Studies have shown that eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet can reduce your risk of heart disease, certain cancers, type-2 diabetes. It can also lower bad cholesterol levels and help you keep off excess weight.
But anyone who follows this diet knows that it can sometimes be a challenge to stick with while traveling.
As a world-traveling dance instructor, I’m on the road a lot. And in addition to eating a whole-foods, plant-based diet, I’m also allergic to wheat. No wheat, no meat, no dairy. Impossible, right? Not at all!
So, how does a wheat-free vegan dancer eat when on the road without breaking the bank?
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1. Plan Ahead
Because my diet is so restrictive (actually, it’s not, because there is so much to eat out there that doesn’t come from animals), I have to do some research before I get to my destination.
Before you go, look up where you’re staying in relation to grocery stores, corner markets, any scheduled farmer’s markets, and, of course, inexpensive restaurants. I like to mark these places with a star in Google Maps, which syncs with my mobile phone so I can access them anywhere. You can also check out Happy Cow, which is like Yelp but for vegetarian and vegan restaurants and shops, complete with user-populated reviews.
2. Bring Your Own Food
When I travel, I know that breakfast is going to be difficult and expensive. So I bring my own. Instant oatmeal is my breakfast (and snack) of choice because I can make it anywhere as long as I have hot water, a paper cup, and a spoon. I also love individual packets of nut butter, dried fruit, almonds, and rice crackers.
But if you’re traveling to a foreign country, make sure you read up on what you can and can’t bring with you. Some customs regulations are quite strict about specific food items like dried fruit and seeds.
3. Get Thee to a Grocery Store
If you’re going to be in a place for more than three days, it’s worth going to a local grocery store to pick up some essentials. And it doesn’t have to be the leading natural foods chain grocer; even conventional groceries are carrying more healthful items.
If you’re lucky to be staying in a place with a kitchen (see #4), then get salad greens, hummus, tinned beans and/or lentils, non-dairy milk of your choice, and some fresh fruits and vegetables.
Even if you don’t have access to a kitchen, you can get breakfast cereals, fresh and dried fruits, rice cakes, and nut butter. No fancy health food store required.
4. Stay in a Place with a Kitchen
While having access to a kitchen isn’t always possible, it’s certainly ideal. An apartment-style hotel might have fewer amenities than the 5-Star hotel downtown, but it will have the essentials: refrigerator, microwave, kettle, flatware, dishware, cooking utensils, and more. Finding lodging with at least a kitchenette is even easier these days with AirBnB and VRBO.
Being able to make my own breakfast, save and heat up leftovers, and brew tea in the evening is also easier on my budget than going out for every meal. Even modest hotel chains can have microwaves and refrigerators in the rooms. If there isn’t a microwave in the hotel room itself, check downstairs in the lobby.
5. Get in Hot Water
Even if you’re not staying in a place with a kitchen, most hotel rooms will at least have a way to make hot water, whether it be a coffee maker or a hot water kettle. Hotels with a restaurant will gladly give you hot water, or will fill your insulated water bottle.
6. Be Demanding (But be nice about it!)
Don’t be afraid to ask about what’s in a certain dish or insist that you and your travel-mates go to restaurants and cafes that have more than one plant-based meal on offer. Hopefully, if you’ve planned ahead (see #1), arguments over where to eat dinner won’t be an issue. But if they are, don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and your health.
That said, even the big box chain restaurants will have items that are vegan and gluten-free. Don’t underestimate the side dish menu, where you’ll find vegetables and baked potatoes. Plant-based dietician Julieanna Hever has even more great restaurant survival tips.
7. Be Adventurous
When traveling, whether it be in the United States or overseas, your best and cheapest options for meals are likely in “ethnic” restaurants. I’ve had amazing Colombian plantains in the suburbs of Atlanta, Cuban black beans and rice in tiny cities in Florida, and South Indian idli with coconut chutney in the outskirts of Paris.
And if you’re not sure about what’s in something, just ask.
When traveling in a country where English is not the dominant language, learn the words for “meat,” “fish,” “dairy,” “milk,” and other foods you wish to avoid. You can even print out a little card of terms in the local language to keep in your wallet or day pack to hand to the server to tell them what you can’t eat. If you’re polite, they’ll be happy to oblige.
What are your favorite ways to eat well while away from home?
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