Tell the server in your hotel restaurant that you’re on a plant-based diet, and you won’t get an empty stare anymore. Nor will he dust off a vegan menu with a handful of bland options. Vegan vacations are taking root in ways that were difficult to imagine even a few years ago.
“It is no longer rice and beans,” says Jack Ezon, a vegan who runs the travel advisor firm Embark Beyond. “There’s a great movement in the quality of vegan food.”
It’s a seismic shift that goes beyond travel. Sodexo, the French food services and facilities management company, recently announced it would raise its commitment to plant-based planned menus from 36% to 50% by 2025. The increase in plant-based and plant-focused menu options is part of Sodexo’s plan to reduce its global carbon footprint by 34% by 2025.
It’s also good business. A recent survey by Hotels.com of over 470 hotels that offered in-room dining found that 42% of hotels have seen more requests for vegetarian dishes in the past year, and 33% of hotels said they are seeing more orders for vegan food.
What to expect if you’re taking a vegan vacation
What is a vegan vacation? It’s a leisure trip on which your diet consists entirely of plant-based foods — no eggs, dairy or meat.
So what awaits you when you take a vegan vacation?
Ezon, the travel advisor, says you might be surprised. For example, the Park Hyatt Buenos Aires has a first-rate vegan restaurant.
“It’s Michelin-level, truly,” he says. “The city also has some super cool vegan restaurants. One of them so impressed a visiting royal family that they returned twice during their stay.”
Sodexo has helped implement plant-based menus at Tulane University, Lehigh University and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, among others. Students there have a choice of entrees like tofu fritters, plant-based “shrimp” buns and a “Bang Bang” cauliflower wrap.
As a vegan who has been traveling around the world nonstop for more than two years, I think you should prepare for the unexpected. Vegan options are popping up everywhere: in airports, train stations, downtown food stands, and college campuses. And the food is often delicious.
How delicious? In a moment, I’ll share travel experts’ favorite vegan meals. I’ll also review your options for your next trip, and I’ll talk to experts on vegan vacations about how to plan the best plant-based culinary adventure.
What’s your favorite vegan vacation meal?
What kind of vegan vacation options are out there? They run the spectrum from land to sea and include specialty restaurants and plant-based resorts. (Yes, those exist.)
“There are so many amazing vegan meals I’ve had in my travels,” says Diana Edelman, Founder of Vegans, Baby. “By far, the most elegant and creative meal was at La Colombe in Cape Town, South Africa. It was an exquisite 11-course meal that was entirely vegan, with wine pairings.”
Ivona Grgan, a business development director for a hospitality consulting company, recalls her best vegan meal ever, in Syracuse, Sicily.
“It was in a place called Moon. They have created a plant-based version of many traditional Italian dishes, like carbonara, tiramisu and Sicilian cannoli , as well as creating some innovative dishes, like a plant-based tuna salad made of chick peas or plant-based salmon and cashew cheese,” she says. “The food was extraordinary.”
Lisa McCarl, a travel advisor from Baltimore, says her top plant-based meal was at sea. She likes the meals on Windstar Cruises, which has made vegan fare a permanent addition to its menus and is planning an entire Tahiti plant-based culinary cruise in 2025.
She has been impressed with the comprehensive plant-based options Windstar offers her groups. They include everything from fresh detox juices and smoothies to coconut vanilla granola and chickpea omelets. Lunch buffets are also extensive, with salads, tajines, vegetable curries, black bean quesadillas and Mediterranean wraps.
“The Cauliflower Tandoori was so popular that the executive chef agreed to share the recipe in a cooking demonstration,” she recalls.
Kimberly Davis, a travel advisor with Trouvaille Travel International, says she has a lot of favorites. But she was surprised when she found truly exceptional plant-based options in Mexico.
“I was at Palmaia, a plant-based resort, where we had some of the best vegan food we have ever had,” she recalls. “From traditional Oaxacan dishes to vegan sushi and everything in between, the food at the multiple restaurants at Palmaia was inventive while still appealing to traditional palates.”
Here are the options for vegan vacations
For the first time ever, the travel and hospitality industry has recognized customers on a plant-based diet as a distinct group. And the industry has begun marketing to the group.
“Travelers are much more socially, environmentally, and culturally conscious, they understand the impact we have as travelers, and they are eager for — frankly, demanding — travel options that contribute to the planet in a positive way,” says Matt Berna, Intrepid Travel’s president and managing director for the Americas.
Back in 2018, Intrepid launched dedicated vegan food adventures in India, Italy and Thailand. In 2022, the tour operator revamped all its itineraries to include a new plant-based experience.
“This is part of Intrepid’s ongoing commitment to decarbonize our business and inform a more climate-conscious future for travel,” adds Berna.
Amanda Strawn, a vegan chef who has traveled extensively, says some locations are plant-based hotspots.
“Bali, Berlin, Los Angeles, and London, have gained reputations for their abundance of vegan-friendly establishments,” she says. “However, even in more remote or traditional areas, you’ll be surprised to find plant-based options popping up. From street food vendors to fine dining establishments, plant-based cuisine is making its way into diverse culinary landscapes.
Want to take a vegan vacation? Read this first
Despite all the progress, it’s still an omnivore’s world, according to travelers. So before you plan your next plant-based getaway, here’s some expert advice.
- Learn a few key phrases in the local language. “Simple requests such as ‘no meat,’ ‘no fish,’ and ‘no dairy’ will go a long way when communicating with restaurant staff and locals,” says Harika Parmar, founder of Vogo Tours.
- Tell your hotel you’re vegan. “Let lodging proprietors know your preference before your stay,” advises Sydney Rubin, owner of Maitland Manor in Port Angeles, Wash. “Most will work with you, but they always appreciate advance notice.” Pro tip: Choose an area that is close to a major city, which tends to embrace vegan travelers because hotels there see more of them on a regular basis.
- Do a little homework before you leave. “My best advice is to do your research and plan ahead,” says Tenny Minassian, a vegan lifestyle coach. “If you’re more of a spontaneous person, you should definitely use an app like Happy Cow so you can find vegan and veg-friendly spots. This also helps if you’re traveling with non-vegans or are meeting up with friends who want other options.”
What if you’re not on a plant-based diet? I put that question to Karolin Troubetzkoy, owner of St. Lucia’s iconic Jade Mountain and Anse Chastanet resorts. Her properties are known for their vegan options, including an entirely vegan restaurant, an expansive organic farm that grows all of its own produce, spices and herbs, and interactive vegan cooking classes taught by an in-house Rastafarian vegan chef.
“Even if you’re not vegan, trying vegan food while abroad is significant,” she told me. “And not only because it encourages an overall healthier lifestyle. Even more significantly, it promotes the idea of mindful and regenerative travel by supporting local communities, farmers, and growers and helps protect the important natural resources that allow some of our favorite travel destinations to thrive.”
So whether you’re vegan or not, there’s probably never been a better time to try a plant-based trip. You may be pleasantly surprised by the result and, as a bonus, you’ll be doing something good for the environment — and for yourself.