I recently asked my social media followers to send me their most burning questions about how to travel vegan. Now here's the fun part, where I answer all of your questions!
I received quite a range of questions, from basic ones like "What is vegan travel?" to more focused queries about finding vegan food in specific countries. I will do my best to answer them all. So let's dive in!
"What is vegan travel?"
Vegan travel means maintaining a vegan lifestyle while you're away from home. And if you're not sure what a vegan lifestyle is, it's living in a way that avoids contributing to any exploitation of animals or cruelty to animals, as far as is possible and practicable.
While most vegan travelers tend to focus on the food aspect of vegan travel, there are other things to consider as well. For example, a vegan would also want to refrain from using toiletries that have been tested on animals. Exploitative animal tourist attractions such as zoos, aquariums, elephant rides, etc. are also to be avoided.
That might sound a bit overwhelming at first, but don't worry! There are plenty of ethical ways to view animals in the wild, and plenty of delicious vegan food all over the world. In addition to the growing number of vegan and veg-friendly restaurants, you'll often find that some of the traditional local specialties in your destination happen to be vegan.
The vegan dining scene is certainly growing, and some cities have earned a reputation as vegan foodie destinations. I know plenty of vegans who have traveled to places like Berlin, Germany or Turin, Italy just for the food!
But that doesn't mean that you need to restrict yourself to known vegan meccas when choosing a destination. I've traveled to such remote places as the tiny mountain kingdom of Lesotho in Africa, and even in tiny villages I've always managed to find something vegan to eat.
If you're an intrepid traveler who likes to get off the beaten track and experience unknown places, then don't be afraid to set off on a vegan adventure. With a bit of research and advance planning, you can be vegan anywhere.
Download my free ebook, 9 Steps for Easy Vegan Travel, for my top tips on maintaining your vegan lifestyle while on the road.
"What is the difference between a vegan and a vegetarian?"
Vegetarians are people who do not eat any animal flesh, whereas vegans are people who avoid animal exploitation and cruelty in all its forms, to the extent possible. When it comes to food, this means avoiding not just meat but also eggs and dairy products. If you're wondering what could be cruel about eggs and milk, read this.
"How do vegans travel?"
Vegans travel in many different ways. Some vegans are hardcore budget backpackers who travel on public transport and cook all their own meals to save money. Others prefer to pamper themselves by staying in a luxury vegan resort or hopping on one of the vegan river cruises that have become increasingly popular.
If you're new to vegan travel and are a bit nervous about it, you could hire a vegan travel agency to plan your trip for you or join one of the vegan travel tours being offered by a growing number of vegan tour operators.
But if you're happy to do the planning yourself, independent travel as a vegan is definitely an option.
"Do you read the menu before you go to a restaurant, or do you ask them to veganize a dish for you?"
The first thing I do when researching a destination is to look at the listings on HappyCow. If it's a reasonably-sized city in Europe or North America, then there are likely to be quite a few vegan and vegan-friendly restaurants listed.
In many cases, I have to pick and choose the best ones, because I just don't have time to eat at all the different veg-friendly eateries in the city.
However, in more off-the-beaten-track destinations, there may be little to no listings on HappyCow. But that definitely doesn't mean there's no vegan food there!
In those cases, I'll sometimes use other web portals such as TripAdvisor or Yelp to identify restaurants that may have vegan options. Then I'll look for the menu on the restaurant's website or Facebook page.
But in small towns and villages, especially in developing countries, it's not always possible to look at a menu in advance. In those situations, I just see what's available once I get there. A lot of times, there will be one or more vegan items already on the menu, even if they aren't labeled as such.
If not, then I politley ask if it's possible to adapt one of the dishes, for example by leaving off the cheese on a pizza or pasta dish. Combining a few different side dishes to create a meal is also an option.
And if you don't see anything remotely vegan on the menu, don't be afraid to ask the restaurant staff if they can create a special dish for you. In many cases, the chef will be excited about the challenge! The Vegan Passport app is a handy tool for these situations if you don't speak the local language.
"How do you eat cheaply in places where the only vegan options are posh vegan shops?"
Self-catering is a great way to keep your expenses down when traveling, whether you are vegan or not. An easy way to do this is by renting an AirBnB apartment with a kitchen. New to AirBnB? Click here to sign up and get $40 off your first booking!
If you want to reduce your expenses even further, you can look for a hostel that has a shared kitchen. You definitely don't have to get your cooking supplies from posh vegan shops.
Any local grocery store will have basic plant-based ingredients, such as canned beans, rice or pasta, and fresh produce. Here's a basic grocery list for self-catering vegan travelers.
And when you don't feel like cooking, trying looking for a no-frills kebab stand. They almost always have a falafel sandwich on offer.
"What snacks do you find best for travelling in areas where there are not many vegan options available?"
Dried fruit and nuts make great travel snacks. They are filling and also full of nutrition. And best of all, you can find them pretty much anywhere!
Energy bars are also really convenient. I often carry a couple of them around with me in my day pack, just in case. Some fresh fruits like apples, oranges and even grapes will also hold up well when traveling. I don't recommend bananas, though! Finding a smushed one in the bottom of your bag is not fun.
Here are some more vegan travel snack ideas to keep in mind when you're packing for your next trip. It's a good idea to pack an emergency food stash no matter where you're going. You may not need it, but the peace of mind it will give you is worth the extra bit of weight in your luggage.
"What country has the most vegetarians / vegans?"
India seems to be the country with the highest number of vegetarians as a percentage of the country's total population. The statistics vary, but the percentage of Indians who follow a vegetarian diet is somewhere between 30% and 40%. This high percentage can be explained in part by cultural and religious factors, as well as economic ones.
Keep in mind, though, that in many countries there's no data because no studies have been conducted on the topic. And the polls that have been conducted are often inconsistent in their definition of the terms "vegan" and "vegetarian", making it difficult to conduct a worldwide comparative analysis.
As this study points out, many people in undeveloped countries are vegetarian out of necessity, because they don't have access to meat and/or cannot afford it. The study estimates that a whopping 22% of the world population is vegetarian. That's a lot!
However, 95% of those people are vegetarian out of necessity, while only 5% are vegetarian by choice. According to the same study, as of 2001, Timor Leste (East Timor) actually had more vegetarians per capita than any other country, with more than half the population eating a meat-free diet. This is expected to change, though, as the country becomes more prosperous.
"Where to travel vegan?"
My answer to this question is simple. You should travel to wherever you want to go! As someone who loves to travel and wants to see the whole world, I don't let my veganism become a restriction on my travels.
I've been traveling as a vegan since 2014, and over the years I've come to realize that there's always a way to make it work, even in the most meat-loving destinations.
"How to travel Europe vegan?"
Europe is possibly the easiest continent of all for vegan travelers. The vegan movement is growing at breakneck speed in many European countries, such as Germany, Poland, Spain and the UK. Fully vegan restaurants abound in many cities, and mainstream restaurants are also increasing their vegan offerings and marking vegan options on their menus.
The European Union regulations on the labeling of food allergens makes it even easier for vegans. While the implementation of these regulations varies, in some countries (such as Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia) egg, dairy and other animal-based allergens are clearly indicated for each item on restaurant menus.
Vegan travelers are so spoiled for choice in Europe, it can be hard to know which country to choose! Check out some of my many articles on vegan travel in Europe for inspiration.
For newbies, I would suggest vegan travel in Europe as a great way to begin your vegan adventures. Vegan travel in the UK is perhaps the easiest of all, especially if you are an English speaker and don't want to worry about communicating your needs in a foreign language.
"Can I be a vegan and travel in Japan?"
Absolutely! Japan is a bit of a paradox when it comes to vegan food. On the one hand, the local cuisine is largely plant-based. Tofu and vegetables are used abundantly, and meat is relatively rare.
On the other hand, fish is a big part of the local diet, and it tends to sneak its way into seemingly vegan dishes. And then there's the language barrier, which poses an additional challenge.
Nevertheless, veganism has become more widespread in Japan in the past few years, and with a bit of knowledge about the culture and the cuisine you can definitely enjoy traveling in Japan as a vegan.
"How can I survive South America as a vegetarian or vegan traveler?"
More easily than you might think! It's true that some South American countries, particularly Argentina and Brazil, have a reputation as being meat-obsessed. And while the meat culture is indeed strong, these countries are also experiencing a vegan boom.
You can now find vegan steak houses right alonside the traditional barbeque joints in Buenos Aires! Even the office of the Argentine president has adopted a meat-free Monday policy at the staff canteen.
There's a similar atmosphere in Brazil, where vegan restaurants are popping up all over the place.
Just a few days after I publish this article, I'll be hopping on a plane to São Paulo to explore Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay for the next three months. So watch this space for more vegan finds in South America!
"Is it possible to travel through India and Nepal as a vegan?"
Yep! As explained above, India has more vegetarians than probably any other country in the world. And vegetarian as it's defined in India generally means free of eggs as well as meat and fish. Pretty much any restaurant in the country will offer vegetarian meals, so the only ingredient to watch out for as a vegan is dairy.
In North Indian cuisine, dairy products such as ghee, paneer and curd do feature rather prominently, but in South India coconut milk is often used instead of cow's milk. Here are some vegan Indian dishes that you should definitely seek out while you're there. Then finish off your meal with one of these vegan Indian desserts!
While the vegetarian population in Nepal is not quite as high as in India, vegetarian and vegan food is still abundant. Dal bhat (lentil stew with rice) is the staple food in Nepal and is available absolutley everywhere.
"Are there ample food options for vegans when travelling out of India?"
Oh, the irony. While Westerners are worried about finding vegan food in India, it seems that Indians are worried about finding vegan food outside of India!
Yes, there are plenty of vegan options in other parts of the world. As I mentioned before, Europe is a good place to start, and vegan travel in the USA can also be very rewarding, particularly in cities on the East and West coasts.
"What are the most popular vegan travel destinations?"
Here, in no particular order, are some of the destinations for vegan foodie travel that seem to be on everyone's lips these days:
Popular Destinations to Travel Vegan in Europe
Popular Destinations to Travel Vegan in the USA and Canada
Popular Destinations to Travel Vegan in Asia and Oceania
"What are the best places to travel to when you’re a vegan?"
This might sound like the same question as the one above, but actually it's a bit different. And so is my answer.
While there are plenty of places that have gained a reputation as vegan meccas (see the non-exhaustive list above), there are other destinations with a traditional cuisine that happens to be quite vegan-friendly, despite the lack of a strong vegan movement there. And these places are all too often overlooked by vegan travelers.
Greece is a prime example of a country where the local cuisine is very plant-based. And yet, many vegans don't realize just how vegan-friendly the country really is.
Since vegan restaurants there are few and far between, and vegan options are rarely marked on menus, it's easy to miss the plethora of vegan options if you don't know what you're looking for.
And Greece is definitely not the only hidden vegan gem out there. In my book Veggie Planet, I highlight vegan dishes in 11 of the world's most popular cuisines and show just how vegan-friendly these cuisines really are. You can download a free chapter of the book here.
Vegan on the Map approaches this question from a different angle. They have created a thought-provoking map of the world that ranks each country according to how vegan-friendly it is. Their rankings place Switzerland, India, Israel, Taiwan and New Zealand in the top five spots.
[UPDATE June 2019: It appears the map is no longer online. I will update here if it becomes available again.]
At the other end of the spectrum, the least vegan-friendly countries in the world, again according to Vegan on the Map, are Ukraine, Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Venezuela and Belarus. This ranking is based on several factors, including the number of vegetarian and vegan restaurants, the annual meat consumption per capita, and the number of estimated vegetarians and vegans in the country.
I find that, in some cases, my own personal experiences contradict the rankings on the map. For example, I lived in Switzerland for my first two years as a vegan, and I definitely would not classify it as the most vegan-friendly country in the world. Not. Even. Close.
Nevertheless, I appreciate the work that went into the map and the difficulties of gauging how vegan-friendly countries are, when there are so many different factors at play. This is why, and I repeat, the "most popular vegan travel destinations" and the "best places to travel to as a vegan" are not necessarily the same.
"As a vegan traveler, what difficulties did you encounter during vacations or business trips?"
Honestly, traveling as a vegan has been so much easier than I thought it would be when I first started out on this journey. I actually enjoy travel even more now than I did in my pre-vegan days! That's why I created this website -- to help people who have the same fears and misconceptions I once had about vegan travel.
The worst I've had to deal with during vacations was a hostile waiter who had a thing against vegans, which was not the end of the world.
Business travel can pose its own challenges, since business travelers often don't have the freedom to seek out vegan-friendly restaurants or request vegan-friendly meals.
While my experience with business travel is limited, I did attend a travel blogger conference recently where the vegan options ran out within the first 10 minutes of the opening party. I was stuck with lettuce and sauerkraut for dinner. That sucked.
I made sure to let the organizers know that they had underestimated the number of people who wanted vegan options, and the offerings did improve on subsequent days. But I kept a stash of snacks on hand at all times, just in case.
Here are some more tips on how to make sure you stay fed while on a business trip.
"Is travelling vegan?"
Umm, yes? I would be interested to know the logic behind this question. There is nothing about traveling that is inherently non-vegan, since traveling in itself does not involve exploitation of or cruelty to animals.
My guess is that the person who asked this question was referring to the environmental damage caused by traveling, and in particular by flying. This is a real concern, and of course damaging the environment does harm the human and non-human animals that live in that environment.
But just about everything we do causes some environmental harm, and it's unhelpful and unproductive to beat ourselves up over every single particle of greenhouse gas that we create. It's also unhelpful to the vegan movement to start labeling anything and everything as "non-vegan". This just makes veganism look difficult and discourages people from giving it a try.
So yes, traveling is vegan.
With all that said, just because our vegan diet drastically reduces our carbon footprint, that doesn't give us a pass to wreak havoc on the environment in other ways.
In addition to avoiding animal products while traveling, here are some other steps you can take to make your travels more eco-friendly. Spoiler alert: one of the tips is to avoid flying when possible. And if you really need to fly, here's how to minimize the environmental impact of your flight.
"Can you travel abroad on a vegan gluten free diet?"
Yes, you can. Your options will be more limited, but it can certainly be done. If you have celiac disease or a serious allergy, however, be aware that in many countries there is a lack of awareness about food allergies. Restaurant staff may not be sufficiently vigilant about cross-contamination, so keep this risk in mind.
Nevertheless, there are people who follow a vegan and gluten free diet and successfully travel abroad. For ideas and inspiration, check out Bridget of Gluten Free and Vegan. And if you're more the visual type, check out these videos by Once Upon a Vegan and Simply Quinoa to see what they eat while traveling.
"Are there any group tours specifically for vegans?"
Why, yes! In fact, I've recently started leading vegan tours myself! In 2019 I will be leading two vegan tours of Italy and one vegan tour of Portugal in collaboration with Veg Jaunts and Journeys. I'd love for you to join me!
A growing number of vegan tour operators are offering tours in different destinations all across the globe. I keep this list updated, so check back regularly to see what's new.
Do you have a question about vegan travel that's not answered here? Ask it in the comments below!