Student Travel Guide: 3 tips for Vegetarian Travel
Updated: Aug 19, 2020
Right now in 2012, being a vegetarian in the UK is pretty easy. People understand what it’s all about – even if there are still many that laugh it off as some kind of teenage-rebellion/peace-loving hippy endeavour. Vegetarianism is still common - and it's on the rise. Most restaurants will have at least a handful of decent non-meat options available and I do not live in fear of eating out and living life to the fullest. Travelling as a vegetarian, however, can be decidedly different.
Being a vegetarian whilst travelling is probably one of the most difficult aspects of travel I have experienced so far. Cultural differences, language barriers and the sheer lack of a vegetarian ethos present in certain countries food culture have consistently meant that I really have to think about what the hell I am going to eat for the next day, week or month. In Central America, for example, simply asking for food without meat is not enough. I found this out one bite into a chicken tortilla too late. "Pero... es carne?" I stumbled, in broken Spanish. "Nooo," the chef replied. "Esta pollo!".
Organised tours and vegetarians
Many of the travel tours I’ve found myself on that offered meals have also been a bit of a struggle. Whilst backpacking Australia, despite letting tour operators know I was a vegetarian, I couldn’t help but be very, very bitter about the absolute feast given to my backpacker buddy and the group around us whilst I picked at a questionable veggie burger and salad. In many heavy meat-eating cultures, being a vegetarian means salad, salad and more salad. The staple of my Australia backpacking diet. Alright for the first handful of times, but needless to say, salad and bread get pretty boring. (I did, however, lose all of my first-year university drinking weight. Hurrah!)
If you’re travelling anytime soon on a backpacker budget and aren’t too keen on eating meat, then here are some tips I would recommend to ensure you avoid starvation and have a great time travelling as a vegetarian.
1) Go to supermarkets and cook yourself
Shopping in supermarkets and cooking in your hostel kitchen is the easiest way to travel as a vegetarian and still ensure you eat good food. Stock up on cereal bars, instant noodles, soup, beans, bread, pasta, fruit, veg… I mean, it's not difficult. If you know how to feed yourself, it's not hard to figure out. Basically all the stuff that you know will fill you up, are easy to carry around with you, won’t cost the earth and are easy to make in limited hostel kitchens. Supermarkets are the best way to keep costs down whilst backpacking anyway, regardless of being a vegetarian or an avid meat eater. And a hostel kitchen is a great place to meet fellow travellers and who knows, maybe convince a meat-eater or two that the veggie life is the way to go!
2) Widen your culinary horizons
Travel in Australia as a vegetarian was hard, but travelling in Latin America was harder. Everything had meat in it. My saving grace was the fact that I am not particularly picky... aside from the meat. I will try pretty much everything, and usually, I like it. For fussy eaters, this might be a problem. Especially with many of the extended travel tours in more remote areas, you may have to widen any previously picky tastes. An aversion to white bread or a preference for cherry tomatoes instead of beef isn’t going to do you any favours, but an unwillingness to try seemingly strange and exotic dishes may be a nightmare. Be willing to try things you haven’t tried before – you might end up discovering something amazing, and this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to sacrifice your food-morals.
3) Make sure you voice your needs
Emphasising your dietary requirements to tour operators or travel organisations cannot be stressed enough. Make a little more fuss than usual to ensure that you are not forgotten about as a vegetarian. This may sound a tad pessimistic - isn't offensive to be so sure that the vegetarian offering on your next adventure travel tour isn't going to be up to scratch. … but from many disappointing evenings behind me, I have come to realise if you don’t have high expectations of some glorious feast then you won’t be forced to crying into your watery tofu and – you guessed it – a portion of salad. My expectations while backpacking in Australia were constantly dashed food-wise for two months. As a big lover of food, this meant some soul-destroying meal times. I should have prepared for the eventuality of a lacking vegetarian dish, and maybe made more of a special request when booking tours. Or brought some food with me...