Traveling As A Vegetarian

Posted April 4, 2013 by Kenza Moller in Travel Tips

Vegetarian Meal

It was noon, with a merciless sun glinting off the ocean, the only breeze in the air a result of our leaky yola motoring towards the shore. Scuba tanks rolled at our feet, salt creasing our eyelids. We sat, still in too-tight wetsuits, heads filled with images of the world beneath the ocean surface.

We’d been visiting the Hickory, a boat sunk in La Caleta, Dominican Republic, and the reef that stretched around it. It was my first time scuba-diving, and though I’d been raised with one foot in the water and one foot on land by my surfing father, I was awed and humbled by the world beneath the deceptive ocean surface.

Back on land, we loaded the car up with our gear and hastily changed behind car doors. The parking lot of La Caleta is a mess of divers all doing the same thing: changing – only half-modestly – readying their equipment, lugging their tanks down to the shore. At the centre of it all, a shriveled man stands by his cart, in which he prepares grilled ham-and-cheese sandwiches for rumbling post-dive stomachs.

We approached his cart enthusiastically, and he tossed on several sandwiches for the boys. When it was my turn to order, I asked if he could hold the meat.

He narrowed his eyes. “Why?”

I became a vegetarian at age 7, and while I delved into the many complex reasons behind that choice when I was younger, I have learned to keep it simple over the years. “I’m vegetarian,” I smiled. “Is it possible to make it just a grilled cheese?”

Vegetarian?” he echoed, putting down the bun he was holding, clearly ready to launch into a rant. My brother, next to me, grinned – he’d watched me receive this treatment for years. The sandwich man delved into a long tirade on why my vegetarianism was tantamount to worshipping the devil.

Needless to say, I did not manage to cajole a grilled cheese sandwich out of him.

Vegetarian Meal 2

Traveling as a Vegetarian

I love traveling, and part of the adventure comes from experiencing new cultures. Food is important in every culture, and understandably so: it’s a way to show love, friendship, and bring new and familiar faces around a table, sometimes for hours at a time. Cultures are proud of their traditional dishes and it becomes an ingrained part of a country or region. For me, mangú (mashed plantains with fried onions) are just as much a part of my native Dominican Republic as our flag. So when it comes to travel and food, I’d love to be able to say that I’ll try anything once.

I will… ah, just as long as there’s no meat in it.

Luckily, I grew up in the Dominican Republic, where vegetarians aren’t common, and my extended family spent every reunion trying to either convince or downright trick me into eating meat (except for my lovely grandma, who simply thought feeding me eggplant every time I visited was a good solution to my dietary restriction). While it annoyed me at the time, it taught me the rules to surviving as a vegetarian or vegan – tricks that I’ve continued to employ throughout my travels.

Be flexible

Since vegetarian protein sources are usually the hardest thing to find, carry nuts or vegetarian protein powder with you. You can usually find anything else.

Go for the side dishes

Many places won’t offer vegetarian entrees, but will have plenty of side dishes: rice, beans, potatoes, steamed vegetables. They may not be the most creative, but at least you’ll be able to eat.

Stock up on fruits

Fruit is usually available, even in places where good vegetables are hard to find. Keep some fruit on hand, so that you’ve always got some fresh food to snack on. On the plus side, fruit is usually cheap!

Fruit market

Learn to say “I’m vegetarian” or “I’m vegan” wherever you’re going

Don’t wait until the waitress is at your table to realize that you have no idea how to request something without meat, eggs or dairy in it. Keep in mind that the meaning of “vegetarian” tends to change from place to place or person to person – I’ve had many people offer me the “vegetarian” alternative of chicken or fish. Explain your version in a friendly, polite way.

Be willing to lie

I’m probably going to come under fire from many vegetarians or vegans for saying this, but sometimes I find it easiest to twist the truth a little. While 90% of the time, most people couldn’t care less what I eat, some people do like to make it their business and argue about it till they’re blue in the face (like the sandwich vendor at La Caleta). If I’d known he was difficult, I probably would just have said “I’m allergic to ham – would you mind holding it for my sandwich?”

That said, if others ask me about your vegetarianism in a genuinely curious manner, I have no problem explaining it to them, but I make sure to be respectful and stay far away from any kind of “vegangelizing.”


About the Author

Kenza Moller

Kenza Moller is our magazine editor and also our expert on budget travel. She is originally from the Dominican Republic and currently wrapping up a writing degree in Victoria, BC. She ran a non-profit foundation for animals and also interned at Canadian Geographic, and is happiest when traveling, scuba diving, writing or running. Check out her blog at www.kenzamoller.com.

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