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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?