How expensive is travelling as a vegan?

As a long-standing vegan, you'll already have plenty of experience in weighing up options and choosing what's right for you. Recent converts will be quickly catching up. Be just as discerning when you're planning your travel budget, and you won't break the bank.

Eating out and drinking

Google "top vegan restaurants in X", and you'll probably find a mouth-watering list conveniently laid out for you by a vegan blogger or foodie website. The suggestions look delicious and it can be easy to get caught up in the once-in-a-lifetime temptation of eating a vegan injera platter in Ethiopia or seafood-free paella in Spain.

Yes, you are much less likely to find such delicacies in your home town, but your budget will take a beating if you hit every spot selling vegan bubble tea, pierogi and pho. Your money may be more economically spent finding a vegan-friendly cooking class so that you can sample authentic local fare (and learn to cook some simpler meals for the rest of the trip).

On the flip side, if the vegan options at your destination are generic, it can be depressing to constantly spend money on basic noodles and simple salads. Prioritise how you want to spend your dining budget, both in relation to your other travel costs and in terms of which meals are worth the cash, within the amount you've earmarked for eating and drinking. If your accommodation doesn't include breakfast, for example, prepare an inexpensive meal of overnight oats yourself so that you can splurge on lunch and dinner.

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What should I prioritise in my budget?

Cucumbers are cheaper than caviar, right? By that logic, vegan travelling should be comparably inexpensive. Sadly, that's not quite the case. Sometimes being a vegan costs less, and sometimes it doesn't — when you travel away from home, the same is true.

Between flights, accommodation and eating out, the big-spend items on your budget will be the same as for any other traveller.

Meals might be a little bit cheaper (since salads and grains tend to be less expensive than meat, seafood and dairy), but your food choices might also push you towards certain upgrades, such as a stay in a hotel with a refrigerated minibar instead of a lower-cost guesthouse. Just like anyone else planning a trip, decide in advance what to prioritise and where you're comfortable skimping a bit.

Research vegan restaurants and local vegan dishes in advance, so that you can make informed dining choices on the fly. Photo / Getty Images
Research vegan restaurants and local vegan dishes in advance, so that you can make informed dining choices on the fly. Photo / Getty Images

Accommodation

When choosing a place to stay, look for spots that equip their guestrooms with mini-fridges or offer access to a full-sized communal one. This might be a bit pricier upfront, but will enable you to store leftovers and some basic ingredients so that you can prepare simple meals for yourself. If you can swing it, access to a full kitchen is ideal.

Self-catering

Being able to put together a few simple meals for yourself is more important for vegan travellers, since you might occasionally go hungry otherwise. Bring some basic equipment, in addition to non-perishable snacks (such as nuts and dried fruit). A utility knife, some food containers, utensils, and a couple of salt and pepper packets from your in-flight meal should suffice. Overnight oats, salad, nut butter sandwiches and cut fruit are easy to prepare anywhere.

Often-overlooked costs

Vegan main courses can be scarce at some restaurants, which can force you to assemble a more expensive meal from a few side dishes and starters. Your stomach may not sense a difference, but your wallet might.

So instead of setting your smartphone to airplane mode for the duration of your trip, it might be better to pay for a data package so that you can look up nearby vegan-friendly restaurants on the go.

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Lonely Planet's Vegan Travel Handbook. Photo / Supplied
Lonely Planet's Vegan Travel Handbook. Photo / Supplied

5 tips for saving money as a vegan traveller

1. Book a vegan in-flight meal

If you forget to reserve an in-flight meal, you'll go hungry or need to buy pricey airport food instead of eating what you already paid for when you booked your plane tickets (if your airline provides in-flight catering, that is). Most airlines still let you reserve a vegan meal a few days before take-off.

2. Travel according to the season

Peak travel season is usually dictated by a combination of holiday schedules and optimal weather. Vegans might choose a different time of year instead, calculating the best month to feast on fresh foreign produce. If these peak and produce seasons don't overlap, you're in for some savings.

3. Download some free apps

Use free apps on your trip: V Cards: Vegan Abroad (vegan.cards) translates your dietary preferences into the local language; and Vanilla Bean Plant-Based Food (vanilla-bean.com) maps out vegan-friendly restaurants in the area.

4. Eat in

You can shell out for a pale iceberg lettuce salad at a restaurant (when it's your only choice on the menu), or rustle up a more satisfying meal yourself. A few basic supplies — some veggies from the local market, a plant-based spread and a fresh loaf of bread — can go a long way.

5. Do your homework

Research vegan restaurants and local vegan dishes in advance, so that you can make informed dining choices on the fly, dictated as much by what you can eat as by how much you want to spend.

Reproduced with permission from The Vegan Travel Handbook © Lonely Planet 2019, lonelyplanet.com