Budget vegan travel tips will look a lot like just eating vegan on a budget wherever you live, with a few key differences:
One, you may not always have a kitchen.
Two, the available vegan options may vary greatly depending on where you are.
Three, you may have a tighter budget while traveling than at home.
Often we need to make different choices about what we eat when we’re in travel mode. If you have a lot of walking planned, will a muffin and latte at a cafe suffice? If you’re going out for a hike, should you bring food or plan to eat after?
Of course, the solutions will vary per person. An acceptable staple for one person may be unacceptable for another.
We have several go-to strategies that work wherever we go. We then modify accordingly. What ultimately guides our choices and strategies is why we eat on a budget.
Why Eating on a Budget Matters (For Us)
We are full time traveling entrepreneurs, so we need to be very mindful of budget. Yet part of travel (for us) means experiencing food in different places and cultures. We want our travel lifestyle to be enjoyable – and we really enjoy eating out.
While it is mostly a luxury to eat out in expensive Western countries, if you’re willing to prepare simpler and more cost-effective meals in your accommodations, you can allocate funds for regular dining out.
It’s about all priorities.
While we are working on giving the exact numbers of our annual expenditure, to put it in perspective, we currently live off half of what we spent living in New York City, traveling full time. We have way more disposable income now that we are freed from the chains of exorbitant rent in NYC, and we spend a good chunk of that on delicious food.
Our food philosophy is different for what we eat at home and out. Our eating habits are a dialect between the two. Budgeting our eating at home means we can afford to eat out.
For us, on average we prepare 80% – 90% of our meals at home (three meals a day, eating out twice a week, equals 90% of meals). This may be too little or too much for others. While some may be okay eating instant ramen everywhere they go, we wouldn’t find that very fun, nutritious, or sustainable for our level of activity while traveling (or even at home).
We adapt this percentage depending on our location.
For example, in Madrid, it’s super affordable and easy to eat out, so we cook much less at home and when we do, we eat simply. Fresh bread from around the corner, tomato, maybe hummus, and we’re set.
There is just so much delicious affordable vegan food available in Madrid that we don’t want to miss out on our favorite places! The photos below are just a sampler of the Madrid vegan scene.
Read more: Ultimate Vegan guide to Madrid + Madrid Vegan Guidebook
On the other hand, in a place where there aren’t many vegan options, we mostly eat at home and make more indulgent meals in place of going out.
Disclaimer: we are not nutritionists. Of course, your needs may vary. We’re simply here to share our personal budget vegan travel tips!
Budget Vegan Travel Tips: Central Tenets
The following guiding principles inform our eating habits:
- Prepare simple meals at home for most meals.
- Leave elaborate foods for professionals.
- Don’t order food out that’s easily made at home.
- Go for the experiences that matter to you, not just what everyone says you should do.
In this post, we categorize our strategy into two parts: Eating In (preparing meals at your accommodations), and Eating Out (leaving where you’re staying to get food elsewhere).
Budget Vegan Travel Tips for Eating In
For some, cooking is a chore. Not for me, fortunately for the Sam, the other half of Alternative Travelers and the official receiver of regularly prepared meals.
I like to cook. But I like to keep things simple, with a rotating pantry of staples. Often dinner is the only meal for which I’ll actually turn on the stove.
1. Have Some Simple Go-To Recipes
Most of our meals do not require refrigeration nor a stove. While we almost always have kitchen access since we travel via house sitting, that doesn’t mean that we want to spend all of our time in the kitchen.
Read more: How to Start House Sitting
These flexible meals are super helpful for vegan budget travel when you’re staying in hostels with gross or undersupplied kitchens, camping, couchsurfing, road tripping, or any other situation in which you don’t have full kitchen access.
Here are some of our staple meals:
Overnight oats: We eat this daily as it’s so easy and oats are super cheap, nutritious, and usually easy to find. Just soak oats and water (or plant milk for added richness) overnight. For those looking for the familiar texture of hot oatmeal, adding in flax and chia seeds will thicken and make it nuttier tasting. Coconut shreds will give it creaminess and flavor. These are all super lightweight, easy to travel with, and nutritious ingredients.
If dates and a blender are available, I soak the dates for a few hours and blend them in for added sweetness.
Don’t want to mess with a recipe?
An even easier alternative to overnight oats is muesli! I have yet to be in a Western country where grocery stores do not stock several brands of muesli. Just add your favorite plant milk and any seeds, nuts or fruit.
I’ll happily scarf down several bananas with peanut butter while Sam fixes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. If we had a workout that day and there’s a blender, I’ll fix us a banana, kale, peanut butter, and celery smoothie. This is a green smoothie you can doctor up according to tastes and availability of greens. Riper, sweeter bananas balance out any bitterness.
You can also go the all fruit flavor route and grab whatever you find in stores. Near ripe fruit often will get marked down to get people to buy it sooner, and you won’t notice a bruised strawberry pureed in a smoothie.
Don’t have a blender? Just eat the bananas with peanut butter! Or mash the bananas with a fork and add whatever you like.
Looking to lower the fat content but keep the protein? Vegan protein powders are relatively lightweight and easy to travel with. At first glance, they’re not the cheapest product to buy, but if you’re tracking your protein intake, they’ll help tremendously and add meal flexibility. Either way, packing in protein will keep you full for longer, helping you avoid the munchies that lead to impulse food purchases.
Dinner usually consists of some sort of protein (legumes like beans or lentils, tofu, tempeh, or nuts/seeds) over a starch with fresh veggies or salad greens.
I can chop the veggies in the time it takes to boil some potatoes, steam rice, or soak couscous with hot water. Ideally, some fat is added, which varies depending on what is affordable in each particular place.
In Spain, a large producer of olive oil, we can afford extra virgin olive oil. In parts of the U.S., avocados are more affordable and plentiful. However, you can always opt to lower the fat content by not adding any and replace with more protein, and/or reduce the carbs to your liking.
Dinner does not need to be elaborate. Whole grain rice with chopped spinach and chickpeas, plus sea salt and fresh pepper, with a drizzle of olive oil, is super easy to make and surprisingly satisfying.
Remember to stay flexible. For example: almost any beans can be swapped out for others, as availability varies per country.
Eating vegan on a budget is more about practicality than glamour.
By learning to prepare a few basic meals, you’ll be able to vary your meals more than you might think by just swapping ingredients.
2. Travel with Some Basic Tools
This way, you’ll still be able to prepare basic meals, even if your accommodation has nothing but a flattened fork.
We travel with a collapsible salad spinner that’s surprisingly multifunctional. I also use it for washing produce and as an extra bowl.
A garlic press allows you to avoid having to dice or mince. I’ll use it for any bulb or root, like garlic or ginger, turmeric etc.
We also travel with an Aeropress coffee maker and a simple metal mesh basket filter, so we can make coffee at home. That one is a huge money saver and we still get fantastic coffee!
Read more: Our Mobile Travel Kitchen
3. Don’t Order Out What You Can Eat In
At home, it makes sense to assemble a sandwich of store bought ingredients. Paying someone to do that for you? Not very budget friendly.
It’ll be a struggle to keep costs down if you frequently give into paying for whatever is most convenient. Budgeting means an inversion of time and money.
We’d rather cook most of our meals at home and eat out once or twice a week, instead of always grabbing to-go food that’s easily recreated at home.
You’ll also be considerably reducing your waste by not buying the most convenient, prepackaged food in layers of plastic. If you travel with your own reusable gear, you won’t need these things. Be kind to the planet and your wallet by saying no to prepackaged meals.
Read more: Eco-Friendly Travel Gear
4. Eat Local Plant Based, Whole Foods
WFPB (whole food plant based) is a phrase we hear a lot in the health community and for good reason. What’s better for you? A banana or a bag of banana chips? The closer it is to the original, the cheaper and more nutritious it will be, with rare exceptions.
Buying a precooked rice meal packet with tofu spinach curry will be several times more expensive and several times less satisfying than making the same thing yourself.
There just aren’t any shortcut budget vegan travel tips – just shorter cuts. If you create these habits, with time you’ll find you’re quicker and more efficient at choosing quality produce, chopping veggies, and preparing meals in general.
Again, this is where flexibility is key.
At home you may be able to get spinach cheap and easily. But when traveling, you may be in a country where it’s a specialty item and very expensive, or not available at all.
This is when you need to be open to trying another green, another bean, or another grain. Some countries eat a lot of pasta, but not whole grains. Some countries barely eat rice, so it becomes more expensive there.
In Spain, bread, tomatoes, and olive oil are cheap and plentiful. In the Balkans, peppers are everywhere. Every place will have its preferred veggies. It will take some navigating at first, but you’ll quickly be able to spot repetitive ingredients. They’re repetitive for a reason!
You’ll need to adapt to wherever you’re visiting.
5. Avoid the “Hanger” (Hunger+Anger) – Pack Snacks!
Staying on budget involves preparing in advance for unexpected situations, which often arise when traveling.
We always carry some lightweight but nutritionally dense foods, like unsulfured dried mango, dates, or nuts. Add a sip of water and they expand in your stomach as they rehydrate.
A great way to stave off the hunger pains!
While it’s easy to travel with lightweight, low volume snacks, sometimes you want something fresh. So don’t hesitate to grab fresh fruit wherever you go. Stock up on a few for the duration of your trip and make sure to take some with you daily.
Some great go-to snacks include:
- fruit (bananas, apples)
- power/protein bars + rolls (make them yourself or buy them)
- hummus + veggies
Budget Vegan Travel Tips for Eating Out
This section will focus on tips and strategies for stretching your budget and making the most of your eating out adventures. If you’re wondering why our budget vegan travel tips include dining out, keep reading!
Why You’re Missing Out if You Don’t Eat Out
Let’s get something straight – leisure travel is a privilege many people of the world do not have.
We are writing this for those fortunate enough to afford the privilege of travel. If you’re reading this, chances are you can afford to travel AND eat out. You’re looking for budget vegan travel tips to maximize your trip.
It’s just a matter of budgeting, unless you’re traveling somewhere super cheap like Southeast Asia or parts of Latin America, where you can get a meal out for $1. If that’s the case, then you probably don’t need this section!
We know there’s a camp out there who just doesn’t bother or like eating out while they travel, and we think that’s a shame.
Can you experience a culture without its food? Sure – to some extent. But would you want to? Food is a huge and delicious part of culture.
I’m sure you’ve heard others scoff at the prospect of traveling while vegan. These critics believe that abstaining from animal products must mean you’re not eating authentic food.
Our biggest effort and testament to eating vegan out in a place that people always think being vegan is impossible is our Madrid Vegan Guidebook.
Still, it will be more challenging than someone who does not adhere to any restrictions. But that doesn’t mean you can’t, or shouldn’t try.
Eating vegan while traveling can be exciting and fun!
6. Use Happy Cow to Find Cheap Restaurants
Happy Cow is the vegan travelers Bible. This app/website is like Yelp or TripAdvisor for vegan and vegetarian restaurants along with places that have veg options.
If you’re an experienced vegan traveler, you likely already know about Happy Cow.
But did you know you can sort by price so that you can find the cheapest places wherever you are?
Just go to filters, sort by, and then you’ll see all the cheapest places around you:
7. Go for Specials
Depending on where you are, many restaurants will have regular discounts and specials. These are great opportunities for the vegan traveler on a budget.
Specials give a restaurant a chance to show off something they do well for a smaller portion or with a cheaper ingredient (like tofu instead of a more costly mock meat). Or sometimes they’ve got produce that needs to go – great for a soup special!
In some countries, fixed price meals abound. Take advantage! In these specials, the menu is limited, sometimes with only one choice.
Our personal favorite and a great example is the generous menú del día in Spain, where one can have a several course meal for around 8 to 13 euros. This is a win win for both restaurants and customers. Restaurants capture the attention and business of the more budget-conscious diner, while customers get to enjoy restaurants that are out of their price range for dinner.
Read more: Madrid’s Best Vegan Menu Del Dias
But it’s not just Spain! Lunch specials, happy hours, and daily deals are alive and well across the U.S., varying per city. Learn the customs of the city or country you’re visiting, and you’ll be sure to find similar deals. Often, places will do percentages off on slow days of the week, such as Mondays.
In Portland, Oregon, the (food) happy hour reigns supreme, while in NYC, lunch specials are our go-to.
Read more: Epic Guide to Cheap Vegan Food in Portland + Budget Vegan Guide to NYC: Manhattan Edition
8. Be Selective About Restaurants and Dishes
We prioritize eating housemade dishes using ingredients or dishes we couldn’t easily replicate.
We don’t want to pay a premium for frozen vegan items to be heated up in a pan for us. You’d be surprised at how many restaurants (vegan or otherwise) rely on this business model.
Not for the budget traveler!
How do you recognize house made dishes?
Usually places will proudly proclaim their house made items on the menu. If you can’t clearly tell, ask!
Also, avoid chains.
Unless their specialty is fresh food made by hand daily, it’s likely provided via a central supplier that helps maintain a consistent food experience, and charge a premium.
Besides, by going to a locally owned restaurant, you’ll be supporting the local economy, rather than a fast food corporation, an important part of responsible travel that every ethically concerned traveler should consider.
9. Eat the Local Cuisine
You’d think this would go without saying. Unfortunately, we too often hear traveling vegans complain about not being able to find X dish that they’re used to getting in their home country (read: smoothie bowls, salads, etc).
What you’re used to at home may be significantly more expensive in other places, depending on the availability of ingredients, popularity of the dish, and other factors.
Your best bet is to stick to regional cuisine. Many factors contribute to what the locals eat, but the main ones are affordability and practicality, which also means locally available and accessible.
In some places, local cuisine means street food, which is a boon for the budget traveler. Street food is usually cheap, local, and delicious. If you see a line, chances are it’s good!
Learn some key phrases and ingredients so you can ask what something contains if you’re not sure. This is also where befriending a local is helpful as they can tell you what items are vegan or veganizable. We’ve met local vegans through Couchsurfing, Instagram, Facebook, and sometimes even this blog
10. Sample the Can’t-Miss Pricier Spots
Earlier this year, we once went to what’s considered one of the best vegan restaurants in the States. Naturally, it’s quite pricey.
What’d we do? We split the most unique menu items that are rarely found in other vegan restaurants.
We made sure to eat a late lunch (at home), so that when we went to this place, we felt a bit munchy, but not looking to stuff ourselves. Using this strategy, we were able to try specialty items, like gourmet vegan cheeses, without making too much of a dent in our budget.
11. DO YOUR RESEARCH AND STAY FLEXIBLE!
Our last tip goes for both eating out and eating in. Doing some research beforehand and staying flexible about your options will go a long way in preserving your sanity as a traveling vegan.
Is there a grocery store within walking distance from where you will be staying? Where do you find the best quality produce?
Is the best food vegan food at vegan and vegetarian restaurants? Or is it places with vegan options?
These details will inform the decisions you make, and help you ultimately decide what’s worth your limited budget cash.
When it comes to budget vegan travel, consider your two realms of food: eating in and eating out.
Eating in means keeping things simple, having go to recipes with easy to acquire ingredients, and minimizing cooking.
Eating out means looking for specials, places that are actually worth trying and create food that you couldn’t yourself, and for those pricier more expensive spots – trying a sampler.
And don’t forget to Download our Top Ten Vegan Travel Tips – applicable anywhere!
Any great vegan budget strategies you want to share? Let us know!