Staying Plant-Based on the Road

IAD terminal

The Problem –

Nothing challenges my plant-based lifestyle more than being away from the safety and security of my home kitchen. Having just completed four domestic trips over the course of two weeks, the PB lifestyle was repeatedly and seriously challenged.

Even First Class doesn’t have a vegan option on this airline

Basically you have three options when traveling…

  1. Throw in the towel and eat whatever and whenever is most convenient.
  2. Adhere to a plant-based diet as much as possible but accept a few limited deviations.
  3. Strictly adhere to a whole-food, plant-based diet no matter the effort or consequences.

You have worked too hard up until now to lose it all with option #1, and option #3 is just setting you up to succumb to option #1. For me option #2 is the only way to get the most out of traveling while not going insane and not starving to death, or both. It is not easy.

Take a look at any airport terminal and it is obvious that, for most people, traveling means “the rules don’t apply” so the food outlet cater to indulgent cravings.  If we’re really being honest, traveling is no excuse to “party like it’s 1999” and treat ourselves to burgers, pizza, chicken wings and junk food that we would never touch at home. But the temptations to eat too much, drink too much and sleep too little abound when you are out of your routine and away from home. With a bit of planning and effort you can avoid these and return home without guilt or extra pounds.


Select your hotel carefully – get one with an in-room fridge, close to Whole Foods, close to vegan breakfast place, or close to public transportation to get you there.

Oatmeal and fruit every morning at the Hermitage in Nashville

Plan ahead – do your research by downloading menus and searching online resources like TripAdvisor, local food blogs, etc. for ideas about where to go out to eat and where to buy healthy food.

Google Maps App – simply search “vegan” or “vegetarian” or “grocery” to find the closest restaurant or store. Every city has something.

Vegetable Rice Paper Rollup from Whole Foods
Take-out vegetable rollups from Whole Foods in Baltimore

Pack backup ammunition – throw nuts, protein bars, oatmeal in your suitcase. Even if you don’t use it all, having emergency back to reach for at any time can pay off.

Stock your hotel room – use that in-room fridge for more than beer by stocking up on day one with some prepared healthy foods from a local grocery store.

Order double – if you do find a healthy restaurant, take half back to your hotel room to have for breakfast or another meal the next day. Most restaurant portions are too big to begin with or order a second entree to-go.

Doggie Boxes from the fabulous vegan Cafe Gratitude in San Diego

Ask for something special – nearly every (non-fast food) restaurant will cater to specific dietary needs. It may be as simple as leaving out an ingredient or putting the sauce “on the side” to avoid falling off the WFPB lifestyle. Recently at a fancy hotel I was stuck with nothing on the breakfast menu that was plant-based, not even a fruit plate. So I asked them for all the omelet fillings, just no omelet. A beautifully prepared dish of sauteed vegetables (in olive oil) became my daily breakfast.

Fried Avocado Taco, Quinoa and Yam Taco, Pulled Pork Taco, Fried Talapia Taco
Vegan tacos! At “Mas Tacos Por Favor” in Nashville

Have excuses in your back pocket – temptation often comes from friends and colleagues when traveling, be ready at receptions and social events with “I already ate” or “I am going out with an old friend for dinner later” or “I have to get up early to…(workout, prepare, call home, etc.)” even if that meal is your vegan leftovers back in your hotel room.

Compromise – be prepared leave the plant-based range a bit and consume some healthy non-plant items.

YOLO – The phrase “you only live once” can get you in serious trouble. However, if a special meal is prepared/provided by someone important to you, cheating, in controlled quantities, may be your best option. Personally, passing up a particularly rare, indigenous food or something truly delicious just to stay on the PB program for one more meal is just not worth it. YOLO.

This year I’ve indulged with a) one bite of horse meat, b) one bite of bison short rib, c) one bite of scallop with local herbs, d) one bite of venison carpaccio, and d) one a few bites of Momofuku ramen. It is a personal decision but I would truly regret missing these local specialties that I just can’t get back home.

The best plate of vegetables in the world at Husk-Nashville
A bowl of (almost) vegan ramen at Momofuku in Toronto


How do you cope with travel eating challenges? Please share your tips in the comment section below.

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