Moving abroad is hard enough at the best of times. Knowing that you’ll be facing the challenges of culture shock, being away from your family and friends, and probably either starting a new job or moving into a different position in your current company, does not make for the easiest of periods.
Add to that the adventures of dealing with a whole new cuisine, and it’s fair to say that a considerable proportion of expats will feel somewhat daunted.Of course, trying out the local delicacies can be one of the most interesting and fun parts of moving abroad. But what if you have special dietary requirements?
Caitlin Galer-Unti discusses this in her new book, The Essential Vegan Travel Guide. Released at the end of 2015, the book is available in either paperback or ebook format and discusses some of the best – and easiest – ways to work out what you can eat in a new place.
Although the title refers to veganism, and this is the main focus of the book, it also covers tips that would be useful for anyone who is on a restricted diet of any kind. One of the things that sets The Essential Vegan Travel Guide aside from many other guidebooks is that it doesn’t just tell you what to do; it tells you how to do it.
It’s easy to list which foods to eat and which restaurants to eat at in a given country, but providing people with the tools to find things that fit their own requirements is always going to be more useful. It’s like the saying goes, “Give a man a fish…” or in this case, something else. A tofu? “Give a man a tofu, and he’ll eat it. But teach a man how to find his own tofu, and he’ll make up his own amazing recipes that fit with the exciting cuisine of his new environment.” Or something.
The first part of the book is dedicated to the most common reasons people cite for not being vegan while they travel – or, in the case of expats, move abroad. These range from “It’s not an authentic experience if I don’t eat insects along with the locals” to “But I might starve if I can’t find anything that fits my dietary requirements!” These issues are addressed in some detail; a good thing to do upfront, as it gives the reader confidence that whatever their dietary requirements are, they can fulfil them even when going to a new country.
Finding places to eat, appropriate local dishes, and even people to eat with, is covered next. Caitlin’s extensive experience in online research means that this section is truly enlightening, especially if your only methods to date have involved typing things into Google and hoping for the best.
Although seen by many as an alienating experience, having a restricted diet can actually be something that brings people together, as The Essential Vegan Travel Guide points out. From couchsurfing to meetups to tweeting, there are always people to connect with who have similar viewpoints and ways of living to your own, even if you’re in a whole new place.
Once you’ve gone through the book, done your research and worked out where you need to go and what you can eat in your destination, the section about putting your information together will come in very handy. This includes suggestions for organising hard copies of information, as well as compiling online data using tools such as Google maps.
Another frequent stumbling block when moving abroad for the first time is not knowing when the holidays are, or when everything will be shut. Moving to a sleepy English village might seem like a lovely idea when you first think of it, but if you arrive on a Sunday and discover that all the shops are closed, you might be in for a hungry night. Likewise, arriving in France in August will almost guarantee that most of the restaurants you want to visit will not be open: much of the country shuts down while the locals go on holiday.
Luckily this is another area for which you’ll find lots of useful tips in the book, including how to find out when things are open, and how to make a schedule that helps you to see at a glance where you can eat and on which dates.
The book is primarily aimed at travellers, as the title suggests, but the above sections are certainly useful for expats as well. A couple of chapters towards the end of the book may seem like they’re only for people who are going abroad on vacation, but the early days of being an expat in a new place can often feel very similar to holidaying: the alienation, the confusion, the inability to work out what any of the signs mean.
Quite often too, new expats will end up in a hotel room or renting a spartan home for the first week or so. To help you during this period, there is a list of vegan recipes that can be made with only the most scaled-back of kitchens towards the end of the book. This includes soup, salads, burritos, trail mix, and – my personal favourite – couscous in a coffeemaker. Yes, really.
To summarise: The Essential Vegan Travel Guide could just as easily be named A Book Of Very Useful Information For New Expats On A Restricted Diet, although that probably wouldn’t have been so catchy. It’s essential reading for anyone who’s panicking about moving abroad and taking their dietary requirements with them, whether that’s being vegan, gluten-free, or anything else.
What were your favourite books that helped you when you first moved abroad? Let us know in the comments!
Caitlin Galer-Unti is a vegan food and travel writer originally from the U.S. and currently living in Barcelona, Spain (after a 7-year stint in London). She’s traveled to 30 countries (and counting) and blogs about the vegan food she finds around the world at The Vegan Word, which has been featured on The New York Times and Yahoo!. The Essential Vegan Travel Guide is her first book.