Vida Vegan Con: Vegan Travel Tips

Hi Everyone! Here at the Travel Panel at Vida Vegan Con. Traveling to a new city or town and you’re not sure where to eat? Where’s the most veg-friendly city in the world? This panel covered those questions and more. Most of the speakers started blogs spurred by a lack of vegan restaurant reviews in their cities. They all revealed their best vegan travel tips, fave restaurants and navigating the vegan terrain when you’re on the road.

Panelists included Laura Beck (founding editor of Vegansaurus! and VegNews Editor-at-Large and columnist), Webly Bowles (Stumptown Vegans co-founder), Samantha Cohen (SuperVegan blogger), Jason Das (SuperVegan co-founder and editor), Carolyn Scott-Hamilton (Healthy Voyager executive producer, creator, host and writer) and moderated by Colleen Holland (VegNews co-creator and associate publisher).

Q: How do you plan when you travel?

Both Laura Beck and Jason Das said they go to Happy Cow (global dining guide…and an invaluable resource!). Beck also googles “vegan blog” and the city. When she traveled to Crete for a wedding and googled “vegan blog Crete,” she found a vegan blog with 3 vegetarian restaurants on the island.

Samantha Cohen bring granola bars, apples, nuts and Lara bars. Webly Bowles brings her own granola mix and Lara bars and calls ahead to a restaurant in the visiting town/city to see if the chef might make her a dish. She also checks out health food stores in a new town. She said:

“Usually it’s a really good source of information of where to go next. I like to get out of the trendy areas and see how people live.”

Carolyn Scott-Hamilton said that when she travels:

“I try to touch every part of the city….I like to get the flavor of the town, and the different areas and the vibe. If it’s to visit friends or family, if there’s only one vegan place I have to go there and then I wing it. Then in my hotel room I MacGuyver it…In Kenya, I packed my suitcase with Luna bars and protein powder…I came back with all of it because I ate so well….you never know what’s going to happen.”

Q: What’s the best vegan city in the world?

Drumroll…Portland and Los Angeles were declared the best. I’m surprised no one said NYC…even the panelist FROM New York! Another panelist shared her surprise in Gainesville, Florida. (“Who knew Gainesville freaking Florida had vegan restaurants!!” Not me!) And Jason Das pointed out:

“Even the crappiest Chinese restaurants can make you rice and steamed veggies.”

They also talked about Austin, Salt Lake City and Dallas, which will open the world’s first vegan movie theatre.

Q: What’s your process for reviewing restaurants?

The panelists varied from not reviewing restaurants but providing resources to readers instead, to having a “strict policy” of reviewing restaurants after going more than once. Webly Bowles said that only visiting once isn’t fair as restaurants and wait staff have bad days. Laura Beck said that they’re more of a “cheerleading website” so if they don’t like something, they won’t write about it. Guess the old adage “if you don’t have anything nice to say…” applies here too!

Q: If you go to a restaurant and you go 3 times and it’s really bad what do you do?

Webly Bowles said that when they like things, they write “glowing” reviews. But even if they don’t like it, they “try to be positive; everyone’s tastes are different.” Jason questioned,

“Isn’t bad vegan food bad for veganism?”

Hells yeah it is. Laura shared that she and a friend were eating an amazing seitan Philly cheesesteak but it was missing something. The owner overheard her say say that it needed something like Vegenaise. He proceeded to walk across the street and buy some Vegenaise and put it on the sandwiches. As a result, they started getting more publicity. “It can be something as small as that.”

Q: Do you only support vegan restaurants or go to mainstream restaurants and show there’s a support for vegan food?

They all support vegan as well as mainstream restaurants. Jason Das is thrilled when he sees an item on the menu marked vegan in a non-vegan restaurant. One panelist said,

“When going out with other people I try to be open so I’m not that lousy person who only eats at vegan places. And they also get to see what I’m eating at a place with lobsters and steak.”

When eating at non-vegan restaurants, Webly Bowles asserted:

“Being a vegan ambassador shows that you’re not going to sway just because you’re not in a vegan place.”

Q: Best vegan meal ever?

Panelists declared the best meals at Sutra in Seattle, Cinnaholic in Berkeley, WildWood in Portland, OR (called ahead and they made a roasted carrot ravioli), Portobello (the gnocchi was mentioned), Seitan Chimichurri and Pecan Crusted Tofu at Candle 79 (declared the best stuff ever!) and at Indian burritos at Avatar in Sausalito, Spiral Diner in Dallas.

Q: What about translations when you travel to a foreign country?

They recommended Vegan passport, iPhone apps and try to find someone who speaks the language. Jason Das asked, “Does veganism exist as a concept elsewhere?” It might not so look for close equivalents. For example, in Japan, where fish is in almost everything, look for Buddhist places. “Reach out to the vegan world community.” If you’re traveling somewhere, post where you’re going to visit on your blog. You might receive a bunch of comments with suggestions.

And here are ALL of the panelists’ top travel tips:

  • Check out for veg restaurants around the country.
  • Never leave home without a stash of energy bars.
  • Make miso soup, canned beans, or soups in your hotel coffee pot.
  • Don’t check baggage! It’s a hassle, and you can always wash clothes on a trip.
  • Pack green drink powders to stay nourished.
  • Take a walking tour instead of a trolley or bus tour. You’ll see more and stay active.
  • Invest in a BPA-free water bottle and keep it filled at all times!
  • Know how to say “I’m vegan” in the language of the country you’re visiting.
  • If you’re not dining at a veg restaurant, call ahead to see if they can accommodate you.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of a grocery store meal.
  • Pack a thin cutting board to chop up healthy fruit and vegetables.
  • Build a trip around essential vegan restaurants and then add on non-food adventures in the same neighborhood.
  • Ask for what you want. If you’re staying at a B&B, kindly let the innkeepers know about your dietary preferences.
  • Put together a travel-size pack of your favorite vegan toiletries.
  • Stay somewhere where you can cook. Many budget friendly hostels have shared kitchens, and it’s always easy to pick up veg ingredients.
  • Don’t hold back. Let food dictate your travel plans and enjoy every minute of it.
  • Always be friendly. You’re an ambassador for the vegan lifestyle!

I’m going to add another tip here…be sure to check out Vegan Backpacker, it’s a fabulous blog chock full of global vegan destinations!

Panelists’ top fave veg restaurants:

  1. BabyCakes (NYC, LA, Orlando)
  2. Blossom (NYC)
  3. Blossoming Lotus (Portland)
  4. Candle 79 (NYC)
  5. Candle Cafe (NYC)
  6. Chicago Diner (Chicago)
  7. Ethos (Orlando)
  8. Garden Cafe (Woodstock)
  9. Little Lad’s Basket (NYC)
  10. Los Gorditos (Portland, OR)
  11. Lula’s Sweet Apothecary (NYC)
  12. Millennium (San Francisco)
  13. Portobello (Portland, OR)
  14. SAF (London)
  15. Sage’s Cafe (Salt Lake City)
  16. Souley Vegan (Oakland)
  17. Spiral Diner (Dallas)
  18. VeganTreats (Bethlehem, PA)
  19. Vegetarian Dim Sum House (NYC)
  20. VegiTerranean (Akron, OH)

Definitely agree with BabyCakes, Candle 79 and Lula’s Sweet Apothecary. But sad (though not surprised) to not see any Boston restaurants make the list. Come on Boston…we gotta do better, damnit!

Read all my posts on Vida Vegan Con 2011 and follow my tweets at #VidaVeganCon.

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