Food + Mouth = Survival. Simple math…you’d think.
But the task of feeding yourself can seem like Mission: Impossible once you step off the continent. Language, culture and availability make finding animal-free nosh a massive ordeal that can swallow up a whole afternoon of your hard-earned vacation/travel time. And when your blood sugar starts to dip, after a long bus ride or a day traipsing around some ruins, the difficulty and frustration involved in finding vegetarian food can wreck your day.
Maintaining an alternative food lifestyle while traveling in countries that do not understand or recognize vegetarianism as the moral/ethical/healthful imperative that it is to you, will always be a challenge. But there are ways to make it easier.
After globe-trotting across every continent, 30+ countries, I’ve developed a few strategies to help keep my lean, mean, vegetarian machine meat-free on the hoof.
Going to Egypt? Friggin’ Google “vegetarian Egyptian food!” Of course you could probably eat pizza and french fries for every meal and have a (very dull) vegetarian holiday but the whole point is to sample the local flavour. A little research will go a long way and you won’t miss culinary gems like kosheri (Egypt’s delicious, and vegetarian, ode to carbohydrates).
Pack your own seasoning
The sad truth is that to stay veggie in certain countries and regions you may end up eating some boring, bland and tasteless food. On a three month trip to South America my diet mostly consisted of boiled rice, over-fried eggs and a dusting of limp vegetables. Do yourself a favour and make sure you have some salt and pepper stashed in your bag, hot sauce or spices can also help relieve the ennui of repetition.
Hunting for a decent place to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner every single day is stressful. Is the kitchen clean? Is there anything on the menu I can order? Take the guesswork and anxiety out of eating by hitting a local market. A decent veggie picnic can be cobbled together in this way, and usually for a lot cheaper than eating at a restaurant. Make sure to pack a Swiss Army knife for slicing fruit and veg, and (most importantly) opening bottles of wine.
Bring an arsenal of vitamins
To keep your veggie faith burning bright while traveling, you’ll most likely be eating a limited and repetitive diet (cheese sandwiches again? Yay). As a result it’s possible you could become deficient in some vitamins and nutrients that you’d get from your normal, varied, vegetarian diet. Taking a multivitamin and an iron supplement while you travel can fill in the nutritional gaps, and also help you avoid the fatigue that is associated with some vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Because really, being tired when you’re on vacation is a drag.
OK, I’m a veggie, you’re a veggie, but most of the world gets down with meat products. Food is history, it’s culture. In short it embodies many of the reasons we travel in the first place. And for that reason I propose that once in a while it’s OK to stray from the vegetarian path. It’s OK to nibble blood sausage fresh from a market stall in rural France, slurp authentic pho in Vietnam or taste Argentina’s famous beef. It’s more than just food, it’s identity.
It’s also a good idea to keep some snacks on you at all times, in case you get stranded in a locale where the food options are limited. Keeping yourself fed and healthy while you’re traveling is more important than it is at home. Thieves and scammers are always on the lookout for people who are vulnerable. And when your blood sugar is in the toilet, your decision making is not at its best. You think the bad guys don’t notice but it’s their job to notice, and they’ll take advantage of your food deprived, shadow-of-a-self and con you.
So, when gearing up for your next international adventure (or your first one) get planning, get packing and get real, because the richness that travel adds to your life and to your soul is well worth a little fish sauce entering your temple.
Happy (healthy) travels.