In this installment of The Lost Book Club, we’re reading a book that covers a topic close to my heart – travelling while maintaining a vegan diet! The truth is that before I went vegan, my biggest concern was that travelling as a vegan would be really difficult. In fact, I was convinced it would be way too hard to even attempt. After taking the plunge, however, I can assure you that it most definitely is much simpler than it sounds. This is why when I heard that a new vegan travel guide was coming out, I jumped on the opportunity to share it with you.
The Essential Vegan Travel Guide by Caitlin Galer-Unti
You can read along by purchasing the book below. If you prefer to buy an electronic copy instead of a paper copy, but you don’t own a Kindle, you can still get the book by downloading the free Kindle app, which will let you read this and other eBooks on your computer.
The Essential Vegan Travel Guide is by Caitlin Galer-Unti, who blogs about vegan travel at The Vegan Word. Caitlin has travelled through 29 countries as a vegan and can most definitely vouch for how easy it can be. As she explains, so many issues can be sidestepped by a bit of planning and by reaching out to other vegans in the area you’re travelling to – which is a great way to immerse yourself in local culture anyway.
The book is broken into helpful chapters that assist you in planning your trip, right down to choosing what area you’ll be staying in and what kind of accommodation is best for you. She explains how to find vegan restaurants in each town or city, and brings up a lot of resources that had never occurred to me, such as Meetup.com or vegan sites for each individual locale.
Caitlin has included emergency options as well in case everything goes wrong – such as recipes that can be made in hotel rooms without kitchens. (For example, you can make beans in a coffee pot. Didn’t know that!) She also has a section on some of the most vegan-friendly destinations she has been to, and some of them are really impressive. Did you know there is a vegan strip club in Portland, Oregon? Whaaaaaaat!
This installment of The Lost Book Club is also a little different, in that I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to interview Caitlin about her book. So while you wrap your head around the idea of a vegan strip club (no I don’t know the address, sorry!) you might enjoy reading the questions Caitlin kindly answered for me.
Hi Caitlin! First of all, congratulations on your book. How does it feel to have it published?
Thanks Karyn! It feels amazing – I’ve dreamed of writing a book for many years, and when I finally held the first paperback in my hands I actually cried with joy. I hope it will help other vegans plan their travels and also show those who want to go vegan that it’s not only possible to travel as a vegan but fun, too.
You’ve put together a really great list of resources for people. What prompted you to do this?
When I first went vegan in 2008, there weren’t many resources out there about travelling as a vegan, and quite honestly I wasn’t sure if it was possible. There was HappyCow, which I of course used regularly, but there really wasn’t such a thing as a vegan travel blog. Now, there are so many resources out online – but there wasn’t a central place curating all of them or explaining how to best use them to plan your travels. For new vegans, it can be quite overwhelming! So, I wanted to show how to use resources in the best way for vegan travel (including some tricks to better use apps we all use regularly, like Google Maps).
I’ve also heard from a lot of long-term travelers and students backpacking after university, who said they wanted to go vegan but “couldn’t” while travelling. A lot of people really believe travel and veganism don’t mix, and I wanted to show that it’s definitely possible, and enjoyable and easy as long as you plan ahead using all the great resources we now have available online!
I like how you suggest finding the locations of vegan restaurants and then choosing accommodation nearby, instead of doing things in the reverse order. What made you realise this was a good idea? Did you have to learn the hard way?
I actually realised this thanks to a good friend, who’s been vegan for several decades. She and her partner go to New York every year and she always starts out by looking at what vegan restaurants she most wants to try, then chooses an apartment nearby. She just thought this was the most logical way to do things as she’s been doing it that way for years – I, in turn, thought it was brilliant!
I wish I’d known this trick when I was in Beijing, which is a huge city, and where I ended up going miles just for lunch as my hostel was in a vegan dead zone. I also had a really bad cold so it made travel on the metro even more miserable!
You mention a lot of great planning and scheduling resources in the book. In your opinion, what would be the top three essentials?
My top three would be HappyCow (the website and the app), Google maps’ offline feature and blogs. HappyCow because how could any of us find vegan places without this great resource? Google maps because I’m hopelessly useless at finding my way around without a map and GPS so when I first found out how to save Google maps for offline use abroad it saved me so much time, stress and expensive data roaming fees. Finally, blogs because it’s so useful to read about the experiences of those who went there before you, and I’m so grateful for everyone who takes the time to write about their vegan experiences on their travels!
I so agree about packing food for flights – even if you can find a vegan meal at the airport it’s usually unhealthy anyway. What is your standard emergency vegan carry-on food?
If I have time and the flight is long enough I’ll need a meal, I’ll make a simple meal for the flight, like a roast tofu and veggie sandwich and an apple. I also always have some bars (Clif, Lara, or the local equivalent), some fruit like an orange or apple and some nuts and seeds (easy to transport, don’t spoil, and are filling). I like to restock my supplies from a local supermarket or health food shop before my next flight.
I’ve also had the experience of being let down after confirming a vegan meal on a flight – it sucks, hey! Which airlines, in your experience, have really gone above and beyond to cater to you?
It does suck, doesn’t it? Cathay Pacific flying from London to Hong Kong were great and I think my favourite airline meal. I got a delicious vegetable stir-fry. China Eastern tried really hard, too. I booked a last-minute flight from Hong Kong to Beijing only two days before flying, so I didn’t expect a meal and packed plenty of backups. They gave it their best shot anyway and gave me a meal tray filled with melon cut into different shapes!
It’s also a very interesting idea about bringing certain foods with you, depending on where you’re going. I know that in Australia, for example, we have very strict rules about what you can bring into the country. Have you ever had problems with carrying certain foods in your bag when travelling?
I’ve been lucky and never had any problems. I even took vegan cheese before, which I was worried about since most countries prohibit bringing in dairy products. I carefully labeled it “NON-DAIRY vegan cheese” but luckily I didn’t have any problems!
I’m going to keep that in mind when I go to Australia though!
I love the idea of making beans, soup or oats in a coffee maker. It seriously never occurred to me. Did you come up with that one yourself, or did someone clue you in?
I got that one from my mom – she travels at a lot for business and she ends up making a lot of food in her hotel room. She normally makes sandwiches but one day she started telling me how she’d made soup in her coffeemaker. I had never thought of it either, so I started looking into it and realised there are actually quite a few things you can make in a coffeemaker!
I also like that you touched on the point about bringing or accessing vegan toiletries (after all, veganism is not just about food!) Again, is this something you learnt the hard way?
I’ve always brought vegan toiletries with me, but I didn’t always think about quantities and making sure you have enough to last the trip because it’s harder in some places to get vegan toiletries. For example, I ran out of toothpaste in Asia once I while I managed to find vegan toothpaste from a familiar brand in a health food shop, it tasted completely different! It was really salty and I did not enjoy it at all.
It was great to read about the friendships and cultural connections you made with other local vegans by using sites like Meetup, etc. What do you think was the most significant or memorable connection you have made using these resources?
Definitely the vegan blogger I met in Seoul. It was such a great coincidence – I was desperate for cake so googled “vegan cake Seoul” and came across a blog talking about this great little coffee shop that did vegan cakes baked by the blogger herself. I headed over immediately and ordered a vegan cake and this girl came up to me and said “You don’t happen to be a reader of my blog, do you?”
To this day I’m still not sure how she figured out that I was a reader, but I’m glad she asked because we ended up meeting up several times in Seoul and she took me to a market and ordered vegan food in Korean for me.
Are there any places you haven’t been to yet but would love to visit, based on what you’ve heard about the vegan scene? (P.S. My hometown of Melbourne is pretty damn sweet, lol).
Haha, funny you should say that, Australia’s on my list! I’ve been thinking a lot about Australia recently – I’d really love to visit. You’ll have to give me some pointers when I finally do!
Apart from Australia, I’d say Thailand. I’ve heard so many good things about Chiang Mai, and I’m constantly drooling over photos of vegan cakes from Veganerie cake shop in Bangkok.
And lastly, if you had to recommend one location to vegan travellers, based purely on the availability of plant-based foods and the ease of travelling as a vegan, where would it be?
Taiwan! I think it’s an overlooked destination which is a shame because it’s super vegan-friendly and it’s a beautiful country and not overly touristy. I visited in 2010 so I don’t know if the volume of tourists has gone up since then but when I was there, the country had few tourists and everyone was so helpful and accommodating! I’d whip out a map on the street and people would come up to me and offer directions without me even asking.
Because of Buddhist traditions, a large percentage (I’ve read up to 20%) of the population practices vegetarianism at least part of the time, so there are vegetarian restaurants everywhere. All you need to do is walk up and down the street looking for the symbol for vegetarian food, and you’ll see a place on every block. A lot of the food is accidentally vegan, as egg and dairy are not usually used in cooking but you do need to be careful about mock meats as they sometimes contain egg white or milk proteins (thanks to Rika from Vegan Miam who tipped me off about this!). And desserts, which often contain egg or dairy.
So guys, now it’s your turn! Let’s discuss!
- Have you read The Essential Vegan Travel Guide? What did you think of it?
- Do you have any tips yourself for vegan travel?
- What have you found to be the best tools for planning travel as a vegan?
- Are there any locations you have found to be particularly vegan friendly?
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