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Vegan Travel is Hard!

My first attempt at being vegan while travelling failed miserably in the face of London and a surprising lack of options, but I’m back on track and going for vegan again. We have a few months of home cooking ahead of us to ease us into veganism, then back on the road. Will I even manage it? I don’t know. The rest of my family like meat and still want to eat it sometimes so it’s tricky, but as always, I can only do my best.

In Vietnam, after 6 months living in Hoi An, I had it nailed, I’d found the vegan places and even a family-friendly burger joint with vegan options, but it took a while to get settled and find the good eating options.

I also managed vegetarian, possibly vegan, in Thailand, although I can’t guarantee there was no fish sauce in my plant based Thai dishes. I did my best and it was easy to eat well at regular street food places in Thailand without meat, eggs or dairy. I’m feeling good about veganism, more determined. So let’s have another go, after all, every time we go without animal products it helps the cause in some small way. There is no such thing as failure, we can all help the plight of animals by just doing what we can.  5 years ago I wrote:

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“I tried, I really did. I want to be vegan. But vegan travel has so far turned out to be about a million times harder than I anticipated. And I’m talking vegan travel in London, one of the easiest places to be vegan on the planet ( so I thought). We live in Romania, vegan travel is hard in Romania, but in London I thought it would be a comparative walk in the park. Turns out I was wrong.

Breakfast with real coffee in Mirissa Sri Lanka
A typical on-the-road breakfast for me. Obviously vegetarian, but is it vegan? I don’t know. Would the street stall owner understand if I asked? Would there be any alternative if that dal was prepared with butter?

Now, before you switch off and tune out, I’m not going to start preaching veganism or become a vegan travel blogger. This is still us, family travel, adventure travel, luxury travel and backpacking, all those things we normally do. I just wanted to try, and hopefully continue to be vegan after being vegetarian for most of my adult life. My husband and kids are not vegetarian or vegan, but at home they eat what I cook, so they are by default. I’m a good cook, they’re cool with that.

Because we travel for most of the year, we eat out a lot. Food is important to us and a huge part of the travel experience, my husband was a professional chef after all. We loath self catering, we eat out and usually do so 3 times every day whenever we’re in Asia. Which is often.

When we’re in restaurants, bars and cafes the other 3 order meat if that is their want. That’s cool and it works for us.

So after this post I will probably shut up about being vegan and won’t bug you with it again. Deal?

Good.

Vegan Travel. Why I Failed

I did almost zero advance research on where and what to eat. I really thought it would be easy in London.

I like to sit down, with my family and eat 3 ( usually hot) meals a day. Not eat snacks from supermarkets.

I never prepare packed lunches, we like eating out.

I have kids, they get hungry in the blink of an eye. I also get hungry in the blink of an eye, truth be told.

Our London itinerary and schedule was more important than the vegan thing

We can’t afford London’s beautiful, fabulous vegan restaurants or even the great vegan street food, on a regular basis.

Wine is not vegan. ( Speciality vegan wines do exist, however and Saisbury’s carries quite a few, see list)

I have blood sugar problems, I need protein and oils or fats to keep myself upright. I’m not into sugars, sweet foods or any carbs, really. Fruit on an empty stomach has me sweating shaking and feeling faint.

I’ve only been trying to be vegan 3-4 weeks. I’m transitioning.

I’m not committed enough in the face of hunger.

How to Make Vegan Travel Easy

  • Research extensively before you leave home. The more research you do, the easier you trip will be on your veganism.
  • The Happy Cow App, and others, are your best friends.
  • Become the sort of person who grazes on fruit and nuts all day or prepares packed lunches.
  • Come prepared, travel with food containers, knives, forks, cups, plates etc. 
  • Plan your days around vegan restaurant locations, if you want to eat well.
  • Carry nuts for emergencies.

So all up, if you were truly dedicated to a vegan lifestyle, you could be eating like a king all day in London, but the vegan thing would have to take precedence. I tried to carry on as normal and eat in our normal places, it didn’t work.  I wasn’t ready on this trip and should have done more advanced research instead of simply assuming that London would be easy.

Normally if we’re at the zoo, we eat at the zoo, if we’re in the Natural History Museum, we eat there, at breakfast time I need somewhere 5 minutes walk from our hostel that’s open at 7am. Sure there are good places we could go ( lets ignore cost here) and as a single person or vegan couple, I probably would, but dragging the kids across London to a particular restaurant or food outlet when they are hungry and tired wasn’t going to win me any family support. I need to get smarter.

 vegan tofu scramble
Vegan breakfast at home, tofu scramble. When cooking at home it’s very, very easy to be vegan.

Will I Continue to be Vegan?

I’ll continue to be as vegan as possible.

At home in Romania I’ve found it very, very easy. That was a surprise.

Normally I eat eggs every morning, I’m a big fan of breakfast. I’ve replaced those eggs with tofu scramble ( which is easy and absolutely delicious) or peanut butter on toast. I don’t normally eat peanut butter and the only brand available at our local supermarket is very sweet, but it will have to do. Did you know that a lot of sugar isn’t vegan?  Avocado on toast is a favourite of mine but they’re very hard to get in Romania.

I cook up soups, curries, noodles, pastas and stews, produce huge pots of home-made Balkan humus and occasionally make a coconut based Thai soup. There are many choices and variations for home vegan cooking, it’s simple and delicious without having to consult recipes or buy any unusual ingredients. It’s satisfying too, nobody is hungry. Chef is doing his Ironman training an a 90% vegan diet and isn’t noticing any dip in fitness or endurance.

But when we travel I just don’t think it’s going to be possible. Vegetarian is easy, just about anywhere, but vegan is hard. Everything seems to have some animal product added at some point in its production. Not one sandwich in M&S was vegan. Nothing, at all, at the Natural History Museum’s café was vegan. I’ve checked the lists, most places we normally frequent when we’re out and about in London, say Pret, Starbucks or Costa, will have maybe 1 vegan item. Quite often it’s something that contains no protein or something sweet.

Because I have 3 other people with me, I’m not able to tell them no, we can’t eat here, we have to go find somewhere that serves vegan food. It’s just not happening. Sure, I could sit and watch them eat and go find myself a bag of nuts later, but where’s the joy in that? I love food and I love eating.

So, I gracefully give up for now. I will be satisfied with vegetarian while we travel and just go for vegan when it’s possible.

At least I’m trying, but in my heart I feel that vegetarianism is pointless, it’s the egg and milk industries that are the real sickeners.

What Prompted Me To Try To Be Vegan?

We live in country Romania.

Beautiful plump, healthy chickens wander through our garden and orchard. I see natural sheep, goats, pigs, horses and cows roaming the flower-filled meadows and village lanes every day.

I’ve watched many pigs slaughtered and butchered on mud and grass in neighbours’ gardens.

I’ve cried at their deaths, but these animals have reasonable lives and diets. If you’re going to eat meat then these are the creatures you should eat.

What tipped me over the edge to veganism was the lambs and kids. They were beautiful this spring, every sheep and goat had a baby. Rural perfection. But those young animals are slaughtered within weeks, born only to keep their mothers in milk and provide an Easter feast. I only eat sheep and goat cheese, I can’t touch cow, I just couldn’t continue to eat it after looking at those lambs and their mothers.

baby goat
My kids play with this baby goat, they cuddle him and love him. I can see him from my kitchen window, bouncing around like the crazy child he is. He will be lunch soon and his mother will mourn, that’s what keeps the milk and cheese coming.

A day or so later I watched a documentary about the egg industry. I knew how barbaric it was already, but watching it again, comparing those poor birds with the plump specimens pecking in the long grass outside was just too much. I couldn’t face another egg. When we have our own cruelty-free chickens, sure, I’ll eat them again, I’ll be as removed as I can be from the egg industry, where male chicks in their thousands are tossed live into giant mincing machines.

So for now, with sadness, I fail. The reality of how difficult it is to travel our way and be vegan is too much. As vegan as I can be will have to be good enough until the world changes, and it will, it has to.”

Booking.com
nomadic family life

Alyson is the creator of World Travel Family travel blog and is a full-time traveller, blogger and travel writer. A lifetime of wanderlust and now over 7 years on the road, 50+ countries allowed the creation of this website, for you. She has a BSc and worked in pathology before entering the travel arena and creating this website. World Travel Family Travel Blog has been helping you travel more, better and further since 2012, when Alyson and James first had this life changing idea. On this site you can find endless travel information, tips and guides plus how to travel, how to fund travel and how to start your own travel blog.

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Vegan River Cruise

Tuesday 24th of March 2020

Vegan travel is hard without research and preparation. We're glad to hear you share your experiences traveling while maintaining an all-green lifestyle.

Alyson for World Travel Family

Wednesday 25th of March 2020

You're not wrong. But over the years it's become much easier, this post is from about 5 years ago. Also destination makes a huge difference. I find Vietnam, for instance, the easiest country to travel and stay vegan.

Fiona

Saturday 14th of September 2019

I sympathize, we have just returned from Mallorca and even though we did our research before leaving it was very very hard. The first day I was so hungry I did eat some cheese while my son had baked beans on toast. (I can't eat them.) After we managed to find a big Aldi we were able to stock up on humus and chickpeas. We found some of the restaurants we'd researched but they were few and far between and only had a few options. So it was doable by going self catering and just eating out in the evenings but as I said not easy! We met one girl who was Vegan and couldn't eat anything at the hotel's all inclusive. We live in Kent and have been Vegan for over a year and I am still having to continually read labels and eating out in the UK is possible but as you say you are usually limited to one choice. Very frustrating. Luckily we Vegans are resilient and as you say it's about doing the best we can. Well done for your honesty.

Alyson Long

Saturday 14th of September 2019

I can't eat baked beans either - nor kidney beans or really any whole large legume. I ordered dal and chappati the other day in Australia and they'd put kidney beans in with the lentils... *facepalm*. I just do my best. I'm off to Bhutan next week, I wonder what they'll feed us there :) But Vietnam after that - super easy.

Josh

Tuesday 16th of October 2018

I definitely agree that forward planning is key! Things become a lot easier the longer you're vegan, you know all the things to look out for and the questions to ask when you're abroad. Sorry to hear that London was difficult, we're from the UK and traditionally food is terrible for vegans. There are a HUGE variety of vegan restaurants and international eateries which are better so I guess it's just knowing where to look.

I hope you can carry on with your veganism, morals aside it's a very healthy way to live, particularly if you're in tropical countries and have access to lots of cheap and delicious fruit!

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Sunday 14th of October 2018

Hi Alyson, I'm thrilled to hear that you are giving vegan travel another try! You are totally right that every step towards a vegan lifestyle makes a difference. It sounds like you have come a long way on that path already!

Alyson Long

Monday 22nd of October 2018

I just do my best Wendy. We just got back from Everest Base Camp, there's no way I'd demand my dal baht be made without butter up there, it would be unfair of me, our best is all we can do. My men folk were all craving meat yesterday after 3 weeks without, I was very happy with my lentils :)

Robert Harry

Tuesday 17th of July 2018

Interesting blog but I am a little disappointed that some travellers are not prepared to make a sacrifice . Veganism and to alesser extent vegetarianism is about the environment as much about ethics, animal rights, health etc. We are senior travellers, just returned from Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Germany, and Austria. We are both vegetarians witha preference for vegan. We have been vegetarian for 26 years, but would eat meat for the taste and texture, if only for our conscience and our health (We will live a longer and healthier life than our peers). We are independent travellers on a budget, travel at about 30% of the cost of a tour. So we stay in self catering apartments at budget prices. The excitement and joy around food comes with the shopping experience. To save on costs we take our own lunch, and this frees up so much downtime waiting in a cafe etc. When we eat out it is a real experience, but to be brutally honest not many live up to my cooking. So why traipse around putting yourself under pressure to find something ethical to eat (try that in Riga or St petersburg).

Alyson Long for World Travel Family

Tuesday 17th of July 2018

Robert, you are entitled to make your choices and we are entitle to ours. The fact that I choose vegan as possible is still a massive improvement on eating a regular omnivorous diet. Why attack the people who are doing their very best to help a situation, rather than the people not even thinking about it? I have 2 boys and a husband, none of them vegetarian, although the're used to being vegan at home, no complaints. Our style of travel does not involve self catering. Try that when you're trekking up K2.