This guest post written by Maya. After reading her Facebook post on preparing for vegan travel, we reached out to her to become the first guest contributor on VeganCLT.
There are few things I enjoy more than travel, but sometimes it can be daunting to figure out what in the world you’re going to be able to eat while you’re away from home. It’s even more challenging when you’re newly vegan and still trying to figure out what to eat when you’re in the familiar surroundings of home.
I have been vegan for 12 years and I travel extensively in the region, nationally, and internationally. Often with my vegan hubby, sometimes with my vegan 4 year old in tow, and occasionally I’m the only vegan traveling with friends. As soon as I book a trip, and sometimes before I book it, I start looking for places to eat. When I was newly vegan and vegan options weren’t as widespread, I researched in advance to make sure I wouldn’t starve. Now, I research to make sure I can find and enjoy all the delicious vegan stuff a city has to offer!
Here are my suggestions on how to find vegan options when you’re preparing to travel:
Happy Cow is your friend. I repeat, Happy Cow is your friend! Happy Cow has information on vegan/vegan friendly restaurants across the globe. It’s not perfect – there aren’t always a ton of reviews for places, and some may not have any reviews at all. In some cities, chain restaurants can really dominate the list, but thankfully they rolled out an option to hide chains. In spite of any shortcomings though, Happy Cow should *always* be your first stop. Also, you can find out in about 30 seconds if you’re going to have a ton of options or if it’s going to be a struggle to find things to eat.
As with so many other things, the info you need is just a click away with Google. Just search for “vegan” and the city you’re visiting and voilà! You will typically find whatever fully/heavily vegan place(s) they have in the city immediately. However, you will also see things like articles on vegan restaurants, top 10 lists of vegan or vegetarian places, and travel blogger posts about what they ate in the city.
Local Vegan Facebook Groups
Many cities will have a group for vegans in their area and you can easily join them and search for the info you need. Looking for a nice place to have dinner? Search the group for “nice”, “celebration”, “anniversary”, “birthday”, etc. Traveling with a non-vegan? Search the group for “omni”. If you have a super specific need that is not covered in past posts, then post a question in the group. However, I think it helps if you show you’ve already done some research (e.g. – I’m trying to decide between restaurants A and B, but wanted to get some local input on XYZ).
Do read the group’s rules before you post though. For example, the Atlanta group specifically states that you are not allowed to post questions about where to eat when visiting Atlanta. That’s not really a problem though because the group is full of helpful posts to peruse and, of course, there are generally just a lot of options in Atlanta.
For the sake of your news feed, you can unfollow the groups without leaving them. That way you can still access info without your feed being inundated with posts from vegans in another city.
(The Facebook group Vegan City Charlotte is full of helpful information.)
Trip Advisor and Yelp
These sites are less reliable and far more tedious to use. I’ve run across countless restaurants that say they have vegan options, but their menus and reviews don’t back that claim up. However, Trip Advisor and Yelp are still valuable research tools, particularly in cities with skimpy vegan options.
Start by searching for “vegan” under restaurants in the city you’re visiting. Then you’ll need to search for “vegan” in the reviews for each restaurant you’re researching (now you see why it is tedious…). If the restaurant’s listing says it has vegan options or is vegan friendly but no reviews mention the word vegan, move on. Obviously, if a review says that they don’t offer much vegan stuff, can’t accommodate vegans, etc., keep moving.
Another red flag is when a review from a non-vegan says the place “also has vegetarian/vegan options”, but you don’t see anyone who is actually vegan vouching for this (either a vegan reviewer or a vegan the reviewer may have dined with). We all know omnis mean well but don’t always get it and you don’t want to get stuck with some default vegan option like a salad, right?
On the flip side, you’ll sometimes see reviews that mention that the chef whipped up an amazing vegan meal that was not on the menu. If you decide on a place like that, be sure to reach out to the restaurant in advance to confirm what is possible and to make arrangements for your visit. I’ve successfully done this many times.
Look for the reliable options
Whether you just didn’t have time to research, you’re going to a place that is not very vegan friendly, you’re the only vegan in the group, or whatever the case may be, look for the places you know will work without even seeing the menu. Asian places, Mediterranean places, Indian places, etc. See if any places offer vegan burgers, vegan cheese for pizza, etc. Even look at chains *gasp*. I am not a lover of chain restaurants at home, and I am surely not trying to eat at one when I travel if I can help it. But if Chipotle is the only option for miles, so be it.
BYOF (Bring Your Own Food)
I have absolutely been known to travel with food. In fact, it is very rare that I don’t travel with something vegan, even if it is just a chocolate bar for my after dinner sweet tooth. We all know vegan dessert is notoriously difficult to find, especially for a chocoholic like me who does not consider sorbet to be dessert. 😉
After becoming vegan, I started traveling with food because I was worried about not being able to locate things I could eat, especially in airports. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were (and sometimes still are) my travel buddies. Now, I travel with food for different reasons. Sometimes we stay in places with kitchens and bring specialty items in case they aren’t available at our destination. Sometimes we need specific items for our somewhat picky child to eat. Sometimes we just want to have cheap and quick access to food/snacks that we may not be able to get inexpensively at the destination. Sometimes I make things up in advance (from dry ingredients for pancakes to a full quiche) so I don’t have to buy a ton of ingredients that I only need a little bit of…or better yet, so that I don’t have to cook on vacation at all other than to warm something up.
From shelf stable to frozen food, I’ve traveled with it in cars and on planes. For flights, I often use a lunch bag that freezes so that I don’t have to use ice packs for refrigerated or frozen food. On occasion, I’ll take a small cooler, which comes in handy for days at the beach on vacation. You can even freeze some refrigerated items like vegan butter so that it travels better and keeps other items cooler for longer. My motto is that if it will make life easier for you or save a little money, bring it with you.
Important Tips to Prevent Frustration
Once you have decided on some places you’d like to eat:
Confirm that the place is still open – This seems pretty basic, but particularly given the pandemic, make sure you fully investigate a place to ensure it is still open for business. Our family went to North Myrtle Beach in May, and at least one place I researched in March was out of business by May. I’m currently researching restaurants for an upcoming trip to Cartagena, Colombia and several recommended places are no longer in business.
Confirm the hours and location – Be sure to confirm hours of operation and the location, especially if you will be patronizing a business like a food truck that may pop up in different spots. If a place has multiple locations, check the hours for the location that you plan to visit since hours can vary at different locations. You don’t want to plan to have dinner on Tuesday at a place that is only open Thursday to Sunday, plan on lunch at a place that opens at 5 p.m., etc.
Along those lines, I like to map out where I’m eating and when, taking into account when the places I want to eat are open. That way I know I will be able to get to all of the places I want to check out.
Where possible, or at least for the most important meals, I like to make a reservation well in advance. I never want to miss out on a place I scoped out because they end up being booked. But, definitely be realistic with your timing when making reservations. For example, after a long day at the beach, it is highly unlikely that I will be dressed and ready for a 6 p.m. dinner reservation.
Double-check the current menu – This is especially important if the place you’ve picked only has one vegan option to start with. You don’t want to show up and find out they no longer serve that option or that the replacement vegan option is something you don’t like. Review the menu online, check their Instagram or Facebook page, DM them, or even call to confirm.
Make sure you can get there – For any places that are not within walking distance, ensure that you have the right transportation option available (public transit, rental car, etc.). If it is feasible, you may even opt to select your lodging option based on its proximity to the places you’d like to eat. Years ago, I spent about $20 each way to get to a restaurant with vegan options in Miami. The food was good, but I could have done without the $40 cab ride. On recent trips to Atlanta and DC, I narrowed down the area I wanted to stay based on where I knew I wanted to eat while I was there.
With these tips, you will be well on your way to finding vegan food away from home.
Maya has been vegan since 2010 and loves travel, vegan food, and traveling for vegan food. 🙂 She is currently working to launch her blog, Queen of Some, which will feature more vegan tips, travel tips, and lifestyle content. IG – thequeenofsome