Two weeks ago I left my apartment, my job and life in Los Angeles to travel around California - staying with friends, camping and searching for a place that feels 'right'. I'd lived in LA for almost two years but that was enough to know that it was definitely not the place for me. Now the reasons for the decision to leave LA could be a whole different blog post completely but I wanted to share with you a few tips related to eating well that I have uncovered while traveling.
I'll confess I am a bit of a control freak and I really value my personal space, my alone time and a daily routine but I also have come to terms with the fact that that loosening my ties is the only way to grow. I think adopting a vegan lifestyle helped me come to the conclusion that I needed to take this trip amd make the most of it so therefore I really have made it a goal to eat as much whole plant based food as I can without the comforts of my kitchen. Making yourself uncomfortable is one of the few ways to truly learn about who it is you truly are and that, my friends, was the ultimate goal of this trip.
Prior to this phase of gypsy life, I had driven across the country twice and have learned a thing or two about the struggle of eating well while on the road but I had never done it as a vegan and I have to say, so far, so good. I have only traveled through California this time around - and well, California, is ... California so eating vegan has been not-so-shockingly easy. A few of the hostels we stayed at in remote Yosemite-adjacent villages even offered fully vegan entrees but I believe the tips below will help you eat well even if you are traveling across the vast stretches of land that don't know the difference between almond flour and almond meal (scoff)!
1. Make pit stops grocery stores instead of restaurants or gas stations.
The first time I drove across the U.S I was not vegan and we made it a goal to only stop at local, family owned restaurants, no gas station grub, no chain restaurants. While this was successful and plenty of fun if you are traveling on the cheap as a vegan a better option is to stock up on staples at grocery stores instead of trying to find vegan options at restaurants and rest stops. If you do go the resturant route you will likely be eating unappetizing salads that won't fill you up or a lot of fries which can leave you feeling sluggish and drowsy.
When you stop at grocery stores for sustenance make sure you aren't buying food that needs to be refrigerated right away, can bruise easily or that can go off in a day or two. Go for less delicate foods in their whole form and give them a rinse if needed with bottled water or in a public restroom. BONUS: Use the (usually) nicer bathroom facilities inside grocery stores instead of gas stations.
Some of my go-to items are:
- green apples & pears
- Pre-washed heads of romaine lettuce or bags or baby kale
- coconut water (hydration is key)
- Medjool dates
- oranges (cars cara are my favorite)
- pre-cut watermelon - hydration!
- rice cakes
- low-fat granola
- Mary's Gone crackers or the like
- hummus (this can go bad without refrigeration, but I usually eat it within the day so it's fine)
- vegan protein bars (I don't buy these often but if there is a brand like GoMarco available I do stock up)
- maybe a little bit of vegan dark chocolate because...chocolate
- coconut water
2. Buy fresh and local - roadside stands are your best friend.
I don't know about the rest of the world but when driving in long distances in the U.S it is likely that you will stumble on more than one produce stand. Many of the interstate highways happen to stretch across the most fertile, high yielding farm lands making a road trip the ideal opportunity to access insanely fresh and ridiculously local produce usually at an amazing price. These farm stands can be easy to miss but keep an eye out when you start passing through planted fields. While driving up Highway 1 in California I counted more than 5 cherry/strawberry stands between Santa Cruz and San Francisco (about a 50 mile stretch). These road-side fruits and vegetables usually taste a million times better than their grocery store counterparts and you can feel good about directly supporting the farmers that grew them.
3. CARB UP and keep your fats low! Eat dates or other high sugar fruit for when your feeling sluggish.
Traveling takes a lot out of you, even if you are just sitting in a car with your foot on the gas there is something about it that can get exhausting. You might be tempted to eat fatty foods on the road but you'll get the best bang for your energy-buck if you stick to a mostly high carb diet. Aside from the fact that dates are better than any caramel I have ever tasted, they are truly little energy bombs - pure brain and body fuel. Instead of eating a candy bar to keep yourself from dozing or going stir crazy eat a few of these natural indulgences to keep yourself sustained. Plus they pack a punch of nutrition with loads of fiber, potassium, calcium and iron.
4. Stock up on jugs of water and drink it frequently.
Yes this may mean more bathroom stops but on the bright side you'll be fully hydrated and you may come upon some off the beaten path beauty. Drinking enough keeps you from accidentally eating an entire bag of chips and regulates the bodies natural rhythms even when you are on an irregular travel schedule. Aim for 3-4 liters a day at least! Dehydration on the road leads to poor digestion and irritability among many other not so enjoyable symptoms. I also like to buy coconut water from time to time for an extra-hydrating boost.
5. Remember to move, stretch and breath.
Feeding yourself properly on the road has everything to do with what you put into your body but also how often you move it. Covering vast distances is taxing on the body which is why its so important to remember to take breaks, move, stretch your body out and take some nice deep breaths. I promise you'll feel less worn down if you walk for at least a mile each day in the fresh air. Try and give yourself 8 hours or more of sleep a night, fuel yourself when you are hungry, listen to good music or informative podcasts and take time to relax and enjoy the scenery.
6. If staying with friends, offer to cook for them.
This way you can prepare whole plant based meals and thank your friends for their hospitality at the same time. In my opinion there is nothing more satisfying than sitting around a table eating good food with good company, and when food is prepared with love it makes everything better.
Make sure to explain to your hosts that you want to cook them a vegan meal, I would venture to guess most will be open to the idea but be sure to go over the menu with them to make sure there is something for everybody - my blog has some awesome recipes. If someone is giving you hell about there being no meat/cheese make the suggestion that they try the vegan version first and if necessary prepare their additions and add to their own portion (remember that you are in their home). But I'd be willing to bet that if you made them my vegan mac & cheese they wouldn't know the difference anyway.
I've also been traveling with my Vitamix and friends are always interested in me making them the best smoothies of their lives (no exaggeration).
BONUS TIP for coffee drinkers: I drink coffee and if you do too you'll want to listen up. I am trying to cut down but I have been so worn out from hiking my tail off and a good ol' cup-a-joe makes everything better. We have stopped in a few diner-like-places that don't offer soy or almond milk so I will drink it black if pressed but I have regretted not toting along the tiny 8 oz. tetra-packed almond milk containers like this. They aren't always easy to find but the next time I see them I am scooping them up!
Do you have any tips you'd like to share for eating whole plant based vegan food on the road? I'd love to hear them and swap stories!