My GOLDEN RULES for vegans on vacation:
RELAX. At home I cook most of my meals from scratch; therefore I have great control over what I eat. When I eat out, and especially when I eat out in an unfamiliar city, I accept that I lose some control. I concentrate on avoiding meat, eggs, and dairy. Anything beyond that is a choice of personal purity (and perhaps ego) that may make a difference to me, personally, but makes minimal difference to animals, my health, or the environment. I try not to focus on sourcing the sugar or tracking down every preservative or worrying about cross-contamination.
TAKE PROVISIONS. In America, make sure your hotel room has a microwave and refrigerator. (In Europe, just pray you get a decent electric teakettle!) Take antiseptically sealed cartons of soy or almond milk, plus a box of cereal. Instant oatmeal. Pack some fruit, nuts, trail mix, maybe some energy bars. A loaf of bread. Some spreads to put on your bread – peanut or almond butter, jam, Indian pickles or chutney. (One of my fondest memories is of picnicking on the steps of St. Peter’s Cathedral in London after climbing all the way to the top, eating slices of bread smeared with green chili chutney).
BUT ONLY TAKE PROVISIONS IF YOU’RE TRAVELING WITHIN A COUNTRY. Taking food into or out of a country can cost you some time and trouble in Customs. Most countries require you declare ALL food products upon entry. Processed foods like cookies and candy are generally permissible; however many fruits and vegetables may not be. So if you’re traveling outside the country, it’s better to…
FIND A SHOP NEAR YOUR HOTEL, AND BUY YOUR PROVISIONS THERE. (In fact, it’s a smart idea to locate a nearby store if you plan to be staying in one place for any length of time.) Frugal Vegan Tip: Stock up on bottled water, because bottled water is very expensive indeed at tourist attractions!
KEEP YOUR PROVISIONS LIGHTWEIGHT. Unless you are traveling by car the entire way from home to hotel, keep your provisions lightweight. If you will be doing some serious walking or taking public transport, you don’t want to be hauling a suitcase or backpack weighted down with heavy soup cans.
DON’T FORGET UTENSILS … Hotels will usually provide you with plastic cups, and maybe a small pack of tissues, but it’s a good idea to take some paper plates, paper or plastic bowls, napkins, and a few plastic forks, knives, and spoons. Antibacterial hand wipes or gels also come in handy, for all those times you’ll be snacking on the go.
… OR SUGAR AND SALT. If vegan sugar is important to you, take some unrefined sugar with you – ideally in little packets, not a 3-lb canister. You will also appreciate small travel shakers of salt and pepper if you order takeout.
DON’T COMPLETELY UNPLUG. Yes, everyone will tell you to leave the computers at home and don’t check your email, Facebook, Twitter, yada yada yada. However, a computer of some type is absolutely essential for finding addresses and phone numbers, booking hotels, renting cars, checking out menus, paying for tours, and ordering delivery online. Perhaps you’ve got an awesome smartphone, but if your phone isn’t so smart, or isn’t so awesome, take your smallest laptop or better yet, a tablet. Another caveat about relying too heavily on your smartphone: It may not work in another country, or, if it does, the phone/data charges could be astronomical!
DO YOUR RESEARCH. Happy Cow used to the be the definitive guide to finding vegan food. Today, with the popularity of Yelp and Urban Spoon, I find Happy Cow’s usefulness limited. Other ways to research – besides Googling “destination + vegan”? Check Meetup.com to see if there is a vegan/vegetarian Meetup group in the area. If so, look back through their calendar to see which restaurants they chose to hold their Meetups. Those restaurants are guaranteed to be vegan-friendly. I also like to search for local vegan bloggers and read their restaurant reviews (and maybe even contact them beforehand).
EAT. If you go on active vacations, like we do (plenty of walking/sightseeing and perhaps some sporting activities) you need to eat.
If you have children, they need to eat.
If you have a partner who gets cranky and impossible when he gets hungry, he needs to eat.
So, again, if you are reasonably sure something is free of milk, eggs, or dairy … EAT. Whether that means snacking on your provisions, or eating a salad when you don’t really like salad, or eating your seventeenth samosa of the week.
Being a martyr is NOT going to help animals.
It will NOT help you to convert new vegans. Nothing is scarier than “that crazy man who yelled at the waiter about L-cysteine and refused to eat, even though there was a veggie burger and ten salads on the menu” or “that frail shaky woman who passed out from hunger in the middle of the Louvre“.
Being a martyr will only ensure you have a miserable (if self-righteous) vacation.
BE KIND TO YOURSELF. Mistakes happen.
Those seasonal waitpeople working at tourist spots may not know/care about ingredients. (You think that teenager serving burgers and fries outside Warwick Castle during her summer break really cares?) So you might – in good faith! – eat something you believed was vegan and then later discover it was not.
Your brain may decide to take a vacation (to a spot other than the one your body is vacationing in) and you might order something without really thinking about or questioning the ingredients. (I recently ordered fried jalapeno coins for my vegan Boca Burger at Red Robin, based on a waiter’s recommendation. When he later asked if we needed mayo, thousand island, or honey mustard for our burgers/fries I realized he was not as knowledgeable as I’d thought and the jalapeno coins were probably not vegan. What can I say? – Normally I’m so careful but that night my body was vacationing in Myrtle Beach while my brain was vacationing in Hawaii.)
And, sometimes, you just have to make your best, educated guess (especially in situations where language could be a barrier).
The important thing is, don’t beat yourself up over small slips!
A mistake doesn’t mean you’re not a vegan – it just means you made a mistake!
You did the best you could with the information you had available.
Or maybe you just need better coping or research skills – or more practice!
BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF, THOUGH. There’s a huge difference between taking a gamble on a veggie burger, and rationalizing, “Well, I’m not sure if this veggie burger is 100% vegan, so I might as well order this half pound Angus Beef burger with extra cheese!”
SO BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF, AND KIND. And take some provisions and do some research.
And be one of THOSE vegans …
One of the happy, healthy ones, full of smiles and compassion and energy …
One who does a little research and impresses everyone with the delightful and delicious looking vegan food they ordered … or impresses everyone with the healthy, yummy snacks they are always munching on.
One who has a great time on vacation, stays true to their values, forgives themselves for slipups or awkward situations they don’t yet have the skills/knowledge to handle, and serves as a positive and relatable role model for everyone watching them.
(Because, if you’re a vegan, EVERYONE is watching you. Sometimes in admiration. Sometimes in horror.)
So go on vacation.
Have a great time. Do the best you can … in the situation you are in … at the time you are in it.
Don’t aim for perfect.
Spectacular is good enough.