We stood at Heathrow airport about to embark on our epic journey. We had spent the previous few months frantically packing up our life, saying goodbyes, making plans and feeling a strange mix of excitement, joy and fear. Finally, after years of dreaming, we were going travelling.
Since that day, when we took a leap of faith and left on a one way ticket to Bangkok, a lot has changed. Throughout it all, we have stuck with our vegan lifestyle, even though it hasn’t always been easy.
Problems with communication led to mouthfuls of mystery meat, moments of bad planning left us short of food on stressful journeys and there were many heartbreaking times where we witnessed cruelty towards animals.
We had countless frustrating moments hearing others claim travelling ‘opens the mind’ whilst at the same time talking enthusiastically about riding elephants.
But as we journeyed through south east Asia, witnessing things we’d only ever read about, we fell more in love with the planet. We were joined by inquisitive dolphins, turtles and millions of multi-coloured fish as we swam in the sea; we marveled at lush green rice paddies, the ancient temples of Angkor Wat and beaches that belong on postcards, whilst meeting countless good natured people along the way.
We joined locals as they ate vegan food at an annual festival, witnessing the ceremony in suffocating clouds of incense smoke that hung over devotees who writhed on the floor in a state of possession. Firecrackers went off in every direction and afterwards we felt utterly and blissfully disorientated.
Going travelling as vegans has been an enriching and humbling experience. We have spread the word about veganism far and wide, proving that the vegan lifestyle has nothing to do with limiting what you eat or your enjoyment of life but is instead a sustainable lifestyle that can work anywhere.
We have learnt many things on our travels, lessons that will stay with us for life and we have learnt a lot about how to travel successfully as vegans.
Here’s our advice to help you on your own vegan travel adventure:
Your usual routine and diet will change and so it’s important to look after your health and eat mindfully. We always travel with multivitamins to make sure we don’t miss out on B12 and we try to avoid eating cheap and easy ‘traveler food’ to make sure we maintain a balanced diet.
Do your research
The best information we’ve found about vegan travel is online. Happy Cow is our go-to app where we find information about vegan restaurants and health food shops around the world. We read websites and blogs about local food and customs before we visit a new place, to help us find out about ‘accidentally vegan’ food and any cultural practices that will help us. For example many Buddhists in south east Asia eat a vegan diet for spiritual reasons, meaning there are local restaurants which sell great, authentic food that is also vegan.
Connect with other vegans
Our social media accounts are our lifeline to the vegan travel community who always seem to be on hand to give us tips and inspiration when needed.
We meet lots of like-minded people in vegetarian or vegan cafes but there are also more organised ‘meet-ups’ in some places; just check online and get ready to meet vegans around the world.
Carry some useful tools
We always travel with small reusable containers and re-sealable plastic bags to fill up with nuts and seeds for snacking on and to store takeaway food in. We’ve got plates, a knife and fork set, snacks (marmite, peanut butter, crackers) and even a hand blender.
Even though our bags are heavier, we’re always able to make ourselves something to eat and we can have the most amazing healthy vegan smoothies wherever we are.
Be a positive advocate for veganism
We were surprised by the number of people we met who expected us to preach at them and try to convert them to veganism. Once they realised we weren’t going to do this, we were able to have more meaningful conversations.
Learn a few solid facts, some good resources to direct people to and to keep your approach non-judgmental and positive. When we meet someone who has been elephant riding, we try to educate them about the cruel process the elephants go through in order to make them suitable for riding by tourists, in the hope they reach their own conclusions about this cruel industry.
Respect other cultures
We are conscious our lifestyle is different to those in the countries that we visit and we worry asking people to accommodate our needs, or refusing a gift or food because it isn’t vegan might cause offence.
We have managed to find a balance between upholding our own belief to not partake in the exploitation of animals whilst respecting the culture of our hosts by learning some local language and gestures to show our gratitude and explain our beliefs.
When we were given a bracelet with a leather trim by someone who didn’t have much to give, we accepted it because we couldn’t communicate clearly with them about being vegan. We later donated it to a cafe to sell, where the proceeds would go to help people living in poverty. It’s not easy to find the perfect solution to these dilemmas but we always try to choose the option that causes the least harm.
Travel can be an inspiring, life changing experience that can also make you see your own vegan lifestyle in a new light. For us, it has reaffirmed that living a compassionate, vegan lifestyle is not only possible anywhere, but is a sound solution to many of the problems we face in the world today; it’s also been a fabulous adventure.