Last week I profiled a typical day in transit, to demonstrate that eating vegan, and eating healthy, is doable while on the go. But reaching your destination well fed is just the beginning – you still have to deal with dining while you’re there! So much of a vacation is experienced through food. But more importantly, to truly relax and enjoy yourself you’ll need some fabulous fuel. There’s no good times when you feel like crap all clogged up with oriental-flavored Top Ramen and Taco Bell bean burritos (yes, they’re vegan – no, they’re not worth eating!)
So here’s what I do to ensure I’m keeping my nutrients up – my tried and true and time-tested vegan tips for travel:
Get Groceries. Whether you’re staying in a home or a hotel, the very first thing you should do is stockpile basics. This way no matter what, you’ll always have a fallback and you won’t have to fight a blood sugar crash.
Your options will, of course, depend on where you’re visiting. If you can find a Whole Foods, a Trader Joe’s, or a smaller health food store, then you’re pretty much stoked. Use Happy Cow to find vegan-friendly grocers. But if all you can manage is a standard supermarket, you’re still okay. Focus on protein sources since those are hardest to find in a non-veg setting.
For everyone and at any market, especially if you don’t have access to a fridge: peanut butter, a vegan loaf of bread, a bunch of apples/bananas/other fruit that pairs with pb, oranges/other vitamin-C rich fruits (traveling is hard on your immune system!), oats, nuts, dried fruit, tortilla chips, canned beans to eat with the chips (if you packed a can opener – pack a can opener!)
At the bare minimum, grab peanut butter, bread, and apples. This is our go-to road-trip food. Easy to eat in the car and it covers all the macronutrients! Also, if you forgot to pack them, grab a few knives and napkins from the deli counter.
For lucky ducks who have access to a fridge: hummus and carrots/celery/other ‘dip’ veggies, alt milk for your coffee/cereal, salsa for those chips, jam, tofu
For the super luckies who have access to a fridge AND a real health food store: you’re set dude, go wild. Snag the alt butter, get easy grab-n-go goodies like dolmas, shelled edamame, fancy veggies, fancy dips, and why not stock up on dessert too, right? You’re on vacation!
Dining Out: Un-American Activities. When choosing a restaurant there’s no better bet than an ‘ethnic’ spot – as seen in the remains of that fabulous Pho up there (whoops, too excited by the food to photograph it). On this last trip we enjoyed this Vietnamese meal with an old pal, I had a Thai feast with my father, Damian did a bro-date over Japanese fare, and I met a group of friends for an Indian lunch buffet! Other excellent options include Ethiopian, Chinese, Mexican, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean.
Each of these cuisines offers a number of already vegan, or easily vegan-izable, entrées. However it does help to know the region-specific ingredient risks – those sneaky animal products that are employed by each country. So! At Vietnamese and Chinese be wary of fish sauce, oyster sauce, and random unexpected egg. At Thai you’ll need to avoid fish sauce or shrimp paste in your curries and egg in your noodles or rice. When eating Japanese ask about egg in the tempura and bonito (fish flakes) in the miso soup. At Indian and Ethiopian just make sure your food isn’t cooked in ghee. Unfortunately the naan is most likely off-limits – but the injera is probably safe! Mmm, teff . . . Okay, moving on, Mexican is pretty safe as long as the beans aren’t flavored with lard and the rice isn’t made in chicken broth. Mediterranean and Middle eastern both run the regular gamut of sneaky animal ingredients. Pay special attention for hidden dairy – butter in the baklava and feta in the fatoush.
Numbers 3 and 4
Be Like Autumn Squirrel – Always Foraging. Keep your eyes peeled and your vegan radar on, even if you aren’t currently hungry. You never know when you just may come across some unexpected delight – which you can always save for later. Seize these opportunities like a good little squirrel, and store your treasures away until you want them.
Be Like Spring Cow – Always Grazing. Keep snacking throughout the day. Yes, keep eating! Yay to that advice, right? But really, if you can keep your blood sugar steady, you wont risk getting that ‘rabid hunger’ that drives you to desperation . . . and Doritos (yes, some of them are vegan – no, none of them are worth eating!)
Choose Nutrient Density. Let’s face it, you’re on vacation and you have less control over where and what you eat – that most likely means more sugar, more salt, and more greasy goodness. And that’s fine if it’s fun for you to splurge once in a while! But what’s not fun is running yourself ragged ’cause your body’s in nutritional shock. So, if the opportunity for a really healthy meal comes along? Take It! When I spotted goji berries on my godparent’s counter, I knew I had to use them. Along with raw almond butter and coconut cream, that bowl of kasha up there was a seriously abundant breakfast. Other powerful players to watch for: kale, lentils, spinach, raw veggies, seaweeds, and smoothies. Yum!
Peanut Butter Is Mana. I said it before but I really feel like it needs it’s own number. Peanut butter is travel gold! It’s got protein and good fats to keep you full, it’s delicious and always satisfies, it’s available literally everywhere, and best of all, it’s versatile as all get out. Slather it on fruit for a healthy and filling breakfast. Spread it onto bread, with jam or nanners or romaine (try it!), and you’ve got yourself a quick lunch. Toss it with noodles and steamed veggies and voila! Dinner! Seriously, it’s a travelers best friend. It’s portable, non-perishable, and always palatable!
Remember though, not all pb is created equal. Always read the ingredients and watch out for added sugar (so totally unnecessary), added oil (makes no sense) and added dairy (milk fat, milk solids, whey) (WHY??! WTF WHY?) Also, you know, natural is better and organic if you can!
Travel Is Full Of Surprises. Vegan donut holes what? Well yes then, yes I don’t mind if I do!