Our latest blog features Sam and Veren from the Alternative Travelers – a couple who travel slowly on a budget while following a sustainable, vegan lifestyle. Their blog share their experiences as vegan travelers, hunting down vegan, vegetarian, and veg-friendly restaurants wherever they go.
So if you share their belief that food is a huge part of experiencing another culture, join them as they show how you can still absolutely experience that while eating only plants!
Sustainability and adopting a vegan lifestyle
We both came to veganism separately and for different reasons, but these days we are vegan for all the reasons: for animal and humanitarian ethics, for the environment, and for the health benefits.
We started learning about the tremendous impact that animal agriculture has on the environment only in the past few years. As we learned this, we became more and more interested in living a sustainable lifestyle in general. We realized that in many ways, we had already been living pretty sustainably since we live and travel on a budget – this keeps our consumption at a minimum. Of course, we’re far from perfect and are constantly learning new things about how to live and travel more sustainably. We share these lessons and tips on our blog as we learn!
What Alternative Travelers is all about
We started Alternative Travelers on our first house sitting adventure. We had just left New York City to try out the house sitting lifestyle, and thought it’d be fun to chronicle with a blog. We spent 4 months house sitting in Salt Lake City, Utah (USA), writing about our time there.
Our first article to go somewhat viral was our Ultimate Vegan Guide to Salt Lake City. That was when we realized that there was a demand for well-written and informative posts about lesser known destinations. Many people also asked us how to house sit and/or travel as vegans, so we began to write about those topics as well. We want to show the naysayers that you can indeed travel as a vegan, on a budget, and have an amazing experience!
In the last year we have started writing more and more about sustainable travel – not causing harm to local communities, animals, and environments while traveling. Now that we are traveling full time, we come across these questions often in new places. On our blog, we share our experiences based on conversations we have with locals and other research we’ve done on how to minimize our impact.
Slow travel is the way to go
We are very passionate about slow travel and write about it quite a bit. Slow travel means literally slowing down your travel, and moving at a pace that allows you to take in a culture, rather than treating it like Disneyland. An apt analogy would be like eating fast food in your car in 5 minutes while traveling from point A to B vs going to your friends for dinner and helping prepare the meal, having glasses of wine, and long conversation afterwards.
Travel shouldn’t be just another product for conspicuous consumption.
Living and traveling in Europe, we met and saw so many people just visiting cities in a day or two. While we understand the desire (we did that a couple of times), we don’t find it to be rewarding at all. That may be enough time to see some of the main sights but not to get a feel for the culture. Also, it is much more difficult to fast travel in a sustainable way. Fast travel usually means more flights, less time to research responsible accommodation, and less time to learn how to respect local customs and needs.
For those trying out slow travel, we always say that slow travel is a mindset, not a required timeline. Even if you only have one week of vacation, you could choose to spend that one week in one city instead of hopping around every few days. Some of our favorite slow travel activities include sitting in a cafe and observing the people and culture around us, taking a meandering walks through a neighborhood or park, or enjoying a long meal in a small local restaurant, chatting with the owner or chef. These kinds of things help us take a moment to savor and enjoy the journey, rather than just rushing to the next place.
Madrid, what makes it special, and how to explore it as a vegan
We lived in Madrid for two years together (three for Sam), so we got to know the city very well. We absolutely love Madrid because it’s a smaller big city with a nice, relaxed pace. It’s also fantastic for vegans. We have written many vegan guides to the city, but the most comprehensive are our Ultimate Madrid Vegan Guide and of course our book, the Madrid Vegan Guidebook.
Some of our favorite vegan restaurants include Distrito Vegano, La Tia Carlota, Vega, Landareak (Pictured above), Viva Burger, and Chilling Cafe. Some serve traditional Spanish food made vegan, while others serve up international favorites like burgers and nachos. Our favorite traditional Spanish foods that you can find in many regular bars and restaurants are salmorejo (dip of blended tomato and bread) and pisto (similar to ratatouille). These dishes might come topped with egg (and sometimes ham in the case of salmorejo), but places will have no problem leaving them off.
Madrid (and Spain in general) is a great place to eat out because of the strong food culture and affordability of the restaurants. We always recommend people trying out a menu del dia, or weekday lunch special. For between 9-13 euros, you get 3 luxurious courses (one is dessert) and a drink such as some tasty Spanish wine.
Best destination of 2018
We were lucky to visit a lot of beautiful places this year, but if we had to choose one, it’d be the Basque Country in Spain. We both have heritage there, so it was a special place to visit together. The Basque Country is a small region on the northern coast of Spain that is very different from what most people expect when they think of Spain. It’s lush, green, mountainous, and has a rugged coastline. The Basque culture and language are incredibly old, and the language is unrelated to any other spoken today.
The region is a very interesting place with welcoming people that have a fierce love of their culture and love sharing it. We also are happy to report that it’s not difficult to be vegan in the Basque Country. The capital, Bilbao, has many vegan and vegan-friendly spots, and seaside city San Sebastian has a few places as well. (Pictured above is the Tirauki Vegan Bar in Bilbao).
Recommended vegan-friendly cities to explore
In Europe, our favorite vegan cities are Berlin and Madrid. Berlin is known as the vegan capital of Europe and for good reason – the sheer amount of vegan places and options is overwhelming! We love the city and return as often as we get the chance. As we mentioned above, Madrid is also very vegan-friendly, though it’s not really known for being so. One of the reasons we write so many vegan Madrid guides is to let people know about what a great place it is for vegans to travel.
In the U.S., our favorite vegan-friendly cities are Portland (Pictured above is the Virtuous Pie, a vegan Pizzeria in Portland) and New York. In New York, it really depends on what neighborhood you are in though, and can be especially difficult if you’re on a budget. This inspired us to write a series of budget vegan guides to the different neighborhoods of New York, our most popular being our budget vegan guide to Manhattan. Since we lived there for so long, we were able to scour the city and find some of the lesser-known, local places that have accidentally vegan dishes that might not be labeled as such but are well worth a try!