Vegan travel is life-changing. The journey it'll take you on delves deep into cultural understanding, education, overcoming challenges, and going beyond the tourist norm. In fact, vegan travel has taken me to places I wouldn't have imagined before the transition.
So, it's safe to say, I love vegan travel... but there is one obstacle that makes traveling as a vegan simply frustrating... airports.
In all my years traveling, almost every aspect of vegan travel has gotten easier, more enjoyable, and definitely more rewarding - except airports, which remain difficult, that's for sure.
Over the years, I developed a knack for surviving long layovers in airports with limited vegan options, and this Survival Guide is here to provide you with navigating airports as a vegan traveler.
Keep in mind, each airport is unique, which means this guide has to remain somewhat generic to what to expect at a standard airport.
Related: 9 Best Vegan-Friendly Airlines
9 tips for finding vegan options in airports
So you've landed in a foreign airport. You're tired, you're hungry and you have a long layover ahead of you. All you want to do is kill some time by enjoying a warm, filling meal.
The problem is, airports are far behind when it comes to vegan options and fast food giants hold a monopoly over most. In these situations, you'll have to improvise, so here are a few of our tips that'll help you survive your layover.
1. Seek out International eateries
Many airports, especially International airports, will have an "International" option. These are usually your best bet to find something vegan or have staff that is able to adapt (veganize) a meal for you. The best ones to find are:
- Indian: Indian food has a vast amount of vegetarian food, which is often also vegan or can easily be made vegan.
- Thai: Thai food often has veggie options where the meat is replaced with tofu. Just be cautious of fish sauce.
- Mexican: While it may not be on the menu, Mexican food is one of the easiest to make vegan as beans and rice are key ingredients. Just ask the staff to leave out meat, cheese, and sour cream.
Mexican restaurants and chains will be more common in North American airports and less common in other regions of the world. However, Asian restaurants should be a lot easier to find when traveling in Asia.
2. Search for health-focused eateries
While not super common, some airports have a "health" food option. These typically come in the form of a sandwich/salad/juice bar, and many will have some form of vegan option available. As mentioned, these are hit-and-miss, but you might get lucky.
3. Fast food strategy
If you're not having luck finding vegan options in the airport, there are some ways to eat at fast food chains (depending on the chain). Note that limited-edition vegan meals that might be available on the outside, may not be available in airports. I don't know why, but it just seems airports stock differently. I learned the hard way when stumbling on a Panda Express while Beyond Orange Chicken was available nationwide - however, this airport did not stock it.
Here are some common fast food examples that appear worldwide:
- Fries: While McDonald's fries are not vegan in the US, they are in most countries outside the States.
- McPlant: While slow to roll out in the US, many countries in Europe offer the vegan McPlant.
- Apple Pie: Accidentally vegan - win!
- Italian White Bread: Unfortunately, this is the only vegan bread available at Subway.
- Make your own vegan sub: Subway is terrible for vegan options, but if you're desperate you can add a bunch of their veggies to your Italian White Bread and create a makeshift sub.
- Impossible Whopper: The vegan Impossible Whopper is worldwide but goes by different names depending on what country you're located in. For example, in Australia, this burger is called the Rebel Whopper. Note: some chains add mayo automatically, so make sure to order without.
- Fries: Burger King's fries are vegan.
- Fries: KFC's fries are vegan, but may share a fryer with non-vegan foods.
- Beyond Chicken: If you're lucky, you'll stumble on a KFC with their Beyond Chicken Nuggets. However, this is probably unlikely in an airport.
4. Ask the info desk
Most, but not all airports will have information desks. If so, and you're having trouble locating vegan options, it's worth asking the info desk staff. They'll likely just point you to the food court - but you never know, they might have a golden piece of advice.
5. Cafes and Starbucks
You'll find a Starbucks in most airports. And while you might not like supporting the coffee chain giant airports have their own rules, so you might find yourself in line. I know I have.
While Starbucks was notoriously not vegan-friendly (besides plant milk) for many years, there's been a recent shift and now the chain usually has some vegan options available.
Also note, other cafes might have vegan options too (and some aren't advertised). On a layover at Minneapolis (MSP) airport we found a vegan egg wrap at Caribou Coffee. The egg was from Just Egg - and if you're familiar you'll know this is the best vegan egg on the planet right now. The moral of the story - ask and sometimes, you just might receive a vegan egg wrap.
6. Talk to restaurant staff
One mistake many people make is not asking staff what they can do. I remember once being given a food credit in Cancun airport due to an extremely delayed flight. Naturally, there weren't any vegan options, so I approached the staff at the biggest restaurant in the terminal. The staff spoke to the chef and they were able to prepare a fully vegan meal for me.
7. Check airport maps
If you search "[Name] airport map]" you'll likely find an interactive map of the airport you're in where you can view restaurants, shops, and other notable things to do/see in the airport. If there is a search bar, you can also search "vegan" or other terms to find results.
This is a super handy method with bigger airports with multiple terminals, but it often slips people's minds.
8. Explore other terminals
If your layover is long and you have time to explore, consider checking out other terminals. Often terminals can vary considerably, especially when it comes to food options.
Travel between terminals is often pretty simple and can be done on foot, via a rail link, or by a free shuttle. Just keep track of how far you travel so you can get back with adequate time for your flight.
9. Resort to snacks
You're probably tired of reading blogs that tell you "just bring your own snacks" when traveling - but realistically, who carries that many snacks? As travelers, we're not always the most prepared.
However, when times get tough in airports, search the snack isles of convenience stores. I've traveled to many airports from big to tiny (I'm talking about you Burma's Heho Airport) but one thing you can also rely on is plain salted potato chips, and usually oreos. It's not a warm, filling meal, but hey, it's something.
Vegan-Friendly Airports in the United States
Traveling through US airports you never know what you're going to find. A good way to judge if there will be vegan options available is:
- Is it a big airport? Bigger airports naturally have more traffic, more demand, and thus more options. For example, Dallas/Fort Worth is one of the busiest airports in the world. Due to this, it's one of the best airports in the US for vegan food.
- It's also not surprising that generally more vegan-friendly states like California, Oregon, and Colorado have more vegan options in their airports. While if you're traveling through Fargo, North Dakota's Hector airport, you won't expect the same options... of course.
Here is a list of some of the best airports in the USA for vegans:
- Los Angeles Airport (LAX)
- San Francisco Airport (SFO)
- LaGuardia Airport (LGA)
- Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
- Dallas/ Forth Worth (DFW)
- Portland Airport (PDX)
- Denver International Airport (DEN)
- Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD)