Vacationing while vegan, here’s a quick guide

Christopher Elliott

THE WASHINGTON POST – If you’re an omnivore who thinks good food is hard to find on vacation, try travelling while vegan.

Plant-based diets are growing in popularity, but most tourist destinations still cater to the comfort-food crowd. There are large parts of the country – indeed, the world – without vegan restaurants. What’s someone on an all-veggie diet to do

Colette Coleman, an educational consultant and vegan in New York, is one of those travellers. She said looking for a vegan restaurant may be a mistake.

Often it’s better to find a great vegan dish at a local restaurant serving diverse dishes, she said.

For example, in Italy, she found vegan selections on the contorni portion of the menu – salads and vegetable side dishes. In France, she dined on lentil stews and ratatouille, which are vegan and commonly available. And in Latin America, the beans and rice were generally meatless.

Vegan black burger with sweet potato
Plant-based diets are growing in popularity, but most tourist destinations still cater to the comfort-food crowd

If your New Year’s resolution included a switch to a plant-based diet, then advice like Coleman’s doesn’t come a moment too soon. Maybe you’re a few weeks away from a spring break getaway and wondering How am I going to eat vegan at a steak-and-potatoes destination

It’s not as hard as it looks. (By the way, a quick note about terms. Generally, vegetarian means no meat, while vegan means no animal products at all.)

For someone who is just starting down the vegan path, my advice is to not stress out, said Tammy Kerr, a travel agent in Hernando Beach, Florida, who specialises in travelling while vegan. Years ago, vegans who wanted to take a vacation were limited to a handful of places with acceptable food options.

Today, vegans don’t have to make that choice, she added.

Technology can help you track down vegan food quickly. One smartphone app, HappyCow, is consistently recommended by vegan travellers. It lists and rates vegan restaurants and grocery stores near you. Review apps such as Yelp also allow you to apply a vegan filter to restaurant searches (the results are not always reliably vegan, so it’s best to call the restaurant if you have questions). And Google’s search results are getting better at pinpointing highly rated vegan restaurants.

Another helpful tool for vegan travellers is Vegan Passport (USD2), an app created by the Vegan Society. It’s a multilingual phrase book with terms that will help you communicate your dietary restrictions to 96 per cent of the world’s population. The latest edition covers 78 languages, including Hausa, Xhosa and Zulu.

Tania Pantoja-Alvarez, who runs a series of vegan events in Los Angeles called Vegan Street Fair, said she also connects with fellow vegans on Facebook groups such as Vegans United before she travels.

Search for ‘vegan’ and the place you are visiting and see what pops up, she said. Join and ask for their best recommendations. There is nothing like the locals showing you around. You may even discover some cool vegan events occurring during your trip.

But what if there are no vegan restaurants at your destination Besides finding a plant-based dish at a regular restaurant, you can always look for other food sources. That’s the advice of Kristin Lajeunesse, author of Will Travel for Vegan Food A Young Woman’s Solo Van-Dwelling Mission to Break Free, Find Food, and Make Love.

Look for a grocery store and stock up from their produce section, she said. Sometimes you have to improvise. Jason Holcomb and his wife have made several road trips to areas where few people know what vegans are. They travel with a steamer to prepare vegetables on the road.

We once spent an entire week in Alamosa, Colorado, buying frozen vegetables from Walmart and steaming them in a vegetable steamer in the hotel we were staying in, recalled Holcomb, a project development manager in Rockford, Illinois.

You can ease the stress of finding vegan food by taking a local food tour. Tour operators have rolled out new offerings for vegan travellers.

Last year, for example, Intrepid Travel, a tour operator that specialises in adventure travel, launched vegan-themed tours for destinations such as India, Italy and Thailand. The eight-day India Vegan Food Adventure takes guests through Delhi, Jaipur and Agra, and promises to take them far beyond the masala dosas and veggie samosas of the high street cafes.