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A Practical Guide To Vegan, Sustainable and Responsible Travel


The Whitepod Switzerland - Luxury eco hotel in Switzerland - Responsible Travel Tips
Traveling the world is one of the most fulfilling experiences you can score in life; it's enriching, it's liberating and it can be both exhilarating and peaceful at the same time. Traveling will broaden your mind in a way that nothing else possibly can. In many ways, it's one of the best investments you'll ever make for yourself.

When it comes to traveling as a vegan {and sustainably}, the equation changes a little bit compared to conventional travel. While you'll get to enjoy exotic destinations and be swept up in a whirlwind of exotic cultures, when it comes to your food and accommodation choices, proper planning and research is a must as a vegan responsible traveler.

How is a vegan traveler different from a conventional traveler? Vegan traveling means maintaining your vegan lifestyle even while you’re away from home, aka avoiding any kind of exploitation of and cruelty to animals.

For me, vegan traveling is more than that………….

I eat not only just vegan food but only eat from kitchens that are meat and fish-free.

In a world full of meat-eaters, traveling with a strict agenda of eating at only vegetarian or vegan kitchens has always been a nice challenge. In addition to following a vegan diet, I also follow a strict Jain diet, which means I do not consume any root vegetables and some other veggies including mushrooms, cauliflower, broccoli, jackfruit and eggplant. For all those who think traveling as a vegan is difficult, think about managing on a "vegan + Jain diet". Having said that, I can confidently say that, despite my travels across the world (in over 26 countries), I never slept hungry and always managed to find something to eat.

I strongly believe that the only struggle to pursue a change or a compassionate lifestyle really lies in your mind. Once you overcome that mental block, there is a whole world to explore.

That brings me to the next point – “Responsible Travel” or “Responsible Tourism”

Before we get on to the ‘need’ and ‘how-to’ of traveling responsibly, let’s first understand what it means. Responsible travel is simply being aware of your effect on the places you travel and how to make that a positive one. Simply put, it means limiting any negative impact your travel could have on the places you are traveling, the people, the animals, and the planet.

Whether you are a budget-traveler or seeking a more luxury travel experience, there is no limitation for you as a vegan and responsible traveler. From hotels, cruises, and food to shopping and other experiences, you can find options that fit your ‘ethical guidelines’ everywhere.

Here are a few tips on traveling as a vegan and responsible traveler that will make your travel experience far less complicated and a lot more rewarding than you thought –

1. Planning and preparing for the destination

Responsible travel guide - Sustainable vegan travel tips
Cappadocia, Turkey
Whether you are an intrepid traveler who likes to experience the unknown exotic locations and get off to the off-beat tracks, or are someone who likes to explore the “popular” travel destinations (must-visit cities or idyllic beaches), with a bit of planning and research you can be vegan anywhere. 

As an avid traveler, some of my favorite vegan-cities around the world are Berlin, New York, London, Los Angeles, and Amsterdam. I’ve been to most of these cities several times {barring Amsterdam, which I visited only once}, and I highly recommend any of these for their amazing vegan food scene, shopping, culture, nightlife, and history, among others. In addition to these, you can take a look at the list of best cities for vegans around the world, to plan your next travel.

The destination can be anywhere, all you need is to make sure you are aware of the choices you will have available, and you are well-prepared with your own food, plus knowledge about where to get access to local produce, in case the options are limited or not suit your needs.

2. Research tools and your food management

One of the best platforms to search for vegan and vegetarian restaurants around the world is Happy Cow. They have a website and a mobile app that lists restaurants in nearly every country and most cities around the world. You have filters to narrow down your search to only vegan and vegetarian restaurants in your city.

If there are no veggie places where you plan to travel, you have two choices –
  • book self-catering accommodation like Airbnb or serviced apartments with fitted kitchens, or
  • carry ready-to-eat and easy-prep meals that need only hot water and some local shopping. For example, if you’re carrying long-life vegan bread, you can practically find tomato, cucumber, lettuce, salt and pepper anywhere in the world to fix your own sandwich. A fruit meal is also a good choice, for when you can’t find anything else.
If you choose to stay in a self-catered place, then you can fix yourself some easy meals like rice with beans or lentils, soups and salads or pancakes.

No matter where you go, always carry some healthy snacks with you for emergencies or to munch on when you are peckish. I usually carry nut mix, dates, dried apricot, baked chips, and theplas (Indian bread) in my handbag when I am traveling.

3. Booking a sustainable accommodation

Manon les Suites Review - best Eco friendly hotels in Copenhagen - Responsible travel tips and Sustainable Travel Guide
Eco-luxury Hotel Manon Les Suites, Copenhagen

Look out for hotels and resorts that practice sustainability and are vegan or vegan-friendly. Platforms like Veggie Hotels and Book Greener are a great way to search for accommodations that match your values. I have stayed in several eco-hotels and resorts and they often match or go up a notch than what, a conventional hotel offers, while being kind to the planet. I found luxury eco-hotels like Manon Les Suites in Denmark or The White Pod in Switzerland via Google search and was stayed with them in my recent travels, and was amazed by their beautiful locations and design along with attention to detail paid to preserving the nature and the planet. 

However, beware of the hotels that are greenwashing their eco-credentials. You need to choose a place committed to the environment and has a proper sustainability program in action. Just not washing linens or towels won’t cut the bill……

If you are looking for a more sustainable {and budget-friendly} experience, staying with locals, house sitting or house swapping (remember the movie The Holiday?) are interesting choices. Couchsurfing is the most famous resource to look for locals to stay with {for free}. It’s a great way to connect with locals and travel sustainably. I am yet to explore these arrangements.

4. What to pack?

Responsible Travel Tips - Sustainable travel tips - Vegan travel guide
Carrying eco-suitcase from Samsonite crafted with recycled plastic bottles
The best way to reduce your carbon footprint is to travel light. Packing lightly reduces baggage weight, which allows planes to use less fuel, hence offsetting CO2 emissions. 
Reusable bamboo bottle for travel - sustainable travel guide - responsible traveler
Bamboo bottle I carry everywhere - this shot was taken in Iceland

Here are some of the vegan eco-travel essentials you should pack with you, in addition to the usual items you’ll pack depending on your destination: 
  • your own reusable water bottle cum tumbler for water and coffee {to avoid single-use plastic bottles and cups},
  • a pouch with reusable straw and cutlery {keep it always handy in your handbag},
  • your own travel-sized toiletries like shampoo, shower gel, soap, comb, razor, conditioner, toothpaste, toothbrush (that are vegan and cruelty-free) and reef-safe sunscreen. The freebies toiletries provided by the hotel are packed in plastic, if every guest used it, imagine the amount of waste created?
  • an eco-friendly shopping bag

5. Eating out

Vegan food in Chiang Mai - Vegan travel guide - Responsible traveler
The best meal I've ever had - this was at The Away veggie hotel in Chiang Mai Thailand
When visiting a vegan restaurant, you don’t have any issues when it comes to ordering {unless you also follow a Jain diet, in which case you need to call the restaurant before you visit them}. However, if you are heading to a vegetarian or a restaurant that serves all kinds of food, its imperative to always ask about all the ingredient used to prepare the dish because animal ingredients sink in everywhere. Right from chicken in your vegetable soup and fish in sauces, to cream in your salad or sandwich toasted with butter – you would be surprised how a seemingly vegan dish has some animal ingredient inside it.

If you have a special diet, like Jain, calling up the restaurant well in advance and checking up if they can fix something for you is a good idea. It avoids any last-minute disappointment and wastage of time. I usually call ahead and check with the chef if they can customize something for me. I learned this the hard way. Many times I reached a vegan restaurant and requested them for a Jain option {of course I had to explain what Jain was}, but all I was served was a tomato, lettuce and cucumber salad with nuts. Now, I prefer calling ahead before visiting the place. You could do the same if you are a vegan visiting a non-vegan restaurant or have a special diet like me.

Break the language barrier………..

If you are traveling to a country where the language is a problem, use a translator beforehand and note down instructions of your vegan diet, and what it means. Also, prepare a list of ingredients that you don’t consume to make sure they understand well not to add any sort of animal ingredients. Store that on your phone and also print on a card, so you can present them in their language and avoid any mishaps.

6. Find a green tour operator

Exploring the local areas through a tour operator is a good idea. But make sure the one you select is also kind to the community where it operates and the planet. Check if your tour operator adheres to wildlife preservation policies and is environmentally responsible. 

Intrepid Travel is a great platform to search for a green tour operator in cities where you are visiting. They have over 1,000 carbon-neutral group tours across the world and have also banned all elephant rides and have phased out orphanage visits, because even though the intention of travelers is to help, it supports a system that is disruptive to the children.

7. Be prepared for the unexpected

For any traveler, vegan or not, having a travel insurance plan is a must to ensure you are covered for any unexpected event. Whether it is some health issue or a missed flight, a mishap during an adventure or an unexpected accident, you must have a good insurance plan.

Before you step out of your turf, it’s worth looking into different insurance plans that cover the activities you’d want to do and take the one that fits your needs and plans.

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These are just some basic tips and things you can do to be a more responsible traveler while following your vegan values. However, this is not a finite list. There are so many other ways you can improve the world while you travel.

I would love to hear your experience and travel stories with responsible travel in the comments box below!
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