Ordering unfamiliar food in a foreign country can be daunting enough. Add to that medical or personal food restrictions, and it can turn into a very unappealing task. But if you‘re well prepared, it can actually be a fun experience! Whether you’re vegetarian or vegan, an adventurous eater or simply curious to try a different side of the food culture you’ll be exploring, here are some helpful tips to satisfy your appetite.

Travel tips for a vegetarian diet

If you’re vegetarian or vegan traveller, you’ve probably faced the challenge of figuring out what to order at a restaurant in a non-English speaking country on more than one occasion. Sure, you could always play it safe and order plain rice, but you’d be missing out on many delicious plant-based local specialties.

If you plan to rely on good old bilingual dictionaries, you’ll quickly grow tired of flipping through the countless pages, especially if the country you’re visiting uses a different written language! Fortunately, mobile technology has brought us more efficient ways of communicating. Apps like Waygo can help you with menus by translating content using your camera. You can also use voice translating apps such as iTranslate Voice, which allows you to have a foreign language conversation in real time.

Not keen on the idea of having to use your phone all the time? There are other ways to help you save your battery and paying for roaming fees. For example, I’m currently planning a trip to Japan—as a non-Japanese speaking pescatarian who’s adventurous with food, I don’t want to feel limited in my choices because of language barriers. Before travelling, I plan to write down my diet restrictions on a piece of paper in Japanese, which I’ll carry in my pocket every day: 赤肉も家禽もない。魚はOKです。“No red meat, no poultry, fish is OK.”

Tip: Make sure to distinguish white meat from red meat as the word “meat” can exclude chicken in some languages.

vegetarian food london
Fresh vegetarian lunch from a food stall in London

Not into the restaurant scene? Not a problem! Venturing into local food shops and markets is one of my favourite things to do while travelling. It’s a great opportunity to sample all the fresh local produce and pack up for your next few meals. Some vegetarian food ideas to seek while abroad include: fresh bread from the bakeries in France, colourful fruits from farmers’ markets in Mexico or sweet snacks from street vendors in Thailand. You may also want to consider booking an accommodation with a kitchen close to a market, so you can cook your own meals with the freshest ingredients.

Vegetarian & vegan-friendly travel destinations

Some countries are more likely to be vegetarian or vegan-friendly than others. Here are our top 4 vegetarian or vegan travel destinations:

India: a vegetarian paradise

India has the lowest rate of meat consumption in the world. A study published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) showed that there are as many vegetarians in India as the rest of the world combined! No doubt you’ll find plenty of vegetarian choices here. India also has a convenient classification system: meat-free products are marked with a green dot in a green square, while non-vegetarian products are marked with a red dot in a red square.

india street food
Delicious vegetarian naans and samosas from a street vendor in Bikaner, India.

Taiwan’s many vegetarian options

With over 6,000 vegetarian eateries to choose from, Taiwan is a dream destination for non-meat eaters. According to polls, 14% of the population follow a vegetarian diet at least some of the time. Taiwan also has one of the best food labelling systems in the world, with five different symbols to categorize food.

Tip: If you‘re vegan, be sure to use one of our previous tips to ensure your meal is egg-free, as this is a favoured ingredient in Taiwanese dishes.

vegetarian food stall taiwan
Shopping for fresh produce in the streets of Taipei, Taiwan.

Vegan trends in Israel

According to polls, up to 8% of Israelis are vegetarian and 4% are vegan. Veganism has thrived in the past decade and there are now over 400 vegan restaurants in the country. Tel Aviv was also host to the world’s largest vegan festival in 2014, drawing over 15,000 attendees. Hummus, falafel, vine leaves stuffed with rice, sambusak, and pita bread are some popular examples of the many delicious no-meat treats you can find there.

vegetarian food stall tel aviv israel
Dried fruits and nuts from a vegetarian stall in Tel Aviv – the perfect afternoon snack.

The rise of US vegetarian culture

While some states might make the US seem like the worst country for vegetarians, like Texas with their BBQ culture, several American cities have developed a vegan and vegetarian culture that’s become widely-recognized in the meat-free world. Portland is a good example. You’ll find vegan or smoothie carts at every corner of the city. New York City, Orlando, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle and San Diego are among other cities that follow this phenomenon.

If you’re planning to travel to these popular destinations in US, check out our Cities on a Budget series for some great tips on the best local eats.

Vegetarian & vegan-friendly health retreats

If you ‘re looking for more immersive travel adventures, some tour companies can help you explore a country without having to worry about where to eat—they take care of that for you!

And if you’re in the mood for an even deeper experience, you can stay at a wellness raw centre. Their numbers are flourishing around the world. Some of them offer comprehensive packages that include perks like spa treatments, yoga, meditation, outdoor activities, vegan dishes and food supplements, all in the middle of a beautiful, exotic setting like Bali or Hawaii. This is the perfect opportunity for you, vegan or not, to enjoy a healthy, relaxing vacation and come home rejuvenated!

Top 3 wellness retreats perfect for vegetarian travellers

Casa Verde Raw Yoga Hiking Retreat in Cloud Forest, Ecuador

Ecuador raw food yoga hiking retreat
Personalized retreats in this beautiful, remote forest lodge offer a great combination of yoga and a delicious raw vegan diet. Photo via Wendy Green Yoga

Zanzibar Body Bliss Retreat in Zanzibar, Tanzania

Zanzibar wellness yoga retreat
This 7-day program in Zanzibar elevates your beach vacation into an ultimate wellness retreat, along with opportunities to detox with healthy and organic raw food. Photo via Bliss Body Retreat

The Golden Rock Retreat 10-day Cleanse in Bali, Indonesia

bali detox wellness program
Voted as one of four best detox retreats by UK Daily Telegraph, it offers tailored stays with programs designed by a team of experienced therapists. Photo via The Retreat Bali

Now time to put these vegetarian and vegan travel tips to good use! Be prepared for the unexpected where food is concerned—at restaurants and stalls, markets, specialty food shops, resorts and retreats—by keeping an open mind! And remember, when confronted with a language barrier, a smile can go a long way!

Healthy travels,

Thomas Boudel Tan

Travelling as a Vegetarian: Guide to Planning a Vegan-Friendly Vacation

Feb 7 2018