How To Wander

Tips for Vegans | How To Navigate “Traditional” Menus While Traveling

Dear Explorers,

Veganism… ahhh!

*Cue the eye rolls, covering of the ears, or (hopefully) fist pumps*

Either way, veganism and travel do go hand and hand.

  Read why travelers shouldn’t be consuming flesh, eggs, or dairy.

That’s not what we’re here to discuss, though.

I’ve been vegan for about three years now, and I’ve gone on two significant trips during that time. The first trip was to South America; more specifically, Chile for a year. The second was when I went across the United States, on a bicycle, with almost no money.

I ate well as a vegan, easily, on both trips.

I hear many people say (yes,–say– not ask),

“Isn’t it hard to be vegan and travel?”


“Vegan in South America? Impossible.”

“Oh yeah, I want to go vegan. It makes sense. I just want to get some travel out of the way so that I’m not limited with food choices on my travels. I want to be able to eat everything.”

(A quick look into my thoughts translates “everything” to “everyone.”)

And to all of these statements I (usually) say with enthusiasm,

“Yes, you can!” You should eat well, and travel vegan.

Here are some tips on how to eat plant-based while on the road, especially when in restaurant settings.


  1. Drop the word “Vegan.”

I’ve been all across the U.S., and was surprised to find that some people don’t know what the word “vegan” means. It can be frustrating at first, but that’s okay. When this is part of your experience, consider considering it an opportunity to spread knowledge to others. 

I’m not saying to drop the word entirely out of your vocabulary. I’m quite literally saying to drop the word specifially when you go to restaurants or when preparing food with people who are unfamiliar with veganism.

They may think they know what it means, and end up giving you something that you don’t want to consume. Explain what it is in full detail what your needs are. This makes ordering crystal clear for them, and worry-free for you. After you express your needs, and feel understood, you may want to take that space to explain more deeply what vegnaism is, and offer up resources if they want to expand their knowledge on the subject.

  1. Stop searching for the “Vegan” label.

If you already eat plant-based, you probably have already learned that many items that are plant-based, aren’t labeled as such.

Oreos, for example.

(Classic example, I know. Almond milk’s favorite cookie, right?)

Search menus for things that may already be plant-based, or that could easily be modified. Usually, every restaurant has veggies and grains. They can often substitute vegetable oil for butter when cooking, and make something for you that usually isn’t included on the menu.

When you do find something, let them know that you’re looking for it to be specifically free of flesh, or anything else taken from animals.

Another choice is to put side dishes together, and come up with new combinations. Remember, there are more options beyond the set menu!


  1. Enjoy the Hunt!

(What a strange thing for a vegan, animal-liberationist to say, right?)

There are different apps, websites, and resources to help you scout out the already-known vegan-friendly hot spots.

A simple Google search, with your location, can bring up a whole new world of food; and the HappyCow app and website can be a great go-to for a mode of searching as well.

Have you considered asking the locals? You never know what other veg-heads are around you, and have the scoop on what you’re searching for.

To be completely honest, I’ve had more fun searching and finding yummy vegan-friendly restaurants (or restaurants that have some flesh-and-animal-product-free options), than I ever have restaurant surfing in my pre-vegan life. The journey, and the destination, can both be experienced as rewarding, and fun, while traveling.

  1. Be prepared to explain. (Or maybe not)

 When I wrote a first draft of this post, I included a whole bullet point on how it is OK to say that you have allergies to animal flesh and products when people just aren’t getting it. After having a partner review it, and point out how that can be problematic, I realized what a mistake that would have been to publish.

It has been helpful for me, though, to share the part of truth about how consuming animal products or parts make me physically feel sick. People tend to take that seriously in the moment, and chew on the other information that you’ve shared with in their own time and space.

Sharing truth is so necessary, but know that you don’t have to do it each time that someone questions your conscious choices to harm others in a reduced way. Sometimes we need to save that energy for ourselves, and that is completely OK.

If you feel like explaining what veganism means to you, and how you are crafting your life around it, go for it. If you’re ready to share the horrors and truth with others about what happens to individuals that are not human, please do so.

I personally choose to speak out on most occasions, but sometimes I choose not to, to protect my own energies, recharge in someways, and practice self care.

When considering how to share your veganism with others, think about what kind of world you’re looking to craft.

Do you want amplify the message of non-human animals and their suffering? Do you want to help people make the connection between the environment, and eating plant-based?

I want to create spaces where we can share our truths with others. I want to create spaces where we can connect in more raw– and genuine ways– to stir up compassion, and pass it on.

Where do you fit into that?


  1. Remember, you are not “the problem.”

 You, in fact, are the solution, by living vegan.

Don’t forget that.

Request what you need with confidence and clarity. Look for already-existing items that can be modified, very specifically, to align with your values. Don’t settle for less, just because others around you may choose to feel uncomfortable with your choices.

You are choosing compassion. You are choosing a practice that honors respect for other’s bodily autonomy. You are choosing a way of life that aims to inflict minimal suffering to others, and that is not only something to stick to, but to celebrate.

Happy chomping!


With love,









(Thank you to Helen Otto, Michael Amani and Jocelyn Cole for all the ideas/edits that you contributed to this post.)


More posts by Calen


  • Ishar
    May 1, 2017

    Great article! keep it up Calen!

    • Calen
      May 1, 2017

      Thank you, Ish! <3

  • Wendy@TheNomadicVegan
    May 2, 2017

    Great work! I completely agree about enjoying the hunt. before going vegan, I had no idea how much fun it would be to be on a never-ending treasure hunt while traveling. I just recently published a post on my own blog about what I think are the two secret ingredients that make vegan travel so enjoyable:

    • Calen
      May 3, 2017

      Hi Wendy!

      Thanks for checking the post out. I read over your link– and I love it! they really do go hand in hand. what you expect to find really is such a huge part of what you do find— along with perspective. Thank you for putting all of that info together, it is so important! I’ll be checking out your three practices soon.

      Much love!


  • Nick
    May 12, 2017

    THis is so important. I want to point out, however, as someone traveling and living in Asia for the past ~9 months, it’s often times simply not an option to make substitutions and customizations on menus, even if you speak the language in question well enough to explain. It’s just not culturally acceptable to ask for menu adjustments. I’ve heard the same thing from a few people in other countries (including a few chefs who said they’d just turn away guests who won’t accept the menu as-is). While there are usually other ways to get around it–I can’t believe the number of plant-based milks they had in Taiwan!!!–it can be -very- difficult to eat cheaply and vegan in certain countries (Japan being a big one, where most fruits and vegetables are much more expensive than in the US and even the most vegan-seeming foods will have some sort of meat). Following the advice of local vegans is always quite helpful, however, and CouchSurfing has actually been a wonderful resource for that!

    • Calen
      May 12, 2017

      Thank you so much for that isight! My only outside of U.S. travel has really been in South America where that wasn’t the case, so it is so nice to hear how other places operate! Is there any tips that you have for those places? That sounds like a more difficult situation. CouchSurfing is the best! So is talking to the locals and finding out how things could possibly work. Thanks for reaching out! Safe travels as well. 🙂 If you have a blog, we would love to hear about it!

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