It’s the night before our trip, and I am stuffing a carton of organic rice milk into my already overstuffed suitcase. I find space between the granola bars, my little black dress, and a baggie of mixed nuts and seeds. If this sounds familiar, perhaps you are also a traveling vegan parent or grandparent!
As a family travel writer, I have been taking trips with my son, Noah, for many years, and the hardest part still remains—what and where are we going to eat when we are out of town? It became more of an issue when three years ago we switched from a vegetarian to a vegan lifestyle. Noah was 5 years old at the time, and after I told him the truth about both the horrific egg and dairy industries, he insisted that we no longer consume their products. I followed his vegan lead, and we never looked back. I believe that when children are taught from a place of compassion, kindness, and empathy, it makes a huge difference on the decisions that they make.
It’s easy to follow a plant-based diet when you live in a big city. We are down the street from health-food stores, fruit-and-veggie markets, and huge grocery stores. And thanks to a new demand for plant-based food, the shelves are stocked with vegan cheeses, tofu, tempeh, nut butters, seeds, grains, and a huge assortment of prepared foods, such as pizza, rice bowls, and salads, for those busy days when there is no time to cook.
When we travel, it’s more challenging to find vegan food. But because we are vegan for animals, it’s a challenge that we won’t compromise on.
The following are a few tips for your next travel adventure:
- Go online before you leave and search for health-food shops and vegan restaurants near your destination hotel. I also found that dining at restaurants from different cultures provides more vegan options than your typical mainstream family restaurant does. We’ve had great vegan sushi at Japanese restaurants and delicious vegan burritos at Mexican eateries. You can also e-mail the hotel in advance for restaurant suggestions in the area.
- But I travel on a “single-mom budget,” so we definitely don’t eat every meal at restaurants. I always request a hotel room with a mini-fridge or small kitchenette. Noah and I search for the closest grocery store or farmers’ market, and I purchase foods that don’t require cooking, such as fruit, fresh veggies with hummus, prepared salads, couscous, and quinoa. (Be sure to read the ingredients for hidden nonvegan additions!) To make it fun for Noah, I let him pick a new or different-looking food each time we are away. On our last trip to Montréal, we located a great farmers’ market and he found baby bananas!
- Bring your favorite plant-based carton of milk from home (If you are flying, pack it in your checked suitcase. It won’t get though customs on your carry-on for security reasons.) I have never encountered a hotel breakfast buffet that didn’t allow us to bring our own carton of rice or soy milk to our table. Noah pours it on his cereal, and I put a generous amount in my coffee each morning. The carton usually lasts our entire trip.
- Bring your own packaged foods, such as granola bars, power bars, cookies, fruit bars, crackers, rice cakes, and even instant oatmeal packets that can be made with hot water in your hotel room. I also bring healthy proteins such as nuts and seeds in baggies.
- Don’t assume that airlines will have plant-based food options, so be prepared for flights as well – I always pack two sandwiches to bring on a plane and plenty of snacks for Noah. Some airports have more vegan options than others, but be ready for delayed flights, especially during the winter months!
- Many mainstream restaurants will accommodate vegans, but you have to be clear. If you are in a city where the main language is not English, do your best to translate “no animal products.” In my travels, I have encountered dozens of restaurant staff members who have never even heard of a plant-based diet and don’t know what “vegan” means. But if you explain nicely that pizza can easily be made without cheese and that pasta can easily be made without butter, they will hopefully accommodate you. (And you get to educate people at the same time!)
- When eating out while traveling, I have had good luck at buffets and salad bars because they usually offer many vegan options.
- Gelato and ice-cream parlors quite often serve vegan sorbet, a delicious dairy-free treat that Noah and I enjoy on many of our trips!
I believe it is essential to have patience and compassion when searching for vegan food options. After all, taking the extra time to save the life of a cow, pig, sheep, or fish is more important than eating one meal that you will forget about as soon as you swallow your last bite.
Miriam Porter is an award-winning Canadian freelance writer. Her articles have appeared internationally in magazines and newspapers. Miriam’s writing focus is family travel, social justice, animal advocacy and veganism. She is a devoted long-time PETA member. Follow Miriam on Twitter @MiriamRiverP