Most people following a plant-based diet will agree: it’s the easiest to follow when we can cook all of our meals at home, in our own well-stocked kitchens. However, life interferes, and we may find ourselves stressing over food while getting ready to travel to a new destination that may or may not accommodate our veggie-oriented eating.
As you know by now, earlier this month Rob and I moved from our 3+ year home in Alabama to the wild and woolly frontier just outside Seattle, WA. During our transition, we spent a week in hotels equipped with only a microwave and a small fridge (okay, it’s better than nothing), first in New Orleans, Louisiana, then in a little town on Whidbey Island in Washington. Quite a bit of time was spent researching places where we could go eat next, all while trying to keep our meals healthy and affordable. Thankfully, we’re not in hotels anymore, but the experience made me wonder if we could have done anything differently to be better prepared for the challenges of eating plant-based while traveling.
After asking Vegan Runner Eats Facebook fans and poking around on the internet, I came up with the following list of no-BS travel tips for the health-oriented plant-based vegan folk. Hint: with some planning ahead, anything is possible. (A big thank you to Kathy from FB and Plantivores blog!)
Tips for Staying Plant-Based while Traveling
1. Come Prepared. It’s always best to have some snacks on hand, like assorted veggies and fruit, granola bars, homemade trail mix (healthier than most store-bought mixes – combine raw nuts and dried fruit with a handful of healthy cereal, bring with you in a zip-top bag). If you can, bring a small cooler with an ice pack, and stock it with some hummus, chickpea salad sandwiches, peanut butter and banana sandwiches, pasta salad, etc. Rob and I never had a problem bringing a cooler with food on the plane – it’s ok with TSA as long as you’re not bringing in liquids.
2. Do your research. Before you leave, do a quick online search of vegan-friendly restaurants, health food stores, etc. at your destination place. Your best bet is to write down whatever you find because the internet connection might be less than perfect at the place you’re visiting, so making a few notes (name of the place, address, etc.) may come in handy later. Some sites can come in handy in your research: check out Happy Cow, Veg Guide, Trip Advisor, and see if there’s a local vegetarian or vegan society/meet-up in the area.
3. Don’t get lost at the airport: even if you didn’t bring any food with you, airports usually have at least some veggie-friendly options. Of course, larger airports have a better choice of restaurants, but even in smaller airports I was able to find at least some hummus with crackers and some refrigerated carrots and broccoli. A bag of nuts will do in a pinch (if possible, choose raw unsalted), as well as a latte with soy milk at a coffee shop. Most sandwich stands can put together a veggie sandwich for you, and if there’s a Mexican restaurant on your way, you’ve hit a jackpot with a bean and rice burrito!
4. Get creative in hotels. Interestingly, even if your hotel room isn’t equipped with a kitchenette (that’s most often the case for us), you can still find ways to eat fairly well:
– Throw in some oatmeal packets into your carry-on, and make yourself a decent breakfast in the morning by microwaving oats with water or non-dairy milk (if you were able to find it at nearby grocery stores). No bowls? Use a paper cup instead. No microwave? Heat up some water in a coffee machine that most hotel rooms have these days.
– Aside from oatmeal, you can make lunch and dinner right in your hotel room with Dr. McDougall’s Right Foods line of soups, entrees and breakfasts that can be easily prepared in a microwave. Dr. McDougall’s entrees are made with real ingredients and can be found on Amazon in packs of 6.
– For those of us who have to stay in hotels for lengthy periods of time, I found this tip from Lindsay Nixon of Happy Herbivore blog: if you’re traveling by car, bring a pressure cooker, and have a fresh, home-cooked meal every night! Most pressure cookers can also be used for sautéing and slow-cooking, so you can either load it up in the morning and come back to a slow-cooked chili or a stew, or take advantage of the quick-cooking method and make a meal in less than half the time it usually takes. Lindsay swears by this pressure cooker by Cuisinart and also brings with her a small chopping board, a knife, a can opener, a spatula, as well as a reusable bowl, a plate, and a spork. Most of the grocery shopping (veggies, cans of beans, etc.) can be done at any stores nearby.
– One more creative tip for hotels I saw online: use an iron (!) for making paninis or warm sandwiches if you must!
5. Go ethnic when eating out. All right, if you find yourself in a city that’s considered a vegan mecca, then you can find your way around without my advice. If not, consider dining in Asian, Indian, African, or Mexican restaurants: most of them will have at least some options that don’t contain animal products. If you’re in a group of people heading to a steakhouse, all is not lost: a baked potato with a side salad can make a healthy and satisfying meal.
6. Take notes. If you’re traveling abroad, consider learning beforehand what the words for ‘meat’, ‘eggs’, ‘milk’, ‘butter’, etc. are it the language of your host country. Your life just might get a little easier when you avoid screaming ‘DAIRY!!!’ at a waiter who’s clueless about what you’re trying to say. There’s also a very handy book called Vegan Passport (you can read the whole thing here) that you can bring with you, and just show the appropriate page to whoever is making your food so that they knew what you’re looking for.
All right, I think I’ve covered most of the aspects here, but if you’d like to add any of your own tips, please do in the comments below!
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