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Vegan Success Stories: How Travel Made Me Vegan

vegan travel

At the end of 2016, I was helping my mum pluck pheasants and ducks for dinner whilst bragging about how I'd eaten crocodile and kangaroo in Australia. I loved meat and I loved dairy even more (especially cheese). I wore leather boots and slathered on make-up products that were tested on animals. Other than having an undying love for dogs and foxes I didn't really give animals a second thought. 

But by the end of 2017, I'd been vegetarian for six months and vegan for three. 

So what happened? How did I go vegan?Depending on your outlook, you can blame or thank TRAVEL. 

But how did travel make me vegan? 

I've been travelling the world ever since I graduated from university (in 2013). Travel has helped me work out what I want to do with my life (not work on someone else's dreams) and taught me so much more than my 'first class education' ever did. But it wasn't until I'd been travelling for four years that I started to think about veganism, and this is how: 

My Vegan Story

Travelling Vietnam - what's the difference between a pig and a dog?

Vietnam was the first time I ever saw how livestock is treated: In Hanoi I saw four (live) pigs tied up together and being driven on the front of a motorbike, it was shockingly cruel. My initial thought was "wow that's so mean", followed by "but wait, they do mean stuff like that in the West all the time, you just never think about it".

It got worse, later that day I went to a market and saw lots of livestock held in tiny, dirty cages. Chickens, ducks fish, crabs etc. They all looked miserable:

I wandered down one row to come face to face with a whole pig's head, they also had snouts, hooves and tongues, which incidentally look like giant human tongues. Again in the west, or at least in the UK, this isn't really the kind of thing you see in the supermarket, so for me it was semi-shocking. 

The worst part, by a mile, was seeing a dead dog cut up for meat.  It felt like something out of a horror movie to me, like I'd seen a human cut up for meat: but why did I feel this was about a dead dog but not about a dead pig? I love pigs! I know it sounds dumb, but I never really properly connected pigs with pork. It's actually not so dumb, it's a form of brainwashing: 

Like, I've seen dairy cows irl and they ain't laughing... but more on that in a minute

I didn't take a photo of the dead dog, but right next to it were beautiful vegetables of all colours, so much prettier than the meat:

And it really got me thinking about the differences between eating meat and eating vegetables.

But before I'd had time to think about it properly, I was eating pig, fish and crab for lunch. It was one of the most delicious lunches I've ever had and animal right's went right back to the back of my mind. 

Travelling Cambodia - seeds of veganism

It wasn't until we were in Cambodia that animal rights came up again. I'd had a perfect day: I'd seen the sunrise at Angkor Wat, watched Game of Thrones anddd I'd had Marmite (best food ever) for the first time in months. 

Whilst doing a celebratory scroll through Facebook, I chanced upon a post: 

Usually this would be something I'd scroll straight past with a roll of my eyes (whilst eating a bacon sandwich). But, due to my newfound zen-ness (thanks to Angkor Wat, GOT and Marmite), I clicked on it.

It's an extremely well written post - Lauren points out the facts, but without making you feel personally attacked. 

It wasn't until I'd reached the end that I realised - there was nothing I could say to justify my carnivorous ways. Things that had put me off being vegan in the past (it's not healthy, it's restrictive, animals don't suffer that much), just wasn't true - in fact the opposite was true. 

Here are some points that really made an impact on me:
  • Drinking milk actually promotes calcium loss from bones. (Hence why Western countries have higher rates of osteoporosis.)
  • Male chicks (can't produce eggs) are killed in disturbing ways: gassed, sucked through pipes, kill plates etc
  • Most dairy cows don't make it to the age of 5 - even though cows can live to be 20 or older
  • Animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions, more than the exhaust from all transmission combined
  • We are overfishing and could see fish-less oceans by 2048
There was so much more, it's such a great post I really recommend reading it, it makes so much sense without attacking anyone and I am so thankful to Lauren for opening my eyes.

But whilst the seeds of veganism had been sowed, my 'journey' wasn't over:

Thailand - can you travel vegan?

From that point on, and with only a week left in SE Asia, I vowed to become vegan. 

It was rough. 

Firstly, there was the bus ride from Siem Reap to Bangkok, a bus ride that's rough in general, but even rougher when you're given lunch by the bus company and it turns out to be beef and rice (I ended up eating round the beef lol). 

In Bangkok, I walked into a supermarket, and it was the first time I'd done so since deciding to become vegan.

It was horribly overwhelming. 

I was looking at the hundreds of meat and dairy products and feeling awful. For the first time I was looking at them as animals, not as food. I felt bad for the animals, but also bad for myself - what was I going to eat? Had I just severely restricted myself? 

And it became worse, steering away from the meat and dairy isles, I still couldn't eat most of the foods: biscuits, chocolates, pastries, even certain types of bread... Avoiding meat was one thing, but butter and milk seemed to be in everything!

Luckily, this overwhelming shopping experience was counter-balanced by one of the best meals I've ever had in my life - at May Veggie Home

May Veggie Home (despite its slightly misleading name) is a 100% vegan restaurant in Bangkok. I tried a tofu dish there and it was incredible. Now I've always hated tofu, but it turns out I've just never had it cooked in a nice way. I suddenly realised that instead of focussing on the foods I'd be giving up, I could focussing on all the new foods coming into my life: starting with tofu. 

And it wasn't just tofu. As a meat-eater of course I could eat beans, lentils, fruits, nuts, vegetables, soy - but I never did. 

For the three months I was in Asia, I had a buffet-type breakfast everyday. Although I could choose anything I wanted, I always filled up on eggs and bacon and never tried anything else - ironically as a meat-eater I was restricted by availability and habit. Nowadays, as a travelling vegan, I always find something different at these buffet-type breakfasts, because the vegan options vary depending on where you are. You can have eggs and bacon anywhere on the planet - it's always the same, trust me, but finding hummus in Dubai, or Marmite in Cambodia, or falafel in Canada? For me, that's more exciting.

Another fear that May Veggie cleared up for me was travel foods - isn't eating foods a big part of travelling the world? How would I have an authentic experience without being able to try the local dishes? At May Veggie my meal was Thai and vegan. Sure I'd never try Guinea Pig in Peru or Balut in the Philippines, but there would be exciting alternatives to discover (and I'd be less likely to get food poisoning). 

Italy - two steps backwards on my vegan story

Although I managed to grab a vegan sandwich in the airport in Rome, that was the only day that month that I was vegan. My new found veganism went completely out of the window and I wasn't even a vegetarian. 

In Italy, I was staying with friends, as a guest, and as I had been a meat-loving guests when I stayed with them before, I didn't feel like I could roll up and say I was suddenly a vegan, especially as it was still so new for me.

I justified it to myself by saying that I was having a proper goodbye to meat and dairy; that I'd spend the month researching what I would eat for the rest of my life; and decided that Italian's (who love their food) were probably kind to their livestock... 

(Incidentally, this isn't actually true, Italians have some very mean livestock practices, for example their cruel buffalo mozzarella farms.)

But I was a good guest, ate a lot of meat, dairy and eggs; felt bad and researched being vegan.

Right at the end of my stay I watched the trailer for Earthlings:

Just the trailer alone made me feel so awful, I immediately stopped eating meat, which coincided with the end of my stay. 

Hungary - Vegetarian fo lyf

When I was in Hungary, I rented an airbnb for a month, and without being a guest it was easy to control what I ate. 

I found it easy to stay vegetarian, but couldn't get going with being vegan. I tried a few dairy alternatives - tofu and soy - but didn't like them, (namely because I ate tofu raw, don't do that it's gross), I couldn't find chickpeas and thus gave up quickly. 

But I was doing pretty well without meat, until on one drunken evening nothing was available apart from a meat kebab (thanks Pizza King). 

So the next day I made myself watch earthlings, and caught it all on camera, so you can see the moment I stopped eating meat forever:

Watching Earthlings isn't nice, or pretty, I cried my face off (as you can see) and was so depressed afterwards for three days thinking about all the damage I'd done eating meat. The sounds of the animals being tortured, the images of the cow getting its throat slit or the chicks getting their beaks cut off... 

It's so easy to eat meat and not think about where it has come from (like I did for years) and it's not really our faults. The meat and dairy industries are multi-billion pound industries and they pump a lot of money into marketing and making us forget where our food comes from. Animals are seen as commodities and it's cheaper to keep animals in cruel conditions. Many slaughter houses and dairy farms won't let you go in and check them out, but picking fruits and vegetables is seen as a fun family activity (picking strawberries, pumpkins etc). 

But what about organic farming and the farmers who give their livestock a good life? Humane slaughter is an oxymoron, every animal that is killed suffers and is scared. 

I don't really recommend that you watch Earthlings, if you're reading this post chances are you're already thinking about veganism in some shape or form. If you want a milder version that gives you all the facts in a nice way, try Carnage swallowing the past - Carnage goes for humour, Earthlings goes for visceral. But, if like me you needed a kick in the face, for for Earthlings. 

Earthlings made me a vegetarian for life. But when it came to being vegan, Earthlings didn't really convince me, it's very much focussed on using animals for sport, medical testing, leather and meat rather than dairy and eggs. I still wasn't ready to take the leap. 

Slovenia - cow friendly organic farming

Then came Slovenia. I visited a 'cow friendly' , organic, milking place. I'd been told that this place was one of the good ones: the cows had a massage machine, they were milked when they liked. I couldn't wait to see it and be able to eat cheese in peace, knowing that the cows were happy.  

But when I arrived all I saw was:

  • The cows were stood ankle deep in their own excrement
  • There was no room for them to sit down
  • They weren't out under the sun
  • A couple of cows had injuries - including one with an eyeball coming out of its socket looking like Glen from the Walking Dead.
But the worst was seeing a new born calf, dead, lying feet from its poor mother. You can argue that cows don't have feelings until the cows come home (pun intended), but watching a cow staring at its dead baby was heart wrenching. The cow didn't take it's eyes of the baby and was pinning for it. 

I saw first-hand that I wouldn't be able to trust 'organic' or 'cow-friendly' labels ever again. 

Please note, I still believe that you can keep cows, chickens etc in a nice way, e.g. my uncle has chickens that he is very nice to, I just would never trust it unless I'd visited the actual place myself, which is very time consuming if you do that every time you want to buy milk at the supermarket.. So I vowed to only ever have milk from people I'd seen be nice to cows. BUT, I never found those people, and by now I no longer want dairy (yes even cheese!!) so it's kind of a moot point (moo point)?

It took a while to get to that stage though, and even with my new 'no milk unless I've seen the farm rule', it didn't take me long to break it:

The UK - vegan relapsing +  skin issues

Though I managed to conquer Italy (Venice) the second time round by being vegan, I was admittedly only there for two days.

The next big challenge was, surprisingly, the UK.

As a nation who loves Baked Beans, hummus, Marmite and porridge (not all at once), and as a nation where I can read all the ingredients/ communicate pretty well in restaurants, I thought being a vegan in the UK would be a walk in the park. 

But it wasn't - a large part of the home comforts I get from going back to the UK twice a year revolve around food. 

My mum and her boyfriend John tried very nicely to cater to my vegan ways. My mum and I were pescatarians until I was 11, and she is amazing at cooking lentils, beans, nuts and vegetables. 

But she also has great taste in cheese and makes the best chocolate cookies.. so it wasn't long before I went back to my non-vegan ways - I was still a vegetarian but veganism still wasn't sticking!

Then I went to the doctor to try and get rid of my acne. I'd tried all the usual creams and face-washes, all the over-the-counter products.  The doctors had given me antibiotics that did nothing and they wanted to try me on accutane. I didn't want to try accutane though, it's really severe and a big side-effect of it is depression. 

I decided to try going without dairy for three months to see if it made any difference to my skin (and with the added advantage that I'd be back on the vegan track). 

Germany - vegan success story

Germany was, surprisingly, the easiest country to be vegan in for me up at that point. 

[Read more: best and worst countries for travelling vegan]

I know traditionally Germany and meat go hand in hand - they are the country that has meat vending machines after all. But, Berlin is the vegan capital of Europe and because most Germans are very eco-friendly and animal-friendly it's actually super easy to find animal friendly products.

Read more: things that I surprisingly CAN eat as a vegan

Of course it helped a bit that like in England, I could read all the ingredients (because I spreche Deutsch). 

Being able to cater for myself for the whole month helped too (the first two weeks thanks to staying at my fiance's family and the second two because of house sitting). This made sure that I could eat fully vegan and it went really well. I discovered some new recipes and didn't feel restricted.

[Side note: read more about how Why House Sitting Can Be The Best Way For Vegans To Travel

And another miracle happened: my skin cleared up! Although the acne didn't completely disappear, it improved by about 70% within a month and my skin no longer felt tight or greasy. 

Back to Italy - final vegan touches

I headed back to Italy to house sit, but for the first week I was a guest of the people I'd been guests of back in June. 

It was a lot harder to steer clear of dairy here. Firstly I was guests, and I felt like a really bad guest not being able to eat certain things. Secondly, this was Italy and Italy like to put cheese on everything. 

Once the house sat began and it was just us, it was a lot easier to be fully vegan again. 

I still had that final hurdle to get over: whilst Earthlings had put me off meat for life, having better skin wasn't enough to stop me from the odd cheat day (especially when it came to my all time favourite, cheese). Then along came Erin:

I didn't need much of a push, but watching this 5 minute video was all I needed to convince me never to eat dairy again. Did you know about the pus in milk? PUS. IN. MILK. 

The point that hit me the most was this: eating dairy is much crueler than eating meat. If you eat meat, the animals will die in a horrible way (humane meat=oxymoron) and be eaten, but then it's over, no more suffering. 

If you eat dairy or eggs, the animals are tortured for years on end, before still being killed in a horrible way and eaten - because dairy cows end up as beef. 

I think vegetarianism is a great first step to becoming vegan, and certainly helped me make the transition, but it really bugs me when vegetarians say they love animals - eating dairy is much crueler than eating meat. 

Initially I found Italy a bit of a nightmare to be vegan in, but after spending three months there on five different corners (Venice, East Coast, Rome, Naples, Sicily), I was finally able to write this guide: How to be vegan in Italy my first vegan success story. 

Summary: how travel made me vegan

Like most things, my 'journey' to veganism wasn't very straight forward - I had lots of ups and downs but essentially this is how it happened:

  1. Seeing how livestock is really treated in Vietnam and reading the blog JustinPlusLauren made me strongly want to become a vegan 
  2. Watching Earthlings put me off meat for life
  3. Understanding that eating dairy is even crueler than eating meat thanks to YouTuber Erin Janus and seeing 'organic' cows in Slovenia put me off dairy for life
  4. Essentially there are now hundreds of reasons I'm vegan: for the animals, for my own health and for the environment.

Maybe 'travel made me vegan' is a bit of a stretch, maybe 'spending too much time on the internet made me vegan' would be more accurate but hey, that wouldn't be such a catchy title right? 

Finally, what about if I was stuck on a desert island? If there was no other choice, would I eat meat then?

In the unlikely event that this would happen (and there were no coconuts or plants or anything), sure I'd probably kill and eat a pig - I'd probably kill and eat you... But I think this is a more important question:

If you were in a supermarket and had thousands and thousands of options, if you had plenty of choice - would you still eat cruel foods?

Incidentally, I've been stuck on desert islands, they have great vegan food - read more: vegan Philippines.

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