“A Steak and a Salad, Please.”

Top tips for travel as a couple where only one is vegan

Contrary to popular belief, there are many vegans who don’t like to talk about being vegan. I don’t think other than through necessity I’ve ever started a conversation about it. I try very hard to ensure that as small a part of my lifestyle and personality as my love of cartoons or partiality for a game of table football doesn’t dominate my identity. And yet, it seems to be a topic I’ve discussed at every meal and with every new person I have met for the last 18 months. The introduction often goes: “This is Sam, he’s one of them vegans.”

Replies to this can vary from a reassuring (I think) sentiments like “you look well for a vegan” and “you’ll feel better soon”, to my new acquaintance getting cross with me for something I technically, and very specifically, haven’t done, which my mum always said would never happen.

As Billie eats everything, at times in some questionable combinations, we’re often asked how we manage day to day. The short answer is that we’ve never allowed it to be an issue.

Whilst surfing the web (I’m also old before my time, but nobody seems to lead with that fact) to find a name for mixed diet relationships such as Billie’s and mine, I instead came across a lot of debate as to whether such pairings could, and should, even exist. To this I would argue that differences from oneself is a large part of what makes a companion interesting, and agreeing with each other all the time sounds incredibly dull. I personally have spent so long asking others to accept my dietary choice as something which does not affect them that to do so to others seems unnecessarily hypocritical. If all other elements of your personalities align and complement each other well, it’s no more divisive than any other difference for a couple to overcome. In fact, trying foods together that we never would have alone is one of the most fun, and delicious, parts of our relationship.

This is of course easier to deal with when at home where we can prepare our own meals and tweak them to our own specific needs, but travelling to unknown lands can make things much more complicated. To be “hangry” is now an internationally accepted term for a relationship straining feeling which is millennia old, and avoiding this at all costs is a priority. It doesn’t have to be strictly a vegan versus an omnivorous diet; almost all differences in dietary requirements and preferences can be overcome by following some simple rules and guidelines. Here is what we’ve learned so far while travelling.

Don’t let it stop you eating the best local delicacies

Most countries and many regions have their own must-eat foods, which for a travelling foodie no trip would be complete without. As many of these date back for decades or even centuries, most will contain some meat, dairy or eggs. However, with the rise in veganism across the world this is a much smaller issue than ten or even five years ago, particularly in bigger cities. There are stalls in cities which will offer vegan, gluten free or other variations alongside the real thing, so nobody needs to miss out.

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Research

This is a crucial step. A little time spent in preparation beforehand can save a lot of aggro and uncover some real hidden gems on your doorstep or on a small street tucked away nearby. There are a number of apps and websites available to help in this situation, with Happy Cow proving to be the best and most reliable in our experience. Not only are we able to seek out the best completely vegan and vegetarian restaurants, but also those which offer meat and vegan options under one roof, keeping us both very happy. Marking several spots where you may like to eat will allow for you to decide to eat whenever you are hungry, which can hit you in a wave without much warning and leave you stranded for a suitable eatery.

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Try not to get hangry

Getting hangry, though sometimes unavoidable, doesn’t help anyone. One morning, we finally found breakfast at a café in Berlin after much discussion and wandering. Hungry and tired, we ordered an apple tart to share along with our breakfast. As it arrived the hairs on my neck stood to attention and without hesitation split it directly in half to make sure Billie didn’t get a crumb more than I did like a jackal eager not to be the runt of the litter… Not the most romantic start to our first anniversary. Always make sure you have plenty of snacks available.

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Cook for yourselves where possible

Particularly for budget or long term travellers, certain hostels and Airbnb properties will offer cooking facilities. They may be limited, missing utensils/appliances or less than spotless, but will save you some pennies and aggro if you can’t stretch to eating out for every meal. Which saves so much more for activities!

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Compromise

Last but certainly not least, compromise is the key to this, and any, part of a successful relationship. By all means don’t be afraid to take and to put your foot down with a fully vegan or raw restaurant, but the giving is just as important. Making a meal from four side dishes and a garden salad should not be an unfamiliar task to you by now.

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“Are you sure this was a good idea?”

Day 1 of 273 didn’t quite go to plan

3am. Tuesday 19th September. Somewhere in the North Sea.

My eyes blink several times and the blur that they reveal lingers longer than it usually takes to blend into clarity. I’m not sure exactly what it is that’s caused me to wake up, as all five of my senses are flared to levels that my tired mind is unable to fully comprehend. Only a moment or two pass before I’m fully awake, but I become aware of each feeling in a very specific order. Our farewell drink is beginning to strike revenge, as while asleep my tongue had settled like a dozing beached dad made into a mermaid sculpture; peaceful at first, but once disturbed sending a cascade of dryly compact sand directly onto each of my taste buds. I can feel the floor below me rocking like the proverbial casbah and turning my fragile stomach. From this I ascertain that we must still be at sea. The lights are on and harsh with the industrial glow only low cost accommodation can provide and this makes my waking up only the more disorienting. On the hangover scale I’m hitting a modest six at most – not enough to wake me up. Something else is afoot here. My ears and nose are yet to come around, but its these that will play the biggest part in setting the tone for the rest of my day.

“SAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAM!

*BLEEEEEEEEEEEURGH*

I WANT

*GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACKH*

TO GO HO*UUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUURGH*

HOME!”

Billie’s waking experience has undoubtedly been worse than mine; not even able to stir before ending up head in the bowl of a toilet she can’t climb out of long enough to flush. A morally complex and unbalanced mix of concern for my new travel partner’s wellbeing and utter, utter relief that I am on the top bunk washes over me. I climb down the ladder and choose my footing very carefully before priming my hands for holding back hair.

Day 1 of 273 isn’t a start as we meant to go on.

Our first 24 hours in the Netherlands could easily have ended with a quick return voyage. After eventually falling back to sleep, we woke again 4 minutes before we needed to leave the boat and threw everything we owned back into our backpacks to run back to shore. Not only was it becoming clear that even the most diluted guess at how much a person needs for a nine month adventure is bloody heavy when you’re carrying it everywhere, but I was in danger of losing Billie completely as her face blended into the emerald hoodie she was wearing. We were tired, dehydrated and generally disillusioned with what was supposed to be the beginning of a lifestyle change for the good. With only a tentative bread roll to settle the stomach and a small bottle of water for sustenance, we dragged our aching limbs across Rotterdam in several short stints, each very necessary stop positively disguised as a “nice little sit down” with a stiff upper lip, before passing out as soon as our heads hit the hotel pillow. We’d made it. Just.

Three weeks later and, while it hasn’t always been plain sailing, thankfully the waters have calmed considerably. We forced ourselves back out that first night into our borough of Rotterdam and were reminded of the reasons why we doing what we’re doing. The city is littered with posters which read:

“Take a picture of Rotterdam’s skyline today, for it won’t be the same tomorrow.”

Looking out over the now luminous 800m Erasmus Bridge and the kaleidoscope of colours stretching high in the distance, no quote would be more appropriate. The excitement within Rotterdam is almost tangible and its sense of newness and individuality in fact made it an ideal place to begin our travels. From the fittingly forcefully titled Powermask exhibit of the Wereldmuseum, to the truly Dutch diversity of the Fenix Food Factory, to the provocative beauty of over a thousand examples of street art, no place is quite like Rotterdam. What began with illness there soon became the medicine we knew travel would provide, and we are feeling all the better for it. Neither of us have mentioned going home since.

This rocky maiden voyage wasn’t the first problem we’ve overcome together (and not the first on this trip, but that’s for a later post), but it often comes as a surprise how well we’re able to deal with them when they arise. We’ve crossed two countries in the Netherlands and Germany, visiting three cities in each, and have plenty of stories to tell and memories to share. We can only apologise for making you wait so long for an update, but finding the time to document an amazing moment with more than a photograph (which we also have plenty of, be sure to follow our instagram at @bamthebackpackers) before the next one comes along has proved very difficult. We promise that future updates will improve not only in frequency, but variety and wisdom as well.

“Why don’t we just run away?”

“Auntie Maxine’s Cauliflower Cheese will still be here when we get back”

Over the course of our relationship, Billie and I had each asked this far more times than it would have been worthwhile to count. Despite being as young, as whimsical and as in love as any archetypal runaways, it was in fact a question we had several answers for. That’s not what the romantics will tell you, but it’s the truth. Some minutes into the questioner wooing the questionee with tales of hypothetical serenades on a Venetian gondola or the gentle fall of flower petals in tranquil Japanese gardens, the former’s eyes would glaze to show that they were truly lost in a dream. If there were no buckets of water available to bring them back to reality, the only solution was to be hit with a shuddering thud of an answer from the list including, but not limited to:

“The money we’ve been saving is our house fund.”

“We both have jobs.”

“Auntie Maxine’s cauliflower cheese isn’t a traditional Christmas dish in Hanoi.”

But there was a time in April that seemed different to the countless others which had occurred before. On a romantic weekend away in Billie’s university city of Canterbury, we had one of those days. Not that kind, the other kind. I may not be able to speak for anyone else, but I feel like everyone that’s been in a long term relationship must have those days where you realise how much you really love your partner. You love them every day, of course, but every so often just how much can hit you square in the jaw with the unexpected force of a counter left hook from Iron Mike Tyson. It doesn’t have to be something they necessarily say or do, and it’s often the quieter moments of reflection where the feeling is most pronounced. It’s easy to become complacent when you’ve been with someone for long enough that their presence and everything they do becomes a given, which is why when the moments come where you realise all you ever want to do is explore new places with this person, it pays to do something about it before it’s too late.

After this particularly strong revelation, our reasoning for not running away collapsed. Is this something we’re going to talk about for the rest of our lives, or is it something we’re going to do? While we’re still young enough to not have the ties of a mortgage, an immediate family of our own or careers that would not allow for a break, how can I pass up the opportunity to see the world with my best friend?

I prepared my comebacks to any possible retort Billie might have to my plan:

“We’ll make more money.”

“We won’t be unemployed. Exploring is a legitimate and noble profession.”

“Cauliflower cheese will still be here when we get back. I’d be very surprised if Maxine’s recipe isn’t backed up to the Cloud if she doesn’t have it memorised.”

Little did I know Billie had come to a similar realisation. As the wine flowed and the same old question was asked again, suddenly we both only had one answer in mind.

“Why don’t we?”

Fast forward five months and after some loose planning and a lot of tearful goodbyes, we’re as ready as we’ll ever be to set sail on our big adventure. With this blog we’ll be bringing you stories and articles from the most interesting parts of our trip, hoping to offer some insight as well as some entertainment. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Sam