I have spent most of my professional time over the last 3 decades in hospital wards, emergency rooms, cath labs, and exam rooms, where it’s not too challenging to follow a vegan diet, as I’ve done for decades. I make a green smoothie as I shoot out the door in the morning, pack lunches, and know all the local spots for the best organic plant-based snacks. I know own a large plant based gourmet restaurant in suburban Detroit (www.greenspacecafe.com) so eating locally is quite easy! As I travel around the USA promoting my public TV special, The Whole Heart Solution, I have found that it has gotten much easier for vegans to eat well in airports and most cities. But what about foreign travel?
I visited Cuba last year where I served as part of a charitable mission. One website I read before I left prepared me for ice cream, pork, and not much else. Fortunately, beans (without meat) and rice abounded, the fruits (particularly papaya and guava) were fresh and tasty, and salad was easy to order.
I have begun to lead vegan tours of Italy (www.vegretreats.com) so studying vegan travel abroad has been on my mind. What I’ve learned is that the prepared traveller can essentially go anywhere and eat vegan, healthy, and well. Here’s how:
1. Your first stop? Vegan travel sites.
The Internet has made preparing for travel much easier. You can search websites like HappyCow.net, Vegdining.com, and Veggie Heaven.com for grocers and eateries around the world. Flexibility is essential. (A few years ago, I searched Istanbul and one restaurant showed up. I found it down an alley and half the menu was vegan, half was not.)
2. Print essential info before you go.
You may not have connectivity when you get hungry.
3. See if you can find a vegan guidebook.
If you’re traveling to England, for example, The Vegan Society publishes local guides to help you find vegan fare on the go.
4. Many smart phones have translators to help inform the staff that you avoid all animal products.
That works if you travel with a smart phone internationally. That was not an option in Cuba where there is almost never Wi-fi. One helpful tool is a “vegan passport” which can be purchased for about $20 with shipping fees. This amazing guide has phrases in 74 languages covering 95% of the world’s population and makes it easy to show a waiter what vegans eat and avoid. A new edition was just published early this year.
5. Pack essentials.
If room permits, a few emergency items may be a good idea in your bag. Raw nuts and seeds, ground flax, and chlorella tablets are always in my gear. A few food bars might be a good plan too. Most locales will have markets to replenish the nuts and buy fresh produce.
6. Airline carriers can help.
Most airlines will accept a request at least 24 hours ahead of departure for a special vegan meal on a long flight at no extra charge. I have had some delicious dishes served by being prepared.
7. Call ahead.
If you’re lucky enough to have a concierge or a friendly desk attendant, they’ll likely be willing to call ahead to alert the restaurant of your special needs.
Conscious eating abroad, particularly if you’re following a vegan diet, takes some advance planning and effort, but the rewards can be awesome. There is a trend in Havana for new, private restaurants to be permitted and last night I ate at one of these in a former cooking oil factory. The roof top setting under a starry sky with a full moon was ideal. I also was amazed by another rooftop plant based gourmet restaurant on top of Hotel Raphael in Rome this summer. If you are not so lucky to join me in Italy this summer, you still can find plenty of healthy plant based options if you follow the steps above.
Originally published at www.mindbodygreen.com on February 19, 2014.