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Tuesday
Jan112011

Secrets of Successful Veggie Travel

Vegetarian travel has got much easier in recent years with more vegetarian food choices available wherever it is you decide to go on your holidays. But it still pays to do some research before you leave home.

Six years ago I travelled to New York on holiday with my then-boyfriend. We were in The Big Apple for ten days and it was a fantastic trip – a trip of a lifetime in fact. And yet, it could have been even better if I’d just taken the time to do a little bit of planning before we went. You see, for the first three days whenever it got to dinner-time we would spend an hour stalking the streets and standing in restaurant doorways peering at menus, trying to find something vegetarian that was a bit more substantial than a plate of fries or a side salad. My meat-eating boyfriend would have happily had dinner anywhere and yet he was forced to traipse around with me on this quest for a fries-free dinner.

Here’s the thing though – and I know that any of you who have been to New York are shouting this at me as you read – there are over 18,000 restaurants in Manhattan and tons of those are veggie-friendly! I just didn’t know where to find them. I wasn’t familiar with the city. I was tired from walking what felt like a million blocks, after a day of touristy activities. I was hungry. I was frustrated. And we were both getting really grumpy!

But then, after a few days of so-so side dishes, and plenty of tetchy exchanges between me and the meat-eater, we stumbled upon a fantastic book shop. And in this fantastic book shop, we stumbled upon a fantastic guide to vegetarian New York. I was delighted. At last, I’d get to have a decent meal. The meat-eater was also relieved. At last, he would no longer have to put up with my sulking! And so, we clung on to the book for the rest of the holiday, checking it for places to eat near to whichever part of New York we went to. Using it to find places down streets we’d never ordinarily have walked.

Since then, wherever we’ve travelled I’ve done my research before leaving home and it has made our holidays so much more enjoyable. Oh, and the meat-eater is now my husband – something that might never have happened had we spent another week in each other’s company suffering the supper-time trawl! Perhaps I should write a thank-you card to the author of that guidebook!

Read on for my top tips for veggie travel...

1. The golden rule = Do your research before you travel

The internet is a wonderful invention! It is now a breeze to find information about veggie-friendly places to eat and shop all over the world, before you have even left home. Spending half an hour doing some research before your holiday, can save a lot of time, and a lot of disappointing dinners, when you’re there.

Useful sites for some pre-holiday restaurant research include:

www.happycow.net
www.veggieplaces.co.uk
www.vegdining.com
www.veggieheaven.com

And of course, those old-fashioned paper thingys – guidebooks they used to call them – can also come in very useful, as I found out on my trip to New York! Vegetarian Guides publishes titles covering Europe, East of England, Britain, London, France, Lake District, Spain, Italy, New York, Israel, USA & Canada, Brighton, Bristol & Bath, and there are plenty of veggie guides available on Amazon too. If you’re staying close to home, Vegetarian Visitor also publishes a UK restaurant and accommodation guide. You might not find vegetarian guides on the shelves of your local bookshop – after all they are competing for space with other, probably more popular, travel guides – but most shops will order a book in for you if it’s still in print.

If after all this research you still find yourself heading to a restaurant that doesn’t appear to be veggie-friendly, it’s always worth letting them know about your requirements in advance when you make your booking. They will usually be able to provide something a bit more exciting if they are expecting you, and if you’re very lucky you might even find that they have a whole separate vegetarian menu. (Don’t get your hopes up too much though – that’s only ever happened to me a few times!)

2. Carry snacks with you

Take a small supply of your own food, particularly if you’re travelling on a long journey, in case you can’t find a vegetarian or vegan option. Cereal bars, fruit, nuts, packets of dried fruit, cheese and crackers all travel reasonably well and don’t take up too much space in your hand luggage.

Airports, train stations and bus/coach terminals are often pretty poorly supplied with vegetarian options and if you’re vegan you’ll find it even more difficult to find a suitable lunch. If you’re staying within the UK and Ireland for your holidays you might be lucky, but it’s always a good idea to have some snacks with you so that you don’t have to go hungry.

Having your own supplies can also be useful when you’re travelling by plane. Most airlines will provide a veg*n option on long-haul flights, but you should check with the airline when you book and you will nearly always have to book your veg*n meal directly with the airline in advance – give them at least three days to a week’s notice to be on the safe side. Even when you have booked a meal, you can’t always bank on it though. A few years ago I booked a vegetarian meal in advance for a flight to Boston but when I arrived they had no record of the booking. If this happens to you the airline staff will usually try to find you an alternative - typically some of the snacks or sides to the main meal. But if you have some of your own food with you, then you won’t have to worry about going hungry, or about getting grumpy and starting your holiday in a bad mood.

And even when you’re at your destination I’d always recommend keeping a cereal bar in your bag when you’re going on day-trips. You might need a bit of sustenance if you do find yourself traipsing around on the hunt for a veg*n dinner!

3. Learn the language

Learn a few key phrases in the local language. You’ll have a terrible meal if you’re not sure whether you’ve been understood, and you have to poke around in your dinner checking for bits of pork or fish. Some countries also have a different idea of what it means to be vegetarian, so learning how to explain that ‘I don’t eat Pork’ or ‘I don’t eat fish’ as well as ‘I am a vegetarian’ could come in very handy.

Vegetarian Guides publish a Vegetarian Passport, which lists key phrases from around the world. Or, you can check out the International Vegetarian Union (IVU) website to find these phrases for free. Some of the phrases even have sound files attached so that you can practice your pronunciation too!

4. Choose your accommodation wisely

Consider booking self-catering accommodation or a hotel room with a kitchen area if you think that you will struggle to find suitable food at your destination. This could be particularly useful if you are travelling to a country that doesn’t cater well for veg*ns. Even if you find when you get there that there are plenty of places for you to eat, it can offer piece of mind if you know that you have the option of preparing your own food.

If on the other hand you are staying at a large international hotel chain you will probably find that even if there’s nothing veg*n on the menu in their restaurant, they will be able to rustle something up for you if you ask them. It may not be very exciting, but at least you’ll get fed.

An even better option if you can find it, might be to stay at a vegetarian or veggie-friendly hotel or B&B. There are plenty of these popping up around the UK and Ireland, and even further afield in Europe, Canada, the US, South America and Australia. Happy Cow and Vegetarian Vacations are a good place to start if you are looking for veggie-friendly B&Bs.

5. Consider travelling with like-minded veggies

There are an increasing number of veg*n travel opportunities out there, so if you want to be guaranteed a steady supply of tasty veggie food throughout your whole journey this might be the way to go. From veggie cooking courses, to vegan camping in the UK, to exploring India, or to taking a vegetarian cruise there are plenty of veg*n holiday experiences available.

And don’t forget to keep an eye out for veg*n or foodie events that are taking place while you’re on holiday. Local food festivals, veg*n parades, or even meetings of local vegetarian groups and societies can be a great way to meet other veggies and to learn from the people who know the place best – the people who live there.

For a start try:

www.vegancamp.co.uk
www.vegvoyages.com
www.atasteofhealth.org

 

And finally... relax and enjoy your trip!

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