If was tough being away from my familiar vegan foods for 10 days as I chilled out in the land of Conch Fritters- Nassau, Bahamas. It was an effort to stay healthy. Not because a vegan diet doesn’t mesh with health, but because options weren’t always self-evident. I made some mistakes that won’t be repeated. Learned some solutions that I’d like to share.
1. Plan. You must. I’ve learned the cardinal rule for vegans is to never assume that there will be food for you, or that people will understand what a vegan is, or why you are one. Be prepared to care for yourself. Read Vegan Freak and you’ll understand why. (link)
2. Before you leave, search the web for info on vegan options at your destination. In the US it’s easy. Happy Cow is great. They also have a smart phone app. Internationally it’s a bit harder. Happy Cow has a sparse international list and generally covers the regions of Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Hong Kong, and Singapore. The Caribbean was big for me and Happy Cow didn’t help. Vegan Society has some good resources as does the International Vegetarian Organization.
3. Your food is more important than extra clothes. Leave room for it. Bring emergency staples and goodies like raw bars, nuts, and dried fruit. Pack a few Ziploc bags with things like quick cook organic oatmeal. Rice is a good one if you have access to a kitchen. Go to a discount store at home and buy a carry on pouch that holds those 3oz containers that you use to fill with shampoo and lotions. Have a pouch for your toiletries, but also fix one for your food. Fill the 3oz bottles with agave nectar, condiments, and spices that will make your days happier. Put your shampoo pouch in your checked bag and throw the food pouch in your carry on and you’ll be set.
4. Know that your food might be much more expensive than you’re used to. You also may not find the items that you need or that you’re used to. On my recent trip to the Bahamas I found that groceries in general are about 40% higher than in the US. I found Boca Vegan patties at a main Nassau supermarket and because they were not a top item, they were old and looked as if they had been frozen many times. Skipped them to save my health. Peppers were $5.99 a pound!
5. Don’t be a vegan snob. There is a huge possibility that there won’t be restaurants that are dedicated for vegetarians or vegans. Prepare to look over menus and see what you can eat, and what might be modified by asking. Don’t suffer because you don’t want to smell meat at the table next to you. I found coconut peas and rice, fresh steamed asparagus, and baked onion soup at the Black Angus Grille in Nassau. Left full, fortified, and still vegan.
6. Supplements- if you don’t typically take them, you might need them now. Your body will be going through a huge adjustment if you’re traveling more than a few days. You might not have the food you want on the first days and you don’t want to get sick. Go to a vitamin store or if time permits, order some supplements online. Know your body. I focus on B12, calcium, iron, vitamin C, ginkgo, valerian, and ignatia.
7. Meal replacements- Again, don’t focus on clothes and not on the body you wear them on. In a pinch, a good meal replacement can help you feel nourished enough to save money by skipping one meal or give you time to find the right food stop. Buy a small container and pack it away. I recommend soy free, gluten free Ultimate Meal because its got a good calorie balance and lots of nutrients. 16g of protein and 350 cals with fruit added.
8.. Protein- On my recent trip I considered packing blocks of my favorite firm terriaki tofu from Trader Joes. However I was sure that they would be seen as C4 explosives and I’d be taken down at security. So I packed powdered protein and bars. Why both? Personally I get tired of bars. Shakes give me a variety. I’ve learned that you can travel with a blender but it must be in checked baggage. A cheap stick blender will do the job. I use vegan, organic and soy free Garden of Life Raw Protein (link) with 18g of protein per serving (80 cals).
9. Depending on where you are, you might be faced with the cultural moment of offending someone because you have to refuse a food that is a staple of his or her culture. If possible, explain that you are a vegan and you appreciate their offer. The worst thing to do is begin stating your personal vegan manifesto. It’s not the time and is most likely a waste of time. I’ve found that near and far, the best thing to say after your refusal is to remind them that you haven’t eaten animal products in a very long time and if you did now you would likely get very sick and ruin your enjoyable time with them. This seems to work well.
10. Don’t become a vegan who eats opposite of their conviction and grubs on animal products just because they’re traveling and there are lots of cool restaurants to try. If you have committed to a vegan life, remember why and stick with it. Having said that, I personally would not refuse to eat animal products if nothing else was available. Fortunately, this seems unlikely in our society. Even isolated monks in mountain monasteries are vegan, so I’m really speaking of a worse case scenario. If I came across this rare scenario, I wouldn’t beat myself up about making that one time decision and the vegan police would just have to kiss my healthy and rosy…..face.
Happy traveling fellow vegans!
**update: another helpful listing from U of Chicago: (link)