Updated: Sep 23, 2019
Finding good vegan food options has become significantly easier in the last couple of years since it has become more widespread, with restaurants and supermarkets catering more and more for those following a vegan lifestyle. It wasn’t that long ago that vegans often had to make do with creating a meal out of side dishes when eating out, whether at home or abroad (I can’t tell you the number of times my meals consisted of chips and salad). It can still be a bit tricky when going on holiday, especially when you don’t speak the local language, and, in some countries, veganism isn’t particularly well understood which can make it difficult to explain what you will and won’t eat.
On top of potential challenges of finding vegan food, it can be challenging to maintain healthy eating while on holiday (whether at home or abroad). When you are on holiday, it can be very easy to see eating unhealthily as treating yourself – I know that I do. You are taking a well-earned break and you want to let loose and eat and drink to your heart’s content – and usually the food you want to eat isn’t the healthiest. It’s important to bear in mind though, that what you think of as a treat may be harmful to your health and could undo all of the results you have worked so hard to achieve – this has been my experience many times! It’s important to enjoy yourself on holiday, and I certainly enjoy trying the local cuisine (when it is suitable for vegans, of course), but below are a few tips to bear in mind when on holiday to try to keep yourself a bit healthier while still having a nice time. These tips won’t all work for every type of holiday, but I hope they will be a helpful guide to not letting your holiday undo all of your hard work!
I always research the food choices in the local area. Happy Cow is a great resource for finding local vegan food, or failing that a good old Google search. I like to know what our options will be and whether there are any must-try restaurants. It can also be helpful to look up the local dishes to see if any are suitable for vegans. For instance, we know when we go to Greece that good options usually include stuffed peppers, tomatoes or vine leaves (after checking that they don’t contain cheese and requesting that they are not served with yogurt), giant beans, briam, fava etc. Having an idea of what you might be able to eat, and what adaptations (e.g. no cheese) might make a local dish suitable for vegans, can help with conversations in restaurants.
2. Learn how to ask in the local language
I like to know that I will at least be able to attempt to explain what I will and won’t eat in the local language. I lived in Belgium for a few months so am pretty comfortable explaining this in French, and Jonny is pretty good at explaining in Spanish, so between us we usually get by. We haven’t yet managed to explain in Greek, which isn’t usually an issue but we have relied on Google translate in a pinch before now. There are always ways to get by, but I find it comforting to know I can at least try (and we always like the challenge of trying to learn a bit of the language before travelling somewhere new!).
3. Cook some of your own meals
This one will really depend on the type of holiday you are going for, but for the majority of our holidays we book a self-catering apartment. We like to know that we will be able to cook our own, healthy, meals at home regardless of how we get on with the local food. When we arrive in a new place, one of the first things we do is find the local shop to buy our staples (I know, we are wild!). The type of things we will look to buy if available are whole wheat pasta, rice (preferably brown), beans, lentils, some herbs and spices, hummus (it’s a holiday after all), fresh fruit and vegetables. We usually alternate days of eating out and cooking our own, healthy food in the apartment. If you check out our blog post here you can see one such meal we made recently in Crete, which was nutritious, delicious and which we got to eat on our balcony overlooking the Sea of Crete – what more do you need!
4. Contact the hotel before you book/arrive
If you aren’t one to cook on your holiday and/or prefer going down the resort/all inclusive route, I’d recommend contacting your hotel before hand to check if they are able to cater for vegans. Most will, and if you have told them in advance then they are more likely to get it right. This is especially important if you have any additional dietary requirements (e.g. gluten or soy allergies).
5. Try to get into a different mindset
It’s tempting to think of unhealthy food as a treat, but I’m trying to reset my mindset on this. While I do enjoy the occasional vegan burger, I don’t enjoy the bloated, sluggish feeling that often accompanies unhealthy, processed food. Jonny and I spent a few days in Toronto last year and I must have put on 2 kilos just in those few days (Toronto is the most vegan-friendly city I have ever visited -it was amazing!) and, while it was delicious, I felt awful afterwards. It took me about a week after getting home to fully shake the unhealthy feeling and, in hindsight, we would have been better to pace ourselves. Rather than binge eating junk food the whole time we were there and seeing it as a treat that didn’t count, I wish we had seen it as something that would have an impact on how we felt once we got home. I’m try to shift my thinking away from junk food being a treat, and towards nourishing my body with whole plant foods as being the treat. Now, I would be lying if I said I will stop eating processed foods altogether – maybe one day, but I’m certainly not there yet. But I can say for certain that if we do go back to Toronto, I will enjoy a meal at one of their wonderful vegan junk food restaurants, but the rest of my time there will be spent eating much more healthily and sensibly.
6. Don’t stress if you can’t find a healthy option
The whole point of a holiday is to relax and de-stress. You need to enjoy yourself, so if you fancy that vegan burger or you can’t find anything other than side options at a restaurant then don’t stress. One meal is not going to undo all of your hard work. I do think that with the proper planning and mindset, it is easy enough to find food that is suitable for vegans on holiday – even when you are abroad and don’t speak the language! For me, as long as the food is vegan, I try not to stress too much if it isn’t as healthy as I might like (veganism is non-negotiable though). Instead, I’ll eat as healthily as I can without letting it have a detrimental impact on my holiday.
Following the points above (particularly 1-5) will be extremely beneficial. We find when we have practiced what we preach on holiday that we always come back feeling relaxed and happy, but still healthy and not like we have ruined the health and wellness that we work so hard for all year. When we don’t practice what we preach (*cough* Toronto), we definitely feel it. Don’t stress, but do try your best to maintain a healthy lifestyle – your body can’t tell the difference between junk food on holiday and junk food at home!