Traveling as a Vegetarian: How to Cope

Vegetarian food sign

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I’m a vegetarian. Well, sort of. Yeah, I know that’s generally a yes or no question, but in light of the fact that I travel so much, adhering to a strictly vegetarian diet can get complicated. That and there’s this thing called bacon.

Don’t judge me.

Despite my general dislike of meat, I’ve eaten some pretty interesting and displeasing meals in an effort to be a polite guest (fish eyeballs, toast with pig fat, and stuffed intestines, anyone?). After numerous instances of meekly protesting that I’m a vegetarian and attempting to explain why I don’t eat meat in a myriad of languages at dinner tables across a number of continents, I gave up. Accommodating dietary preferences can feel like a herculean task while juggling travel, a myriad of new foods, and the feelings of those offering you their local delicacies, but it’s not impossible. Need some pointers on how to stick to your vegetarian diet while traveling? Read on.

Restaurant Dining
Unless you’re in France or Germany, this one is pretty straightforward. Pick up menu, find items sans meat, order items. Done. If you don’t eat fish, you might have to negotiate a little with the server in order to make sure you’re really getting a vegetable dish. Once at a restaurant in Germany, I asked if an item on the menu was vegetarian. The server assured me it was, but then when she brought it out to the table, it had bacon on it. Apparently Germany and I are on the same page about where bacon fits into a vegetarian diet.

Grocery Store
In most European stores if you’re looking for tofu, you’re going to have to check out the organic or Asian markets. Just FYI.

Dinner at a Friend’s Home
If you’ve been fortunate enough to have a dinner invitation extended to you while traveling, you’ll have to brace yourself for awkwardly introducing the subject of your dietary restrictions. Make sure to do this beforehand. You don’t have to be dramatic or apologetic about it. Just say you don’t eat meat. End of story. If they really start pushing you for an explanation, blame it on religion or health issues. Can’t argue with those. Alternatively, you could always offer to make dinner for them thereby ensuring you’ll retain a tight grip on the menu.

Someone Slaughters an Animal in Your Honor
You eat it. Not only do you eat it, but you smile with gratitude and you love every bite. Or at least you pretend to love every bite. I know this is a hard one to swallow (literally), but unless you have a severe allergy to meat, don’t eat it for religious reasons, or suspect the quality of the food, you need to buck up and be a good guest. I don’t care if you haven’t eaten meat in 20 years. Make this night the exception and at least take a bite.

Ultimately you’ll have to be the judge of how far you’re willing to push your point or stick to your diet. I’m a pretty hardcore vegetarian at home, but ultimately good travelers and good trips are about going with the flow and striking a balance. Sometimes your diet is one of those compromises. It’s better to have an unpleasant meal here and there than risk offending someone who is simply trying to be a good host and who has gone to the trouble to offer you food.

One last tip if you’re hell bent on sticking to your diet? Bring snacks. Lots of them.

By Nikki Hodgson

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