For many vegans, travel can be something of a challenge. If you’re worried about vegan travel in South America, you’ll be surprised at how easy it can be if you are prepared and go to the right spots. Basically, it’s about doing your homework and learning how to keep up your vegan lifestyle while travelling. It may seem difficult at first, especially when in a foreign country, but you can master travelling as vegan in the same way you mastered being a vegan at home. Here are a few tips to point you in the right direction before your pack your bags and hit the road. Use these tips and you’ll find it’s not hard to maintain a vegan diet while travelling in South America. The more exciting things may be harder to come by but the healthy, whole food options are always available. If after reading these tips you have any doubts about vegan travel in South America, let us assure you it’s possible. It does take a little extra planning and preparation but it’s worth it, not just for you but for the animals.
1. Do Your Research
Get online and search for vegan restaurants and health food stores. One of the best places to start is Happy Cow (www.happycow.net); an online directory of restaurants and health food stores that have vegan and vegetarian options. You can search for any city or address (like your hostel or hotel) and it will return a list of vegan/vegan-friendly restaurants nearby. Happy cow (like other vegan restaurant lookup sites) also returns a list of health food stores that carry vegan foods or vegan products. Whenever you would like a vegan meal or snack for your hotel room, lengthy bus trip, or souvenirs to take home with you, a visit to one of these international health food stores is a nice convenience. You should also look online for local vegetarian or vegan associations, where restaurant and health food shop listings tend to be up to date. To find local associations, do a quick Google search for the city name and ‘vegan society’ or ‘vegan association.’ Don’t be scared away if the content isn’t in English, that’s what Google Translator is for. Between these online resources, you should be able to compile a list of places to find vegan food.
2. Connect with Other Vegans
To find possible places to eat you could ask local vegans for recommendations. They’ll know which bakeries have vegan treats and which cafes serve the best weekend brunch. Online resources can only get you so far. The best knowledge is local knowledge. To find local vegans, or get recommendations from vegans who have recently visited the city, start with a Google search. You can usually find them by Googling the city name and ‘vegan.’ With this approach, you’re likely to find a blog by a local vegan or reviews by vegan visitors. You can also connect with vegans on Twitter and Facebook, by searching for the city name and ‘vegan.’ There are also online and offline communities, like the Vegan Around the World Network and Vegan Meet up Groups, that help connect vegans in faraway places.
A really good place to search for vegans is Couch Surfing (www.couchsurfing.com), a website where people offer up their sofas, air mattresses, floors and spare rooms to travellers. It’s a free service, where no money is exchanged. You can filter your results by including ‘vegan’ in the keyword search. There is also a Couch Surfing group for vegan and vegetarian members. Some large and vegan-friendly cities have their own vegan and vegetarian groups. If you don’t like the idea of sleeping in a strangers house, you can always ask people from Couch Surfing to meet for a drink or meal. At the very least, ask a local vegan you met through Couch Surfing for recommendations on restaurants, supermarkets, and health food stores.
3. Carry Snacks
It’s very important to pack food when travelling as a vegan. At the very least, don’t leave home without some snacks for the airplane, bus, train or car ride. You never know when unexpected delays will leave you in a place where vegan options are scarce. Pack easy snacks like apples, bananas, nuts, seeds, homemade sandwiches, granola bars, carrot sticks, bread, pitas, nuts, crackers, peanut butter or hummus. If you’re travelling for more than a week or two, don’t try to pack your entire food supply, just plan to make the local supermarket your first stop. Carrying a small stash of food with you isn’t a recommendation, it’s a requirement for vegan travellers. Unless, of course, you don’t mind skipping a meal or eating something that you’re unsure about. At some point during your travels, you’re bound to find yourself in transit, lost or far away from any vegan restaurants.
4. Find a Kitchen
If you’re travelling to a destination that doesn’t have a lot of vegan restaurants, plan to stay in a hostel or hotel where you’ll have access to a kitchen. This way you can prepare your own meals and have full control over what you eat. Without access to a kitchen, it can be difficult to maintain a healthy vegan diet when travelling to some destinations. If you’re not worried about the weight of your luggage, you can also bring along some kitchen essentials like a good knife, cutting board, travel blender, bowls and utensils. A small Tupperware container and a fork/spoon go a long way, making it easy to take homemade food or leftovers on the road. If you plan to make a lot of your own food on the road while staying in hostels or couch surfing, and you like spices, it is a good idea to premix some dried herbs and spices and take them with you.
5. Pack a Vegan Passport
If your travels take you to a place where you don’t know how to speak the local language, the best thing you can do is learn a few key words before leaving home. If this isn’t possible, and you’re not staying long enough to take lessons once you arrive, the next best thing is to pack a copy of the Vegan Passport. In 73 different languages, this little booklet explains what it means to be a vegan, lists items you can eat, and recommends some simple dishes that can be made vegan. You can show this to people at restaurants to give them an idea of what you’re looking for.
6. Learn the Lingo
Your life will be easier if you can speak some Spanish or Portuguese to explain your eating requirements and check if a meal contains meat or dairy products. Without knowing the local words for things like chicken, milk, eggs, cheese or butter, it will be hard to determine whether or not a food item is suitable for vegans. You can look keywords up online, write down some vegan phrases or carry the Vegan Passport, a handy book that can be used to help communicate your dietary needs at restaurants and stores around the world. Don’t worry too much about the language barrier when you first start travelling as things seem to just fall into place. It won’t be too long before you can say you don’t eat meat or milk or cheese or butter in Spanish or Portuguese. If you have time you should take some language classes on arrival in South America.
7. Go Raw
Whenever you think you can’t find vegan options, go raw. Just get yourself to a grocery, local market, health food store, salad bar, or even a convenience store and find the raw items. You can easily survive on salad, fruit, and nuts for a few days. (And maybe you’ll even decide to go raw more often). As other travellers can testify, there is an abundance of vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts and seeds in South America.
8. Tell People You’re Vegan
Make sure you book a vegan meal on your flight. Remind the flight attendants when you board. Tell your hosts that you’re vegan and remind them what that means. They may have suggestions for you. Mention that you’re vegan to the hotel concierge or check-in clerk. They can often recommend a restaurant or know someone else who can.
9. Make it Easy for Others
Don’t walk into a regular restaurant, cafe, bakery or supermarket and ask a staff member to point you in the direction of their vegan options. Don’t expect people to even know what vegan food is. Vegans will have a more difficult time than vegetarians and though some South Americans understand the concept of not eating meat and consider it to be a healthful lifestyle, those who don’t consume any animal products at all may meet with incomprehension. Make things easy for them by asking if they can customize a menu item that’s almost vegan. For example, ask for cheese to be removed from pizza, pasta or a sandwich. If you’re in a bakery, don’t ask if a loaf of bread is vegan, ask if it contains or has been glazed with milk, butter, eggs, lard or any other animal product. If you’re cooking with people who don’t have experience making vegan food, give them specific ideas, share recipes, or offer to prepare a dish for them. Often, people get confused about what is okay, and what’s not. They don’t want to offend you by accidentally adding something you can’t eat. Don’t be afraid to help and answer questions. In the end, hopefully everyone will forget about the missing animal ingredients and enjoy the dish as part of a healthy and tasty meal.
10. Make a List of Vegan Restaurants
Though the prospect of finding vegan food in South America can be daunting, the experience is definitely worth it. Make a list of all the vegan restaurants you found on Happy Cow, TripAdvisor (www.tripadvisor.com), or elsewhere, and pack it in your luggage. Below you’ll find some great South American vegan restaurants to start your list. If you find yourself in an omnivore restaurant, it’s important to be careful when ordering and vegan travellers should make every effort to be prepared. Making a set of vegan translation cards is a good idea if you have a low level of Spanish and/or Portuguese, or don’t have a vegan passport. Though finding food can be a struggle outside of vegan, vegan friendly-only restaurants, it isn’t impossible.