Traveling can have its challenges, but traveling while vegan is an adventure unto itself. As a vegan or any kind-of vegetarian eater, not only do you have to plan a vacation or business trip like anyone else would, but you are also faced with the task of discovering veg-friendly eateries. Sometimes, we have to bring "rations" in case of food emergencies. And packing is always an issue. When traveling by plane, I stuff a large carry-on bag with nuts and seeds, granola bars and a few fruits and vegetables to tide me over. If I am driving, you'd swear I have a mini Whole Foods Market in my trunk. From the looks of my over-packed car with several full shopping bags, an ice cooler and gallons of filtered water, you'd think Armageddon was around the corner.
Despite the fact that a task such as traveling while vegan may seem daunting at first, the internet makes vegan travel seem much simpler. For example, check out PETA's list of the top 10 veg-friendly large cities in North American:
1. Washington, D.C.
2. Portland, Oregon
3. Albuquerque, New Mexico
4. Atlanta, George
5. Seattle, Washington
6. Vancouver, British Columbia
7. San Francisco
8. Los Angeles
9. New York
10. Toronto, Ontario
According to PETA, they compiled this list by looking into the number of vegetarian and non-vegetarian restaurants with vegetarian-friendly menus per capita. PETA also relied on their staff and supporter's input.
Still, something seems fishy about our nation's capitol being on the top of this list. Not so sure fishy is a word I should use in the same sentence when I am talking about the group that runs the People's Ethical Treatment of Animals. No pun intended. D.C. is the national headquarters of the Humane Society where many vegans work, and home to a few groovy vegan places such as Sticky Fingers Bakery. I can only imagine that there are a multitude of ethnic vegetarian places abundant within the shadows of The White House. But Washington is number one? Really?
All major metropolitan areas have veg-friendly restaurants. In fact, I just discovered a very cool site called restaurantology where you can tell it what restaurant you are homesick for and then what city you are in, and it suggests places where you might want to eat.
Regardless, of where you are or what you find, here are the few things to look for when choosing a place to eat. Obviously location is everything. While I have been know to drive halfway across an unknown city to chase down good vegan grub, I don't recommend doing this unless you have the time and the transportation to do so. Finding a good place to eat in the area you are staying is the more practical and prudent thing to do. Nothing better than a hearty walk before and after eating. When I am looking at the veg-friendly options each area has to offer, I carefully explore the restaurant's website and menu and I'll check out what some of the local restaurant review sites have to say. I'll forsake an exclusive vegan eatery for a restaurant with veg friendly options based on the location, menu, website and reviews. As a restaurateur, I want to be supportive of other vegan eateries but in the end, other factors weigh in.
However, being vegan doesn't have to define your travels. If you are traveling out of the country, bring along a Vegan Passport, which is a passport-sized guide showing you where to eat in many cities in the world over, or write down some important vegetarian/vegan phrases in the language of the country or countries you are visiting. You will likely be able to modify dishes at many restaurants, creating your own vegan version of a dish.
One important thing to note: you are not alone. People at VegNews are embarking on "The Ultimate Vegan Road trip." Follow their progress as they travel throughout the United States, noting places of vegan importance; their main focus -- finding the best vegan restaurants. You can even make it easy on yourself and travel to Asia with VegVoyages -- their motto: "Adventure ... the vegetarian way!" where over 75 percent of their trips are vegan. By simply goggling "vegan travel," you will uncover a plethora of vegan travel wisdom.
Below are some vegan travel sites that you might find useful:
- Happy Cow -- Type in your location and find vegan friendly restaurants
- Circle Our Earth -- A vegan travel guide
- Vegan Backpacker's Five Tips -- Five tips for a vegan traveler
- Veg News's 10 vegan travel essentials
Oh, and one more thing. As of now, there are no national airports with vegan restaurants. If I am wrong about this, please let me know. But rest assured, vegan and vegetarian travelers, as well as all kinds of eaters looking for fresh, delicious, travel-friendly food, Real Food Daily is coming to LAX in this September. If you can't take the food with you, you can always fill up on the way to your destination.