Summer is here. If you haven’t already, like so many others by now, made your summer holiday travel plans it’s high time to do so now. I’ve gathered my well tested advice for smooth vegan traveling for you to enjoy. I share what I do to get the most out of my travel experience, cut back on costs if I can, avoid stress and find vegan food on foreign ground.
Pick a place and the best time of year for going there
I do my best to pick the off season period. Usually in Europe that means July/August, but it’s seasonal to different regions of Europe of course. Not only do I enjoy a lower fare for flights, less crowded places and sometimes lower prices for food etc, depending on the destination.
I also consciously pick days when less people travel, and sometimes down to time of day. This is something I’ve learned the hard way during my time when I lived in London. Avoid rush hour at the airport (or the tube!) and you have a much more pleasant experience getting from point A to B.
You can also choose your time of visiting a country by looking up your city of fancy on http://www.weather.com. They have handy graphs and breakdowns showing you what temperature and weather to expect during which time of the year. As I’m half Swede, I take my weather information very seriously 😉
Finding the best place to stay to optimize your experience
I always try to stay with friends or family if possible, not only do I get as much quality time with my loved ones as possible, I get to experience the country for real. Shop for groceries, find a pharmacy, pretend I live in the area at the local cafe, etc.
If you don’t have the luxury of friends or family to the destination you want to travel to, try to rent a flat or house. Nothing beats experiencing the local life and its much cheaper than staying in a hotel. Use sites such as AirBNB.com to find a nice dig. Also, some hotel search engines list local apartment hotels which are much cheaper then an ordinary hotel and can be quite comfy.
If you do prefer to stay in a hotel to ensure your creature comforts are met, a good way to find and choose a hotel is to figure out what areas of the city you want to hang out in the most. Use a map with landmarks to choose the best spot for yourself. A good location of your hotel will mean less commuting in a big city and you get a much more comfortable experience there.
If you want to stay further out, view the surroundings in Google Street View to get a feel for the area before booking the hotel. If you want to be on the safe side, use a hotel search engine and check out any reviews by others prior to booking. A useful thing to do for both a hotel and area background check.
The stress-free way of finding flights
I usually try to book my flights with one airline if I’m doing multi-country travels, that way I collect my miles and cash out on bonus flights or discounts. Plus some airlines (Virgin Atlantic) help me with arranging connecting flights, since I’m a Red Card Member, if I need to change flights to get to my final destination. All with just one phone call. Then I can sip my cup of tea and let the airline call me back with some suggestions – and I do want to point out that I only fly economy and still enjoy this type of high class service. (Other airlines, take note!)
You can also use a “flight ticket search engine” to get really cheap flights, but you may have to pay extra in tears and frustration by doing so. If you experience some kind of hassle you don’t have direct access to get help from the airline staff themselves, often you need to go through the agency which made the booking. Often a time consuming nightmare – so read the fine print before cashing in on a cheap flight so you are prepared if something would go south.
Read up before you go
Don’t lose precious time while on holiday. Research some sights, restaurant, local food and exciting things to do and experience. You want to know about what lokum stores to visit in Istanbul, where to find the fairytale vineyards outside Vienna or the most magnificent vintage markets of Berlin.
Learn some common phrases, thank you, yes/no, can I please have a cup of coffee, etc and you will have a much easier time making connections with the locals. It’s always an “icebreaker” if you at least make some kind of effort on their native language.
Take it fro me, I’ve had some fun experiences and meetings trying my way with my own almost completely made up, very grammatically incorrect way of speaking German that often embarrasses my tri-lingual brother who lives in Germany. And I love it!
One of my best friends taught me to always research on local culture before a trip. You don’t want to offend people or get into trouble. For example in Hungary – you never make a toast with your drink and let the glasses touch in a clink. Maybe small stuff, but it’s respectful and it’s fun to learn more about why. A peek into the countries history. It also helps me look like I’m the international, experienced woman that I dream of being.
Packing the eco-friendly and cheap way
I use small bottles for all my toiletries, I’m very particular with my beauty products. It’s also very eco friendly to do it this way. Less plastic waste in the world, instead of buying mini version of your toiletries for pretty much the same amount of money as a normal sized bottle. I pack as light as possible, in one large bag which i check in. Less stuff means more room for any finds I may do in the country I travel to.
I tag my suitcases with my address because, yes suitcases do go missing and you want it back!
Getting to the airport in a leisurely pace
I’ve realized that for me money is also an investment I can make into more time and peace of mind. Splitting a cab to the airport with someone else will necessarily NOT be more expensive then a coach ride.
Personally I rather have the peace of mind that I know I get to the airport in time and in ease by booking a cab. But in some places like traveling from Vienna to the airport a CAT train is the fastest and easiest way. So it all depends. But I tend to like to be in good time to the airport and in the easiest possible way. I’m all about leisure. Therefore looking up airport connections before my trip is something I do recommend to others.
Being organized at the airport
I relax with the notion of being well organized. For me that means having all my documents in order. I store what tickets I can in my passbook on my iPhone, and all other documents neatly printed out and any booking references clearly marked out in any neon pinkish colour safely tucked in to a document holder together with my passport.
Just in case, I also tend to have a printed map of where I’m going and any hotel information printed out as well. That way, if anything would happen, I feel like I have all the information I need to make a phone call that the flight is late, or find an alternative way to get to my hotel, if needed.
Boarding and surviving a flight
I travel with one large carry on bag filled with at least 4 rawbars, a bottle of water purchased after passing security and my iPad. For long-haul flights some items to freshen up with after landing, such as toothbrush, a large scarf to sweep myself into if cold and my mandatory earplugs and sleep-mask.
To get some comfortable shut eye in economy class on a long flight I have my trusted inflatable neck-pillow and a pair of cosy, warm socks.
Water is key to stay hydrated and feel better after a flight around timezones, and as tempting as it may be, I tend to stay away from alcohol during long flights to really maximize on feeling my best upon landing.
How do I battle jet-lag?
Well, if I fly back in time, I always try to stay awake, not sleep when I get there, to harshly adjust myself to the new time zone. The key is espresso.
Going back home, I don’t care much to be honest, I try to go to the gym if I cant sleep and other then that I don’t really mind feeling a bit woozy if all I got to see is my old neighborhood anyway.
Getting adjusted at the final destination
In Europe I don’t need to search for WIFI like a fresh pocket of air, I have an unlocked phone so I have SIM cards for all the countries I spend the most time in (Sweden, UK, Germany for example).
I also get my hands on a reasonably good quality map as soon as I can, where I mark out restaurants, where I live, any fun stuff I find along the way.
If I want to find out more about something – I simply talk to people.
Finding food in foreign places
Now to the subject that unites us all, the food. I google vegan + name of city to see what I can come up with. And I of course the HappyCow app to find restaurants.
Usually I sit around a WIFI hotspot if in a country I don’t have a SIM card for and use google maps to get screengrabs of the map or directions to the restaurants or shops that I find online.
My analogue map also comes in handy for this purpose, I have several city maps filled with squiggles that I treat as treasure maps for any travel guide I may write in the future.
So here I leave you, equipped with my experience to date. I hope you find something that will help you discover and experience our amazing world.