Tips for Vegetarians and Vegans on Birthright Trips
- First and foremost, you should communicate with your trip organizers in advance to let them know about your dietary restrictions or food allergies. You should also let your trip's staff know when you meet them on the first day.
- More often than not, you won't have any trouble as a vegetarian or vegan. Still, I recommend taking some protein bars (sealed and unwrapped) with you just to be safe; double-check the rules for bringing food into a foreign country before heeding my advice. Meals on my trip varied greatly: Sometimes we had lavish buffets at fancy hotels, and sometimes we had a half-hour to grab falafel (or shwarma, for the meat-eaters) while walking through a village. But in addition to finding the best falafel and hummus you've ever had, you'll find a lot of fresh veggies and creative salads at many of the meals. I also wound up having a lot of figs and other fresh fruit, nuts, potatoes, and couscous. All in all, it was likely a healthier diet than the mock-meat-centered diet I was eating in the U.S. at the time.
- Almost everyone speaks English, but it's conceivable that there'd be some places you go to where you'd have to special-order and the people wouldn't speak great English. Ask the trip staff for assistance in these situations.
- Most of the accouterments for falafel in a pita (or a laffa, which is another bread option), including tehini sauce (sesame-based), are vegan. Tzadiki sauce has dairy, and you should ask for your falafel without tzadiki. This is an easy accommodation.
- Vegetarian schnitzel (cutlet) is a popular alternative to chicken schnitzel. Think of it as though you were getting a veggie burger in a restaurant in the US. It might have some egg or dairy ingredients you don't know about, but whether you eat it anyway depends on how strict a vegan you are.
- Shakshouka is a popular vegetarian dish, but it has a whole egg in it and isn't vegan.
- The presence of meat might mean that some dishes are vegan! I realize that this is counter-intuitive for those who aren't familiar with kashrut (the noun form of "kosher"). If you go to an all-kosher restaurant or are looking at packaged foods marked kosher, there are three categories: dairy, meat, and pareve. Meat and dairy cannot be mixed together (in individual dishes or even in the same meal) in kosher facilities, so if you know that a restaurant is certified kosher and that meat is present, the mashed potatoes are definitely dairy-free. ("Pareve" means no dairy or meat with regard to kashrut, but pareve foods might include eggs or fish, so "pareve" does not necessarily mean vegan.)
- Some trips include camel rides. If you have an ethical objection to supporting a touristy business that likely overworks camels even in extreme heat, tell your trip staff up-front that you plan to avoid this activity.
- You're allowed to bring two bags (not including a carry-on bag) with you. Find a way to bring only one. You don't want to be schlepping two around with you the whole time.
- On my trip, we arrived in Israel in the early morning (Israeli time) and had a full day of activity, and then a lot of us wanted to stay up at night for social reasons. I got one hour of sleep on the plane because I was excited, which meant that I was quite exhausted on Day 1 (and that exhaustion stayed with me for the rest of the trip). One woman sitting near me on the plane took an over-the-counter sleeping pill and slept through the entire flight, and she was raring to go. I normally avoid pills whenever possible, but I think she had the right idea. Use the flight to Israel to sleep, because the rest of the 10-day trip is push push push and you'll regret not sleeping on the plane.