I Was a Vegetarian Living Abroad: Why It Sucked

vegetarian abroad

I may love weird foods now, but that wasn’t always the case. I had been studying abroad in Venice for about a week at nineteen when I began to feel sick to my stomach. Most likely, it was because I was cooking for myself in a foreign country for the first time, and I was unused to some of the foods and the new tastes and ingredients. I felt mostly sick after consuming meat, so I decided to switch to vegetarianism so I could feel good during my time abroad.

What followed was three years of vegetarianism/pescatarianism, in which I limited what I ate—even after I had returned home. Part of it was an animal rights statement, some of it was it was because I had grown used to that diet while abroad, but most of it was for the wrong reason. I was scared of gaining weight while abroad and I was dealing with body issues as my thighs, stomach, and overall view of myself morphed and changed.

I was tired, irritable, and changing my diet didn’t do much for either my weight or how I felt about how I looked. Even when I moved back to Italy, I still only consumed vegetables and I ate more like a vegan so when I returned home I could look the way I wanted to. And there was so much I was missing out on living in Italy and eating like a vegan! Although the fruits and vegetables there were amazing, I jealously watched my friends consume delicious Bolognese sauce or prosciutto. I knew I was missing out but I was too stubborn and too anxious about eating foods abroad that would make me hate myself when I returned back to the States.

I was also missing out on a cultural aspect of the place I was at and how important the food was to the people in Italy.

“You don’t eat meat?” my Italian friends would say in shock. “You are missing out on so much life!”

I didn’t want to admit it, but there were certain aspects of the Italian culture and attitudes that I was deliberately refusing to participate in. In a strange way, this made me feel even more like an outsider than I was already because I wasn’t willing to meet the culture and the cuisine half way. I was more upset with my own agenda than how I was interacting with others and this unique experience I was given.

It wasn’t until after I returned to Italy for the third time to live that I threw my hands up in the air and abandoned my idea of trying to be a vegetarian for the wrong reasons. I soon realized many of the joys I was missing. My body also desperately craved protein, and I felt happier, healthier, and less exhausted after I added a little meat to my diet. Which isn’t to say I wouldn’t go back to eating more like a vegetarian again—I love animals and it’s difficult for me to think about consuming them. Yet, I feel as though I would be missing something essential about each culture I visited if I refused some of the types of food. My experience living in Spain would be so different if I didn’t have jamon iberico—and I can’t imagine not having sushi in Japan.

Everyone needs to choose their own ideas of travel and what they want to accomplish while they do it. For me, I wanted so badly to feel as though I was part of a culture without consuming all of the traditional dishes, but I couldn’t. I still try and choose veggies when I can, but I don’t deny myself a cultural and healthy experience when it is important to my mental and physical well-being.

How has your diet changed when you travel or live abroad?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander


  1. schikimikki

    I had similar struggles when I was living and travelling abroad over a number of months. I was strictly vegetarian the whole time and in some places, I felt so sick because I was eating mostly pasta, pizza and bread. Now that I am back in my home country I have added seafood to my diet for health reasons, I hope when I travel again that this will make my life easier. The next countries I am travelling to have large vegetarian populations, so I am looking forward to having better food and more options in those places :D. At the end of the day, you have got to do what is best for you 🙂 (no judgements from me). Peace 🙂 xx
    PS. To vegetarians/vegans/pescetarians who read this comment: check out the website “Happy Cow” – they will help you find vegetarian food all over the world, easy peasy.

  2. Suzanne Fluhr

    I love Mexico and I speak Spanish, but I can’t eat chile which means I come across as the ultimate tourist or weirdo when I eat out at a restaurant in Mexico.

  3. Dreamsvoyager

    I have been a vegetarian all my life (not by choice but was brought up in vegetarian family)…and when I started traveling more often..well that’s the only part where I hate I couldn’t try so many things I wanted to! So I can somewhat relate! 🙂

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  5. hippiekit

    I have the same issues. I quit meat 8 years ago cold turkey and then after about 4 years I started eating a bit of chicken from time to time. Appetizers with a tiny piece of meat are no big deal to me either, but now that I travel to Europe more often, I find ii difficult to find good food that doesn’t contain an animal. Twice this year, I gave in and had a piece of steak abroad and I have to say, I don’t feel I was missing much and the guilt was killing me. So I tend to just carry fruit around with me to curve my hunger and eat tons of pasta. It’s a never ending battle!

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