happy veggie onionsTraveling as a vegetarian no longer means relying on PB&J or forcing your travel companions to hit up the same vegan café every day.

One of the greatest trips you’ll take as a vegetarian is leaning how to make your travels fulfilling, culturally and culinarily, while encountering appetizing challenges and reaping finger-licking rewards.

We’ll walk you through the initial stages of planning your veg-conscious trip and offer some how-to tips once you’re on your way.

The Flying Vegetarian

It may seem crazy, but the world has already witnessed its first, entirely vegetarian airline. In May of 2008, India’s Guragon-based, low-cost carrier, MDLR (Murli Dhar Lakh Ram), launched its inaugural flight with service from Delhi to Dharamsala, stocked with vegetarian-only cuisine.

India is a vegetarian hotspot, so check out our Off the Brochure Travel Guide to Mumbai/Bombay, as well as Off the Brochure Travel Guide to New Delhi.

Tomato lettuceThough airlines such as MDLR are rare, flying as a vegetarian is still possible, and sometimes even delicious. Try looking for veg-friendly airports, as opposed to airlines, explains Donna Zeigfinger, owner, agent and CEO of Green Earth Travel. “Food quality on airplanes normally depends on the airports,” Zeigfinger says.

The annual survey of “healthful” airport food, conducted by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, ranks the top 13 busiest airports in the nation in terms of healthful meal options, which means a percentage of the airports’ cafés or diners boast at least one “low-fat, high-fiber, cholesterol-free vegetarian entree.”

In 2007 the report found that the nation’s most healthful airport was Dallas/Fort Worth International (89 out of 95 restaurants offered healthful options). Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (81 out of 87) and Chicago O’Hare International Airport (56 out of 60) tied for second place, and Los Angeles International Airport (50 out of 56, with vegetable fajitas at El Paseo scoring big time) was third place.

The least healthful airports in 2007 were Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (52 out of 72) and Miami International Airport (31 out of 46), but the worst of all? Reagan National Airport in Arlington, VA, with a mere 42 percent of restaurants offering healthful meal options.

Need more help on finding healthy restaurants in airports? Don’t miss Peter’s book The Traveler’s Diet.

Still want vegetarian-friendly airline suggestions? British Airways is known for its gluten-free vegan cookies, as is Iberia Airlines. In 2004 readers of VegNews magazine voted United Airlines as the most veg-friendly airline in the nation.

Know Your In-Flight Meal Options

Whether you book your trip with a travel agent or do it yourself online, be sure to request a “special meal,” that is, if the trip is long enough and if the airline offers in-flight food.

Some airlines, including British Airways, allow you to specify your meal when you purchase your ticket online. Call your airline no fewer than two days in advance to double-check. Keep on asking about that meal until it’s down the hatch—after all, you paid for it.

For now, most vegetarian in-flight meal options are as follows:

  • VGML: For the “pure vegetarian” or, vegan: those who consume no meat, poultry or fish/shellfish products of any kind; no eggs, honey, gelatin, lard; and no dairy products such as cheese and whey protein. Incidentally, this is quite possibly the most misunderstood version of vegetarianism in the air travel industry. Be specific when you’re following up with your airline, or you might unknowingly ingest unwanted ingredients.
  • VLML or, Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian: those who eat no meat, poultry or fish/shellfish products of any kind; no gelatin or lard, but eggs and dairy are OK.
  • AVML or, Asian Vegetarian, Asiatic/Indian Vegetarian: contains spicy ingredients with sparse dairy, and the usual no meat, fish or poultry still applies.
  • RVML or, FPML: the raw vegetarian meals, which include a selection of only raw fruits and/or veggies.
  • MOML or, Muslim and Hindu Vegetarian: another veggie dish with variations in a range of spiciness.

The best part about ordering a special meal ahead of time? You’ll be feasting minutes before everyone else on the plane.

Yes, Airlines Make Mistakes

Not everyone knows what a wheat gluten-intolerant ovo-lacto vegetarian is, and Zeigfinger reminds travelers that you never know what you’re going to get, even if you made the effort to order that special meal.

Pack some snacks for yourself. Nothing is worse than an in-flight hunger strike that no one notices.

Get to Know Your Destination

Vegetables displayedDid you know that Paris has a Latin quarter where vegetarian burritos are rumored to exist? Or that some countries eat a primarily vegetarian menu (like India)? New York took the cake in 2007 for the most veg-friendly city in the U.S., and the UK is considered one of the vegetarian havens of the world.

If you’re a vegetarian, spending minimal amounts of time spent gathering morsels like this will vastly improve your experience. Expedite this research by calling your potential hotel and talking to the concierge. You’ll feel better when you talk to a human being about your options.

Ask the Locals

This may seem like a terrifying feat if you don’t speak the native language, but learn a few key phrases that will help keep you on the path of great vegetations. An interesting phenomenon to consider while traveling as a vegetarian is that some cultures, such as the Chinese, may not at all understand what you mean when you say you’re a vegetarian—even if you say the phrase in their language. Instead, as SurvivalPhrases.com suggests, try learning to say that you’re a Buddhist; this gets the point across much more efficiently.

Green Earth Travel’s Vegetarian phrase page offers sentences and key words in foreign languages ranging from Arabic to Welsh.

Try the VegetarianGuide.com.au for more veg phrases.

VegDining.com has a VegDining card available for purchase, offering discounts at vegetarian restaurants around the world.

Veg Travel = Fun Travel

Traveling with such specific dietary needs may seem daunting at first, especially if you’re new to the vegetarian world; however, planning a trip can be half the fun. If you’re intent on enjoying yourself, and are willing to do some pre-planning, you and your vegetarian travels will fit like peas in a pod.

Helpful Sites:

By Athena Arnot-Copenhaver for PeterGreenberg.com.

Get more information on Culinary adventures here.

Other great culinary articles you might like include How to Eat Like a Local, Even If You’re Not One as well as Cooking School Vacations.