Snackable Tips for Meaningful VEGETARIAN Travel

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When traveling abroad to study, work, volunteer, or play, your experience is always more meaningful when you can immerse yourself in your surroundings. Food is a huge part of that. To that end, sometimes being a vegetarian can feel limiting if your mission is to learn and understand the local culture deeply. But it doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive—and you don’t have to avoid going abroad altogether if you’re concerned vegetarian travel.

I’m here, as a fellow meaningful vegetarian traveler, to point out a few tips and tricks for being a vegetarian abroad to help you with your wanderlust. 

Visit mouth-watering countries for vegetarian travel

One of the best strategies for maintaining your meat-free lifestyle, while also immersing yourself in new countries and adventures, is to visit destinations that are friendly to a vegetarian traveler. Here's our take on the best travel destinations for vegetarians. 

market in foreign country

To market to market! If you’re a vegetarian traveler, you’re gonna love this place.

1. India

The spice is right in India for us veggie travelers! There are curried vegetables, korma, dhal, na’an, lentils, chickpeas… all with so much unique flavor. Indian vegetarian cooking has been perfected by the 30% to 40% of India’s population that chiefly identifies as vegetarian. That is 500 million vegetarians in just this one country! 

How did so many vegetarians end up here? India predominantly practices the religion of Hinduism, which has a philosophy of no harm towards others, including animals. These beliefs have lead to widespread adoption of vegetarianism in the region. Hindus don’t require a vegetarian diet, many avoid eating meat. Whether your reasons for being a vegetarian are based on religion or not, you will have no problem finding a flavorful vegetarian-friendly dish in this region. 

- Popular for: Many travelers visit India to volunteer or teach abroad

- Gotta have ‘em veggie dishes: 

  • Green lentil curry (curried lentils)
  • Dal bhat (lentil soup and rice)
  • Samosas (triangular fried snack filled with vegetables and spices)
  • Paneer or tofu tikka masala (onion and tomato based curry)
  • Dum aloo (spicy potato curry)
  • Naan (fluffy, addicting flatbread)

- How to say “I don’t eat meat” : To avoid the “Delhi Belly” (traveler’s diarrhea), make sure you are prepared to request meals that are vegetarian. Fortunately, Vegetarian in Hindi is “Vegetarian.”

2. Italy

Carbs. Wine. Cheese. Repeat! When I first became a vegetarian, these were my go-to staples (give me a break, I didn’t know what else to eat!). And why should I? This stuff is amazing, and dining in Italy as a vegetarian traveler will surely top your list of life experiences. Go Eat.Pray.Love and consume all the pasta and pizza you can here. Pro tip: Be sure to wear your stretchy yoga pants for all of the walking tours, the beautiful historical sites from Florence to Rome, and—of course—the grub.

girl holding donut

Find ways to #treatyoself with desserts

Keep in mind though, these yummy goodies do come at a cost. Since there’s a big difference in the quality of the foods you may be used to getting back home, a price bump for food costs is not uncommon. Be sure to save up plenty of money before traveling abroad to Italy to make sure you can fully enjoy eating your way around it. 

- Popular for: Travelers love Italy for study abroad and to take Italian language courses

- Gotta have ‘em veggie dishes: 

  • Pasta (eat as much homemade pasta as you can🍝)
  • Panzanella (bread salad)
  • Ribollita (Tuscan soup)
  • Dolci + cappuccino + biscotti + gelato + cannoli + all the sweet things
  • I’ll top off this list with pizza because this is my favorite food of all time in general, and Italy is its homeland. Get ready for the freshest herbs, sauces, and cheeses of your life…

- How to say “I don’t eat meat” : Ask the question “E Senza carne” (It’s without meat?), which should indicate your dietary restriction. If that doesn’t work, the “Sono un Vegetariano” (I’m a vegetarian) should keep you safe from an accidental carnivorous life.

3. Mexico

The home of the avocado—a favorite for many of us veg heads—is the perfect place to get your meaningful vegetarian travel on. Mexican food really doesn’t need an introduction. It’s amazing. Though there is plenty of meat to go around, the availability of vegetarian ingredients like corn tortillas, beans, cheese, and vegetables mean that you won’t go hungry. Mexican cuisine is known for its creative dishes, which often feature the chili pepper, cumin, coriander, oregano, and a squeeze of lime. 

Whether you’re going to Mexico to volunteer on an alternative spring break or simply to brush up on your high school Spanish classes, there are a ton of Mexican vegetarian cuisine options to make sure you have an authentic foodie experience. Pro tip: Be leery of beans if you are a strict vegetarian, as they are sometimes cooked in animal lard.

- Popular for: Travelers can’t get enough of the cuisine while teaching abroad or completing international internships

- Gotta have ‘em veggie dishes: 

  • Esquites or elote (Mexican street corn)
  • Chile relleno (stuffed pepper)
  • Huevos a la Mexicana (scrambled eggs, onions, chile & tomato)
  • Rajas empanadas 
  • The authentic versions of old favorites enchiladas, tacos, and quesadillas

- How to say “I don’t eat meat” : Begin by saying “Soy vegetariana, no come carne,” meaning “I am vegetarian, I don’t eat meat.” 

group of friends

Find a community of others on vegetarian travel, too!

4. Israel

Let’s keep this kosher! With a heavy Jewish population in Israel means that many restaurants follow the kosher dietary observation which requires meat and dairy not be served together. This means there are plenty of establishments here that serve no meat whatsoever. Awesome, right? This reality makes eating out even MORE fun and stress-free. This means there is an abundance of amazing standalone vegetarian dishes easily available.

What makes Israel even more delightful for meaningful vegetarian travel is the abundance of street food. Hummus and falafel are old standby’s and no one does them better than the Holy Land itself.

- Popular for: Travelers move here to work abroad in fast-paced cities like 

- Gotta have ‘em veggie dishes: 

  • Falafel (fried chickpea balls)
  • Hummus (chickpea and tahini dip)
  • Latkes (potato pancakes)
  • Bourekas (pastries filled with savory fillings like cheese, mushrooms, potato, spinach)
  • Fresh dates

- How to say “I don’t eat meat” : Most Israeli’s also speak English, so just be sure to let your food servers know (politely) that meat is a no-no.

veggies at the market

Enjoy every last bite!

5. United Kingdom

Don’t be fooled into thinking the United Kingdom is only all bangers and mash (or fish n’ chips!). There are hundreds (yes—hundreds!) of vegan, vegetarian, and vegetarian friendly restaurants in central London alone. When you account for the entire kingdom, that’s enough dishes to keep your belly entertained for a lifetime, let alone a short stint of meaningful travel!

And don’t worry, you won’t be resigned to only dining in hippie cafes and juice bars. A lot of the local pubs and dives are vegetarian friendly, with things like polenta fries and mac and cheese on the menu. Interest in vegetarianism perked back up in the 1960’s thanks to trendsetters like the Beatles, so now we don’t have to merely imagine all the people eating vegetables in the U.K. We can see it (and taste it!) for ourselves.

- Popular for: Travelers move here to complete full-degree programs at reputable institutions or to participate in high school travel programs

- Gotta have ‘em veggie dishes: 

  • Veggie pot pie
  • Mash potatoes and roasted root veggies
  • Quinoa cakes
  • Chips (AKA fries—add malt vinegar to win approval from the locals)
  • Potato soup
  • Indian dishes galore! It’s one of the UK’s best kept secrets

- How to say “I don’t eat meat” : English is the main language here, so just be clear and mention that you are vegetarian. 

cows
2cute2eat

6. Thailand

Longtime vegetarians will be in foodie-heaven in the Land of Smiles. From papaya salads to eggplant basil curries to mango sticky rice and more, your biggest problem here won’t be sourcing vegetarian cuisine, but finding the energy to do other activities after stuffing your face all day. Meaningful travelers here know that maintaining your beach bod for your Krabi escapades comes second to tasting all the things. Keep in mind that some dishes utilize ingredients like shrimp paste and fish sauce, so if you’re keeping it 100% cruelty-free, than you might want to do some additional restaurant research beforehand.

Pro tip: As a Buddhist nation, it’s not hard to find restaurants catering to traditional Buddhist vegetarian fare—just look for a yellow sign with in Thai script the word che (เจ) or ahan che (อาหารเจ) written on it in red.

- Popular for: Travelers love Thailand for meaningful volunteer programs and for adventure travel

- Gotta have ‘em veggie dishes: 

  • Pad phak (stir-fried vegetables) 
  • Pad thai (stir-fried noodles; ask for no meat)
  • Som tum (papaya salad) 
  • Gang jay (vegetarian curry)

- How to say “I don’t eat meat” : The most commonly used term is “kin jey,” which indicates you eat vegan/Buddhist. Keep in mind this means your food won’t include dairy, eggs, even onions or garlic. The slightly more complex “Mai sai nuea” means “don’t put in meat.”

[Read even more veggie-friendly countries]

bowl of noodle soup

Meet your new BFF, vegetarian pho

A few more veggieful travel tips

You can set yourself up for a tasty stint abroad if you take these additional considerations and pieces of advice to heart (/stomach). Here are some bite-sized tips to snack on:

Studying abroad while vegetarian

  • Make sure you pick a study abroad program that allows you to make food independently or can guarantee you will have access to veggie options.
  • Doing a homestay? Confirm with your program that the family won’t pressure you into eating anything you’re uncomfortable with, even if refusing a meat dish is considered culturally insensitive there.
  • Pack some emergency snacks in your suitcase if you are traveling in developing countries

Teaching abroad while vegetarian

  • If you can, avoid teaching in a country where it’s tough to find healthy varieties of vegetarian cuisine! For example, Korea, Brazil, or Argentina, where BBQ and steak is the name of the dinner-game. Yes, you can absolutely teach in countries high in meat consumption, but don’t expect menus to cater to your needs.
  • Ask to be paired with a roommate who is also vegetarian if possible
  • Confirm with your provider that a market plentiful in fresh fruits and vegetables is within walking distance of your school or apartment

Volunteering abroad while vegetarian

  • Consider picking a project/supporting a cause with vegetarianism at its core! 
  • Depending on where you volunteer, there may be veggie-friendly options for food sourcing at your volunteer site, i.e. volunteering at a farm or a food bank. Otherwise, be sure to identify your closest access to food resources such as a local market or grocery store. 
  • Consider organizing a food swap with other people you are volunteering with so that you can each try new dishes.

woman in a field

See ways that other countries source their foods and learn from them

Interning abroad as a vegetarian

  • Before taking an internship, determine if there is access to a refrigerator in the office, a full-on kitchen, or if your coworkers know of any good vegetarian options close to your office.
  • Be sure to carry around protein bars or snacks to help stabilize your energy levels over the course of the work day. The post-lunch afternoon drudgery is real!
  • Make sure your placement organization communicates your dietary preferences to your office—you’d hate to show up on day 1 for a welcome BBQ only to refuse their generosity! #badfirstimpressions

Working abroad as a vegetarian

  • People will inevitably ask you why you are a vegetarian. If your experience is anything like mine, it is always when everyone else at the table is eating hamburgers or some other meat-heavy meal. Be sure to nail down a talk track or a polite way to change the conversation if you don’t feel comfortable answering.
  • Much like our advice for those interning abroad, be sure to carve out some office logistics in your favor, like space in the fridge and a variety of dishes at company gatherings/potlucks.
  • Choose jobs in major cities if you don’t like cooking for yourself. If you’re on the sticks, you might be out of luck.

[Still worried? Consult program reviews for the inside scoop]

Fruits + vegetables + travel = match made in heaven

fancy fruit shakes
Don't forget all the scrumptious, exotic fruits you can try on your travels!

Before you take off anywhere be sure to arm yourself with the HappyCow app so that you can explore vegetarian & vegetarian friendly restaurant options close to you. Be sure to have Google translate readily available so that you always feel comfortable communicating your dietary restrictions regardless of where you travel to. Also, do your best to learn to cook authentic dishes when traveling abroad. 

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be fully immersed in your experience abroad so that when you return home you can share more than just pictures with your friends and family. You will forever have a method of sharing your abroad experience through food. Great. Now I’m hungry! I wonder where I will travel for dinner tonight…

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Topic:  Foodie Fun