Traveling on a Plant-Based Diet: How to Stay on Track Away from Home
I get pretty excited about travel. It's one of the things in life that I've always told myself not give up on, and I'd venture to guess that if someone offered you the chance to pack up and go for an adventure somewhere far away for a bit, you'd be pretty stoked, too (amiright?).
BUT... if you're trying to stick with a healthier (vegan) lifestyle, it might be difficult to navigate the landscape of food whilst away from home. There's pressure from family, friends, and lack of exclusively vegan restaurants to choose from out there.
What to do?
Here is a smattering of tips I've accumulated along the way, and how my husband and I have dealt with these situations. I've broken them down into time intervals. For example, one might have different plans for eating healthy during a picnic on a lovely afternoon than plans made for a week-long hiking excursion. Subscribe, comment, share-- Hope you enjoy :)
For an afternoon at the beach/park/art museum: when in doubt, pack-in pack-out!
I bring a backpack with collapsible re-useable water bottle, roll-up towel, and box-up lunch with my favorite energy bar snack (I like raw Lara bars, but you can make your own date energy balls in the food processor for the same effect) pretty much every time I leave for an afternoon away from home.
My favorite items to pack:
Lara Bars or date energy balls
Cold pasta salad
Veggies and hummus
Vegan burger/sandwich and chips
Most parks allow you to bring your own food and offer free water, but like in the case of today (AKA I needed an internet connection, plug, and caffeine at my favorite Galveston coffee house) I was in need of services from an area that doesn't allow outside food or drink.
In this case, if the business doesn't have vegan options, I'll take a quick break and eat atop my towel and enjoy some people watching prior to settling in. Today I ate my dinner at the beach, then drove over to my coffee shop and started work with a full stomach and coffee in hand :)
For Longer Excursions Away From Home:
When you start getting into airports and longer time away from home, things get a little trickier. But not impossible! Little known fact about airports: as long as you don't bring liquids, you can bring as much FOOD as you want! Fresh fruit, grains, seeds, veggies, granola bars, and more are ALL allowed on domestic flights, so be sure to pack up a few snacks for the flight.
Here are some tips if you're stuck inside a U.S. airport with zero vegan options, and no packed food:
1) Always check out Starbucks. They usually have an assortment of veggies/hummus, and might even carry a vegan peanut butter sandwich or vegan fruit smoothie.
2) Find a burrito bar or Tex-Mex restaurant in the food court, and ask for a custom order! I've always had luck with just adding veggies, beans, and tomatoes to a burrito in a pinch. Almost all flour tortillas in these places are made with simply flour and water.
3) Asian-inspired cuisine? There's almost always at least one in every airport food court. Grab some brown rice, steamed broccoli, snow peas, carrots, watercress, bok choy, or whatever else is offered!
4) Go for Greek! Pita bread is vegan, usually just consisting of flour and water. Ask for a greek salad without feta cheese, or opt for a pita bread wrap with sauteed veggies.
5) Italian? Try out a thin-crust all-veggie marinara sauce pizza without cheese. Ask for extra veggies in exchange for cheese, and you might even get a deal :)
6) Occasionally we've run into a Dunkin Donuts with almond or soy milk in the airport. Woohoo!
Once you've landed:
If you're at the mercy of friends or family for food options, try to plan ahead. I've ordered to-go from a local vegan restaurant, picked up food after landing at the airport, and used that for food during my entire stay. No stress!
A great app that aids in finding and reviewing veg-friendly restaurants around the world is Happy Cow. They've scoped out a pretty updated list of vegan and vegetarian establishments, and leave honest reviews about what's offered. I've used this in place of Yelp, as it's been much more reliable and easier to filter. (Typing in "vegan" on Yelp's search app almost always includes restaurants that aren't actually vegan-friendly, or have little to no vegan options at all).
If there aren't any vegan restaurants around, try looking for a Whole Foods: they have an excellent takeaway food bar based on weight, and you can stock up on things like pre-cooked tofu, veggies, and grains. It's usually cheaper than going to a sit-down restaurant too!
Eating with Friends and Family on Vacation:
I've truly never had a problem finding something to eat at a restaurant, regardless of whether or not it serves meat. It can be difficult to justify your eating habits to a group of people though, and I've accepted that being needy and belligerent about my eating habits never makes (or keeps) friends. BUT... I still stick to my guns.
Confidence and compromise is everything. You're never going to stick to anything by constantly trying to make everyone happy: it's impossible, and you'll end up right back where you started. However, making concessions and acknowledging that other people may not want to go to an Indian buffet just for you shows other people how you're able to still enjoy life AND be healthy.
Going out to non-vegan establishments:
A public service announcement from the rest of the non-veg world: most people don't care about your special diet, and the minute you utter the word "vegan", they may even be annoyed with you for no reason. My advice to those ordering at non-veg restaurants with friends or family? Don't pick and choose ingredients from a meal, and then ask the staff to basically omit everything. If you're unsure as to whether a dish is vegan, it probably isn't!
Appetizers: chips and salsa with fresh guacamole are almost always vegan, and luckily it's a ubiquitous centerpiece at just about every single Texas cafe. Other great (not-so-healthy) options at most chain sit-down businesses include baked potato wedges, edamame with sea salt, hummus and pita bread, or house salads.
Traditionally "All-meat" Establishments: If your in-laws (like mine) insist on dining at a Brazilian steakhouse on special occasions, never fear! These places try to entice guests into eating at their AMAZING salad bars so that you're full prior to chowing down on meat (which costs them more). Which is great for visiting vegans, AND the bill is considerably less expensive if you're a "salad-bar only" customer.
Crawfish? Ask for boiled potatoes, corn on the cob, and salad with a bread roll.
Barbecue? Try out some baked beans, a plain baked potato with barbecue sauce and chives, and a side salad with bread roll.
Ask for a custom plate: The nicer the restaurant, the more likely the chef/kitchen staff will make you a custom order. And despite what I used to think: they LOVE getting to be creative! Ask for grilled vegetables over grains, a bed of lettuce, or seasonal side dishes made as a main.
Go for the sides: this is a newbie trick that works great at chain places, especially the likes of Cracker Barrel (ex: grits with no butter, whole-wheat toast, fresh fruit, and pan-fried or grilled veggies for a full "meal" of sides).
The moral of this story
Whether you go on a trip with sympathetic friends or not, the point of all of this is to have fun and remain true to yourself.
If the people you're around love and support you, you're still going to get shit-- but they'll also hopefully respect your decision.
Getting flack from friends and family for having a healthy lifestyle is par for the course. I don't ever bring up my food choices unless I'm asked about it. And even still, I've been given harsh remarks, snickering glances, and crazy "what-if-you-were-stuck-on-a-desert-island-with-no-veggies" scenarios, and I chalk it all up to this:
It isn't hard to eat healthy. What's hard is looking at your own choices and being okay with them. Every time you eat a whole-foods plant based meal in public, other people might be asking themselves why they haven't made the same choice.
"Will power" and "being so dedicated" have nothing to do with it. You're the only person who gets to decide what you put into your own body.
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