One of the biggest difficulties in my life is centered around food. You see, not only do I consume a plant-based diet, but I also have numerous food intolerances and a sensitive gut which dictates what I can, and cannot eat. This is usually okay when I am living at home as I cook all my own meals, but what happens when I go out, or when I travel for months at a time?
Whether you follow a plant-based diet like myself – which consists of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and completely avoiding meat, fish, dairy products (yes, cheese is included in this), eggs, and animal by-products, you have food sensitivities, or have any other dietary restrictions, it is certainly still possible to travel.
When I set off to Central America I was very worried about what I would eat on a daily basis. I pictured many hungry nights, stressed out grocery trips, and dreaded restaurant visits. To my surprise and delight, not only did I find enough to eat each day, but I actually met a whole community of people with similar diets to myself.
So how do you travel with food and diet restrictions?
1.Be Open to Trying New Local Foods
It may be difficult to find some of the staples you eat at home, however, you may be pleasantly surprised by how many delicious new foods you can try as you travel that fit into your dietary restrictions. When I first landed in Costa Rica I had never tried papaya, fresh coconut or plantains. Who would have thought these would end up being part of my daily diet while I traveled through Central America? All I am saying is, try new foods, you might discover a whole new world of possibilities.
2. Ask for Recommendations
The best thing I ever did was ask locals if they knew of restaurants and other places that could accommodate my food requirements. I ended up with such long lists of spots to try that I couldn’t get to them all. I also discovered many hidden gems by extending my question to others.
3. Cook for Yourself
If you are a backpacker then chances are you’re looking for cheap accommodations, so this one will doubly benefit you. Many backpackers choose to stay in budget hostels as they travel, which offer a bed in a dorm shared with other backpackers. It doesn’t sound ideal if you have never tried this out, but I can vouch that staying in hostels is such a great way to travel and they have provided me with some of the best experiences of my life.
Anyways, another added bonus of hostels is they usually come with a kitchen. This is not always the case, so you must do your research before booking, but they are quite easy to find. This provides the opportunity to cook for yourself, which if you are anything like me takes a lot of the stress out of eating. I feel most comfortable when I can cook my own meals so I know exactly what goes into my food or what does not go into it.
Whether you travel with some food staples in your pack, or hit up a grocery store to grab some fresh fruits, veggies, grains, etc., you’ll be surprised by how easy it is to whip something up in a hostel kitchen. Not to mention, it is also a wonderful place to connect with other travelers, and you may even end up sharing a meal and making a friend all while accommodating your dietary needs.
4. Learn the Words
When I arrived in Costa Rica I felt very overwhelmed because I did not know more than a few basic words in Spanish, and yet I needed to eat, obviously. The first thing I did was search for the ingredients I did not want in my food, such as milk, meat, eggs, and so on. I wrote the Spanish translation of these words down, and I practiced saying them over and over again. It took me a lot of courage to say these words in restaurants when I ordered food, and luckily I had met travelers who could speak Spanish and helped me to get my message across. However, with time I became confident with these words and spoke up for my dietary needs.
5. Don’t Worry so Much
When I think back to the months leading up to my trip, I remember constantly feeling worried and stressed out about traveling on a plant-based vegan diet. I expressed my worries constantly, and I truly thought I was going to live off of lettuce and rice. We humans have this tendency to stress ourselves to the brink of illness over things we may not have all the information about. I had a hard time finding vegan options online before my trip, and that alone led me to think I was the only person on a vegan diet who ever traveled to Central America. I know right?
Overthinking, stressing, and assuming does not do anyone any good. Of course, it is scary to travel somewhere we haven’t been before, but it is exciting and part of the fun of getting out of our comfort zones. Regardless of your dietary restrictions, you will find what works for you, and you will not starve to death, I promise.