by Karen Meldrum
A traveling vegan can feel like a fish out of water. But it doesn’t have to be that bad.
I work as a consultant, which often means I’m away from home on assignments for long periods of time. I’ve been doing this for about 5 years now. During that time, I’ve met quite a few consultants who’ve told me they used to be vegetarian (usually not vegan) but had to give it up when they started traveling because it was just too hard.
Hard? I disagree. Hard would be finding a corpse on my dinner plate and forcing myself to eat it. Inconvenient? Sometimes. Planning required? Yes. But it’s well worth the effort.
There are a few key activities that have helped me during my travels. They are being prepared, planning ahead, and making do.
Whenever I go away from home overnight, I bring some vegan foods along with me in my suitcase. You can’t always be sure that you’ll find restaurants or stores that will have these right away, so this helps me out initially. My suitcase usually contains some McDougall soup cups (split pea is my favorite) or Fantastic foods cups, rice cakes or corn cakes, some Just Veggies (awesome dried vegetables), and perhaps a Luna bar or two. I really try to keep down the amount of fat in my diet, so that accounts for why my choices are relatively fat free. But any food that keeps outside of a refrigerator, isn’t too heavy, and that you like to eat will do just fine. And be sure to bring some utensils and napkins, too.
If you are traveling by plane, request a vegan meal. Depending on the airline, you may need to explain what that is, but they usually serve you something that will do. Even on American Airlines, where meals are usually called “ Bistro Bags”, they’ve never failed to bring my vegan bag to me once aboard. Most of the airlines provide a main dish, which is often a veggie sandwich, fruit, then a few snack items. It’s funny, but the main dish is almost always vegan, but the snack items often aren’t. I guess they don’t think vegan applies to dessert. But just the sandwich and fruit are certainly enough to keep you from starving before you get to your destination.
Where you stay can often make a big difference in how much you find to eat while not at work. Residence Inn, and other similar places, offer a complimentary breakfast, which usually offers enough vegan items to more than fill you up. Breakfast at other hotels often means room service or the coffee shop. There you have to select from a menu that might, at first, not look like it contains anything you’d want to eat. But look for oatmeal, fruit, juice or bagels in the morning. Almost every breakfast place has these to offer. Make breakfast a substantial meal, since lunch might be a little more iffy.
Lunch at a client site often involves eating in their cafeteria or at a nearby restaurant. Depending on where you are, this might limit you to just salad. I was recently in Dallas, and the cafeteria offered nothing vegan at lunch. Even the salad bar had no dressings that weren’t the “creamy” type. After the first day of eating salad with salsa for dressing, I started bringing in my own dressing, and after a while, my entire lunch. Nice big crunchy apples are good as well as filling. I also like to bring other crunchy snacks. One of my new favorites is Quaker Quakes, apple cinnamon flavor (the only vegan flavor).
Dinner at a hotel usually means room service or the hotel restaurant. Here, you often need to look for items that can be made vegan. (I’m sure you’ve tried chicken pasta, no chicken!) At one hotel, they offered crudités as a party platter, and that did very well as part of my dinner, as well as leftovers for lunch the next day. (I kept them fresh in a plastic bag overnight, using the ice bucket as a cooler.)
Dinner is where I most often use the foods I’ve brought from home. Heating up water in a hotel room can be a challenge, but most of them have a coffee pot, so you can use it to heat water for a nice, tasty McDougall soup. Add some Just Veggies to give it a little more substance, and some rice cakes, or corn cakes, and you have a really tasty dinner. Then, if you still feel a little hungry, or just want something a little sweet, one of those Luna bars will come very handy.
If you’re going to be in a location for several months, the best solution is to get your own apartment. Corporate rentals supply everything you’ll need to cook your own vegan dishes. All you need to do is bring in the food. You can do pretty much the same in a Residence Inn, since they give you the essentials – stove, refrigerator and that all important microwave.
Another help when on a long term assignment is using the internet or phone book to find sources of vegan meals. These come in two categories for me: stores and restaurants. For the stores, I usually start out by looking for Whole Foods. I’ve found them in almost every city, and I can stock up on all the vegan goodies I want. For restaurants, try the local vegetarian society, or even the phone book. While in Seattle, I found one of the best vegan restaurants ever right in the yellow pages. It’s called Café Ambrosia, and is not only vegan, but organic and low fat, to boot. If you don’t find any vegetarian restaurants, it might be because there are none in that location. Next best is finding vegetarian-friendly places, like Indian restaurants that often have many vegetarian items on the menu. Even in a steakhouse, though, there are always baked potatoes, and nice vegetables if they leave off the butter.
Wouldn’t it be great if we always had a gourmet, vegan meal to look forward to at the end of each day? But sometimes that just “ain’t gonna happen”. So, I make do. After all, I am in no danger of starving to death until I can get to my next gourmet vegan meal. Salad bar every day for lunch is making do. Eating food I brought from home every night is making do. Fruit and a bagel every day for breakfast is making do. Sure, more variety would be nice. But making do isn’t so bad, and it’s a lot better than the alternative those former vegetarians found, isn’t it?
A long time ago, around 1960, Rick Nelson had a big hit called Travelin’ Man. The lyrics were about how he’d been all over the world and had a beautiful girl in every port. (Very outdated in today’s world, isn’t it?) But here are my traveling vegan words to the song. They popped into my head one evening as I was heating the water for my McDougall cup in a hotel in Dallas.
I’m a travelin’ vegan, I’ve made a lotta stops, all over this land, and in every stop, I found a way to eat vegan if I planned.
Good luck in your travels.