It is finally summer which means most of us will be vacationing and traveling during the next few months.
Recently I came back from a trip to Los Angeles, California, and on that trip I learned firsthand that traveling is not vegetarian-friendly.
I have to be honest, the limitations in my diet never even occurred to me as I was preparing for my trip. And boy was I surprised! (In my defence, it was my first time traveling as full-out vegetarian.)
Traveling through the States, I found out just how bad the options were for people who chose a vegetarian diet. Essentially, all fast food restaurants don’t have any ready-made meat-free options (unless you want a chocolate chip cookie or soda).
If you are flying to your designation and staying in a hotel where there is a fridge and/or in-hotel restaurant available, you may not have much of trouble like I did.
Most airlines provide vegetarian dishes (and other special-diet needs) for in-flight meals these days, so there’s not much problem there. When eating at a hotel with a fridge and a microwave and/or full kitchen, it’s not hard to find frozen entrees, or your usual vegetarian foods at nearby grocery stores if you can get to them. Nearby sit-down restaurants, or one in the hotel, should have vegetarian dishes available, if not salads.
Researching ahead of time, which restaurants are near your hotel can help you plan your meals during your stay for take-out, or to sit-in so you aren’t frustrated over lack of meal choices during your stay. Sometimes you do have to venture out further for a vegetarian-friendly restaurant.
In my case, I was traveling by bus, for three days straight, and staying in a hostel with no in-suite kitchen unit. It was a bit harder to pull off.
One reason being, the bus driver liked to stop mainly at restaurants such as McDonalds, Hardees and Arby’s. These are all fast-food restaurants with essentially no vegetarian options. Places like Subway, however was easy, even though there’s not “veggie sub” option on the menu, you can request it, and it’s cheaper than any meat option on the menu.
There are many gas stations around, along highways, and towns and scheduled stops for bus drivers. Some will have hot food, but usually things like hotdogs, chicken pieces and so on. Few times I was able to get away with hot cheese pizza. Packaged instant noodles (cheese or veggie) are another option, but were few and far between, but I have found some along my trip. Make sure they serve hot water before purchasing these.
If you are taking a road trip or long bus trip, be sure to bring some unperishable foods and snacks, or pick some up along the way, (if you’re crossing the border for flying in from another country) such as canned fruit or beans in tomato sauce (with removable tabbed lids), and a bag of trail mix (with or without candy pieces, dried fruits). Thankfully, gas stations are loaded with trail mixes, nuts, crackers (even the animal shaped kinds) and canned peaches.
I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to get a hold of a good meal on the road, so I was very glad to have brought my huge bag of trail mix with me for the entire trip. When we did stop at a restaurant where there wasn’t anything I could eat, I would have a handful or two of trail mix to sustain me till the next stop where hopefully there would be something I could have.
At one bus terminal restaurant however, I learned a new trick on how to be able to get a meal at restaurants serving non-vegetarian foods.
If they serve hamburgers, which most fast-food restaurants do, you can order a “hamburger” but request NO MEAT. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that before!
Make sure, however, that there is enough things on their burgers (since restaurants vary on their burger condiments) so you don’t just end up with a pickle and some ketchup on a bun, like I did with the McDonald’s burger. For most restaurants, I was able to get away with tomato, lettuce, cheese, sometimes onion and a sauce of some sort to make up a fairly delicious sandwich. One thing, however, they will be just as expensive as the meat counterpart, so unless the restaurant has a reduced price policy in place for taking out meat in an order, you’ll be paying the same amount. I didn’t think about asking to reduce the price, so maybe even bring that up when you purchase (the most costly thing in a meal is the meat anyway, so we shouldn’t have to pay the same amount)!
As for fries, you must be careful, as not all restaurants will fry them the same way. I am not much of fan of fries, but for those of you who are, always ask the restaurant what kind of oil they are cooking it in. Vegetable, canola, corn shortening or oil, are an increasing norm for restaurants, but some still use animal fat to cook them. If they do not know the answer, don’t order it.
These are just some of many things I learned from my recent travels as a vegetarian, but I am sure it will be an ongoing learning experience.
Safe and happy traveling!