Vegan Travel Breakfast in Macedonia

Our Vegan Travel Challenge Has Ended, Here’s What We Learned

This January, we took up a 31-day vegan travel challenge as part of Veganuary. We kicked off our vegan challenge in Luke’s home town of Brighton before travelling vegan in Bulgaria and then Macedonia.

True to our word, we didn’t change our travel plans to fit in with our new vegan lifestyle, but instead took unplanned trips to wherever we chose. While Bulgaria and Macedonia certainly aren’t the most vegan friendly countries in the world, we learned a lot from our vegan travel experiences there.

Infinity Foods Kitchen Brighton - Veganuary Week 1 1200

Did We Finish our Vegan Travel Challenge?

Yes, we stayed vegan for the whole of Veganuary.

However, we definitely accidentally ended up eating non-vegan food on a few occasions during our vegan travel challenge. We were so bummed when we first realised that maybe a Bulgarian banitsa (breakfast pastry) we were eating might not be vegan – although a fellow vegan travel blogger has since informed me that it’s very likely it is.

We also had an unfortunate mayo squirting incident, a waiter who totally disregarded the fact we were vegan and served us a soup with meat chunks, and on our last night of Veganuary ended up being served cheese on our potatoes despite having only ordered plain baked potato.

We were annoyed about all of these incidents, especially as we were making such a conscious effort to research vegan-friendly restaurants, pick out vegan options from the menu and sometimes explain to the staff that we were vegan, and because we were so determined to complete the vegan travel challenge we’d set ourselves.

Some other vegan travellers brought me back down-to-earth when they said that stuff like this happens and vegan travel isn’t about being perfect, it’s about making the best decisions you can with the information you have.

Was It Hard to Travel Vegan?

Yes and no.

I have a newfound admiration for vegan travellers. Before starting Veganuary, I was under the impression that vegan travel wouldn’t be that much of a stretch from vegetarian travel, especially as the two often overlap for us. Well, that’s just not true. Vegan travel is so much harder and involves much more forward planning than vegetarian travel.

That said, our vegan travel experiences in Brighton, Bulgaria and Macedonia were mostly positive. The Bulgarian and Macedonian people were really hospitable and accommodating. We stayed in a hostel in Plovdiv who specially prepared us a vegan breakfast everyday, and a guesthouse in Lake Ohrid where the baba (mum) who owned the place cooked us vegan versions of traditional Macedonian dishes.

But there’s no denying that vegan travel is stressful at times. It felt a lot like the world just isn’t ready for veganism, and it was a concept that is still relatively new and unfamiliar in Bulgaria and Macedonia (aside from the very vegan-friendly Sofia). We could pretty much always get bread and salad, but nearly all of the traditional local foods include either dairy or meat and finding food at short notice was much more difficult than when we travel as vegetarians.

Vegan breakfast veggies at Robinson Sunset House Lake Ohrid Macedonia - Charlie on Travel

How Did Vegan Travel Affect Our Health?

When we decided to take up a vegan travel challenge, we weren’t sure whether a month of travelling vegan would affect our health positively or negatively.

In Brighton it was no trouble because you can get hold of pretty much anything you could want and cooking at home meant we were able to get all the vitamins and nutrients we needed. Travelling abroad makes that task much harder. Sometimes you can’t get hold of protein sources, enough green veg for iron, or anything that’s fortified with vitamin B12.

But, after 31 days of veganism, we didn’t really feel any difference to our health. We had just as much energy as we did on our vegetarian diet and continued to do all of the same travel activities, keep the same sleeping hours and work just as hard as we did before.

That said, one thing that I noticed was that I felt far less bloated when I wasn’t eating dairy. I’d also suspected that feeling bloated was a result of eating too much bread, but actually it seems to be linked to dairy.

Charlie and Luke at Lake Ohrid

What About the Costs of Vegan Travel?

We’ve been asked often whether vegan travel is more expensive. Our experience varied, but overall eating vegan cost a very similar amount to eating vegetarian. If you’re eating a lot of organic, health foods then veganism is more expensive. If you’re eating local and mostly fruits and veggies, then veganism is cheaper.

That’s the same whether you’re in the UK where eating out costs a bomb, or in Macedonia where you can eat a massive meal for under £4. Compared to local prices any vegan and/or organic restaurants cost more than supermarket goods, cooking at home or eating in local’s restaurants in Bulgaria and Macedonia.

Soma Vital Food Vegan in Sofia Bulgaria - Charlie on Travel

Are We Still Travelling Vegan?

We really embraced our month of vegan travel and stuck to veganism the whole way through, but although we enjoyed being vegan and we definitely believe in the principles of veganism, we’re just not ready to make the switch to travelling 100% vegan.

We didn’t want to completely give up on vegan travel though and we felt uneasy about the idea of reverting to a dairy-heavy vegetarian diet again. So instead of going completely back to vegetarian travel, we’ve decided to spend part of our time travelling vegan. If there’s a vegan option on the menu, we’ll pick that over a vegetarian one and we’ve committed to being fully vegan for 2 days each week.

I was concerned that other vegan travellers might think that this sounded non-committal or just kind of silly, but Dale from AngloItalian – who did decide to stay vegan after his vegan travel challenge – reminded me that becoming vegan isn’t a race. Everyone needs to do things in their own time and their own way. I’d be interested to hear what other vegan travellers think of our vegetarian/vegan travel plans.

It felt strange eating cheese and yoghurt again for the first time, but there was also this feeling of relief of being able to just grab something and not have to worry about whether it would be vegan. We also really wanted to be able to try local specialities like shopska salad and burek, as local food feels like such a cultural travel experience. That said, we had some great traditional vegan food as well, so perhaps this is more of a concept that we’ve built up which we need to work on.

Cheese and spinach burek in Bitola Macedonia - Charlie on Travel
Vegetarian cheese and spinach burek in Macedonia

The other part of a completely vegan diet that we struggled with was that it sometimes forced us to eat imported foods like soy rather than locally sourced food. We all about eating in a way that benefits the environment and the local economy, so this was a strange element to vegan travel for us.

A Final Word on Vegan Travel (For Now)

Vegan travel was a valuable learning experience for us and we don’t regret our decision to take up a 31-day vegan travel challenge this Veganuary one bit. We’ve learned a lot, been more mindful of our food choices, met some incredible people who helped us out – both locals and other vegan travellers online – and discovered what vegan travel is really like. We’re looking forward to more vegan food and more vegan travel adventures as we go.

Would you take up a vegan travel challenge? What’s your opinion on the difference between vegetarian travel and vegan travel?

Charlie Marchant

Charlie is a long-term traveller from the UK who writes about simple ways to travel sustainably, including how to become a house sitter and slow traveller, eating local and vegetarian, and making responsible travel choices.

8 thoughts to “Our Vegan Travel Challenge Has Ended, Here’s What We Learned”

  1. So glad to hear that all in all, eating Vegan has been a positive experience for you both. Well done.
    I love the advice that you have been given about not being perfect, ‘it’s about making the best decisions you can with the information you have.’ I think that is also good advice for living a life without regrets too!

    1. Thaaanks! We’re pleased that it has been too, because in the beginning we were really unsure what it would mean for our travels, health and happiness. I’ve received some excellent advice from other vegan travellers since trying out veganism and have been really touched that so many people have supported us this year!

  2. Hi Charlie,
    I think your approach to travelling as vegans is a good one. You’ve recognized where you are and that you’re not yet ready to go all the way, but at the same time you’ve committed to making positive changes and have set definite parameters for that. I do believe that small steps is the most sustainable way to make lasting change. Have you decided how you will eat during the periods when you’re not travelling?
    Wendy@TheNomadicVegan recently posted…10 Swiss Specialties for VegansMy Profile

    1. Hi Wendy! Thanks for all your support through Veganuary – it was really amazing and all of your suggestions were really useful! I appreciate your open-minded response to our decision too. I feel that definite parameters are very important to make sure we don’t ending up lapsing back to how we were before. We only have 6 weeks left at home in the UK, and then we’ll be travelling full-time again. We’re planning on the same strict 2 days per week as vegans, but we’ll definitely be eating more vegan meals and cooking vegan too. I’ve only had one non-vegan meal since coming home on Thursday (one of our dedicated vegan days not included in that time) so I’m positive that we’ll be able to keep it up even more at home.
      Charlie on Travel recently posted…A Slow Traveller’s Guide: Where to Travel in MacedoniaMy Profile

  3. Thanks for sharing so much of your Veganuary journey with us. It’s been so interesting to read about your journey as you’re travelling – especially to hear it in comparison to trying it whilst in the UK. It’s funny that you mention about bloating and dairy as I’ve realised it might have been causing the same issues for me, but I’d never put it down to being dairy.

    It sound like you have a very sensible approach in mind for eating on the road in the future. I’ve decided to stay vegan since has Veganuary ended but also intend to be more flexible when travelling and adopt the same kind of approach that you are. I’ve just been to Copenhagen but that’s luckily a very vegan-friendly city so I got on well with very little extra effort (though I still ended up with unexpected cheese on one dinner!).
    Natalie Tamara recently posted…A Month of Little Treats: January ’16 FavouritesMy Profile

    1. Hey Natalie – thanks for all your comments throughout our Veganuary journey, really appreciate them! That’s interesting about dairy for you as well – I don’t like to make too many assumptions about those kinds of things because every body is different and it can be really hard to tell the cause of things like bloating, but having cut out gluten previously and now dairy, I saw a more significant impact on a reduced dairy diet with that.

      I’d love to go to Copenhagen – I have some travel envy there! Exciting to hear that it was (mostly) vegan-friendly!
      Charlie on Travel recently posted…A Slow Traveller’s Guide: Where to Travel in MacedoniaMy Profile

  4. Hi Charlie,
    I had never heard for Veganuary before, what a brilliant way to make a transition to a plant-based diet. Thanks for sharing your experience! I completely understand the struggles with restaurants and missing out on local delicatessen, I’ve been there one too many times. On a recent trip to Costa Brava I spent a whole week eating mainly bread with tomato, fruit and baby food!

    You mention other vegan travellers and their approach, in my opinion the way to go about it is to do what makes you happy. It’s your body and your choice, no one can point a finger and say you’re doing it wrong :)

    1. Hi Diana. Veganuary is really excellent and Veganuary run good newsletters, blogs and social media to help/encourage those trying out a vegan diet for the first time. It’s a really cool online community and definitely makes the transition easier.

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