Friday, April 28, 2006

Veganism and traveling

I know, that's the point of the whole blog. But bear with me.

I do not claim to be an expert on veganism (or on travel, for that matter). I decided to go vegan last January, so, what, 15-ish months ago? I don't know the exact date of my decision, since it was a non-committal, "I'll try it out and see how it goes" sort of thing. But even in that short amount of time, it seems like a lot of people wonder/ask/tell me that veganism is too hard for them, especially with regards to traveling. Hell, I fell into that trap when I went to Ethiopia... everyone told me "veganism will be too hard, it's such a meat-loving country". That couldn't be farther from the truth! Veganism is so easy, especially when you've got that pesky little conscience ruining your animal-derived meals. Okay, sure, there are some things that get a little frustrating -- Why must they put casein in every goddamn thing, for example. But, with a little bit of forethought (not even planning, just consciousness), flexibility, and some self-confidence, every vegan can be perfectly happy, no matter where in the world they happen to be.

As Bob and Jenna say in their book, Vegan Freak, over and over again, "Meek vegans suffer" (I'm not even going to look for a page reference, because I remember seeing it so many times!). You just need to speak up and let the appropriate people know that you are vegan and what that means. Case in point: tomorrow I am getting inducted into this honorary that has a chapter at my school. The induction includes a dinner. Immediately after I rsvp-ed, I emailed the contact person to make sure they were planning on having a vegan option at dinner. After a few emails back and forth, where I offered suggestions and they gave me a tentative menu, I think I'm all set. Dining services is veganizing all of the side dishes, as well as adding a sauteed veggie dish for me, and making sure to have fresh fruit available for dessert (veganizing baked goods is a different battle for a different day). I wrote two emails, and I'm being accommodated. In the event that the food sucks, or there isn't much, I'm going to have some food in the car, or make my parents buy me some Rice Dream from the little shop on campus. And if it sucks, I'm not going to get all pissy and uptight about it. It is what it is, and sulking won't change it. Flexibility, see? And whether the food is good or not, I'm going to get drunk afterwards, but that is completely irrelevant.

It's the same idea for events that aren't planned like this one. Let's say you're going on a trip, but you're worried that there won't be much vegan food where you're going. Plan ahead a little. If you're flying, book a vegan meal with your ticket, and call to confirm the day before you fly. Bring snacks! Airplane food usually sucks, and you don't want to starve, so bring a few things. If it's a road trip, bring a cooler full of yummy sammiches and fruits and veggies and stuff. If you're going to a country where the language isn't your own, bring along the Vegan Passport, or at least learn a few key phrases in the local language--"I am vegan", "I do not eat meat, fish, eggs, dairy, honey, etc". Check out the restaurant guides at Happy Cow and VegDining. Google "vegetarian restaurant [place name] and see if there is a local guide. If you're a stickler about vegan alcohol (I am, but not everyone is), look around to see if you can get a list of local vegan wines and beers. Colin pointed me to this list of mostly Australian alcohol.

In short, there are tons of online resources about traveling as a vegan. Google it. I dare you. I don't know everything there is to know, and I never will. But even with my little teeny slice of the knowledge pie (mmm, pie), I don't think being vegan is hard at all. Basically, if you aren't vegan because you think it will be too hard, well, suck it up and go for it. There are plenty of other reasons people have, but I don't want to talk about them right now. And, it's my damn blog, so I do what I want.

Cheers :-D

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Prep... not the "style" kind, the getting ready kind

Although my trip is coming up really soon, it's been a long time coming. Being a bit uptight, I have over-planned this, to a certain extent. I already talked a bit about my grad school planning and stuff here.

Aside from being good for my ego, getting accepted into a program would take care of all my visa woes. For a country that really wants to increase its population size, Australia wants to keep out the riff-raff. I looked into nearly every type of visa you can get. Working Holiday visas allow you to stay for up to a year, and work for up to 3 months at any one place. Perfect! But wait.... US citizens aren't eligible. Skilled Worker visas let you into the country if you have certain qualifications, and then you find a job. But wait.... a sociology major doesn't have many of the qualifications they are looking for. There were a bunch more let-downs. So I finally decided to apply for a 6 month tourist visa. The way this one works, I'm allowed multiple entries for a period up to 6 months after each entry, until March 2007. So, hypothetically, I could stay for 6 months, go to New Zealand for a week, come back and stay another 6 months. This is all worst-case scenario, though, assuming I don't get into any sort of uni program.

Next, of course, there was the flight to think about. I should say flights... I'm flying on three different airlines, 5 separate flights, for a total time of 38-ish hours. Since I knew what I wanted to do, I booked my flight way in advance. Like, last September or October. Flights to Oz are normally ridiculously expensive. Over $1000 expensive. But since I booked so early, I got mine for less than $900. Sounds brutal, but I think I got a good deal. With so much flight time, of course there will be meals served. I think I have to fend for myself on the US leg of the trip, but the rest have something. When I was requesting special meals on the website, I saw "vegetarian", "dairy-free vegetarian", and a few other options. But I didn't see "vegan". I didn't want to get the dairy-free meal if it was just going to be full of eggs. So I ordered the raw food meal. I figured that's the safest bet, anyways, since airplane food can be a little bit sketchy. And the meals are usually so full of calories that one fills your entire daily needs. Raw food was definitely the way to go, in my opinion.

Other than that, it's just little things to get ready to go. Printing out lists of veg restaurants from Happy Cow and VegDining, ordering my Vegan Passport and travel guide book, and buying a few good snacks to sustain me if the airplane food sucks. And a birthday present for Andy, since he turns 23 on the day that I get there.

After a year and a half of getting ready, I think I'm all set to go soon!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

New look

After a morning full of messing around and being unhappy with the colors, layout, etc, I have come to a realization. Originality is too much work, and it's overrated. I'm going with the stock layouts, and I'm perfectly happy with that. They're proven to work well, and someone else has done all the work. Sounds like a good deal to me! (Thanks anyways, Jessi, for your help and opinions!)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


I started thinking about packing last night. I didn't actually start packing; it's way too early for that. But I'm considering it, trying to figure out what I'm going to bring and where everything is going to go. I've gotten rid of so much stuff (mostly clothes) lately that I don't think I'm going to have a huge problem with space. The one thing that I wish I could bring more of is books. I have a ton, I love them all so much, but they are so heavy and take up too much of my luggage allowance. So most of them will sit here, on my bookshelves in my empty room. They will be lonely, but hopefully my family will visit them every now and then.

The thing that I am wondering about, though, is whether or not I should bring stuff like shampoo and all that. Obviously they have it in Australia, but I'm not sure about the availability of cruelty-free products in North Queensland. (Northern Australians are stereotypically rednecks, close-minded, and all that. Of course it's not true of everyone, but I did see a lot of racism and xenophobia when I was there before, from otherwise wonderful people. Who knows what they think of vegans?!) I just don't want to get stuck over there with nothing good to use. I'm definitely bringing stuff for my face, if for no other reason than I'll be needing it during the 38 hours I'll be in airplanes and airports. And I just bought some Clear Conscience contact solution to last me for a little while. But regular ol' body soap and shampoo? They are another item that is heavy and bulky, and sometimes they explode in suitcases.... But on the other hand, I don't want to be stuck in Townsville with no (or only super expensive) cruelty-free options on hand, and exorbitant shipping rates to order stuff to Oz.

What a dilemma........

Saturday, April 22, 2006

I'm freakin' out, man!

um, Holy Shit. I'm leaving for Australia in 31 days. The final week of that time, I will be up at school for Senior Week/Graduation. So I have just over 3 weeks to get everything done, pack up my life, and peace out. I didn't really work this out so well... I have less than a day between graduation and leaving. Of course, I planned it like that on purpose, since I'll be getting to Australia on Andy's birthday, and it just seemed too perfect when I booked the tickets. But now I'm getting a little anxious. I will probably start packing a lot of stuff before I go, but I'll still need some of my junk to sustain me through senior week. So, a lot of my packing will have to wait until the night I get back from graduation. I don't think I'll be getting much sleep that night, but whatev. I can hypothetically sleep on the plane (even though I won't, I never do, despite how tired I am...).

Bah, this was babble-y and pointless, but I'm starting to freak out, just a little....

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Lonely Planet!

Excitement of the day: I got my Lonely Planet guide to Australia and New Zealand on a Shoestring in the mail today (I got a discount for filling out some silly survey). The only complaint I have so far is that there are no color pictures. I guess it doesn't matter too much, as I will be there in about 5 weeks to see the color reality with my own eyes, but I still like to look at pretty things. But, I've been looking through it a little, and the one great thing I've noticed is that it points out which restaurants have veg-friendly options! :-D The very first restaurant listed for Sydney says "Vegans need to look no further" which made my day! I know that this guidebook is geared at backpackers, who are younger and hipper, and there may be more veg*ns in their midst, but it's still cool. And, my parents got the Oahu guidebook (they're going in January) and there is a whole section on vegetarian dining. We're making such an impact in the world that even travel guides are mentioning us! Wee hooo!!

Of course, I'm not going to rely solely on Lonely Planet to lead me to some deelish vegan eats. Veg restaurant guides like and others will be key in my traveling, fo' sho'. Alternatively, I can throw a message up on the Vegan Freak message boards, and the awesome, global vegans there will respond with TONS of suggestions (I've seen it happen! They're cool!).

The other thing that I reckon I'll be doing a lot (for dietary and budgetary reasons) is buying groceries and cooking for myself. Andy and I (me?) have a plan to drive around Australia, stopping at cool sights along the way, working here and there, and just seeing as much as we can. Most days we'll probably sleep in the car (he currently has this Outback/station wagon type thing... I'm not really sure what it is exactly), or camp somewhere, but I can see us breaking into hostel kitchens to cook up feasts. Or, just living off the abundant fresh produce in most of Australia seems like a good option to me. Much better than the death burgers and pus-cheese that most backpackers eat for cheap food...

I'ma get back to perusing that guidebook.... 5 weeks until I leave! eeee!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

I <3 Food Fight!

I recently discovered something amazing. It's called the Vegan Passport, and it has a description of what is and isn't vegan... in a bunch of different languages. So, when you're looking for food and you don't speak the language, you hand your waiter/cook/helper/whatever the book and let them read for themselves. It solves the problem of trying to describe what you want when you can't communicate very well. It's really cheap, and small, so I think it's a must-have for every vegan, whether they plan on traversing the globe or just going to a Vietnamese restaurant (or any other cuisine, but you get the picture). Plus, it's really fun to look through and see what "I am Vegan" looks like in other languages.

I ordered mine from Food Fight, and I am newly in love. I'd heard rumors of their coolness before, but had never experienced it for myself. Well, let me tell you, the rumors are true. Since shipping was like $4, and was the same for a certain amount of stuff, I decided to go ahead and order me some Soyatoo Soy Whip with the Vegan Passport. Wow. Yum. Totally not something you can travel with, but delicious no-less. And, in the box that I got, there were stickers and flyers and little notes written from the Food Fight people about how yummy the Soy Whip is.

Food Fight + me = BFF, like, totally.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Waxing nostalgic

Although I have yet to travel as a vegan, I thought I would share a little about my experiences traveling as a vegetarian.

My trip to Thailand was part of a summer course through my university. We had a travel agent in the US, and 3 amazing hosts within Thailand. The US travel agent was useless. I asked her to request a vegetarian meal for all the flights, and of course she didn't. Since it was the first time I'd ever even been on a plane, I didn't know that I should have double and triple checked on this. So I found out that no veg meal was available when I was on the flight from Chicago to Tokyo. Luckily, there was an extra vegan meal from someone who didn't show up, so I was able to eat. When we got to Tokyo I made sure to let the United people know that I wanted vegetarian meals for the rest of the flights.

In Thailand, Professor John Butt (yeah, his last name is really Butt. He's pretty cool about it though, he even calls his truck the "Butt Mobile.), Patcharee, and Nee, all from the Crystal Spring House (through Payap University) were amazing to work with. My professor let them know before we left that I was a vegetarian, and they made sure that I ate well. Since we were such a large group, the restaurants knew we were coming ahead of time and had a veggie selection available for me. I ate so many different kinds of foods, nearly all vegan (except for some egg). But seriously, at every meal they would bring out a bunch of large dishes for everyone to share from, and I would get enough veggie food to feed at least 5 people. The other omni students tried some of the stuff I was eating, but it was mostly for me, and me alone. It was delicious, and healthy. None of the processed shit you get over here in the US, but fresh veggies, tofu, noodles... yum.

Australia was a different story. Although there was no language barrier like there was in Thailand, I didn't have people arranging all the details for me. And, of course, it was a much longer trip. I lived in one of the dorms at James Cook University, and had to buy the meal plan.
It wasn't a bad deal, I got three meals a day for the entire semester, and it was included in the tuition that I normally paid to my home university. But, the dining hall was awful. Literally some of the worst food I've ever seen. I know it's not the fault of the kitchen staff. They tried hard, but with the minimal budget they got, they didn't have too many options. This meant that the few vegetarians (probably less than 10) got the short end of the stick. When they were cooking for 200 meat-eaters, why would they waste their time worrying about the few vegos? There was always a vegetarian entree, but the majority of the time it left something to be desired. At least 4 times a week I would get veggie burgers, most times more often than that. They were these deep fried patties made of mashed potatoes with peas and carrots mixed in. Not very good for you. The other most popular dish that I was served was spinach and ricotta pastries. Once in a while I would luck out and get spring rolls, or a veggie satay, but the good meals were few and far between. My semester in Australia was the only time in my life I've ever felt like I had to take a multi-vitamin to stay healthy.

When I was there, I was a poor college student, and I didn't get to eat off-campus very often. But when I did, I ate well. There were so many ethnic restaurants--Thai, Indian, and any other kind of Asian you can imagine, Italian, and heaps of others. We went to this noodle bar on the Strand called Chili Jams a few times. It seemed like every time I went out to eat, there was a vegetarian section of the menu. Even if it was small, one or two dishes, it clearly listed the ingredients so I knew what I was eating. For spring break, I did a little boat tour of the Whitsunday Islands. I let them know ahead of time that I would need veggie food (since it was a 2-night trip) and the cook was very accommodating. There was so much fresh fruit and produce, as well, so outside of the dorms Australia was pretty amazing as a vegetarian.

Ethiopia made me the most nervous before I went. I was vegan at the time, as was my fellow traveler, Brigette. We decided to be vegetarian while we were traveling. I wasn't going to go out of my way to check ingredients, but I would try to avoid overt animal ingredients. It didn't work out quite like that when I got to Ethiopia; I ended up eating cheese on pizza every now and then, because I'm a big fat loser. But anyways, it seemed like everyone we met would tell us how much Ethiopians love meat, and how hard being a vegetarian would be in that country. Luckily we were traveling with a professor who grew up in Ethiopia, and we spent a lot of time with his mother over there. When she cooked for us, we had no worries about ingredients. And even when we went out to eat, we had so many people who were fluent in Amharic ordering for us that we were all set. As meaty as Ethiopian culture may seem, there was actually quite a lot of vegan food.

The most common religion in Ethiopia is Orthodox Christianity. Every Wednesday and Friday, for a good part of the year, Orthodox Christians "fast", or eat a basically macrobiotic diet (vegan + fish). During Lent, they follow that diet every single day. There is one period, for 2 or 3 months right after Lent, that they don't fast at all, even on Wednesday's and Fridays. Of course, we were there during that period, but most restaurants didn't change their menus. We ate tons of bean dishes, grains, vegetables, and lots and lots of beer. Okay, so beer isn't really food, but it was probably my largest source of calories while I was over there.

Wow, that was long and ramble-y. I have tons more to say, but I think that about sums it up. I've lucked out with my travel experiences, since I haven't had to do much work or preparation, but I think I could handle it on my own, too. I guess we'll see soon enough....

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Grad school and stuff

I am leaving for Australia (round 2) in just over 40 days. That's not very long. But, I've been planning this for over a year. Basically as soon as I got home the first time, in December 2004, I knew I needed to go back. I have also known since about my freshman year of college that I want to get a PhD. So, I figured, why not combine the two aspirations? Go to graduate school in Australia! Sounds like a plan to me...

So as soon as I got home, I started looking into graduate programs. It's not easy, though, to get a feel for a program over the internet. Maybe it's just me, but colleges and universities have the most confusing websites ever. They can't be straight-forward, because they'd look simple rather than hi-tech. I'll take simple any day. Anyways, after much deliberation, on top of advice from a professor who spent her sabbatical in Australia, and a current Australian PhD candidate, I have (recently) decided that it's probably a better idea to work on an honors project over there before I dive right into a grad program. Hopefully, this will work to my advantage, for a number of reasons. I can get into a program more quickly than if I were trying for a PhD--which means that I can defer my current student loans for longer. I can get to know some faculty and have a better chance of getting one of the very few international research scholarships. That way, the costs of my entire PhD program would be covered, including health insurance while I'm there. I think there were other reasons, but I don't remember them right now. But, either way, I'm going to go over in May, to Townsville (where I was before, and where Andy is), and try to weasel my way into an honors project. It hopefully won't be too hard, I'm kind of impressive on paper (not to toot my own horn, I just learned how to work the system really well!). Then I'll figure out where to go from there.

Aside from academia, I have a lot of plans and goals for my time in Australia. I really want to take a few weeks/months and drive around the country. I didn't get to travel much while I was there the first time, and I want to remedy that this time around. Driving around would mean seeing so many things that I might otherwise miss. Little things like the penguins in the south, and the living colony of stromatolites on the west coast... I know I'm a total dork, but I'm okay with that fact. I also want to go to New Zealand. The Australian visa that I have now (more on visa bullshit later) lets me spend 6 months at a time in the country, with unlimited entries until March 2007. So, if I needed to, I could go for 6 months, leave for a week, and come back for another 6 months (this is all assuming I don't get a student visa for some reason). Sounds like a perfect excuse to go to New Zealand to me!

The other big thing that Andy and I want to do is see the world. I don't know where that's going to fit in with grad school and paying back student loans, but it will definitely happen at some point in the not-so-distant future. The Pacific Islands, Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Europe... I want to see it all! I've been so sheltered in my little upstate NY world that I have a serious case of wanderlust. And I think the only remedy is to get out and travel, so that's what I intend to do!

Those are my plans, however sketchy they may be. Of course, the best laid plans go to waste (is that the saying?). I'm not dumb. I know that plans fall through and things change and no one knows what will happen in the future. So I'm not stuck to them like glue. For the first time in my life, I've given up my uptight 'tude and I'm just going to see what happens. It should be fun!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

This is me, btw.


I'm Theresa. I love to travel. I'm vegan. Voila! The Traveling Vegan blog!

That's the short introduction. Here's a more in-depth version, in case you care:

I'm 21, I live in a teeny town in the lower Adirondacks (NY). Seriously, my town has about 3,000 people. It's great. I love to read, and I have since I was a kid. My parents are/were in the National Guard. My brother and sister and I are not stereotypical army brats, though. I've lived at the same address since I was 2 years old. I live next door to my uncle. His step-daughter lives on the other side of him. My cousin lives in the next house down from her. It makes life interesting, to say the least. We didn't do much traveling when I was younger, although my parents gave it their best effort. We went to Cape Cod a few summers, Florida twice, DC, Niagara Falls, Montreal, Maine... it was great, and I wouldn't change it for the world.

I recently (December) graduated from a little school in the far northern reaches of NY state. For those unfamiliar with the geography of NY, think 6 or 7 hours from NYC, but about an hour from Ottawa (yeah, Canada). I majored in Sociology, and I'm a total soc nerd at heart. During my undergrad years, I got my first taste of real travel. In May 2004 I went to Thailand. It was for a summer course, so I went with 10 other students and 2 professors. We spent just under 3 weeks in Chiang Mai, a few days in Bangkok, and a week in Rayong, a little beach-y town on the Gulf of Thailand. I came home for a month, and then set off for a semester in Australia. I spent nearly 5 months in tropical North Queensland, living in dorms, seeing the local sights, partying, and going to classes. It was basically amazing. I didn't get to travel around Oz very much--I was very short on funds. But, I did get to see the Whitsunday Islands and Mission Beach, both incredibly beautiful places. Then it was back to my home Uni for a semester. At the end of the semester, May 2005, I got the opportunity to spend 3 weeks in Ethiopia. We stayed in the capital, Addis Ababa, and we went to some more rural areas, like Lake Langano and Shashamene. Pictures from all of these trips are here.

Now the vegan bit. I decided to go vegetarian during my first year of college, I think it was January or February of 2003. My reasons were plenty--I was never a huge fan of meat in the first place, compassion, vegetarian diets are better for the environment, it was healthier, etc. I did that for a while, but thanks to some prodding by a vegan BFF and a vegan professor, I realized that going vegan was the only sensible thing for me to do. All of my reasons for going vegetarian were only furthered by going vegan. I didn't like milk, eating only a plant-based diet is much healthier for me and the environment, dairy and eggs are laden with tons of suffering... I made the switch in January 2005, and over the course of the year my conviction has only gotten stronger. And, although all of those reasons are compelling, my main reason for staying vegan is ethical. I can't knowingly inflict that kind of suffering on other living beings.

I have yet to actually travel as a vegan. Yes, I went vegan before I went to Ethiopia, but while I was there I was pretty lax about the whole thing. I stayed vegetarian, of course, but I didn't question ingredients like butter, and I ate cheese. I feel awful about it now, it wouldn't have been that hard to be vegan there, but what's past is past.

But! I am traveling very soon. On May 22, 2006 I'm returning to Australia, to pursue grad school and love and adventure and who knows what else. The current plan is to do a bit of post-graduate work, most likely an honors project, and then to get out and see the world. Andy (the love) and I are restless. We want to travel everywhere and see everything. And I intend to document it. Traveling as a vegan seems daunting, and it might very well be a pain in the ass. This blog will share my experiences as a vegan traveling to various places, with an omnivore. It's partially to help others, partially to keep in touch with people I know, and partially just for me to vent when I need to. I don't know how often I'll update, especially when I'm on the go, but check back every now and then to see what's going on in the world of this traveling vegan.