After I graduated college, I decided to go on the trip of a lifetime…backpacking Europe, alone, for three months. I had never been to Europe before, I had never backpacked before, and I did not know what to expect. During my trip, I visited the United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, Italy, and Spain. My favorite cities were Edinburgh, Berlin, and Madrid…each had their own beautiful personality and provided ample inspiration for writing!
Of course, visiting so many different countries, each with its own unique food culture, posed some challenges for maintaining my vegan diet on the road. After a few slip-ups and stumbles with my diet abroad, I learned some tips and tricks to sticking to a plant-based diet while backpacking.
Hitting the Grocery Store
I shopped for food at the local grocery store (or if I could find one…a farmer’s market!) when I arrived in a new city for two reasons: my budget and my diet. Rather than spending money at every meal at fancy restaurants in the center of the city, I bought fruits, veggies, hummus, and whatever else I could find in bulk. By shopping at the grocery store, I also saved time…I wasn’t constantly looking for and eating at restaurants that accommodated a vegan diet, I could eat on the go, and I knew what I would be eating for the next few days. Win-win-win.
Peanut Butter…Lots of Peanut Butter
I couldn’t always fit in a grocery trip when I went to music festivals, overnight bus rides, or short retreats to the countryside. My savior during these times was always the large jar of peanut butter that I kept in my backpack. Peanut butter is easy to pack, doesn’t make a big mess, and gave me the burst of protein that I needed while I was waiting to stock up on fresh fruits and veggies.
Of course, I had to occasionally treat myself to lunch or dinner at a nice restaurant. When I went out with friends and strangers in different cities, I wouldn’t let my diet hold me back from a fun evening. To ensure that the evening was enjoyable the whole way through, I planned ahead to find vegan- and vegetarian-friendly restaurants in the areas we were looking to go out in. Nothing is more frustrating than a bunch of hangry, tired travelers searching high and low in a foreign city for a restaurant that meets everyone’s needs. Before we even left our hostel or apartment, we knew what restaurant we were headed to and what food we could order there.
Joining a Vegan Network
What’s the best way to finding vegan-friendly restaurants in a foreign city? Ask vegans. There is strength in numbers, and in some cities…I needed big numbers. Even though I backpacked through Europe alone, I was always connected to a bunch of different networks for advice: networks for travel bloggers, people who needed a free place to crash, and even for people on plant-based diets. Joining a vegan traveling network definitely helps to directly connect with locals who know the best vegan options for restaurants and grocery stores. As a member of Couchsurfing, I used the Vegans & Vegetarians group to figure out how to navigate different cities while on a plant-based diet.
If I Cheated…I Wasn’t Too Hard on Myself
I have never been a wildly strict vegan. Practicing and promoting veganism has always been a learning process for me; by enforcing my diet choices with positive rather than negative energy, I have been able to enjoy veganism for a longer period of time. I continued this mentality abroad. I knew I would not always know how to communicate my diet and my needs in foreign countries. I knew I might end up lost and frustrated trying to find a restaurant that would fit my diet. I knew I would sometimes have to compromise my diet to immerse myself in my host country or family’s culture. I ate sugar when I wasn’t sure if it were 100% vegan. I didn’t get upset with myself. I moved on to the next meal and learned from the last one.
More vegan travel tips: How to Eat Well as a Vegan Traveling Anywhere
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Photo: Megan Okonsky