Travel isn’t a drag if you’re vegan. In fact, half the fun of travel is discovering fantastic new vegan dishes. Wherever you go, you’ll encounter sensational menu offerings unlike anything available at home. You’re likely to return from your journey with a broader appreciation of the staggering diversity of vegan cooking.
No matter where you go, you can discover a wealth of vegan options. A little advance research can turn up all sorts of exciting restaurants to visit. Since travel is all about stepping outside your comfort zone, why not make an extra effort to try new foods during your journey?
Since your usual favorites may be unavailable, you’ll have an extra incentive to give new foods a try. So don’t order the exact same dishes you opt for at home. Instead, actively search for unfamiliar vegan offerings, hopefully reflecting the cuisine of whichever country you’re visiting. Most parts of the world offer exciting vegan dishes unlike anything you’ve ever eaten. Give these unfamiliar foods a shot and you’ll invariably come away impressed.
Vegan Travel Via Planes, Trains, and Automobiles
Regardless of how you get from point A to point B, you can usually eat well when you’re in transit. But it can require a little extra preparation.
If you’re bringing food to eat on the plane, bear in mind that airport security enjoys confiscating tubs of hummus and jars of nut butter.
You can usually select vegan meals when purchasing long-distance airline flights. Most airlines use the code VGML to refer to a vegan meal. Discount airlines typically sell snacks and meals during the flight. You’ll often have at least one vegan snack or meal option. If you can’t eat well on the plane, it’s usually possible to grab a satisfying meal at the airport. Several large airports have good vegan food choices, and there’s even an app called GateGuru that displays your airport’s restaurants. Consider ordering your food to go, and bringing it on the plane.
For trips within your country, you’re probably already familiar with vegan-friendly fast food and chain restaurants. If you travel someplace unfamiliar you can often locate vegan-friendly restaurants nearby through HappyCow.net, Yelp.com, or a Google Maps search.
When driving on U.S. highways, there’s usually a Taco Bell or Subway every few exits. At Subway, order a Veggie Delight without cheese or mayo. Get it on a white roll if you wish to avoid honey. Taco Bell has far more vegan options but the simplest is a bean burrito ordered “fresco style”.
Of all the modes of travel, vegan travel by rail may be the least appealing. Long-distance trains usually have good albeit unspectacular dining options. Amtrak serves a vegan burger and vegan entrée salad in its dining car. Their snack bar has decent offerings too, including a vegan burger and several other vegan choices.
For multi-day trips, bring plenty of energy bars, nuts, chocolate, and other goodies that you’ll look forward to eating. And consider also bringing pre-made salads kept cool with an ice pack.
Various organizations host special vegan cruises, typically featuring vegan health experts. If you do a web search for vegan cruises you’ll undoubtedly find a few upcoming voyages. These cruises make special provisions to serve vegan food.
Unfortunately, on most other cruises, vegan offerings are slim and unreliable. But there’s one shining exception: in 2017, Oceania Cruises introduced an extensive vegan menu to its dining rooms.
The Finer Points of Vegan Travel
When planning your trip, a little advance research on vegan restaurants can pay off enormously. Try doing a Google search for vegan and the names of the cities you plan to visit. Also check out Happy Cow, which can help you discover some of the world’s best vegan-friendly restaurants. There are also dozens of vegan bed and breakfasts worldwide. If you’ve got the budget for an upscale stay, these places are tough to beat.
Here’s the most helpful and surprising piece of advice I can offer regarding vegan travel: in many cities, nearly all of the vegan restaurants are in one particular neighborhood. In Mexico City, for instance, the Roma Norte and Condesa neighborhoods have about twenty vegan restaurants within walking distance. By contrast, the equally nice Polanco neighborhood doesn’t have a thing nearby.
How to Find Lodging in a Vegan-Friendly Area
If you’re traveling somewhere unfamiliar, staying in a vegan-friendly part of town can make all the difference. There’s nothing more crushing than vacationing in a vegan-friendly city, but realizing you’ve booked a place on the other side of town from all the best restaurants.
I’ve spent years traveling the world, and here’s my preferred way to find lodging near as many excellent vegan restaurants as possible:
- Go to HappyCow, and enter the name of the city you want to visit.
- When the map comes up, click the Vegan button to see only vegan restaurants.
- You will probably find most congregated in one particular part of town. Find a promising restaurant near the center of the action, and click on it to get its address. Copy its address to your clipboard.
- Now go to booking.com. You’ll be able to do a destination search via its search box, by pasting in the restaurant’s address. Your hotel search results will be sorted by distance from the restaurant that interests you, with the very closest lodging appearing right at top of the list.
How exciting is this, seriously? Following the above steps is the ultimate game-changer when it comes to weeding out sub-par locations, and putting yourself mere steps away from the best vegan options your destination has to offer.
Alternately, if meeting and renting from other plant-based folks is a higher priority than staying near vegan restaurants, consider using the Airbnb alternative VegVisits.
Advice for Longer Trips
If you’re going away for an extended period, remember to bring your supplements. Two supplements in particular that are favored by vegans—a cheap high-dose B-12, and vegan DHA/EPA capsules—are all but impossible to find in most countries. So make sure to bring enough doses of whatever supplements you take to cover the length of your stay.
If you’re going away for more than a month, check the condition of your shoes before leaving. I once lost an entire afternoon scouring Mexico City for a decent pair of vegan shoes after the ones I arrived in wore out.
Overcoming Language Challenges
Sometimes, language barriers make it hard to understand the menu, or to communicate with the waitstaff. If you’re visiting a country where you don’t speak the language, consider taking along some free V-cards on your trip (they’re currently available in 106 languages!) Just find the page featuring the desired language, print it out, cut up your cards, and keep them in your wallet. These cards can help you get a fantastic vegan meal in situations where you can’t otherwise make yourself understood.
For tips on eating vegan at non-vegetarian restaurants, some of which are relevant to international travel, check out my vegan dining guide.
What to Eat When There’s Nothing to Eat
Depending on where you’re headed, vegan options can range from plentiful to nonexistent. But even the worst-case scenarios are rarely unworkable. Most travel destinations offer easy access to fruits, vegetables, nuts, and breads. The more vegan-unfriendly your destination, the more you’ll need to rely on preparing your own food rather than dining out. How can you determine which places are particularly accommodating to vegans? If your research reveals a lack of vegan-friendly restaurants, you may also find the local grocery offerings unimpressive.
Admittedly, some places—such as South American villages or rural France, are extraordinarily difficult for vegans. For these sorts of locations, lodging that’s equipped with a kitchenette will enable you to do your own cooking. No matter how challenging your destination, you can usually find a decent variety of vegetables to cook, along with beans, rice, and pasta.
Finding Vegan Grocery Items When Traveling
In most towns and cities around the world, you can find a corner grocery every few blocks. These groceries typically won’t offer many vegan items. If you can’t find a decent selection of vegan foods, seek out a large supermarket. No matter where you visit in the world, supermarkets offer a great selection of pasta, vegetables, and beans. Most also carry items like tofu, vegan milks, and perhaps even vegan meats and cheeses.
For shorter visits, you can avoid having to cook (and the added expense of renting a place with a kitchen), by eating things like fruit, nuts, sandwiches, and wraps. If your destination is especially inhospitable to vegans, consider bringing some food with you. Try to pack the most calories into the smallest space. Choose nutrient-dense items such as energy bars, protein powder, and nuts.
Best Vegan Cities
Countless cities around the world have plentiful vegan options, but which cities are the very best? I travel constantly, and can say with some authority that some of the world’s best vegan cities are:
- Portland, Oregon
- San Francisco & Oakland, California
- New York City (especially Manhattan & Brooklyn)
- Tel Aviv, Israel
- Prague, Czech Republic
- Guadalajara and Mexico City, Mexico
- Canggu, Bali
- Chiang Mai, Thailand
Each of these cities offers an unbelievable assortment of vegan restaurants.
Vegan Travel Resources
You can find quite innumerable vegan travel videos by searching YouTube. By far the best channel I’ve encountered is from Oskar and Dan, who have traveled as vegans to more than 100 countries. Their videos are funny, informative, and well-produced. Wherever you’re headed, chances are they’ve already made a video all about it.
Not so long ago, there were few books published about vegan travel. Today there are several of good ones. What’s more, they cover a nice diversity of topics.
If you’re going to buy just one vegan travel book, get The Vegan Travel Handbook, which is published by Lonely Planet Food. It’s a full-color 168-page guide to traveling to every part of the world, nicely organized and beautifully illustrated.
The most recent book on the topic is 2022’s Veganism on the Go Travel Guide, by Todd Sinclair. Another good choice is The Essential Vegan Travel Guide, that is full of practical advice, and costs just five bucks on Kindle.
There are also vegan travel books devoted to these regions and cities:
Not everyone has it in them to travel to the four corners of the earth. If you’d rather live vicariously through other people’s journeys, two vegan travel memoirs may interest you. Bestselling cookbook author Lindsay S. Nixon has written The Happy Herbivore Abroad, in which she recounts details of her travel while offering up her recipes for 135 foods she sampled while eating internationally.
On the opposite end of the travel spectrum, Kristin Lajeunesse wrote a vegan memoir covering her two years on the road. Her book relates the experiences she had driving her van 39,000 miles through eighteen states. If you feel the calling to explore America’s great outdoors, check out this vegan guide to camping in U.S. national parks.
Wherever you go, eating vegan while traveling rarely poses serious difficulties, and offers an unrivaled opportunity to sample a variety of delicious foods you could never find at home.