Traveling to an unfamiliar country offers the opportunity to see new vistas, experience new adventures and discover a new culture through interactions with new people, customs and foods. It seems unreasonable to eat the same familiar foods from your home country while abroad, but there are benefits to having some culinary boundaries. Depending on your dietary needs and the food options in your destination, embracing a vegetarian palate can be a welcomed ally in your travels. Here’s why:
In nearly all countries, vegetarian foods cost less than their meaty competitors. Beans, grains, nuts and seeds are generally less expensive sources of protein which means a cheaper meal for you. If you’re not sure where to look for meatless meals, see what the common folks are eating. In less developed countries, daily meat consumption is a luxury not everyone can afford. The use of more accessible plant-based foods in staple dishes is very common. Unless you opt for an upscale vegetarian restaurant or a swanky raw food café, you should be able to reduce your meal budget and put your money to use elsewhere.
Less Prone to Digestive Issues
When eating abroad, it’s always important to be mindful of bacterial contamination which can be transmitted through incompletely cooked meat, raw seafood, unpasteurized dairy products and untreated water. When eating vegetarian foods, concerns of meat and seafood handling are no longer a factor. When eating vegan foods, dairy products are ruled out too. For any traveler, mindfulness of water supplies used for drinking, hygiene and washing produce is warranted, but you’re more likely to avoid the dreaded traveler’s tummy when eating plant-based foods. Veggie trekkers can also avoid the mystery meat game; in some parts of the world, any animal is fair game for consumption.
Easier to Digest
Veggie fuel offers easily digested nutrients and high-fiber content, maximizing energy and stamina. Instead of feeling comatose after a large meaty meal, you can enjoy the satisfaction of a nourishing, balanced meal. But such an effect can only be achieved when your meal has a good balance of protein, carbohydrates and fiber. Large plates of pasta or potatoes can similarly put you to sleep when unaccompanied by a source of protein and fiber.
Gentler on the Planet
As much as I love to jetset, the planet-warming emissions that airplanes release, especially during take-off and landing, contribute to the climate crisis our globe faces. Consider reducing your carbon emissions by eating lower on the food chain. The meat and dairy industry is a major polluter of our air, soil and waterways. Avoiding both may not totally offset the impact of your next flight, but it’s a small and tangible step towards positively tipping the scale.
Free of Animal Cruelty
In some countries, including the United States, animals spend their entire lives tightly confined in narrow stalls or cages. They may also be bludgeoned, stunned or sawed in half before their death while other countries may uphold more traditional methods of hand slaughter. Instead of researching and inquiring about free range, pasture-fed animals in a foreign language, you can choose beans over beef, chickpeas over chicken or eggplant over eggs when eating abroad.
If you fear that going veg on your next trip will leave you hungry, visit sites like Happy Cow or Vegan Wanderlust to see how far and wide green eating has spread. After nearly 10 years of vegan travel, my family and I have enjoyed the benefits of plant-based eating at home and abroad without any digestive or social discomfort. If you’re up for the challenge, I’m confident you’ll find vegetarianism just as rewarding.