For the past few years, I have been traveling for work twice a year. The organization I work for puts on several conferences, and I am responsible for attending two of them annually. I’ve gotten to travel to some places I’d never been before, which is a plus. But one of my biggest anxieties when traveling is: will I be able to find vegan food?
The conferences mean long hours. I usually have to report by 5:30 or 6:00 am, and I have to be “on” all day–which, for one of the conferences, includes the after parties. I can work anywhere from 10 to 16 hours for four or five days straight, and at the end of it, my dogs are barking and my blood is mostly caffeine and adrenaline (and alcohol, if we’re being honest). I am a coffee drinker, but at these conferences I will consume anything that has caffeine. It’s not a time of healthy or mindful eating. Our staff office is always stocked with treats, and some of them are even “accidentally vegan”–potato chips, cookies, candy…and I find myself shoveling food into my face whenever I can because I never know when or where my next vegan meal is coming from. And to add insult to injury, it is a “work hard, play hard” environment, too. We reward ourselves at the end of the day with a cocktail. Or before our flight out with a cocktail. Or on the flight…
Having done this a few times, I have developed some life hacks. It also helps that the director of events at my organization knows that I am vegan, so she helps me get special meals in the staff office (breakfast and lunch is covered for us, so I’m only ever really on my own for dinner). Some hotels and convention centers have developed delicious vegan meals for me, but most, I will be honest, serve me a plate of bland vegetables and rice. These meals are usually devoid of any kind of protein, and by the end of my trip, I am usually craving any kind of protein I can sink my teeth into.
Here is how I survive these trips:
- Speak up. I used to be extremely shy about my dietary restrictions, and depending on the circumstance, I sometimes still am. But what I have learned is that most restaurants, convention centers, and hotels are happy to assist. My husband is a former chef, and he has even confirmed that as a cook, it gives an opportunity to be creative when most recipes served are stiff and calculated. I have only been told “I’m sorry, we can’t accommodate you” twice–and both times, I was able to cobble something together from the menu options. Sometimes the word “vegan” is intimidating, so I make sure to explain what I am looking for (no meat, no dairy, no eggs) and the worst case scenario is that they bring me a garden salad with oil and vinegar.
- Pack emergency snacks. You won’t catch me boarding a flight without an arsenal of treats. My go-to for my travels include dried fruit, nuts, Lara bars, Clif bars, dark chocolate…There are also plenty of junk food treats that are vegan, if you want to be indulgent. You might get bored of eating the snacks you brought by day 3, but I’d rather be bored but full than hangry.
- Scour your airport. One of my first tasks after clearing security at the airport is to scan my surroundings for something vegan that I can grab and go, or even a sit-down meal. Some airports are more vegan friendly than others. At O’Hare, Cibo Express serves vegan wraps. At Denver International Airport, Root Down is vegan-friendly. You’ll find options at the San Francisco International Airport, too–which isn’t surprising, being that San Francisco is one of the most vegan-friendly cities I have visited so far. Even better if you can stock your purse or pockets with some snacks to bring on the plane, or items that will make it all the way to your destination that you can store in your refrigerator.
- Order delivery or room service. Many hotels are starting to offer vegan options on their room service menus–I recently discovered vegan meat loaf, vegan stir fry, and a vegan veggie wrap on the room service menu of the Palazzo Las Vegas. I have also had luck ordering from pizza places that offer a vegan option, or delivery services like GrubHub that include vegan-friendly restaurants in their delivery zone. You can usually find easily-veganized options at a Mexican, Mediterranean, sushi, or Thai establishment without too much grief. (Beware of fish sauce when ordering Thai!)
- Plan a special meal for when you get home. Chances are, the vegan food you’ll find in your travels might not live up to your expectations. It depends on where you’re going and what the accessibility is. I’ve traveled to places that had vegan cafes within 2 miles of my hotel, but I didn’t have the means or the energy to go out and get the food–I had to make do with what was on-site. I am a big proponent of treating yourself when you get home. Some of my favorite post-travel meals include vegan stroganoff, tofu piccata, and buffalo tofu with rice and greens. It gives me something to look forward to when I’m so hungry for protein that I could eat my own arm.
With veganism taking root and becoming much more mainstream, it’s been a lot easier in recent years to find quality vegan options. Happy traveling!