How to Travel as a Vegan

Have you ever faced a situation where you had to travel with a vegan friend? Or as a vegan, having to travel with your friends who are not vegetarians, much less a vegan?

How are you to stay true to your lifestyle while not troubling your friends around you and ruffling their feathers the wrong way/stepping on their toes?

Well, as a vegan, this is the challenge I face every day. But when it comes to travelling in a foreign land with friends, this difficulty becomes more pronounced.

When one goes on a vacation with a friend(s), it is usually for the sake of unwinding and enjoying oneself.

But how can one unwind and enjoy oneself when there is a lack of vegan food?

Many times, friendships turn sour when one party stays stubborn to one’s cause. 2 years back, as an aspiring young vegan, I have stepped on some of my friends’ toes due to my naive stubbornness. 😦

Since then, I’ve learnt that one must be flexible when it comes to eating vegan. It is important to know where are the places one can get vegan food, especially in a foreign land.

Below is the rule-of-five I complied based on my personal experience:

  1. Choose friends to travel with wisely
  2. Choose country: Do your research before heading out
  3. Specify type of meal when getting air tickets / booking tours (VGML)
  4. Learn how to speak the local language to request for vegetarian/vegan food
  5. Be adaptable!

1. Choose friends to travel with wisely

This is the most important criterion: it is very important to travel with friends who are able to take all sorts of nonsense from youΒ (Read: high tolerance level).

Not all your friends can take you at your worst.

Especially since in Asia, where roadside food (usually consisting of meat) is readily available at a very cheap price, it becomes more challenging for one to resist hunger pangs while walking about with friends.

Having just arrived back from a holiday in Korea with a friend, I realised the utmost importance of the choice of a travel buddy. As an individual who enjoys her independence, it is difficult for me to find a travel buddy who is able to fit with my character.

Our trip may be filled with ups-and-downs, not made easy with the extremely cold weather, but we were able to tolerate and appreciate each other’s personal quirks.

Although I did not say this to you directly, I am very thankful to you, my dear friend, for being so accommodating to go vegan and enjoy almost half the meals for our trip on our free-and-easy days at the same place. Thank you Prav! πŸ™‚

2. Choose country: Do your research before heading out

When in a foreign land, one must know where the vegan β€œgems” are located. Otherwise, travelling would be miserable.

It was out of personal interest for the Korean language and culture that I wanted to head to Korea.

South Korea is not a place where vegan food is easily available. The typical korean signature dishes, for example, kimchi (κΉ€μΉ˜), is not vegan as the traditional and common recipe uses anchovy/fish sauce.

I’ve been modifying and preparing my own Korean food at home with reference to recipes found online.

This dish is known as Mung Bean Sprout side dish (μˆ™μ£Όλ‚˜λ¬Ό) which I adapted from MaangchiΒ using Soya Bean sprouts.

One blog I would highly recommend for vegans looking for food in South Korea is Alien’s Day OutΒ where the list of veg-eateries she had eaten at is complied here.

Also, an international franchise for vegan food (originated from Taiwan) is Loving Hut.

Need vegan food? No problem. Simply search for β€œLoving Hut, XYZ country name” to get hits for where the locations of Loving Hut outlets in that particular country. Or you can simply click hereΒ for the list of Loving Hut chain restaurants in the world.

3. Specify type of meal when getting air tickets / booking tours (VGML)

When booking air tickets, always specify your meal preference. The meal code for a (strict) vegetarian meal is VGML.

Like me, if you obtain your travel tickets through an agent, simply request for them to include VGML for the meals when they book your tickets.

A good point about having VGML is that your food is always served to you first. And can be surprisingly delicious too, such as this vegan tofu meal served on Thai Airways to Kathmandu, Nepal.

If one decides to go on a tour, your tour guide (depending on your luck – thankfully I met an awesome tour guide in South Korea), will ensure that your meals are specially seen to without any worry! πŸ™‚

That’s us in Jeju demonstrating to the couples who wish to conceive a son on how to achieve their wish. πŸ˜‰

4. Learn how to speak the local language to request for vegetarian/vegan food

It is always good to be able to speak a bit of the local language to be able to request for specially prepared meals.

Even though I took basic Korean language in university, I still relied on a Lonely Planet phrasebook for the essential phrases such as the one below:

Do not fret if you are unable to read the Korean language, there is a phonetic guide (in orange) at the side.

One tip: I picked up phrases from helpful waiters/waitresses in Thai language when I was in Bangkok to be able to request for a specially prepared strict vegetarian meal of Pad Thai, which was delicious!

5. Be adaptable!

If sincere effort has been made to prepare vegetarian meals but due to some miscommunication (may be due to language barrier), egg/dairy/honey/meat/seafood is present in your dish, does one insist on re-preparing the meal again?

Personally, I feel that it’s best to acknowledge the effort and evaluate if one should do that. The dish may be discarded if sent back to the kitchen and one will actually be wasting food. Which is against the principle of a vegan lifestyle? Yes?

In emergencies, go for fruits. They are healthy and nutritious. πŸ˜‰

*I’ve learnt that being a vegan is a lifelong learning process. Travelling to a new country is fun, if one maintains an open mind. Have you encountered a situation where your meal was mistakenly prepared and served? What did you do? Do leave a comment below on your experience(s). All views are welcome! πŸ™‚

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13 thoughts on “How to Travel as a Vegan

  1. If I was given something with meat, dairy, egg or other animal products in it, even if by mistake, I will not eat it. It is more important to me not to participate in the exploitation and suffering of animals. And I can’t knowingly eat any animal products at all, because it is just so fundamentally wrong to me. I really would rather waste it. Being vegan is so central to who I am and how I live that I cannot do otherwise. I cannot consider it more important to cater to people’s feelings when it means I have to eat things which came out of pain and death to innocent beings. I would do my best to try to communicate politely and sincerely why I can’t eat it, and I know it is hard with the language barrier, but hopefully they might understand somewhat. Perhaps they might even learn something and next time when they encounter a vegan they may remember.

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    1. Hello vegangirl, thanks for sharing with me your thoughts. I admire your stand, as once people learn of your diet preference, they will gain the knowledge when they meet others with the same diet preference as yourself. I just wanted to share that if I was mistakenly given something that is vegetarian instead of vegan, if a bite is taken of the food already, then it is really food wastage if I were to send it back to the kitchen. If it is just a small amount, then it may be acceptable. One thing I learnt from being a vegan is that I must be flexible. To me, it comes out of respect for my fellow sentient beings – both humans and animals. Why do I say that?

      For my fellow humans, to me, it shows that I appreciate their loving kindness of having prepared food for me, even though it was prepared wrongly. I would definitely bring it up to them that I do not take any dairy products and honey, so they will take note of it and in the future, don’t serve me those. I find that the food providers will give me a grateful smile as they do not need to dispose of the food and thus, incur a loss. Also, they will specially take note of my dietary preference and ensure they get it right the next time. That way, they get a repeat customer, plus more if the customer brings friends along and everyone is happy. And in the long term, the demand of dairy products will decrease, which can hopefully lead to a decrease in the supply and thus, a decrease in the exploitation and suffering of animals.

      For my fellow animal friends, I feel more pain if the food that comes from them are thrown away because all the suffering they went through to give us the food is simply discarded without a thought of gratefulness. Personally, because I am also a Buddhist who believes that there is a next life, I will recite mantras that will hopefully help them get a good rebirth in their next life. I am not a saint, just merely a small being with no power. So that when I eat the food, I will try to bless the food, see it as an offering from these animals and be grateful to them for going through all these sufferings just to provide me with food.

      I apologize if the above does not really make much sense to you as I am still trying to live a 100% vegan lifestyle. Do share with me any tips you have from your experiences, I’m sure it will be helpful to me and my readers.

      Cheers,
      Amanda

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    1. Hey Veggie Table iPhone App, that is a really cool app you have just developed. Amazing – must have been a lot of work. Thanks for making it a free app! I do not have an iPhone so I will definitely look forward to it being available on Android, if possible. Kudos for your effort! πŸ™‚

      Cheers,
      Amanda

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  2. Hey Amanda, thanks for the helpful posts for the aspiring vegans out there! I also do a lot of research before I travel to a new country and I learn how to say/write down on a piece of paper that I want vegan food.

    And thanks for the heads up about the kimchi, I haven’t had it in ages but I never knew it isn’t traditionally vegan!

    Going back to your question, if miscommunication has resulted in animal products being found in my dish that cannot be easily removed by myself, if I’m with a friend I will implore him/her to finish it for me. If that doesn’t work (unlikely… haha), or if I’m by myself, I will finish it without kicking up a fuss because as a volunteer activist the most important thing for me is what would facilitate the animals’ interests the most. Would kicking up a huge fuss and creating a negative impression of a vegan that would further reinforce the traditional negative stereotype of a vegan be helpful for the animals? My answer is no. Always striving to show how easy it can be to be a vegan πŸ™‚

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    1. Hi Ashley, yes, I agree with you on the part of not reinforcing the negative viewpoint people have on vegans. However, since I have been a long time vegetarian, if I eat a dish which is most obviously containing chunks of meat (happened before), I will give it away to a friend (same as you). But if no choice, I’ll just try to stomach the dish down without eating the chunks of meat. But it is very difficult for me to even do this knowingly.

      I’m glad that the bit about kimchi is helpful. I didn’t know that too until I started researching how to make it.

      Cheers,
      Amanda

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    1. Hey Jefri, do you mean the VGML meal served on board Thai Airways? Its just tofu made to look like an omelette dish.

      Cheers,
      Amanda

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