Suggestions for the traveling vegetarian


Ready to travel but worried about maintaining your vegetarian diet while also maintaining a non-offensive position? It’s easier than many make it out to be, especially if you handle it all with a sense of humor.

Once in Korea I tried to order a vegetarian meal of rice and vegetables. I received (with a proud smile from the chef) a meal of rice with shrimp, sausage and ham because, “it tastes better that way”. A very frustrating situation to swallow for most vegetarians but fortunately it can usually be prevented.


Here are some suggestions:


  • Request a vegetarian meal on flights. The vegetarian meals usually taste better and your food arrives before the non-veg meals.


  • Learn how to tell people in their language that you are vegetarian and (if you care to disclose) the reasons behind it. Try to get this in writing as well if you have trouble with pronunciation.


  • Make your own laminated vegetarian picture card that can be used as a bookmark in your guide book. On one side draw pictures of animals and fish (and eggs and cheese if you’re vegan) and encircle them in the universally understood red “no” symbol. On the other side draw vegetables and fruits, breads and other acceptable foods. Be creative with your drawings or if you are artistically-challenged, find the images online and print them. This is easily understood all across the world.


  • In some Buddhist countries (but certainly not all), telling people you’re Buddhist will imply that you are also vegetarian.  


  • If someone offers you food you always have the option of saying you are simply not hungry. You can still accept if they insist you take it for later (often the most appropriate thing to do) and pass the food along to someone in need.


  • Always remember you are the visitor, smile, be thankful and try to get your point across gently. In many places you will be laughed at or misunderstood. That’s okay, accept it with a smile.


  •  Do your best not to be offended when people don’t understand (because sometimes and some places, they just won’t). 


  • Lastly, consider a destination that fits your vegetarian lifestyle. Many countries (such as India and Thailand) cater to vegetarians and the only problem is choosing from the many options. Eating is often one of the most exciting parts of travel– don’t let it make you miserable!


Obstacles will arise. You will probably be misunderstood at times. Being a vegetarian traveler involves more communication at mealtimes than being a carnivorous one but try to use this as an opportunity to share differences rather than bring about conflict. Readers, please share any other ideas you may have.

Posted by | Comments (4)  | August 29, 2008
Category: General

4 Responses to “Suggestions for the traveling vegetarian”

  1. baron Says:

    Or, eat meat.

  2. Benny Lewis Says:

    I find that learning the word for vegetarian does not help very much. I once saw a “bocadillo vegetariano” in Spain that was actually a tuna sandwich. Fish and even white meat is “vegetarian” for many people and seafood is still vegetarian for most. It’s easier just to be direct and say what you don’t eat. But try to be imaginative; I almost got just lettuce and a tomato from a coastal restaurant in Brazil when I was really really hungry until I suggested to them that they make the main course for me, replacing the fish when cooking it, with whatever vegetables and rice they had. It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had.

    When I’m feeling especially lazy and still not THAT touristy, I find that Italian restaurants all over the world have their menu in Italian as well as the local language. This was a godsend in Slovakia for me for example. Not the cheapest option, but always satisfying if you don’t mind learning some vocabulary of the international language of food (or just learning the whole Italian language anyway, ’cause it’s cool 😛 ). If you can’t learn the local language, your visual idea is a good suggestion I never thought of!

    I avoid vegetarian restaurants at all costs. I find them touristy, expensive and rarely that good. It prevents you from enjoying the local culture. Taking 10 seconds of a waiter’s time to explain to him what you’d like (and maybe leaving him a tip for the trouble) and asking for his suggestions so you don’t always end up with a pathetic salad, usually secures a decent meal. It’s important to be apologetic when doing it because your strange vegetarian ideals may not exist in that country and can even be considered offensive to the chef. The customer isn’t always right when he wants the whole menu changed just for him.

    With that in mind, in over 6 years travelling I’ve never compromised my ideals or starved in the process 😉

  3. Lena Says:

    Maybe vegetarian restaurants are touristy in many countries. In Asia tough (at least in China and South-Korea) they are usually found near buddhist temples and most of the customers are buddhists. So they are a great way to get to know the traditional vegetarian food of the country, because these countries have a vegetarian tradition.