15 March 2012

traveling vegan: a general how-to

Introducing the other half of my blog - its conjoined twin, if you will.  Before I write specifically about places I've visited, I've got some 'splainin' to do.

Determine the official language of your destination.  If you speak and read that language fluently, you're gonna coast.  The gift of 100% comprehensive communication takes you a long way, whether you're buying groceries and checking the ingredients, or eating out and asking your server about a menu item.  Just don't go to a Peruvian steak house in the middle of the Amazon - yes, this picture is exactly that - and expect vegan pizza.  Common sense, my muffins.

I just called you muffins.

If you don't know the local language, improvise.
+ Stick to cities.  Small townies have a tendency to think you are UBER-weird if you request something that's not on the menu or wander through the local market in search of nutritional yeast.  They prolly don't know what vegan means.  The odds of their ability to completely accommodate you are slim because they won't have the numerous resources of a big city.  Of course, sometimes our travels take all of us to small towns, so once there you can try cooking with whole foods.  Should be a snap if you've got access to a market.  If that's not in the itinerary, I give you permission to cheat.  As if you needed it.  I'll tell you all about how I've been forced to cheat myself in later posts.
+ If there's a food you can't live without, bring it or buy it there.  I personally abhor packing ANYTHING I don't need unless we're talking food.  I often take my breakfast foods with me - amaranth and granola - because those can be expensive and/or difficult to find.  I always carry snacks on planes and trains, just in case.  And in a new place, having a guaruntee about at least one meal or snack can be a major stress relief.  Just don't try to take your kombucha on the plane.
+ Research local dishes, markets, and restaurants ahead of time.  If there aren't any compatible places, at least you know before you go!  That gives you time to pack what you'll need and bring it with you.  But seriously, the chances of there not being ANYTHING you can eat are so small I wouldn't even worry about it.  Know where your vegan-friendly places are before you go, so you won't have to do a massive and stressful end-of-your-rope search when you get there.  There's nothing worse than being hungry out of your mind while walking down a busy foreign street, hoping against hope that the next food vendor will have at least a freaking apple and that you won't collapse from exhaustion before you get there.  Knowing a restaurant is vegan-compatible will also give you an edge when ordering - if you've looked at their website in English and know what they can do, you'll have an easier time with your server, even if you have trouble communicating.  Try using Happy Cow and checking out the extensive resources listed on Circle Our Earth.
+ Learn a few key phrases in the local lingo.  Such as vegan, no dairy, no meat, no eggs, vegetables, beans, rice, no I'm not crazy, and it's not my fault - blame Alli.

When planning with tour companies, B&Bs, or other organizations that offer food, tell them you're vegan - IN ADVANCE.  They want your money real bad and will do virtually anything to accommodate you, provided you give them time to prepare.  They're also used to dealing with special diets, so they won't balk at yours.  Give them all the basics about what vegans can and can't eat.

If you have to cheat, be nice to your digestive system.  We all get desperate.  Sometimes, there's just no other option but to tuck into an omelette.  Know what foods your system will tolerate.  I've told you guys that I go defcon III when I ingest cheese.  I assume meat would wreak the same havoc on my insides, as well as any straight up dairy product, like a container of yogurt or a glass of milk.  However, eggs are easier to digest, and if you gotta eat a baked good like bread or the local equivalent, any eggs or dairy that've been baked into it will generally be okay.  Once you've consumed the non-vegan food, drink lots of water, eat fiber, and try not to chow down on anything afterwards that might upset you in the least, like spicy dishes or sweets.  I don't want you wandering the globe with a roll of toilet paper.

Respect local traditions.  Um, duh.  I know none of you would walk up to a Maori tribeswoman and scoff at the fact that she's eating a fish.  Just follow the Prime Directive.

Have a great trip, my muffins!

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