This summer, I took my first steps onto European soil. I must admit, I was so nervous about the trip. Typically, people become nervous when they travel because of their fear of flying, not knowing the language or losing their luggage, perhaps. Not me. I was apprehensive about the trip because of how I would attempt to accommodate my dietary restrictions. In addition to wanting to eat as many fresh fruits and vegetables as possible, I also do not eat gluten, dairy, or soy. During my travels I managed to amalgamate a set of tips for anyone who is a traveling “non-conventional” eater.
1. Happycow.net is a fantastic search engine for vegetarian, vegan and health food stores in any city all over the world. One of our stops was in Rome, Italy and even there, in the land of wheat and cheese, there were places to accommodate my gluten-free diet. Sadly, no raw restaurants in Rome.
2. If you find a juice bar, always go in! You may not find one again for a long, long time. While walking around the city, we passed a place called Elixir Juice Bar. I felt very lucky that my traveling companion didn’t mind that I stopped in for a Garden Tonic. Later that day, we walked by another place called Vitammin Juice Bar and they were having a happy hour; 30% off all juices! It reenergized me completely. I was able to walk around all of Belgrade and still had energy to spare. I could not return to a juice bar until 21 days later. Drink up while you can!
3. Find out from your hosts or your hotel where the local farmer’s markets are. The fruits I found at the farmer’s market in Belgrade was the best fruit I’ve ever eaten in my life. It shocked me to see what fruits and vegetables are supposed to look like. Stock up on fruits and veggies for a few days, depending on how far away the market is. Actively schedule days and times that you want to return.
4. Stock up your luggage with as many non-perishable raw and vegan foods as possible. In my suitcase, I packed hemp seeds, raw seeds, dehydrated vegan soups by Nile Spice (they only require hot water and are perfect for airport layovers), vegan protein powder, vegan protein bars, a variety of medicinal teas, and a superfood (spirulina, chlorella, etc.) I also picked up things I found at the grocery store while in Europe and saved them for future use: cartons of rice milk, nut butters, single serving packets of probiotic vegetable paté, and gluten-free bread and pasta. It was impossible to be completely raw, but it is very possible to still eat healthy.
5. Plan, plan, plan! If you know you are going to be sitting on a bus or train for 8 hours, make sure you pack a meal and snacks. Never rely on the fact that there might be something for you in any restaurant or station, because if there isn’t, your stomach will not be happy. At the very least,bring fruits that are easy to eat and wet naps for sticky hands when you are done.
6. Consider what country and part of the city you are in when you are looking for food. Some cities may surprise you. I thought Rome would be more progressive, and yet there was little to nothing in the ways of health food. In downtown Belgrade, however, there was an entire gluten-free and health food section of the grocery store. I was able to find mustard sprouts and kombu hummus and top slices of fresh Hungarian peppers with it. It made a delicious healthy breakfast. Also, be mindful of where you are. The grocers in Montenegro didn’t have anything in the way of alternative foods, however, there were many farmers selling their produce at the side of the road. Plus, there were fig trees and grape vines everywhere exploding with ripe delicious fruits that were there for the taking. Use what is available to you and get creative!
7. Be gracious for those who work to accommodate your dietary needs. My boyfriend’s family did a fantastic job of modifying their recipes to be gluten and dairy free. They allowed me to read packages before they added any seasonings to the dishes so that I could ensure they were free of allergens. They saw how much I was enjoying fruit each morning and evening and made sure I had a variety of melon and fruits to choose from. In fact, in the small town where we were, word got out that I was obsessively eating bowls and bowls of fresh figs – so neighbours and friends began bringing me plates of figs every day. Although my dietary needs was something they were unfamiliar with, they always made sure I had enough to eat and that it was delicious.
Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living. – Miriam Beard