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Travel Tips for the Vegetarian

Traveling, to me, is about the places we see, the people we meet, and the experiences that change us forever. Food is one of those experiences. Think of your favorite trips and, chances are, a special meal comes to mind.

The food and drink I’ve enjoyed not only tie into my memories of great trips, they’ve changed how I cook at home, what I order at restaurants, how I shop at grocery stores and what I look for in a vacation or a night out with my husband and friends.

My list of favorite food memories is deliciously long: Gnocchi, gelato and house wine in Italy. Croissants, rosé and smoked salmon salads in France. Jamón, paella and sangria in Spain. Guinness and good bread in Ireland. An Oktoberfest of beer tastings and brezen (soft pretzels) in Germany. Indian food in London. Lobster rolls and Sam Adams in Boston. Blackened grouper fish tacos in Clearwater. Fried finger foods of meat, cheese or fruit in Little Havana. A Chicago dog and an Old Style at Wrigley Field. And the list goes on…

Then travel changed my food habits forever. Back in 2007, I saw a few moments of a farm animal abuse video in a downtown Munich square. It’s not the only reason I gave up meat that day, but the images left their mark. Now my food adventures on the road all come with an asterisk: I don’t eat meat, but I certainly eat plenty of amazing meals.

Fresh off a trip to a vegetarian-friendly area, the Pacific Northwest, I had a few trip-ups along the way. This brings me to my travel tips for the vegetarian, the diabetic, the dieter or whatever it is that makes you more selective when it comes to the menu.

  1. Ask questions and check your order before it’s too late. I failed on both accounts in Oregon. While at one of Portland’s awesome breweries, I ordered beer cheese soup and didn’t notice anything unusual on the menu. Sure enough, it was made with meat. Even more disappointing: the scrumptious-sounding Montrachet pizza in Cannon Beach, complete with goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes. We ordered it takeout -- and arrived back at our hotel to a Meat Lover’s special. If only I’d opened the box…
  2. Tell the server your desires and let them be your guide. If servers are worth the 18% tip, they’ll know which dishes can meet your needs and desires. Or request they ask the chef.
  3. Grocery stores and delis offer great finds. One of my best meals in Italy, amazingly, came from a deli in Greve in Chianti. Where else can one sample and select small amounts of local foods at a nice price – then enjoy them in a place with a view (or in the comfort of a room at the end of a long day).
  4. Take snacks for the road. Don’t leave the grocery store without fruit, cookies, crackers and a bottle of vino for later. If kids are along, make sure there’s milk and cereal for the next morning (enough to get by until everyone’s ready to go out for breakfast). Always have enough protein snacks to get through whatever is to come: an airport that lacks anything affordable or palatable; a flight that lasts longer than the pretzel snacks; or a road trip that will take just a little longer to get to the next town.

Strike up a conversation with locals on where they go. Avoid touristy restaurants like they’re the last options on earth. And don’t give in to the temptation to hit the local McDonald’s abroad (well, more than once) -- no matter how much you’ve always wanted to order a beer with a burger at the golden arches. That won’t be the memory you’ll go home with.

Oh, and if the idea of going meatless makes your stomach churn, head to Kansas City. There are dozens of saucy barbeque joints -- complete with sides made with meat. It’s there where my husband made up for all of the meat I haven’t eaten in four years … in just three days.

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Tips by

Deal Expert, Chicago
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
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Angela Shannon