Vegetarian dining can be big challenge for travelers far from familiar restaurants

Posted Oct. 5, 2012


A waiter places a steaming blue plate of cheese ravioli on the table; the customer inhales the wonderful aromas wafting from the food with a smile on his face and then… grimaces.

Chickpeas create the "tuna" on this sandwich and soy cheese makes it vegan friendly as well (Photo by Chelsea Pillsbury).

Chickpeas create the “tuna” on this sandwich and soy cheese makes it vegan friendly as well (Photo by Chelsea Pillsbury).

The pained look on his face comes from the faint smell of meat and the little pieces of ground beef he see in the sauce. He and his dining partner swear they had made it clear that they were vegetarians, but are forced to motion the waiter over and explain again.

According to a study by Vegetarian Times, there are 7.3 million vegetarians in America, with an additional 22.8 million people who follow a vegetarian-inclined diet.

Vegetarianism has become increasingly popular in the past decade and while most restaurants will offer at least one sans-meat option, vegetarians still encounter difficulties in adhering to their diet.

While at home, vegetarians most likely know exactly which restaurants and grocery stores cater to them, but when traveling finding these places can pose a problem if vegetarians do not plan ahead. Researching a destination is the most important step in having a worry free, vegetarian vacation.

Some of the best resources are:

  • is an online vegetarian, vegan, and veg-friendly restaurant guide. The website also offers travel tips, guides to vegetarian friendly bed and breakfasts, and recipes for on the go. The website has recently added a new smartphone app, which costs $2.99 and is an interactive guide to vegetarian restaurants around the world.
  • is an online blog that includes travel tips, country-by-country guides, and a community of vegetarian and vegan travelers that can answer traveler’s questions.
  • Vegan Passport is a small booklet containing phrases describing what vegetarians can and cannot eat in more than 50 languages.
Lentils and beets make up the "meat" of this veggie filled wrap (Photo by Chelsea Pillsbury).

Lentils and beets make up the “meat” of this veggie filled wrap (Photo by Chelsea Pillsbury).

Utilizing these resources enables vegetarians to know what to expect before arriving at their destinations. However, if vegetarian travelers want to forgo the advanced research and completely eradicate the headaches of finding something to eat, a new option has recently presented itself. Vegetarian travel consultants and vegetarian guided tours are also available to vegetarian travelers.

“My first advice to a traveling vegetarian would be to get a travel agent. As an agent, I can talk to special services, to the chef and to the concierge to make sure that your trip will be a success,” said Donna Zeigfinger, a long-time vegan and travel specialist.

Zeigfinger owns Green Earth Travel ( a travel agency that offers pre-planned trips as well as customized travel packages for vegetarians and vegans.

“I work with families and couples and many times there is only one in the family who is a vegetarian or vegan, but their family wants to accommodate them,” she said.

“The most important advice I would have for traveling vegetarians is keep on traveling and sticking to your veggie diet as the world is slowly becoming more and more veg friendly,” said Diane Garvin, owner of Active Veggie International (

This agency, based out of Toronto, offers fully escorted tours catered to vegetarians and vegans, to about 100 people a year.

“Most countries in Asia (India, China, Thailand, et cetera) are my favorite veg-friendly places to visit because it’s easier to find good vegetarian food in these places as opposed to Europe, for example!” said Garvin.

Tours may open doors for vegetarian travelers, but some may still want to go it alone. Easy places to go are big cities.

“All big cities are going to be more veg-friendly,” explained Zeigfinger. “As a tourist, you are eating out a lot and can usually find vegetarian options.”

Happy Cow has a list of the most vegetarian and vegan friendly cities to visit including New York City, San Francisco, London, Portland, Seattle and Chiang Mai, Thailand. These cities have the highest abundance of vegetarian and vegan restaurants and markets for the city traveler.

“I’ve been a vegetarian in Seattle for 12 years and I will still look up new vegetarian places to visit using just Google or my Urbanspoon app,” said Elisabeth Moore, a vegetarian student at Evergreen College. “Now that I live in Olympia, Wash. most of the year there’s a little less variety so I like to research new places to go even more. It’s like a little adventure in my own city.”

Dietary restrictions are something that Moore knows well. She is not only a vegetarian, but is gluten intolerant as well.

“If I am going somewhere outside a big city I will always pack some snacks and look for a market or fruit and vegetable stand when I arrive,” Moore explained.

Traveling with supplies is always good advice for the traveling vegetarian. A little granola mix or some dried fruit can go a long way until she finds something to eat… and she does not mean just a McDonald’s for some fries.

“Some of my non-veg friends don’t understand why I won’t just eat some fries or whatever is available. Sometimes this is okay, but vegetarianism is so much about just eating healthy,” Moore vehemently stated.

Those traveling with vegetarians should keep this in mind. While most chain restaurants will accommodate vegetarians or have alternatives, sometimes another meal of pasta or plain lettuce just is not enough. However, this may become less of a problem in the future.

Vegans can dig into this delicious chocolate mousse pie and soy ice cream dessert (Photo by Chelsea Pillsbury).

Vegans can dig into this delicious chocolate mousse pie and soy ice cream dessert (Photo by Chelsea Pillsbury).

“Health and wellness considerations are becoming increasingly important in the development of our menus … for a variety of reasons.  Guest demand in this area is highest for lower calorie, lower fat and lower sodium dishes.  As a result, our menus offer more choices in this area,” said Drew Darden, COO of Darden Restaurants, the world’s largest full-service restaurant company. The Darden family of restaurants includes such popular chains as Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse, and Seasons 52.

He does admit that Darden Restaurants may not be equipped for full vegans, but that they are moving in the direction of offering healthier meals. He also said, “All of our brands can accommodate guests looking to enjoy a meatless meal,” giving hope to vegetarians and vegans everywhere.

While restaurants may be more likely to offer vegetarian options in the future, traveling vegetarians still need to plan ahead, invest in travel apps, and pack snack when leaving large cities, in order to not only eat… but to eat well.


  • Research your destination before you go
  • Employ a travel agent that specializes in vegetarian and/or vegan travel
  • Learn the local lingo for vegetarian and no meat by investing in The Vegan Passport
  • Be prepared; take snacks with you
  • Be courteous and keep a sense of humor when faced with difficult situations

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