My first foray into eating a vegetarian diet was in college. My vegetarianism lasted about a semester and ended with a bacon feast. Given the limited vegetarian options available in the dining hall, and my sub-par cooking skills, it’s no wonder I didn’t make it past finals week.
Fast forward a decade and I decided to give vegetarianism another chance. I was midway through an around the world backpacking trip, and going meat free seemed like a fairly easy choice.
Southeast Asia offered plenty of vegetarian street food options, and I wasn’t too keen to eat meat after seeing fly-covered carcasses in outdoor markets, sans refrigeration. Add a general preference for vegetarian food plus concern for the environment and the weird realization that some people in Vietnam ate dogs, but kept pigs as pets… deciding to go meat free was easy.
Here’s a few tips for surviving a long term backpacking trip as a vegetarian:
Know your local cuisine
Depending on where you go in the world, eating vegetarian could be super simple (India) or a major hassle (anywhere meat is a major part of the diet). Research your destination before you go and make sure you know what vegetarian options you’ll find in the local cuisine.
Take a daily multivitamin
Sustaining a healthy vegetarian diet while traveling requires nutritional know-how. If you simply subtract meat and make up the caloric deficiency with sugar and processed foods, your health is going to suffer. Make sure you are informed about your daily nutritional needs, and give yourself the added nutritional boost of a daily multivitamin.
Eat enough protein, healthy fats and iron
Protein and healthy fats are what keep you keep you going on long travel days. Be sure you’re getting sufficient protein, in the form of tofu, legumes or dairy, and don’t be afraid to load up on healthy fats found in avocado, butter and some oils, which will help you feel full longer. Iron is an important mineral our bodies need to function; luckily, it’s present in many foods. Educate yourself about how to eat enough iron as a vegetarian and how iron is absorbed by your body, so your long term travel doesn’t lead to a deficiency.
Pack spirulina or green veggie powders or capsules for countries where your green veggie intake is low. This includes anywhere it isn’t typically safe for travelers to eat the salads, or where salad isn’t really part of the local cuisine.
Processed food snacks are everywhere, but these toxic sugar packets won’t keep you going for long. Instead, opt for healthy snacks like fruit and nuts. I was surprised to find fruit and some type of nuts available in practically every country I traveled to on my around-the -world trip. In Myanmar, the nuts were peanuts, but these were sold in most small markets and even served as an appetizer at restaurants…a major score for a vegetarian, especially in a country where healthy snacks were difficult to find! Fruit is also readily available and sold on street corners around the world; just remember your body can’t survive on mangoes and papaya alone.
Load up your backpack with your favorite healthy vegetarian snacks from home, and consider shipping yourself a care package to pick up along the journey. Those bars, trail mix, dried fruit, roasted chickpeas etc. can really make a difference in your daily vegetarian travel diet.
You came to see the world, and one of the important lessons long term travel teaches is how to be flexible. You’ll know when it’s time to be flexible about your vegetarian diet; perhaps it’s a home cooked meal in a remote village, or the only option besides a processed food snack. Make the choice that’s right for your body, your health and your experience —and don’t beat yourself up for a minor slip up.
Have you traveled somewhere as a vegetarian? I’m curious what strategies other travelers use to sustain a healthy vegetarian diet while traveling. Share your tips below!