn’t want to be a part of this cruelty anymore.  So I figured that if I couldn’t kill the animal I was going to eat with my own hands, that I shouldn’t be eating it at all.  Because we’re so far removed from the process, we forget that these animals are actually sentient beings.  We rip their young from them, we feed them hormones so they’re bigger and juicier, we literally torture them for our own culinary pleasure.  We would be outraged if we actually saw what we were doing to them, but because we don’t, we let it go.

We’re killing the environment

From the emission of greenhouse gases, to the cutting of rainforests, to ocean deadzones – eating meat is literally killing our planet.  I couldn’t stand here, and be a good advocate for the environment, and continue killing it blindly.  When you see the facts, it’s a bit scary.

  • In the United Nations, animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all the cars and trucks in the world.  That’s pretty crazy!
  • Meat and dairy provide just 18% of calories and 37% of protein, yet they use the vast majority – 83% – of farmland and produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions.  It’s not really worth it when you look at it this way.
  • Animal Agriculture is responsible for 20%-33% of all fresh water consumption in the world today.  We could put that water to better use, for sure!

I care so much for the environment.  Since I was a kid, I was the loudest one in my family, pushing people to recycle.  Just ask my sister.  When she would litter and throw things out of the car (it was the 90’s, we all did), I would stop the car and make her go pick up her trash.  I was the first in my family to compost, and I’ve adopted a minimalist lifestyle.  We even try to be eco-travellers because we know the environmental impacts of travelling.

Oranges at street market in South Korea
Oranges and tomatoes in Busan, South Korea

So knowing what eating meat does to our planet, I knew I had to stop. Plus, because we just got our scuba diving certification, I’m even more motivated to continue.  We just discovered the beauty of the underwater world.  There’s no way I’m going to kill the very thing I admire exploring.

In fact, more and more studies show that the best way to reduce our impact on earth is to avoid eating meat and dairy.  So what are we all waiting for?

What the health?

Yeah, that’s the name of a documentary but it’s a damn good title too for what I want to talk about.  The impacts of eating meat on our health are staggering.  I’ve read through so many books and studies, and the results are eye-opening.

Like most people, I was convinced we needed meat in our diet to be healthy.  Where else are you going to get your proteins from after all?  But this is a big lie we’ve all been fed.  We get our protein the same place our food gets theirs, through plants, vegetables and grains.  And these things are damn delish!

snacks on xanemo sailboat Naxos Greece
Fruits and cookies provided by Xanemo Sailing in Naxos, Greece

There are so many sicknesses that result from eating meat.  In fact, studies have found that by cutting out meat, your body actually thrives and can cure itself of these ailments like cancer, diabetes, obesity, depression, and so many more.  So if not for the love of animals or the plant, why not just for your own health?

Why not become vegan?

I ask myself that all the time.  And I want to.  To be honest, the last year has been a little tough on me as a vegetarian.  Travelling full-time and on a budget is not always easy for vegans or vegetarians.  Many cultures rely heavily on meat and fish in their diets, and getting the nutrients you need with limited food is hard.  In a lot of countries we visited, eggs, cheese and rice were the only vegetarian things on the menu.  Yup, sometimes, even fruits and veggies are scarce, or super expensive.

Olives at the market in Eauze France
Olives in the Eauze Thursday market, France

When we stop travelling, I’ll be pushing for a mainly vegan diet.  I am keen on cutting out cheese, even though I love it so much. I still want to be responsible, healthy and stick  to my values.

Was it hard?

Nope.  Like I said, when I put my mind to something, you can’t stop me.  The trick I found that helps the most was to get good recipe books and find good food blogs.  I’ve built myself a monthly menu of 30-40 recipes that I can alternate between.  Even though Derek eats meat on occasion, we found ways to eat the same meal, but with the “protein” being vegetarian vs meaty.

 

In restaurants, I can almost always find nutritious vegetarian meals, or worse case, I can ask them to remove the meat.  Because let’s be honest, a house green salad isn’t going to keep me full for very long.

When I go to my family or friend’s home, I bring a meal that’s easy to share, delicious and nutritious.  Usually, they will have veggie-friendly dishes that are mainly sides.  But hey, I’m not complaining if it’s delicious!

Kimchi at street market in South Korea
No trip to South Korea is complete without a healthy dose of Kimchi!

And when we travel, well, you can read more about that soon!

So all in all, no, it wasn’t hard at all.  Vegetarian meals take more time to prepare than throwing a chunk of meat on the grill, but let me tell you, I have never felt lighter, healthier and better than I do today.  And with some prep, everything becomes easy.

What can you do?

If you’re not ready to take the plunge, there are tons of things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint and feel better about your choices, for ethical, environmental and health reasons.

Fruit bowl at Shaka Burger Bohol Philippines
Another smoothy bowl from Shaka Burger in Bohol, Philippines.  We could not get enough of these.

Try going vegetarian

It’s as simple as that.  Just try going vegetarian or vegan.  There are a tons of websites that can help you do it.  They offer 30-day meal plans, tips and tricks on how you can do it short-term, or even long term.  If you have a willingness to try it, we have faith that you will succeed.

Bread in Berlin Germany
Freshly bakes bread in Berlin, Germany

Reduce the amount of meat you eat

It’s that simple.  You can try to be a weekday vegetarian.  You can do meatless Mondays.  You can skip one meat meal a day.  Whatever you choose, it will be a big improvement on the current status quo.  So whenever you can, skip that meat and opt for a vegetarian or vegan meal.  And if you really want to eat a living creature, opt for bugs, they are much more delicious than you would think!

Try to eat organic or local meats

If you can’t skip out on meat (which you can, I know you can do it!), opt for organic meats, or get them straight from a farmer.  It can ensure you are supporting the right people (not huge heartless corporations), and it will encourage them to keep up their good work.  Usually smaller farms treat their animals more ethically, so that’s a win too.

2 Fruit bowls at Shaka Burger Bohol Philippines
Did we mention we sort of liked these smoothie bowls?

The smaller the better

The production of larger animals (beef & pork) and processed meats are a lot more harmful than smaller or locally produced meats.  So if you’re going to eat meat, go for a small organic chicken.

Traditional Japanease food at a Ryokan 3
Another dish from the Ryokan in Hakone, Japan

Try to reduce your environmental impact

If you don’t want to cut meat out just yet, try to reduce your footprint.  Pick up trash, compost your food scraps, grow your own veggies, adopt chickens or beehives in your backyard, don’t use single use plastic.  Whatever you do, it will help.  If you’re travelling, you can check out these ways of being an eco-traveller.

Dried fruits at the market in Eauze France
Some dried fruits at the local Eauze Market in France

Read and watch more

The more you know about the food system, the more educated choices you’ll be able to make.  You’ll also feel better about making these enlightened choices.  Here are some great books and websites that can help!

Websites

For great nutritional facts, without any opinions: nutritionfacts.org

For meal plans, facts and recipes: forksoverknives.com

For more meals, environmental and animal news: onegreenplanet.org

Am I trying to change your mind with this article?  Maybe a little.  But more than that, I’m trying to open your eyes to a different way of viewing your food.  We’re all responsible for the choices we make.  The more we know about where our food comes from, how it’s raised and how it makes its way to our plate, the more we can make better, more educated choices.  And slowly, together, we can try and save this beautiful planet of ours, and the creatures that live on it (yeah, that includes us as well)!


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All the reasons I chose to become a vegetarian 3 years ago. It's been one of the best choices I've made, and I don't want to turn back. Includes tips and tricks on how you can make the change too. www.wediditourway.com