By: Molly Dunn
You’re about to start your semester abroad, and you’ve finally gotten everything figured out. You’ve picked your city, you’ve chosen between a homestay and an apartment, and you’ve packed your bags. Nothing can go wrong! Oh wait… there’s just this one little issue… You’re a vegetarian and have no idea what you’re going to do about eating. Whether you’re gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian or just really picky, studying abroad can open up a pandora’s box of problems if you don’t prepare. I’ve been a vegetarian for two years and a pescetarian for one, going abroad definitely has its challenges. Here are some ways to survive abroad as an herbivore:
- Tell your host.
A lot of schools will ask you to fill out a questionnaire based on your dietary preferences before arriving abroad. This is intended to help prevent that awkward “oh I don’t eat that” exchange on your first night at the dinner table. Sometimes it doesn’t always work out that way. When I arrived abroad my host mom had no idea that I was a vegetarian and quickly scrambled to make enough for me to eat on my first night. Somehow the information from the questionnaire I filled out months prior, never made it to my host mom. After that, she was extremely accommodating to my dietary preferences.
- Don’t be afraid to make suggestions.
My host mom had no idea what to do with a vegetarian. I studied in Spain where Jamón is the ultimate king. One day we sat down together and discussed all of the possible proteins I liked eat. Lentils, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, etc. My host mom was very interested in learning new recipes, I even taught her how to make guacamole. Tofu and tomate frito became my favorite meal and was easy for my host mom to make alongside the carnivorous family meal. You’ll be there for 4 months, don’t be scared to tell your host what you do and do not like. This will save you a lot of painful meals. My first night abroad, we were served octopus that had been put in a microwave. Yeah, she never made that one again.
- Be open to trying something new.
Before I studied in Spain, I had absolutely zero interest in eating fish. I became a vegetarian for health reasons, and I was just really never interested in eating my ocean friends. One day my host mom made an elaborate meal of cod and potatoes. She offered it to me, and I couldn’t say no. Ever since then, I have been a pescetarian. That being said, it’s okay if you are adamant about not eating certain things. I’m going to have to pass on that canned tuna.
- Watch your protein intake and take your vitamins.
Traveling is the perfect time to lose track of your nutritional intake. Those of us who don’t eat meat are prone to iron and protein deficiencies. Protect yourself and make sure you’re taking B12 and Iron, you can find these vitamins at pharmacies all over the world. Coming from someone who has almost been hospitalized for low iron, take your vitamins, you’ll thank me later! For protein make sure you’re eating plenty of eggs and beans daily. Cheese alone does not provide sufficient protein. Carbs rule in countries like Spain and Italy so make sure you’re not getting lost in the sauce.
- Bring your favorites with you.
When I studied abroad I packed tons of peanut butter and protein bars. These staples really helped me stay on track while I was traveling the weekends without my host mom’s maternal eye making sure I was getting the nutrition I needed. My actual mom ended up mailing me my favorite chocolate protein powder from back in the States, just to be sure I was getting all the nutrition I needed.
- Do your research.
Google vegan and vegetarian restaurants in the area of your study abroad city and all of the cities you plan to visit. Websites like Trip Advisor provide tons of info for cities as small as mine, Salamanca. Star them on your google map and see which ones are near where you. Many of these places have tons of options for every eater. Sometimes it might take a little begging, but your friends will be glad they tried something new, and you’ll be excited to order something other than pasta.