How do you eat vegetarian or vegan while you’re traveling?
And how do you do it healthily, especially if you’re an athlete?
These are almost as common as the protein question, only they’re usually asked by newish vegetarians and vegans, rather than the veg-curious.
And so I set out to write a post to answer the questions. But in the process, I started to understand that any one person’s approach to eating while traveling is unique to them, and might not work for everyone.
What’s more, I haven’t traveled all that much. Last year I had the pleasure of visiting Portland, Austin, San Francisco, San Diego, and Boston, but you’ll notice that these are among the most vegan-friendly cities in the country. So I didn’t exactly have to rack my brain — it was easier to eat in these places than it was at home (before I moved to Asheville)!
That’s when it dawned on me to reach out to some friends — vegetarian and vegan athletes, authors, and bloggers, all of whom travel quite a bit — to assemble a massive collection of healthy, plant-based travel tips from the people who know how to do it better than anyone else in the world.
Here’s what they submitted. I hope you enjoy the advice and, if you’re in the veg-curious camp, find reason to cross yet another common objection off the list.
Plant-based travel tips from athletes, authors, and bloggers
Scott Jurek, ultrarunner, author of the upcoming book Eat & Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness:
1. Look up natural food stores and grocery stores in the area you will be traveling to that carry the foods you will need. Do this before you leave so you have a smooth transition when you arrive to your destination. Do the same for vegetarian restaurants if you plan to eat out or will need to do so occasionally for business and entertainment. If vegan options are not available search out ethnic eateries and those that are plant-based friendly.
2. For longer stays a kitchen or even a hot plate with pots and pans will enable you to prepare homemade meals. Search for studios, kitchenette suites or VRBO rental options.
3. Pack a meal or two and snacks for the plane or car ride. Don’t rely on the food served on airplanes, as most of the time they are not plant-based or healthy options.
4. For the rest of the trip, pack protein powders and other essentials that may be hard to find once you arrive to your destination. Plant-based protein might be the hardest item to find, so having portable protein can be key to supplement the carbohydrate and fat that is readily available.
5. If you’re stuck in an airport and needing to eat airport concession food, usually the best plant-based options are Mexican, Asian, Mediterranean or Middle Eastern. I have even found plant protein at the worst of airports. You can usually find plant-based protein even in rural areas and restaurants. Many times kidney or garbanzo beans are served in salad bars. Ask your server if they have any beans or legumes on hand, even if they are not listed on the menu or in a dish.
6. When you arrive to your hotel, request a mini fridge if your hotel room does not come with one. I have even emptied the mini bar items in a pinch.
Leo Babauta, blogger at Zen Habits and author of several books on productivity and simplicity:
When I travel I usually will look up good vegetarian and veg-friendly restaurants in the city I’m going to, on Happy Cow and vegan blogs based in that city. Then I’ll create a Google Map for the city with good options marked on the map, so wherever I go in the city I’ll have spots to choose from. I like to eat from supermarkets, farmer’s markets and health food stores, where you can usually find cheap and healthy vegetarian food to prepare or eat as is. That said, I always allow myself to indulge a bit while traveling — that’s part of the fun! I just make sure to get lots of veggies in before I indulge, so I don’t overdo it.
Courtney Carver, blogger at Be More with Less:
1. Most restaurants have vegetarian options, but if you don’t see something on the menu, ask. Check to see if the chef has a vegetarian recommendation or find an item on the menu you like and ask for a meat free version.
2. Pack a small collapsible cooler and after checking into your hotel, visit a local grocery store and keep fruits, veggies and other healthy snacks on hand.
Graze: get used to eating small amounts throughout the day. Fruit, nuts, seeds, vegetables.
You don’t have to eat meals…grazing is easy when traveling. Of course Vega One and Vega bars car help. Or can make the bars yourself and pack with you.
Of course, one of the reasons I developed Thrive Foods Direct was to make eating on the road easier. Especially for those who do enjoy complete meals…or for those transitioning to plant-based.
Gena Hamshaw, blogger at Choosing Raw and frequent VegNews contributor:
1. Whenever you’re near a health food store or Whole Foods, stock up on boxed almond milk, snack bars, nut butter, kale chips, and other vegan snacks. You never know when you’ll have another chance, so take advantage when opportunity calls! And if you’re staying with friends, ask if they wouldn’t mind giving you time to do a grocery run. It will make everyone’s life easier–yours and theirs alike.
2. Call restaurants ahead of time and ask (kindly) if vegan staples–like steamed or grilled veggie plates, simple rice, or beans (right out of the can is fine) can be added to a salad dish. If not, a baked potato with a side salad is a fine dinner, and remember: travel is about the experience, and food is only one part of that.
3. Use HappyCow.net to find vegan restaurants near you!
With today’s GPS-enabled smart phones it’s never been easier to be prepared to maintain healthy eating habits on the road. With a modicum of forethought, it’s snap to locate the closest health food market and vegan-friendly eateries in the vicinity of your out-of-town whereabouts. For in-between meals, pack some healthy snacks for the road or flight to stave off cravings that could lead to a sudden unhealthy choice. My favorites are dried fruit and nuts, a large thermos of green smoothie, and/or a tupperware container of brown rice, lentils and/or black beans with some avocado and hot sauce.
Julie Morris, author of Superfood Cuisine:
I always bring insurance when I travel — aka superfoods (extra nutrient-dense foods). Since you never know what kind of accessibility you’ll have to a good, healthy meal, I find it really helpful to pack a small collection of superfoods and have on standby… just in case a baked potato really is the only vegetable a restaurant has in the kitchen. If you think about it, carrying around dried mixes of superfoods is how many ancient cultures stayed strong during their nomadic travels … so it’s not such a stretch for us to look to do the same! A few favorites include:
Dried greens powder – I use wheatgrass powder, chlorella, or a blend of greens, and mix them into water or juice when fresh veggies or a big salad isn’t an option. Plus, it’s a light ingredient to bring.
Chia seeds – They’re easy to sprinkle on anything, including restaurant food, and provide healthy fats and fiber.
Hemp seeds – Premium veggie protein on the go! Can also be sprinkled or mixed into just about anything.
Dried goji berries – With a high concentration of over 20 vitamins and minerals, goji berries have got many basic micronutrient needs covered. Plus, they support the immune system – always a plus while traveling.
Robert Cheeke, author of Vegan Bodybuilding and Fitness — The Complete Guide to Building Your Body on a Plant-Based Diet:
1. The best thing you can do when you travel is be prepared. That is what great athletes do. Prepare bulk quantities of food such as brown rice, potatoes, yams, lots of whole fruits, nuts and so on, and transport them in resealable containers in a travel cooler. When you’re prepared with sufficient quality whole foods, you’ll be able to maintain your meal frequency necessary to sustain energy and muscle mass no matter how hectic your travel plans are.
2. Whether you’re traveling by plane, boat, car, bike or other mode of transportation, always take food with you. Since food is our fuel, our sources of recovery after exercise (along with rest and sleep), and what nourishes us and sustains us, it behooves us to travel with sufficient quantities of prepared foods. Travel with a diversity of whole foods including fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and of course a water bottle to stay hydrated.
3. When people ask me how I maintain my vegan diet when I travel to remote places that don’t seem exceptionally vegan-friendly such as Alabama and Mississippi, or France or Poland, I am quick to remind people that every small and large town I have ever been to anywhere in the world, has grocery stores and some have farmers markets. One doesn’t have to find a vegetarian restaurant to find vegetarian food. Grocery stores are stocked full of produce. Go eat it.
Terry Walters, author of CLEAN Food and CLEAN Start:
Once I reach my destination, I can always find locally sourced, creative and delicious clean food. But it’s the travel itself that’s the greatest challenge, not only because airport options are so limited, but because sitting for an extended period can make even the healthiest meal feel heavy and one’s digestion feel compromised. I eat light when I travel and always bring a selection of raw snacks and pouches of powdered green drink! My favorites are Rachel Jean’s Empowered Herbals and Green Vibrance (I keep their individual serving packs in my bag at all times!).
Benny Lewis, blogger at Fluent In 3 Months, currently traveling somewhere in the middle of China:
No matter where you go, there are always plenty of options! Just remember that printed on a piece of paper does not mean written in stone. I generally simply ask when eating out (if I don’t see something immediately) if they can prepare an otherwise nice looking dish, but instead of chicken etc. to use vegetables I see on other dishes. Almost everywhere has been flexible with me!
Just keep in mind that a translation of ‘vegetarian’ is not so useful and may include chicken or even ‘thin’ slices of other meat, so I generally like to emphasise no-meat-no-fish in a way that’s clear.
happycow.net, the online database of veggie restaurants, is a great resource for when you get to choose the restaurant.
When stuck, you can always order several starters, but to be honest I’ve rarely (in 10 years and dozens of countries) had to sacrifice having a nice filling meal. It’s easier than you think!
Caitlin Boyle, blogger at Healthy Tipping Point:
I travel fairly frequently for work, making about 20 flights a year. The key to finding a healthy vegetarian meal at the airport is definitely walking the entire concourse or food court. I usually do a complete walk-through, looking over the menus and noting healthier choices (and prices). I consider things like whether the buffet has brown rice, if the bread, wrap, or pasta is whole wheat, and if I can find a non-dairy vegetarian protein source. Here are all my tips on eating healthy in an airport, if you’re interested in more!
1. Check HappyCow.net.
2. Check if there’s a national dish (something available mostly everywhere) that happens to be vegan. (e.g. Costa Rica has gallo pinto, vegan if you get it just as rice/beans)
3. Learn how to say ‘no beef, pork, chicken, eggs, or cheese.’
Danielle Elliot, director of the documentary Pushing PB:
At this point I’ve traveled as a vegan through Japan, Southeast Asia, Central America, Europe and South Africa. I’ve got a ton of tricks up my sleeve!
Whenever I’m heading out of town I pack a few instant oatmeal packets (the good ones, with flax or hemp seed), green juice powder, dried mango and raw almonds. Even if you can’t find healthy foods, there is always hot water somewhere nearby.
Mention your lifestyle to the cook. While backpacking through Greece, I thought I should keep it to myself, but my sister kept telling the restaurant owners in these tiny island cafes. Much to my surprise, a few of them were excited to prepare something vegan – and they said it wasn’t too difficult, as they always cook with vegetables and healthy oils when cooking for their families.
And this one comes from Anthony [Baugh, subject of Pushing PB], as we just spent a week in Europe: Don’t expect the label to say vegan. Just be aware of what ingredients make up a vegan food – abroad, the label might say ‘suitable for vegetarians’ but it definitely won’t say anything about being vegan.
Great stuff, huh? Thanks so much to everyone who contributed to this list (and on pretty short notice, too). And, folks at Happy Cow — you can just send the check directly to me and I’ll divide it up among everyone. 🙂
As for me? Score another one for Happy Cow. (I swear they didn’t really pay us.) And whenever possible, I bring a blender, even if it’s just an immersion one with a plastic cup. Usually I’ll mix together all the dry ingredients for several days’ worth of smoothies and bring that in one container, and buy a few frozen items at the store once I get where I’m going.
How about you?
You can help make this list even better by adding your own favorite tips in the comments. How do you plan to keep eating healthy (and vegetarian or vegan) on vacation this summer?