When you travel to cities like London, England and Florence, Italy, it’s not that hard to find meals with meat substitutes, or food genres which naturally offer a lot of veggie options, such as Indian fare. However, when traveling to say, Dakar, Senegal or Antigua, Guatemala, the choices for vegetarians may diminish severely. Worst is when you are staying with a homestay family, who has so painstakingly made efforts to make you feel at home, including fixing that local staple dish filled with big chunks of beef or fish.
The first thing people say when you’re going to a destination that is not used to the vegetarian diet is, “Are you willing to be flexible?” Personally, I find that to be a difficult question. Some vegetarians can be quite flexible, actually eating chicken, burgers and the like when faced with a plate offered by their beloved host family. I have been able to eat meaty sauces, but not bite down on a chunk of it. So, it really is up to the individual. Wherever you fall on the scale of “vegetarian travel flexibility”, here are 5 tips that will help you stay healthy and mesh with the culture, wherever you go.
1) INFORM Talk with the guide or director of your program if you are traveling in a group. Ask them for respectful ways to refuse meat, before it’s prepared. Tell your homestay family in advance that you have a different way of eating.
2) PREPARE Get your explanations ready: “meat makes me sick”, “I’m allergic”, “my family doesn’t eat meat”. Also, bring recipes! You can make your “peculiar” diet a hit with your homestay family if you can make something for them that’s yummy and from your hometown. Examples include chili, pizza (they can add meat toppings if they want) and tacos (again, can be individually customized to include meat).
3) DECIDE Decide before you go how flexible you will be. Meat sauce with the meat chunks plucked out? Fish bones in your rice? Food cooked in the same pan as the meat? Where do you draw the line?
4) PACK Carry your nutrition!
• Nutrition bars: KIND bars offer 5 g of protein and 200 calories! (Get the bars without chocolate so they can last throughout your trip no matter the temperature)
• Organic, raw almonds. I can’t tell you how many times baggies of almonds have saved me – plane delays in airports, on a seemingly endless motor boat journey in Brazil, and much more. Almond butter can also make a nice breakfast or lunch on locally bought bread.
• Spirulina tablets offer dietary protein, iron and B vitamins!
• Veggie bouillon, if you will have access to cooking facilities
• herbal laxative, in case you eat that salad you were warned against, or for the opposite problem, papaya pills
5) BUY LOCAL Go to the local market and purchase high nutrition foods: peanut butter, cheese (if available and you eat it), eggs (if you eat them, you can boil them in the morning and eat them during the day), avocados, locally cooked peanuts, bananas (especially in tropical places – the potassium helps with the heat!)
Last but not least: Store everything in ziplock bags! Follow these tips and you will be able to stick to your personal choices, stay healthy and still to get to know the local culture of your destination.
Do you have tips on travelling while vegetarian? Please share them in the comment section!