This article was originally posted on PlacesToGo.com by A.J. Schraeder, Co-Host and producer of the TV show Places To Go.
I’ve been a “lacto ovo” vegetarian for over 20 years and I’ve learned a few things during that time, one: most people think you sound pretentious when you say lacto ovo vegetarian so just tell people you’re a vegetarian that eats eggs and dairy and two: most people think you sound pretentious just by saying you’re a vegetarian. Over the years I’ve done a decent job of internalizing this disdain and thus am forever worried about my personal diet choices being a burden to those around me. I’m particularly anxious about this while traveling and so I’ve decided to share with you, the denizens of the internet, some of my personal coping strategies for when I want to experience a new place but don’t want to accidentally eat meat or have everyone else at the table “helpfully” suggest menu choices to me. (I’m a grown ass man, and I can also see the salad)
1. Holy crap, technology!
Of course, Yelp is a super tool for finding vegetarian friendly places in strange cities and it doesn’t require you to talk to anyone! Which is a double bonus if you’re an introverted vegetarian traveler such as me. Unfortunately, there are still plenty of travel destinations which haven’t been systematically rated on a star-based scale. (WHY CAN’T EVERY PLACE I TRAVEL HAVE THE SAME CULTURE AS ME!?!) This means there might be times when you’re walking into an establishment sight unseen. Fear not, there are still ways your smart phone can help you so don’t throw it into a ditch just yet! If you still have cell service google translate has several amazing features. One of the best ones is its augmented reality feature in which it can translate a menu simply by hovering your camera over it. This is super helpful to find out what you’re eating. Even if you don’t have cell service there’s sure to be a dictionary that you can download ahead of time for the location you’re visiting. If all else fails, you can go super high tech and write down the phase for “No meat please” on an index card and stick in your phone case or wallet.
2. Who needs friends?
Traveling with friends is great, but 6 people trying to all agree on what to eat in a new place is not. Throw some dietary restrictions into the mix and you get a big ball of indecisive anxiety. (even in ball form indecisive anxiety isn’t great) That’s why it’s a good idea to communicate ahead of time that not every meal has to be eaten together. This gives your friends the chance to devour whatever local specialty they want while you can have at least one meal a day that doesn’t consist of just bread and potatoes (aka ground bread.)
3. Where my hipsters at?
There tends to be a correlation between the arts and vegetarianism. Locals might not know where the best vegetarian spots to eat at are, but chances are, they know which neighborhoods have a reputation of being artsy. These areas are often your best bet when it comes to finding vegetarian food. Street art with minimal swear words and artisanal coffee shops are often good early warning indicators of delicious jackfruit or tofu bbq somewhere nearby.
4. Bring your own protein
The truth is, most places do at least have a couple side items that are vegetarian friendly. Thanks to many other cultures being less meat focused than the united states there’s even a good chance you’ll find a tasty main course bean dish or two, but unless you’re at a vegetarian specific restaurant your chances of finding seitan are relatively slim. This means I often run the risk of getting far less protein than I’m used to in the controlled environment of my house. With that in mind I’ll often hit up a grocery store early in trip to grab some fake meat and bring some baggies with me so I can add it to whatever carb-loaded monstrosity I order when I’m out and about. I also make sure and pack a few vegetarian friendly protein bars with me for the trip wherever I’m going. These are also super handy to have at the airport if a flight gets delayed and you have to run to make your connection.
5. Let me get some Farmers’ market up in my face.
Being a vegetarian shouldn’t keep you from trying local foods. Getting an Airbnb and cooking yourself with some local produce is great way to experience and taste the local culture while still being sure you know exactly what you’re eating. Plus, even though grocery shopping at home is a chore, when you’re traveling it gets to be an adventure. You can tell your friends that going to a farmers’ Market is an experience and they’ll be sure to want to join in on the fun. Those omnivore suckers will think they’re just having a good time walking around, but they’ll actually be feeding your insatiable vegetarian hunger. MUAH HA HA HA!