I’ve been a vegetarian since I was 15 and a vegan since I was 22. In that time I’ve travelled to a lot of places and I’ve had great experiences and not so great experiences. I’m really happy to say that things generally have gotten better over the years. Finding vegetarian options in most places is a piece of cake. Finding vegan options isn’t as hard as it used to be, but it can be tricky sometimes.
Sure you can be vegan anywhere and every grocery store has produce and basic food staples, but when I travel I want to break up the routine and that means I don’t want to cook. I want to try restaurants and try new foods. I want my travels to be relaxing, less time spent on boring stuff like cooking, and more time enjoying the sights.
To celebrate World Vegan Day, which is on November 1, I’m going to count down my best and worst travel experiences as a vegan and vegetarian.
1. Best: Israel
I went to Israel back in 2018 for Birthright. This was easily one of the best places to go as a vegan. And no, you don’t just have to eat falafel and hummus! Even if you don’t know Hebrew, plenty of restaurants have English menus. In Tel Aviv, many places have vegan friendly stickers on the door, so you can rest assured knowing you’ll have something suitable for you.
Because many Jews keep kosher, it makes Israel a vegan heaven. Israelis are very creative and so you have excellent cheese substitutes and meat substitutes, vegan desserts.
Go to a kosher vegetarian place and you will have plenty of options. Even if you go to a kosher restaurant that serves meat, they have vegan options.
2. Best: Australia
When choosing a place to go for our honeymoon, my husband and I wanted to go somewhere completely different from Ireland and vegan friendly. We were looking at either Japan, South Africa, or Australia, but in the end, Australia won. My husband and I have travelled twice to Australia visiting: Cairns, Byron Bay, Sydney, and Melbourne.
We were always able to find something for me to eat and there was such a wide variety of vegan options: Chinese, burgers, Thai, Vietnamese, Middle Eastern, you name it! Even some small towns that I visited as part of day trips had vegan options.
3. Worst: Cruise Ships
Cruise ships are a mixed bag, so I wouldn’t say that it’s fair to say worst, but is it really too much to ask to get something substantial and vegan to eat? Sometimes you get great staff working on the cruise ship and they’re super helpful. But other times, they’re lacklustre and make you feel like a nuisance for asking about vegan options.
One time I did have a good experience getting vegan food and they had a staff member assigned to look after people with dietary restrictions, but another time I didn’t and the staff didn’t seem to care or you really had to badger them to get vegan food.
The buffets don’t always label what is vegetarian and they don’t label allergens so when I do go to the buffet I tend to stick to the safe foods like plain salad, vegetables, beans, chickpeas, and fruit. Oftentimes, some of the food isn’t even vegan by default. Like you’d think the pasta and bread would be fine, but often it’s not.
Please just put allergen and vegan labels on the buffet food signs so the staff don’t get bombarded with questions.
Sometimes I have luck and the pizza base and sauce is vegan and I special order a cheeseless pizza with lots of veggies.
On one cruise, the stir fry was by default cooked in chicken stock. You’d have to request the cook to make it with plain water if you’re a vegetarian.
4. Best: Berlin
I don’t speak any German and I didn’t even need to try that hard to find vegan food. Everywhere you go, you can find vegetarian or vegan food and in a wide variety of cuisines.
I really mean it when I say everywhere. When my husband and I went to a concert, he surprised me with vegan chilli. He was shocked that the venue served vegan chilli. Usually concert venues just have popcorn, sweets, and maybe junk food like pizza or hot dogs.
5. Best: England
Every time I’ve been to England, I was a vegetarian or vegan. Never had any issues. Even in grocery stores things are labelled as suitable for vegetarians/vegans. This is such a big help and it makes my life easier. Most restaurants are proud to label what is vegetarian or vegan, or at the very least they list allergens.
No matter where I’ve gone: Brighton, London, Manchester, Liverpool, Oxford, Chester, etc, I’ve been impressed. There are lots of unique chains that have vegan options so I don’t mind going to chain restaurants.
If I had to say what my favourite meals I had in England were I’d say: Purezza Pizza in Brighton, V-Rev in Manchester, and vegan Chinese food at Dou Dou.
6. Worst: Southwest Florida
My parents live in this part of Florida and it’s not the best for vegetarians. A lot of the restaurants my family pick have hardly anything for me, so I often have to run and get ready meals or prepared foods from Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods afterwards. Not fun. Southwest Florida has a long way to go. I can’t expect it to be like Miami or Orlando, but come on! More people than ever before are vegan.
Many of the places that have options for vegans are chains, and while that’s great, I like to eat at more unique and locally owned places. Most (non-chain) restaurants I’ve been to in Southwest Florida don’t even specify what is vegetarian. They don’t even list allergens. Some waitstaff can be bad and not take you seriously when you say you’re vegetarian or vegan. I’ve had so many occasions where I was miffed because this item that should be easy to make vegan isn’t. Restaurants should try to make food as universal as possible so everyone can eat it. Stop putting unnecessary animal products in food.
I’ve had some bad experiences like being served a burrito full of onions or having to eat pasta for days on end because there’s literally nothing else at restaurants. Worst of all, I’ve had meat accidentally served to me and I’ve had people laugh at me when I was upset about it.
7. Best: California
California is the probably the most progressive state and food wise, it does pretty well. When I went to San Diego and LA back in 2016, I was basically vegan and I had few problems finding food to eat. They have lots of great vegan chains like Native Foods and Veggie Grill. Those places are amazing. Because it’s such a warm climate, the fruit tastes great!
One of the most memorable meals I ever had was when I went to Doomie’s in Hollywood and got a vegan Big Mac with bacon cheese chips. I still think of that meal from 3 years ago.
8. Worst: Middle America
Lots of small towns, lots of motorway, few options for food. Middle America is very meat and potatoes and that means you’re going to find lots of fast food and steakhouses. Not exactly great for vegans. At best, there’s Subway or maybe Taco Bell. Maybe it’s gotten better, but outside of big cities, you’re going to have a bad time.
I remember going on a road trip to South Dakota with my cousin, who was vegan at the time, and it was so hard finding a place for her to eat. Even me being a vegetarian at the time, it wasn’t easy. It’s really annoying when dishes you’d think would be vegetarian aren’t.
9. Best: New York City
Of course, NYC has to be on this list. In New York, you can get any kind of food, and good quality food too. The only downside is that it is really expensive.
My favourite meal I had in New York was Champs Diner, which reminded me so much of the Chicago Diner. I definitely want to go back when I visit NYC again. I also really liked By Chloe, which is a vegan fast food chain that also has a location in London.
10. Worst: Angloville Rural Venues
What a contrast between Prague vs Excelsior Hotel and Krakow vs Modrzewiowe Wzgorze. I was eating very well in Prague and Krakow, but at the Angloville hotels the food was repetitive, stale, and bland. I got food poisoning at the Excelsior and the staff had no idea what vegan or even vegetarian meant.
I know it may sound like a petty reason, but that’s why I’m not doing Angloville again. I can’t have my nutritional needs met, ergo I cannot function.
Advice for when you’re somewhere not veggie friendly:
My advice is whenever you travel, plan ahead and look for restaurants that have food suitable for you. Most places have menus online and some will even indicate what is vegan or vegetarian. If you’re not sure, call and ask. If there’s a limited or no veggie friendly restaurants, stay in an accommodation that has a kitchen and cook food there. Sandwiches, fruit, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, protein shakes, juice, and granola bars are easy foods to travel with. Make the best of it and keep a positive attitude.
A message to restaurant owners:
If you have vegetarian or vegan options, or dishes that can be modified to be vegan/vegetarian, be proud of it and say so! It makes things easier for vegans, vegetarians, and their families. Way too often, I’ll see restaurants claim they’ll cater to vegans and there’s only one option and it’s no good. So put thought into the vegan option and don’t make it seem like an afterthought.
When I glance at a menu, I like seeing a symbol that indicates that and it makes me feel like I can trust the restaurant to look after me and I know there will be food I will like. If I eat any animal products, I get sick and that puts a damper on my trip. I like to travel worry free. If I’m travelling with family, it makes it easier for all of us.
If there is no indication that there are vegan dishes and I can find competing restaurants that are friendlier to vegans and are clear about what’s vegan, I’m more likely to go to your competition. Not everyone is going to call and confirm, especially when there are other places they can spend their money.
You’ve lost a potential customer, or worse yet that vegan and their family because we often go with them as a group. No one’s going to be turned off by a little green v on certain menu items.
I want to see vegan options normalised and default base items being made vegan, so it’s universal for all customers. Animal products are often unnecessary so try to make sure enough products (bread, pasta, noodles, sauces, spreads, condiments) are vegan so we have more options. Make the base item vegan and allow customers to add on whatever they wish. Inclusiveness and customisation are good.
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