meat-free

Meat-free travelling: is it actually possible on a gap year?

The answer is yes! In most places around the world, you are sure to find new and delicious meat-free dishes without missing out on local delicacies or compromising on your vegetarian or vegan diet.

Whilst it may be tricky to find something you can eat in some circumstances, travelling is something to enjoy, so you shouldn’t have to spend it worrying about where your next meal is going to come from. However, it’s also important to remain healthy and well-nourished without compromising on your dietary restrictions or belief, which is why we have put together some top tips which will help you to savour every minute of your time spent travelling.

Before you jet off:

Plan ahead

This is vital if you don’t want to waste precious time whilst you are there looking for places where you can actually eat. Do your research and search for eateries beforehand, and make a note of where they are and their opening hours so you will have peace of mind when you arrive. 

Blogs are a great resource as there are plenty of vegetarian and vegan travel blogs out there. Happy Cow is also a brilliant website if you are looking for places where you can eat. Just search for the name of your destination and browse the results!

Do your research

It will really help if you learn a few key phrases for your destination such as how to enquire if there are dairy or meat products in your meal. Be aware that some cultures may not understand the concept of vegetarianism/veganism, so you may have to explain what you can eat rather than just relying on waiters to understand what you mean. Some countries don’t class chicken as “meat” for example, so make it clear what you cannot eat. Remember to be polite to ensure you don’t offend anyone or their culture and show gratitude for anyone who accommodates your needs.

It is probably worth buying a Vegan Passport from The Vegan Society. This multilingual vegan phrasebook will allow you to travel with confidence, containing languages of over 95% of the world’s population. It will help you explain what you can and cannot eat and, thanks to its small size, is easily transportable.

Stock up

This is especially important if you are going on a road trip. Take plenty of travel-friendly snacks with you such as granola bars and sandwiches, and, if you have an icebox, you could take salad, houmous and yoghurts with you for example. This means that when you hit the road, you won’t have to spend too much time worrying about where you can stop and eat a tasty meat-free meal.

When you are there:

Cook for yourself

If your accommodation is self-catering, cooking your own meals will save you the effort of trying to eat out. Explore the local markets for raw ingredients to cook with. Remember to read the ingredients though as, unlike in the UK, packets may not necessarily be labelled as “vegetarian” or “vegan”.

Stick to the more populated areas

Big cities are more likely to have a larger range of restaurants and food options for vegetarian and vegan travellers, so they are worth spending time in. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the touristy parts of countries are more likely to cater to a variety of diets.

Get chatting to the locals

These will be the best people to ask about where is good to eat, so get talking to them. Hostels are good places to mix with a variety of people so, if you are staying in one, make sure to get socialising.
If people are curious about your meat-free lifestyle, take care not to offend anyone. Some cultures may find it difficult to comprehend your diet, so try to explain in a respectful manner your choices. It may be simpler to say you don’t eat certain things for health reasons rather than going into complex moral reasons as you could run into the danger of appearing to believe you are morally superior to meat-eaters.

Websites such as Couchsurfing are also useful, as you can meet up with like-minded people who should know the best places to dine and may even cook for you! Remember to take safety precautions though.

Fill up on sides

If it looks like the mains in a restaurant are largely meat-based, there’s nothing stopping you from ordering several sides instead of a main, as many of these tend to be vegetarian-friendly.

Order off-menu

If you can see a main that you would like to eat and it can easily be adapted to suit your meat-free needs (maybe asking for it without cheese or substituting vegetables for the meat), then it’s worth asking if you can go off-menu that way.

Some of the best countries to visit:

There are many areas of the world where you will find it relatively easy to indulge in vegetarian and vegan dishes.

Singapore

This region of the world is particularly accessible as it is crammed full of restaurants that offer tasty meat-free food. Singapore houses hundreds of eateries where you will be able to munch on Malaysian, South Indian, Chinese and Mediterranean meals. Also, venture into the hawker markets for more tasty bites—you truly will be spoilt for choice in Singapore!

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Thailand

Thailand is also brimming with culinary delights that will appeal to those who follow a meat-free diet in particular, as Thai cuisine is quite often free from dairy. As well as juicy tropical fruits and fresh vegetables, tuck into rice, noodles, soup and spring rolls. Buddhism has a key influence on the native cuisine which is why there’s an abundance of veggie-friendly food, but be aware that fish and oyster sauces are quite common in Thailand. If you do not eat fish, make sure you make servers aware that you do not want sauce on your food.

If you are visiting in October, keep an eye out for the Phuket Vegetarian Festival which celebrates the Chinese belief that abstinence from meat in this period will help you to have good mental and physical health.

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India

With millions of Indian natives following a vegetarian diet, this is heaven for travellers! The food here is bursting with colour and flavour, so don’t think that you will have to be content with bland dishes here! You will come across a rainbow of curries, as well as rice and lentil-based dishes. And with so many fellow veggies around, you will be sure to find someone who can point you in the direction of a scrumptious meal.

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Italy

Italy is heavenly for vegetarians, but might be a bit more difficult for vegans—just make sure you order your meals without cheese or creamy sauces. However, pizza and pasta can be found anywhere and can be adapted to suit your dietary needs. Many dishes are also cooked with olive oil which will alleviate any worries, and bread, sun-dried tomatoes and olives are Italian staples.

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Israel

Renowned for gorgeous dishes such as falafel, houmous and pita bread, Israel is a really easy country to be a non-meat/dairy eater in, especially as a large number of the population identifies as vegetarian. Kosher law in Israel dictates that meat and dairy products must be kept apart and served separately, meaning most restaurants serve one or the other. This makes it easier to discern what is in the food (meat restaurants will usually have meat-free options too which vegans can enjoy without worrying about dairy contamination).

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Places it’s harder to accommodate a vegetarian/vegan diet:

If you look hard enough, all countries will have something meat-free that you can eat. Yet some places make it more difficult than others, so make sure you plan your mealtimes in advance if you are visiting these destinations.

Countries in Europe, for example, (France in particular) can give vegans a headache as you struggle to find something that doesn’t have dairy in like butter, in particular, is a key component of the cuisine. Russian food also has a tendency to rely on dairy products.

Meat takes centre-stage in countries such as Argentina and Cuba, whilst both meat and seafood dominate the menu in countries such as Iceland and Korea.

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