Have you ever thought about moving away from home to spend most of your time traveling? Not many get past the thinking part. But for couple Sam and Veren, not only did they manage to leave New York to travel the world. They have been traveling alternatively focusing more on slow and sustainable plant-based travel. Currently based in Madrid, Sam and Veren share about their adventures, the veg-friendly places and foods they find, travel tips, and so much more on their website Alternative Travelers.
Q: What was it like to leave New York and embrace a sustainable vegan travel lifestyle?
Once we realized that we could live a much better quality of life for cheaper on the road than living in NYC, it was much easier than we thought. Staying in New York just wasn’t an option with what we wanted to do. We’re happier than ever and haven’t looked back since!
Q: Where did you go first and how long did you stay there?
We decided to leave New York and start housesitting as it seemed like a good way to start traveling without spending a lot of money. We wanted to try out the housesitting lifestyle with a longer housesit to see if we liked it and if this was something we wanted to pursue. We had already been housesitting for family and friends both individually and together, but we decided to join a housesitting website to broaden our options. After doing some research, we joined TrustedHousesitters, which is the biggest housesitting website worldwide. If you’d like to read more about TrustedHousesitters and how to use it, we have a comprehensive TrustedHousesitters review on our blog!
After applying to several housesits on the website, we landed a 3 month housesit in Salt Lake City, Utah, for a toothless cat named Nimbly Wimbly. It worked out better than we could have even imagined and housesitting remains our preferred way of traveling.
Q: What was the hardest adjustment you had to make as a plant-based and sustainable traveler?
Traveling vegan on a budget requires a bit of planning. If money was no object, things would be easier as we could eat out every day. Another adjustment has been reducing our plastic use. When traveling, it can be really tempting and easy to grab pre-packaged sandwiches or other things to go, but this produces a lot of waste. We invested in some reusable and folding utensils, cups, and containers that we now carry with us wherever we go.
Q: Can you name the most and least veg-friendly places you have been to?
Berlin, Germany and Portland, U.S. are definitely the most veg-friendly places we’ve been to! There are tons of affordable plant-based restaurants and so many vegan options outside of the vegan restaurants. Places like New York and London have tons of options but they’re pricier and the cities are so large that it really depends where you are. Many neighborhoods don’t have any options at all, or they may be prohibitively expensive.
France (outside of larger cities) was probably the least veg-friendly place we’ve been to as everything is cooked in butter and smothered in cheese.
Q: What are some of the must-try vegan meals you’ve had and where did you find them?
Ooh, we’ve been lucky to try many fantastic vegan meals and restaurants, so it’s so hard to choose. We eat simply at home, so when we go out, we seek out places that make everything in the house, are doing something different, and making it a bit indulgent.
A few of the meals and restaurants that stand out in our minds are:
Purezza - an all vegan pizzeria in Brighton, UK. They make their own cheeses and wood fire their pizzas. We ate their twice while in Brighton this summer! Everything there is amazing but their homemade ricotta cheese is on another level.
Let It Be - a vegan crepe place in Berlin. Their crepes are out of this world and we go a couple times whenever we’re in Berlin. The Woody Harrelson crepe brings me back to a crepe memory from Brittany, France, when I was 8 years old.
Homegrown Smoker - a southern American style food truck in Portland, Oregon that makes the best comfort food ever. We still dream about the sampler platter we had there two summers ago – mac and cheese, hush puppies, BBQ ribs, and more!
Q: What are some of the best plant-based street foods you've had?
Corvigi in Romania, which is sort of a simple breadlike pretzel that is so delicious, fresh, and costs just a few cents. The plain and fruit ones are naturally vegan! There are corvigi stands everywhere so you can always find something for a snack.
Also, we once had amazing vegan momos from a Nepalese man running a food truck called “Momo Master” in Berlin.
Q: You’re currently based in Madrid. Why did you choose the place?
We’ve been living in Madrid since the fall of 2016 and chose it for many reasons. Madrid is a great city to live in because it is one of the most affordable European capitals. We love the lifestyle and rhythm of Madrid, which is pretty laidback and focused on enjoyment, relaxing, and spending time with friends and family over a good meal.
Speaking and improving our Spanish is also a goal that both of us have. We wouldn’t want to live somewhere long term where we weren’t interested in and invested in learning and speaking the local language. It’s such a part of the culture. Someday we hope to use our Spanish skills throughout South America!
Finally, there are many practical reasons why we chose Madrid. I (Sam) originally lived here in 2013 and 2014, so I already knew the city and language very well and still had connections here. While we loved housesitting full-time throughout most of 2016, only I had a location independent job. Living in Madrid gives Veren a source of income (he’s an English teacher) and us both visas to stay here. Lastly, we are from New York and Madrid is a relatively short, relatively inexpensive flight away ($500 RT/7 hours). While we don’t fly back that often, it’s nice to know that should we need to get back for some reason we could make the trip.
Q: What are two interesting things about the city that the average person doesn’t know?
People are often surprised about how traditionally Spanish Madrid is, especially when compared to the more touristy and international Barcelona. For example, while major stores and supermarkets remain open, most small and locally owned shops still close during the middle of the day for siesta.
One other thing many people don’t know is that the center of Madrid is very concentrated - you can walk across it in less than an hour. It’s much more densely packed than other European capitals like Berlin, Paris, or London. It feels like a small big city. We constantly run into people we know on the streets!
Q: How veg-friendly is Madrid? How does it compare with the plant-based food scene in New York?
Madrid’s vegan scene is currently exploding! Everyone is always surprised with how vegan-friendly Madrid has become in the past couple years. It seems like every month at least one or sometimes two vegan restaurants open up. There are 25 vegan restaurants and plenty more with vegan options. However, you can’t just roll up to a traditional Spanish restaurant and find a vegan meal on the menu – though the same could be said for most places around the world.
It’s hard to compare to New York as the two cities are so different and New York is almost 3 times the size of Madrid. New York is so big that there are tons of vegan restaurants, which has garnered its reputation as plant-based paradise. While there are exciting things going on in the vegan food scene in New York (like the Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger), per capita it’s not as vegan friendly as many think. And when you’re trying to eat on a budget, things become even more difficult. A lot of the innovative vegan food in New York is at high-end places that are inaccessible to the general public. We eat out way more in Madrid than we could afford to in New York, so we actually enjoy the food scene in Madrid much more.
Q: Do you have any tips or advice for vegan travelers heading to Madrid?
First and super important is one that goes for any traveler to Madrid: heed meal times!! Restaurants open for lunch between 1 – 4 pm, and then close until dinner, starting around 8:30 pm. Trying to eat dinner at 5 pm will be an exercise in frustration. The only restaurants open then will be super touristy, overpriced, and not good.
For vegan travelers, don’t assume that every bar has vegan options and then get frustrated when they don’t exist. Although there are traditionally vegan options in many Spanish bars, you may get bored with the same five options everywhere. There is so much great vegan food in Madrid, so why settle for anything less?! We’ve amassed a giant blog post – our ultimate vegan guide to Madrid - for vegan travelers in Madrid. We can’t bear to have anyone go hungry in our adopted city or miss the amazing vegan food that Madrid has to offer. We keep it up to date with the “can’t miss” vegan spots and where to go for vegan options around the city!
Q: If you could give one piece of advice to new or aspiring vegan travelers, what would it be?
Do your research. There are so many resources online for vegan travelers. While this may seem daunting, it doesn’t have to be! Social media can be super helpful here. There are great regional vegan Facebook groups to join and ask questions, or you can hop on Instagram tags for the place you’re going to and see the options - try #vegan(city name) and see what you find! There are also many vegan travel bloggers now putting out guides all the time for cities and countries all over the world.
I’d also say to a new vegan traveler that you might be surprised how traveling as a vegan might change your perspective on travel. I enjoy traveling much more since becoming vegan. I love food trip planning and as a result we have had many incredible meals on the road. Before becoming vegan, I’d just eat at whatever restaurant was nearby without a second thought, and most of the time the meals were fairly lackluster. We’ve also connected and met up with many other traveling vegans through Facebook, Instagram, and our blog itself. Having something immediately in common has led to many lasting friendships around the world!