This week we’ve finally reached the end of our vegan travel challenge set for us by Veganuary as we travelled through Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, and as the final day came and passed by we were left with a mixture of feelings, thoughts and questions to answer.
One of the standout thoughts is of course, “Did we enjoy it?“, and the answer would most definitely was a resounding ‘yes!‘. It was great to travel in a different way, with a different thought process and different objectives. We got to see how other travelers go about their days, what thoughts they must consider and the things they must plan in order to be well prepared so that no matter the outcome of their travel plans, they’ve got something vegan to eat no matter where they are, or what time of day it is.
Lessons On Preparation
For us, one of the first lessons was this very thought on preparation, and even though we had some incredible travel tips from vegan travellers on the road right now, there was still an element of the actual doing that we still had to get used to. We had to learn what we could and could not choose to snack on, what occasions might call for us to buy some products in advance so that we’d have something for breakfast in the morning where only milk, cheese and ham constitute breakfast. We also learned quite quickly which are the best places to buy the products we need, which accidentally vegan foods we could buy from the regular supermarkets, and which parts of the town we were in had the biggest selection of Asian and Middle Eastern grocery stores.
Our second lesson was that the internet is an incredible resource for tips and recommendations for vegans, whether you’re using HappyCow for it’s huge list of vegan and vegetarian restaurants around the world complete with user submitted authentic reviews, or using Yelp, Google Maps and Foursquare (add us on Foursquare to see our recommendations) to search for vegan food in your immediate area, they almost always come out with something worth scribbling down on a free map from the tourist information office. Add on to that the personal recommendations of people via social media channels; you’re going to have tonnes of places to stop by.
Possibly the best use of the internet we’ve had was using Couchsurfing to our advantage – even more than we usually do! – and instead of surfing with locals for their unique viewpoint as a local in our new location of choice, we’ve searched for other vegans using its fantastic search function to learn from them, but also surfed with carnivores who not only ate vegan whilst we were with them, but cooked everything for us too. A real stroke of luck, of which we’re eternally grateful!
Was It Hard To Travel Vegan?
It depends. Was it hard to find things for us to eat in restaurants? At times. Was it difficult to find vegan food in supermarkets? Again, sometimes. On the whole though, we ate everyday without too much effort and without having to skip a meal. Though it took time for us to identify with which products we could and couldn’t buy from supermarkets, once we had it became quite easy to just walk in, grab what we wanted and have a picnic in the park.
The hardest part of travelling as a vegan for us was the cost, not for regular food from the supermarket, but for all of those extra things most vegans use in their diet to supplement the vitamins and minerals they might get from products they ate before changing their lifestyle, such as in our case and dropping the cheese and eggs from our vegetarian diet.
We entered around about three bio-supermarkets per city we visited over the total thirty days of the challenge and the overriding thought that came from looking at the bags of chia seeds and other such recommended goodies was that we’d never be able to travel cheaply like this. It’s almost impossible. There’s just no way that with our really simple and cheap budget style of travel that we’d be able to buy them all and still be able to keep going, and we both soon realised that if we’d have started our travels as vegans and been using these products the whole time, we’d have never completed our first year of travel.
The Reality Of Veganism And Healthy Living
From the cost and from observing the many customers that were buying all of the bio, organic, locally sourced and fair trade products we soon realised that this style of healthy living – and by association, veganism – is priced for a particular type of customer who can enjoy the finer things in life, and that not only makes us sad, but close to angers us.
Why should it be that the healthy option of maintaining a healthy diet is only for those who can afford it?
Of course there are cheaper options to be had in other stores and by buying slightly different products, but when certain products can only be found in bio-stores, it’s easy to be put into a situation where you’ve no option but to pay that price. What about those who can’t afford it? Not just us who chose to travel on a budget, but what about people on a low monthly income, people on welfare, or even single parents with kids? Why should they be priced out of buying these products?
Though we realise that some products will come at a cost due to their low product yield and cost of manufacture; when you’re looking at one identical product with six different producers all charging large sums of money just because their packaging is nicer, it doesn’t seem quite right.
Will We Stay Vegan?
This is the question most people have been asking us, and to be honest, we’ve been asking each other that every day, and as we approached the final day when we could revert to our cheese-feasting, egg-devouring vegetarian diet; we had a couple of days to go so made the most of our time in Berlin to help us decide whether or not veganism is for us.
Over the final two days of the challenge we were the guest of two fantastic eateries here in the German capital. Firstly we stopped off at Chaparro to sample their fantastic selection of Mexican food which has a selection of strictly vegan options, with my favourite vegan chorizo amongst them.
The vegan chorizo was really special, and flavoured more towards mimicking the Mexican variant of the classic Spanish spiced sausage, up against its nopalese (young cactus leaf) counterpart, it had strong competition with its strong unusual smoky taste.
On the ultimate day of the challenge we were welcomed with smiles by the kind people at Laauma, a brand new vegan cafe in the hip-and-happening culture rich, district of colouful district of Friedrichshain.
We had a lovely few hours there speaking with their bright and informative staff, finding out the reasons why two tattoo artists chose to open a 100% vegan cafe where the food is focused on a great selection of ingredients rather than relying on faux meats to make a meal.
Of their selection we really loved their smoothies, loved their unique variation of ‘chicken’ nuggets (without faux meat – ace!) which we’re tempted to return for to try again; and also their own take on vegan Nutella which they sell in jars ready to take home, which I secretly bought whilst Franca was in the bathroom, knowing that of the very few things she missed, Nutella was amongst them.
With the question still on our minds and this great food in our mouths we really started to understand and see what our final choice was going to be, that until we feel that it’s just not working, we’re going to stay vegan
Whilst we’re really against the added cost that veganism can bring with it due to its growing trendiness, and checking the ingredients of every product we pick up and are offered by kind Couchsurfing hosts and friends; now that we know the things we know about veganism – and more importantly, animal rights – there’s just no way that we could possibly un-know everything we’ve learned.
So for now we’re vegan. Of course there are some things that we kind of craved during the thirty day vegan challenge, like Nutella and cheese, when the day came that we could just switch back to our vegetarian diet and eat the cheese that was offered to us, we just didn’t feel the urge anymore and thought that we’ll just keep it up as long as it feels right.
For this site of course that might mean some changes, we may write more articles about travelling with a vegan diet and lifestyle, we might write about it from time-to-time as we were with our vegetarian diet. We just don’t know. All that we do know, however, is that we’re happy to write and share what we’ve learned and experienced, just as you’re happy for us to do so. Is that something you’d like to read about? Or you curious too, or are our travel articles enough for you?
Since day one this travel blog started for friends and family and over the years we’ve gained many new readers, of which many we now call our friends too, so as our friends, we want to know what you want to read about from our daily lives as travellers; so please tell us!
And finally, thanks again to Cela and the fantastic team at Veganuary.com for their encouragement and support during this vegan travel challenge they set for us. It’s been a fantastic learning process and we strongly recommend that you sign up for this coming January!; and also thanks to all of you for your fantastic words of advice and tips that helps us every single day.
Do you want us to keep sharing our vegan travel experiences?