Hi! My name is Melia and I studied in Paris, France for a semester with AIFS. I am a senior at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and I am double majoring in International Studies and French. I enjoy going to concerts, traveling all over the world, and long walks on the beach. Oh yeah, and I’m a vegan.
As an AIFS Alumni Ambassador and a Peer Advisor at my university’s study abroad office, a question I get surprisingly often is how to maintain a vegan diet while abroad. Eating is one of our greatest joys in life, especially while traveling. The problem is that finding foods to satisfy dietary restrictions can make the experience of “eating through an entire country” a little more difficult. I am here to share with you the following tips to help make this vegan foodie dream a reality.
1. Enhance your food vocabulary
If you are studying in a country where you don’t know the language, learning the words for foods you wish to avoid can be extremely helpful. This will allow you to easily identify allergens on food labels in grocery stores and ask for modifications at restaurants. I will warn you, however, that in some countries it is uncommon for restaurants to modify their menu items (hence why many of my meals were plates of french fries in Paris).
2. Use the Google Translate photo feature
If you haven’t yet memorized the food vocab of your host country or you are traveling elsewhere, the Google Translate app is a useful tool. I realize this suggestion may seem painfully obvious, but many people are unaware of the camera feature on the app. This feature allows you to hold your camera up to any labels, menus, signs, etc. and the app will automatically translate whatever you are trying to read into English. I found the app particularly useful when I was in the Prague airport looking for vegan snacks without knowing a lick of Czech. I was able to quickly and easily figure out which snacks I wanted to munch on while waiting for my flight.
3. Grocery shopping is your best friend
If you have a dietary restriction, I’m sure you are aware that grocery shopping is your best friend. Buying your own ingredients is a surefire way to know that the food you are buying meets your dietary needs. One of my favorite parts of living in Paris was going to the many different types of markets, all of which were only one street over from my apartment. I would go to the boulangerie for baguettes, the produce market for all of my fresh fruits and vegetables, and the small neighborhood épicerie for my pantry staples like olive oil, pasta, and rice. Cooking for myself also made me more comfortable living in a new city, and saved me a lot of money too!
4. Use HappyCow anywhere you go
My number one lifesaver that I would recommend to any vegans or vegetarians traveling abroad is HappyCow. I have used this app in every single city I have traveled to and I even use it in my home city. You can search for restaurants with vegan options by location, so it is fantastic when you are unfamiliar with your surroundings and need to find food that fits your dietary needs. The app categorizes restaurants as vegan, vegetarian, or veg friendly. I have found many of my favorite vegan restaurants all over the world using this app.
It is also a valuable tool to ensure that both you and your non-vegan friends will be happy when choosing where to eat your next meal. My favorite restaurant finds had food that was traditional and authentic to the country I was in, but veganized. I was shocked when I found a completely vegan cafe only 300 meters from my apartment in Paris. Thanks to HappyCow, I was able to enjoy vegan croissants and hot chocolate that were just as authentic as the non-vegan originals. Trust me when I tell you that there are not many things that excite me more than gourmet vegan food.
5. Let the AIFS staff know about your dietary restriction
One thing I really appreciated about my AIFS program was how accommodating the staff was to any dietary restrictions students had. I was initially going to exclude myself from the group dinners that my program included in fear of not being able to eat with my peers. However, I was provided a vegan option at every group dinner, including dessert! Dietary restrictions can feel very isolating but the AIFS staff did a wonderful job of including every student. If you are worried about how difficult it will be to adhere to dietary restrictions while abroad, the AIFS staff will be there to help with any of your concerns.
While dealing with dietary restrictions abroad may seem daunting, keep in mind that there is a plethora of tools to make eating a little easier. Have a blast eating your way through every country you visit, but just make sure to save room for the next meal!