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It’s that time – time for another travel blog interview! I’d love to introduce you to Caitlin from The Vegan Word.
Caitlin Galer-Unti is the vegan travel writer behind The Vegan Word. She has been featured in the New York Times and Yahoo!
Caitlin speaks English, Spanish and Mandarin Chinese, and has lived in the US, the UK and Spain. She has traveled to 30 countries (and counting) and writes about the vegan food she finds around the world at The Vegan Word.
She is the author of two books, The Essential Vegan Travel Guide and the Barcelona Vegan Guide. Her mission is to show vegans around the world that stress-free, meat-free travel is possible.
How long have you been blogging for? Why’d you decide to start a travel blog?
I started my very first blog (or weblog, as we called them then) circa 2000 with a friend at school. Mainly we gossiped about who we had a crush on. There was no WordPress, so we just wrote it in HTML.
Almost a decade later, I started a blog when I was studying abroad to let friends and family know what I was doing. When I went on a trip around the world, I started writing about the vegan food I found as I travelled, and all a sudden strangers started leaving me comments thanking me for the info on vegan food!
I’d had no idea that anyone beyond my friends and family would be interested, but as more and more people found the blog, I decided to start a new vegan blog. That was in 2011, and initially, I posted more vegan recipes than anything else but eventually focused on vegan travel and lifestyle.
Do you have any tips for new travel bloggers/aspiring travel bloggers?
Keep going! Over the years I’ve seen many bloggers come and go. The ones who found success just kept going, past difficulties or life changes.
Some started their blogs to chronicle long-term travel and then ended up setting up a home base. They continued blogging but changed their focus to shorter-term trips.
What’s one thing you wish you knew before you started traveling?
That it’s possible (and enjoyable!) to be vegan and travel; it’s why I started my blog, to show this to others! I worried before going vegan that it would make travel impossible, but actually, it’s made my travels more enjoyable because I’ve connected with like-minded vegans around the world.
Why do you love to travel?
That’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer! I travel because it feels as much a part of my life as breathing.
I love to travel because I love exploring, and I love learning about other languages and cultures. I love it because it gives me time away from day-to-day life to think. And I love it because it’s allowed me to connect with people all over the world.
What’s your best and worst travel experience?
There are so many great ones it’s hard to choose the best! I’d probably say my best experience was with the wonderful restaurant owner I met in Sicily, Laura.
My ex and I went in August, and everything was shut, including all the vegan restaurants I’d bookmarked. I was hungry and beginning to think we’d never find anywhere when I got a message about a new vegetarian restaurant that had just opened that very week. It was Laura’s restaurant.
We went there, and although Laura didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Italian, she welcomed me with open arms (literally) and lots of homemade vegan cheese. We went there for dinner almost every night the week we were there, and she plied us with extra courses for free. Every night she came out and talked to me (she spoke in slow Italian, I replied in Spanish, and we got along okay).
Somehow we managed to have conversations about vegan cheesemaking and life running a restaurant. One night she introduced us to her children.
And the last night we were in Sicily, she cried seeing us go. I think of her restaurant often, even though it has since closed. Never have I felt more at home in a restaurant or a city after so little time.
As for the worst experience, probably when I had my phone stolen out of my pocket in the Paris metro while visiting a friend. Thankfully she’d already given me the key to her flat. I was listening to music on headphones when a guy bumped into me while his friend passed, and all a sudden the music stopped.
I immediately knew what had happened and confronted him about my phone as he apologised for bumping into me. He acted like he didn’t know what I was talking about, and I followed him onto the metro and rode the train for two stops.
Eventually, I realised I wasn’t getting my phone back and took the metro back to my friend’s place. I hadn’t backed up my phone in a few months and lost all my photos of the trip plus other pictures. I signed up for automatic cloud backups after that!
For a while every time I thought of Paris I thought of my phone being stolen, but thankfully I’ve had many opportunities to visit my friend since and create new, happier memories. Though I still think of my phone being stolen every time I pass Stalingrad station.
Do you prefer solo travel or traveling with other people? Why?
Depends on my mood! I’ve done a lot of solo travel, and I love it because I find I meet more locals. Plus, it gives me time to think.
However, I like the shared experience of travelling with other people, and sometimes it’s nice to have someone to watch your bag while you go to the bathroom.
I’ve also done some travel with my dog, and it’s the best. Although it can be tricky finding dog-friendly accommodation and working out a dog-friendly route on public transport, there is NO better way to meet locals than walking a cute dog.
Plus no one ever thinks you’re a tourist and always assumes you live there and I get to watch my dog’s happy face exploring a new place and new smells.
What’s your favorite place you’ve ever been to? Why?
I’ve loved many places I visited, but Taiwan was my favourite destination. Everyone is so friendly and helpful and goes out of their way to assist.
I once asked a woman for directions, and she walked 10 blocks out of the way to show me where I was going. It’s not a heavily touristed destination, and it’s really safe.
I walked to night markets on my own in the middle of the night without once feeling unsafe. The food is amazing, and it’s incredibly vegan-friendly. It’s just a great place to visit!
What’s your biggest travel tip?
Obviously, I’m going to give a vegan travel tip: always learn what ‘accidentally’ vegan dishes exist in the local cuisine!
Oftentimes, there may be hidden vegan gems, like the mezze menu in most tavernas in Greece (which usually has lots of vegan dishes like bean dip, grilled vegetables, or rice-stuffed vine leaves).
Or there may be a vegan side of the cuisine most visitors don’t know about, like the vegan Lent food found in Romania or vegan Buddhist cuisine found in Thai or Vietnamese cooking (jay/chay, respectively).
In Ethiopia, Orthodox Christians follow vegan fasting periods for 208 days a year. So it’s always worth finding out about local vegan dishes, so you can easily find vegan food and learn a bit more about local cuisine.
Is there one specific thing you like to do, see, or buy in every place that you visit?
I love supermarkets. I usually spend an hour or two just wandering around a local supermarket seeing what kind of food they sell. I especially love looking at unusual snack foods, like the blueberry crisps I saw in Hong Kong.
Is there one particular food that you’ve tried while traveling that you loved? What food was it and why do you love it so much?
Almost everywhere I’ve been, I’ve discovered a food I loved, from the ajvar (roasted pepper dip) in Serbia that I spread on everything and ate out of the jar with a spoon to the papas con mojo (‘wrinkled’ potatoes with an addictive red sauce) of the Canary Islands to the dairy-free fruit gelatos I ate every day in Italy.
But the food I became most obsessed with was mah jiang mian, noodles in a sesame sauce, in Taipei, where I ate them nearly every day. I’ve never seen them on a menu since, since Taiwanese cuisine is not that well known outside Taiwan, and sometimes I dream of going back to Taipei just to eat more.
Plane or train? Train, hands down!
Hotel or hostel? Private room in a hostel (or better yet, a guesthouse)
City or nature? City
Popular site or off the beaten path? Off the beaten path
Suitcase or backpack? Suitcase
Fast travel or slow travel? Slow
Professional camera or iPhone photography? I have both but iPhone for the ease of carrying it
Warm or cold weather? Warm — nothing I love better than sitting outside drinking coffee and people-watching in a sunny square somewhere
All photos used throughout this post are courtesy of Caitlin.