Ah, the million-dollar question. And when I say that, I mean I’d probably be a millionaire if I had a dollar for every time someone asked me this. I’ve been discouraged from following my vegan lifestyle in my travels by friends, family, host families, study abroad programs, and even jobs. Maybe you’ve experienced the same. But that is your decision, and yours alone.
If you know that you want to continue being vegan while traveling, studying, or even living abroad, know that it is possible! Depending on your destination, it can be more difficult, but I have eaten plenty of delicious vegan cuisine in 15 countries and counting. Because I’ve heard this question so many times in my years as a vegan traveler, I wanted to compile a list of the follow-up questions I get and how I respond.
Aren’t you missing out on culture because you won’t eat meat?
I have never felt like I’m missing out on culture by continuing my vegan lifestyle while abroad. I’m sure you already knew this, but there are vegans living literally all over the world. Chances are, a local vegan has created a menu of cruelty-free versions of traditional dishes.
That means that for every culture, there is a vegan sub-culture that some of their own countrymen and women have never experienced! How incredible is that? One of my favorite things to do is get on HappyCow and look up the vegan, vegetarian, and veg-friendly restaurants in a destination I’m dreaming about. I’ve seen vegan ice cream stands in Hong Kong, vegan food stands in Accra, and veg-friendly taco restaurants in Mexico. And I can’t wait to try them all!
Isn’t it rude not to eat what’s offered to you, even if it has meat?
This is such an important question, and has even been a point of contention within the vegan community. In my travels to and experiences living in the developing world, I have been offered food by people who eat what they grow and the animals on their farm because they can’t afford anything else or that is a culturally relevant diet for them. They offer what they have, regardless of how much.
I have eaten stews in Haiti that had meat pieces inside them I would just avoid and offer to a friend. Personally, I find it more important to eat what’s offered to me and avoid the meat. This is partly because I went vegan after having some stomach issues. If I were to eat meat even out of respect for someone, I would run the risk of getting very ill.
As a former Peace Corps Volunteer, I know it is incredibly important to be respectful of host country culture and people, but that doesn’t necessarily mean sacrificing a vegan lifestyle. In my post “Being Vegan in the Peace Corps,” I went into even more detail about my experience living in a Ukrainian village within a culture that is very meat-centric. Most people were very accepting of my lifestyle, and used it as an opportunity to learn more about veganism. And oh my goodness, some of the vegan restaurants in Kyiv are the best I’ve ever been to.
What if you’re in a new place where you can’t find any vegan food?
I have one word: HappyCow. I have found veggie restaurants in over 100 countries all around the world. It’s safe to say I’ve never gone hungry or been forced to eat meat for a lack of options! There’s a high probability you’ll find one wherever you’re headed.
In cultures where the traditional cuisine is very meat-based, there is likely a vegan community already established or quickly rising up. I have met more incredible people from all around the world that believe in keeping animal products out of their bodies through food, beauty products, and every other way.
I’ve also met people that aren’t vegan or vegetarian, but frequent a local veggie restaurant because the food is just so amazing. Even if you’re not on a plant-based diet and have little interest in starting, it wouldn’t hurt to check out a restaurant for vegans and vegetarians. You never know what you’ll find!
Don’t you miss the opportunity to eat meat?
This one’s more of a general question about veganism, but most ask this when we’re talking about travel and trying new cuisine. Funny enough, I actually don’t really remember what meat even tastes like. It’s so wild to say that, because before I made the switch, I ate a very meat-heavy diet. I was that person saying she would never be a vegetarian, and yet here we are. It’s been five years, and I never think about eating meat. The same goes for me when I travel. It doesn’t cross my mind to just try a little bit of meat for a cultural experience. I focus on finding veg-friendly places, or ask for a vegetable option when eating at a food stand. If you’re worried about different foods making you sick, the veggie option is usually the safer bet anyway!
All of that said, I absolutely do not feel like I’m missing out by following my vegan lifestyle when traveling. If you feel that you’d rather be vegan at home but not while on vacation, then do that. Veganism is about empowerment, and finding the best version of yourself through what you put into your body. I have never felt stronger, more capable, or happier than I have as a vegan. Regardless of where you live, your walk of life, or what you eat, I hope you find the same. Peace, love, and happy eating!