Eating a healthy plant-based diet when you are at home and in total control of your food is easy. But maintaining your healthy way of eating when traveling or on vacation presents some challenges.

My husband and I just returned from a five-day getaway to Pensacola Beach, Florida. (We had planned on Maui, but due to COVID restrictions decided to postpone this trip until next year.) Pensacola Beach has beautiful, white sand beaches, clear emerald Gulf waters, plenty of sunshine . . . and seafood, seafood, seafood.

I realize that most people eating the Standard American Diet want to eat seafood when visiting the Gulf. (I was definitely one of them, just a few years ago.) But honestly, the lack of variety on the menus had us sighing by the end of the week.

However, I was able to eat plant-based – and it wasn’t always a salad. I am going to share the strategies you can use to ensure that you enjoy your vacation without tanking your health.

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Preview the Menus Online

Before heading to a restaurant, I viewed the menu online and looked for vegan items. What I usually found was one vegetarian meal that was almost vegan. (Veggie burger on a brioche bun? Come on. Just go all the way already!) There were also usually 1 or 2 side items that could possibly be vegan or prepared without butter or cheese. There was almost always a salad that could be modified – hold the cheese and shrimp – sub with more veggies.

By looking at menus online, you can avoid the restaurants that don’t appear to have any vegan options other than French fries or a side salad.

Get Creative

When perusing the menu, look for the vegetables and grains and think about how they could be combined for a meal.

At Peg Leg Pete’s, one of the most popular restaurants in Pensacola Beach, I saw that they offered Marinara Pasta. I verified this was dairy free (no parmesan) and asked if they could add sauteed mushrooms, since I saw there were mushrooms included in other meals. I also requested dairy-free bread with no butter.

Vegan Fettuccine with Marinara

Vegan Pasta Marinara at Peg Leg Pete’s in Pensacola, FL

On a return visit to this restaurant, I ordered the Key West salad which includes pecans, raisins, cucumber, and cherry tomatoes. It also normally comes with hard-boiled egg and cheese, so I asked to sub these items with more veggies. The salad was good, but later I noted they upcharged me $1 for the extra cucumber slices and $1 for the extra tomatoes even though I had removed the egg and cheese. When I asked the waitress about this, the manager was only willing to remove one of the $1 upcharges. (I guess those 2 extra cherry tomatoes are worth it!) I decided to just let it go.

Bring Your Own Protein Powder

Toward the end of our stay, I was really craving something fresh for breakfast and saw that Café Bistro offered whole fruit smoothies. I brought along a small container of Clean Machine protein powder and asked if they could add my vegan protein powder to one of the smoothies.

I was prepared for her to say “no,” and just stir it in myself after it had thawed a bit. Fortunately, she said “Sure!” and I was soon sipping on a delicious 24-ounce Tropical Breeze Smoothie made with strawberries, peaches, mangos, banana, and Clean Green Protein with Lentein. (If you want to order this game-changing protein powder made with Lentein®, a true whole plant food – not an isolate – use my affiliate link and discount code “slcma” to get 10% off your order.)

Cafe Bistro Smoothie, Pensacola Beach, FL

Tropical Breeze Smoothie with Clean Machine protein powder @ Cafe Bistro, Pensacola Beach, FL.

If you need a vegan breakfast and don’t want oatmeal or “breakfast potatoes” (aka French fries for breakfast,) order a deconstructed omelet. At Native Cafe, I ordered the veggie omelet with black beans instead of eggs. It came with two sides, so I picked plain grits and wheat toast, and added a side of fresh fruit. My eyes must have been bigger than my stomach that day. I couldn’t finish it!

Black beans, veggies, grits, toast, fresh fruit

Deconstructed Vegan Omelet at Native Cafe, Pensacola Beach, FL

Ask About Off-Menu Options

You might be surprised at what is available if you ask. When explaining to the waitress at Shaggy’s that I needed a vegan meal, and especially needed to avoid dairy, and wanted to modify one of the burgers (mushrooms instead of meat,) she was unsure of the options and went and asked the chef. He came out and let me know he had some vegan black bean burgers that he keeps on hand, and he could add mushrooms and prepare it Big Kahuna style with pineapple pico and sweet teriyaki sauce.

While the patty appeared to have been deep fried (not my preference,) I did appreciate that he had something vegan available other than a salad.

Vegan black bean burger

Vegan Black Bean Burger @ Shaggy’s Pensacola Beach, FL.

When asking about vegan options, ask what vegetarian beans they may have in the house. At two different restaurants I was told, No, no beans around. But when I asked if they had black beans, suddenly they recalled that Yes, they had black beans!

When dining at Flounders Chowder House, I ordered the Baja style soft tacos with black beans instead of fish. They brought me a ¼ cup of cold black beans on the side. (Weird!) But I was just glad they had some beans and happily topped my tacos with them.

Visit Convenience Stores

Interestingly, the Hilton we stayed at did not have grab-n-go items at their Butler’s Pantry as advertised on their website. But many hotels do offer apples, bananas and other fresh items. I had to walk over to the Circle K for an apple. Many convenience stores offer fresh fruit, or cut up fruit in cups.

Pack Non-Perishable Snacks

As a last resort, I pack single serving peanut butter packets, granola and fruit bars, nuts and dried fruit. Almonds and raisins the rescue!

Pack Dehydrated Wheatgrass Juice

I love fresh juice, but when it’s not likely to be found I bring along Sproutman Wheatgrass Juice capsules. It’s made from pure, organic, outdoor-grown wheatgrass that has been freeze-dried. So the healing enzymes, vitamins, and energetic life force of the raw plant are preserved. Three capsules equals over 1 ounce of wheatgrass juice.

Sproutman Wheatgrass Juice Capsules

Extra Credit

Extra credit goes to Riptides, the restaurant and tiki bar connected to the Holiday Inn Resort right next door to the Hilton. They had a delicious portobello burger that I was able to enjoy twice. Just sub the brioche bun for the gluten-free bun for a totally vegan meal.

lPortobello Burger @ Riptides Pensacola Beach, FL

“Port-obello Mushroom Burger” @ Riptides, Pensacola Beach, FL

The Takeaway

When it seems like every restaurant has 99 fried, broiled, baked or stuffed seafood options and there is nothing to eat, there will be some plant-based meals for you to enjoy. All it takes is some preparation and getting a little creative. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want and need. Just make sure and do it with a smile, and always tip your waiter well!

We thoroughly enjoyed Pensacola Beach, FL. With the gulf on the south side of the island, and the bay just a few steps away on the north side, you have double the waterfront options. We went parasailing, relaxed at tiki bars, sailed on a Condor tri-hull racing sailboat, spent time on the beach, and walked to most places. We liked the laid-back vibe, and since it was past the summer high-season, there were no crowds and it was a fun and relaxing time.