Since going vegan around a year ago, I’ve had more fun with food than I’d ever had before. I’ve discovered amazing new ingredients and my appreciation for the simple but delicious wonders of plant-based eating (peanut butter, you own my heart) has grown significantly. However, as anyone with special dietary requirements will know, it is not always easy to find food that suits your needs, especially when away from home.
My experiences being vegan abroad vary in difficulty and success quite widely. I’ve had some really good food experiences, and some below par ones, too. On some occasions, I’ve found myself pleasantly surprised by the availability of plant-based goods; for example, last time we visited Stefan’s Swedish hometown (a small place about 4 hours’ drive north of Stockholm) I couldn’t believe how many amazing vegan goods were at our disposal – from cheeses, pates and cold ‘meats’ to various non-dairy milks (it’s the home of Oatly, after all) and a variety of sausages, too. Visiting other areas of the UK is usually a safe bet, too; Brighton is a plant-based eater’s paradise, and on our recent trip to Edinburgh we also found ourselves with plenty of options to choose from.
Heading further afield, and especially to beach resorts and non-cities, can present some dilemmas, though. While vegan living and eating is definitely on the rise (just take a look at Sarah’s roundup of vegan options in Ibiza for proof!) it can still be a challenge if you’re visiting somewhere on the coast, for example, where their speciality is fish, or a place where local meat is revered.
Hot on the heels of my recent summer holiday to Kefalonia, I thought I would share a few quick tips and ideas if you are worried about what you’ll eat when you’re away.
1 | Consider self-catering accommodation
We love a good package holiday when we’re going on beach breaks – both Crete and Kefalonia were booked as package deals with flights, transfers and accommodation included. Not only does it help to keep costs down, it also puts my nervous traveller mind at ease knowing that each aspect of the trip is taken care of and overseen. When we set out looking for somewhere to stay in Kefalonia, we soon decided to go for a self-catering apartment, so we had the option to make our own meals if and when we wanted to.
A lot of you may prefer to have things like breakfast included with the stay, but my fear has always been that continental breakfasts (while being a wonderland for vegetarians) would be rather too exclusive for a vegan diet, and I’d prefer to make a nice spread in the comfort of my own room.
Airbnb is also perfect for this, and in most cases I would choose to stay in an Airbnb over a hotel. The apartment we stayed in during our time in Edinburgh last month was honestly nothing short of phenomenal, and provided us with the perfect space to cook a deliciously vegan dinner for a night in during the stay.
Top tip! If you’re going somewhere hot, always try to book a room or apartment with a balcony or patio – they make for the most wonderful al fresco meals.
2 | Do your research beforehand
While I would never advocate completely ruling out a destination if it doesn’t seem to have many options to fit your dietary needs, it can definitely help to do some prep work in advance. There are some wonderful resources on the internet nowadays (from vegan bibles like Fat Gay Vegan to some amazing vegan travel blogs like Christina’s) which give you the low-down on what to expect from wherever you’re going. I would definitely add places to my destination list if they came highly recommended by a trusted source. The Happy Cow app is also great to use on-the-go to make sure you don’t get caught hungry.
I’d also highly recommend picking out some restaurants in advance and perhaps even making a reservation to ensure that you don’t miss out.
3 | Learn the lingo
We had a scary moment in Kefalonia where we thought we could see teeny tiny pieces of ham in our hummus. Using the dodgy apartment wifi, we had to quickly install an ingredients scanner/translator app to make sense of the list on the back of the packet. Thankfully, as we suspected, we’d just been imagining things and the hummus was good to go.
One thing I will be doing next time I go away will be to make sure I know the words for milk, eggs and other non-vegan ingredients in advance, just in case they are not listed in a language I understand.
4 | Accept that it’s OK to ‘cheat’
Based on my two trips to Greek islands, it seems that the Greek have a culture of bringing out complimentary desserts after your meal. After a particularly scrummy lunch in Kefalonia, we were presented with a surprise slice of what I believe was cheesecake, but basically tasted like a sweetened dairy cream cloud atop a buttery base of digestives. I know what it tasted like because I ate it – with a slightly heavy heart, but a satisfied tummy nonetheless.
Being vegan doesn’t mean you automatically stop enjoying the flavour of certain foods. While the thought of eating most meat and other animal products turns me off completely, I still enjoy the taste of desserts, like cheesecakes. While I wouldn’t personally choose to purchase a non-vegan dessert, I decided not to turn down the one put in front of me, because I don’t believe that serves any purpose.
If you are on holiday and find yourself with a free dessert in front of you, don’t feel bad about eating it. You are doing so well as it is, and we can’t all be morally flawless all of the time. Equally, if you really want to try the local delicacy which happens to be a piece of cheese deep fried and smothered in honey (legit speciality of a town we visited on our day cruise to the north of the island) then don’t think too hard about the ethical ramifications – it doesn’t make you a terrible person or a failed vegan. It means you are human.
That’s pretty much it for my vegan abroad advice! I’d love to hear if you have any further suggestions 😊