This year started with a lifestyle change. I made the switch to a plant-based diet, which is a big step for a meat-lover like me. I was not really sure if I would be able to sustain it for long, but the transition was not as hard as I initially thought it would be. I was surprised by how I was able to adapt to the changes with relative ease. If I were to identify with any labels at this time, it would be this: vegan-curious. Someone who is still exploring veganism and eating vegan for most of the week but has not gone full vegan yet.
I have not traveled as a vegan before. So I took the chance to go on full-on vegan-curious mode on a recent trip to Indonesia. And here's what I learned about veg-traveling for the first time.
1. Special meals are a whole new in-flight dining experience
Vegan meal (VGML) on the flight to Jakarta
Many travelers know that airlines offer special meals for various dietary requirements. But apart from those with dietary restrictions, not many people have probably tried it. I finally had the opportunity to give it a try on my recent trip. There was no online request option in the airline I was booked so I had to make the call. I was surprised that the airline call center agent I was talking with did not seem to know what vegan meant. I had to give her the airline meal code (VGML) to make sure I get the correct meal I was requesting for. I was surprised though when she asked me why I was asking for a vegan meal.
Vegan meal (VGML) on return flight
The best thing about the special meal is that it gets served first right before the rest of the passengers. And I did not have to choose between "beef" or "chicken" or settle for whatever is left among the choices available. There was nothing really special, apart from it being vegan, about the meal I had on my flight to Jakarta. But the food on my return trip was really good. Overall, VGML is something I would recommend even to non-vegan travelers.
2. Airports are not the easiest places to find veg-friendly eats
Waiting for my flight to Palembang at Jakarta airport Terminal 3
Finding delicious and healthy foods in airports can be a challenge even for non-vegans. I realized it gets trickier when you're a vegan traveler. While some of the best airports in the world have a growing list of veg-friendly options, a lot of airports still have to step up their game. The trip brought me to four different airports. I had trouble finding something to eat in at least two of them. I was already expecting this so I brought my own vegan snacks.
3. Starbucks is a safe bet
Soy latte and peanut butter panini
One of the perks of becoming vegan-curious was learning that Starbucks have vegan options available. So I was happy to find one just across the street from the hotel where I was staying in Palembang. It was reassuring to know that I could easily get vegan-friendly drinks and food if needed. Palembang has vegan and veg-friendly cafes and restaurants according to HappyCow. But they were located far from where I stayed so I was not able to visit one. It was reassuring to see the familiar logo of the coffee shop in Jakarta and Palembang airports as well as across the street from our hotel. At least I know there was a place I can go if I have trouble finding a vegan meal.
4. Some traditional Indonesian dishes are naturally veg-friendly
Fresh starfruit for dessert
When you hear that a city's must-try dish is a fish and tapioca-based food called pempek, you can't help but wonder what it would be like to be vegan in such a place. But I soon found out that some traditional Indonesian dishes are naturally veg-friendly. The grilled vegetables I had for my first meal was so flavorful. And there were always vegan-friendly options at the hotel's breakfast buffet. One of my favorite dishes is gado-gado, which is made with different types of boiled or steamed vegetables, fried tempeh or tofu, and hard-boiled eggs. It is usually served with delicious peanut sauce and krupuk or deep-fried crackers. Just have the eggs and fish or prawn-flavored crackers removed to make it vegan.
5. Mindful eating deepens the experience
Before the breakfast rush at The 101 Rajawali
Eating vegan in an unfamiliar place deepened my experienced with the food and culture. I was paying more attention to every dish and in the choices I made. There was always something new to taste and discover. It gave more depth to the entire travel experience.
Traveling as a vegan for the first time has its share of challenges and can be a bit daunting. But it can be enriching in a lot of ways.