Business travel can be challenging for vegans. Unlike with personal travel, you may be stuck with places that provide no or poor vegan options – even in an otherwise vegan friendly city. This story from an international business traveler perfectly illustrates such scenario.
And even if you manage to find vegan options, it can be a whole other struggle to find foods that are also both nutritious and filling/satisfying.
Vegan business travelers agree that it all boils down to planning and some know-how to easily add to your routine while at the airport, in flight, at your hotel or in business meetings.
•Do research to figure out vegan options near your destination (HappyCow is the gold standard; with their mobile app you can create a “trip” to access later). If you have the flexibility to do so, choose a hotel located near a good eatery or health food/grocery store.
•If you are in an airline frequent flyer, hotel loyalty, or corporate travel program, make sure that your online profile mentions your dietary preferences. While this may not automatically carry over into your reservation or ensure you’ll receive special food, larger travel agencies (e.g. American Express) take note of the client's requests. If you don’t see a Meal Preference / Dietary Restrictions option in your profile, simply phone the airline/hotel/travel agency and you may be able to add it on record. Note that the higher your status in these programs, the more attention your requests will likely receive.
•If your flight includes a complimentary meal (e.g. long-haul flights and/or business class), make sure to request a vegan meal at least 72 hours in advance, online or by calling the airline.
•Call your hotel in advance to request a fridge in your room. Also, based on a circumstance such as the length of your stay or your preferred status, ask the hotel for more accommodations. A hotel may easily arrange for a salad bar, bread, hummus or milk alternative if contacted 1-2 days before arrival.
•Pack your own protein and filling snacks in both your carry and checked bags. Good options include single serve almond/peanut butter packets, nuts, hummus and chips, energy bars, fruit, instant oatmeal or instant soup or noodle packets.
•While not food related, some vegans prefer to sleep in a down- and wool-free environment. At least in the U.S., hotels now often offer alternative pillows and blankets. It’s best to call ahead to make this request, and then confirm upon check-in. If the staff seem unsure of what you are asking, it may help to ask for an “allergy free” room - as some individuals are allergic to wool and down, hotels are increasingly sensitive to this need.
While in the Air
•Use the wait time at the airport to look up the best place for a smoothie, salad, snack, fresh fruit or a heartier meal – especially if you could not research your options in advance. Nowadays, if you just google “vegan options [airport name]”, you can quickly find out good information on your specific airport. Many major airports have hidden gems for vegans. And in a pinch, a large chai or latte made with soy or almond milk can serve as an energetic snack.
•If you requested a vegan option for your complimentary in-flight meal and you don’t receive it, contact the airline’s Customer Relations after your flight to make them aware of this oversight. Do so especially if you traveled on a long-haul flight, in the first/business class, or if you have a high status with the airline.
While at a Hotel
•Delivery services (UberEats, Deliveroo, TryCaviar, DoorDash and GrubHub) open up a wide range of possibilities, and their sites often allow you to filter for veg friendly options. If your location is serviced, you can get good vegan food delivered to your hotel for roughly the same price as the hotel room service.
•Even if your room service, restaurant and delivery menus don’t have any vegan meals listed, check for ingredients that could be assembled into an entrée. For example, if hummus is offered as a starter, grilled vegetables as a side, and mushrooms as part of an entrée, call and ask for the items you want to be plated as an entrée. You’ll rarely be turned down.
•In a pinch, know what chain restaurants offer veg-friendly options as these are often not listed on HappyCow (e.g. Subway, Taco Bell, Chipotle etc.) The offerings may vary by region.
•Especially if you have additional restrictions (gluten-free, nut allergy) or if you expect poor vegan options in your business meetings, consider picking up food directly on the way from the airport. Otherwise, you might get into the work mode and find yourself with few good choices later on.
While in Business Meetings
•Contact the organizer (conference venue, restaurant) to make sure food options will be available for you throughout the event. Most venues accommodate for dietary needs and allergies if asked in advance. Plus, if you make a point of asking and the venue has to make the extra effort, next time they may provide the option by default.
•Have nutritious snacks with you all day in case - despite your best efforts - you end up with nothing decent to eat. It happens.
•If you are meeting with clients and business partners, it may be at a restaurant preferred by them rather than you. If you think you may be called upon to recommend a restaurant, have some suggestions prepared that are convenient, style-appropriate and tasty for everyone. Make sure you reviewed HappyCow or other resources beforehand in case you get asked for an on-the-spot recommendation.
•If unable to plan in advance, when at a restaurant consider talking to the server off to the side before everyone orders. It can be awkward to ask lots of questions while everyone is ordering. If you want to make sure to get a strictly vegan meal (no hidden ingredients), you should say: "I can't eat any meat, egg, or dairy; what can you prepare that would accommodate that?" Servers may assume you have an allergy, and places tend to be careful about that.
•Don’t be negative, overbearing or judgmental – discussing your dietary requirements graciously can get your points across much better, especially with folks for whom this is completely novel. Also, service providers will be more willing to help if you are friendly and professional.
As a Final Note
Instead of seeing all this as a chore on inconvenience, focus on celebrating these opportunities to educate others and to experiment! Remind yourself that this enabled you to be an ambassador for cruelty-free and environmentally friendly choices, and that you’ve likely left others with better knowledge and impression of vegans. That can be really rewarding.