Vegans are becoming more commonplace. That’s a good thing for me because I’ve been eating a plant-based diet for over 10 years. When I started living and traveling full time in my Airstream, I had a rude awakening. Not every place in America is ready for me. There are products beyond fruits and veggies that vegans enjoy eating. Depending on how “vegan” you are, cheese and pasta may be acceptable stand-ins. I prefer beans and quinoa along with buckwheat noodles. There are a lot of places in the United States that don’t carry those items, tofu, plant-based salad dressing or cheese, or vegan cookies. Here are my tips for finding plant-based foods and eating vegan and healthy while on the road.
1. Have A Game Plan For Travel Days
If you are traveling by car or RV, it is very tempting to make the easy choice and grab a quick snack or meal while on the road. Think before you enter a truck stop, gas station convenience store, or even a Buc-ee’s. I once went into a convenience store and bought a banana. The cashier looked at me like I had three heads, presumably because I didn’t load up on energy drinks, chips, or a rotating hotdog or nachos.
I sometimes will buy some raw nuts if they have them. Typically the nut section is filled with roasted and highly salted nuts — which is not particularly good for me. I also occasionally give in to the “big cookie,” which is a giant vegan cookie that packs over 20 grams of protein (and a lot of calories). Instead of relying on what might be available on the road, I pack a lunch. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich, carrot pieces, apples, and a banana are in my go-to lunchbox. I’ll include a serving of nuts and berries mix if I have some. Since I carry my home with me, I could stop and make lunch, but I prefer to graze all day while I drive. This keeps me from being tempted by all the empty foods served up for convenience, including drive-thrus.
2. Stock Up On Favorite Items And Fresh Foods Before Your Trip
On my first trip to the Badlands in South Dakota, I got myself all settled into my campsite and marveled at the sunset on the great rock formations that sat before me. I opened the fridge and realized that I had no produce. I just forgot. Google Maps confirmed that I was nowhere near a grocery store. This lack of forethought was a rookie mistake. There was a small storefront a mile down the road and I decided to check it out. They had a few shelves with dried goods and canned foods and a tiny display of produce and some cold foods. I paid a premium price for a head of broccoli, some carrots, and an avocado. Lesson learned. Stock up when you are near a grocery store.
Vegans tend to like plant-based foods that mimic animal foods like cheese and creamy salad dressing. I have my favorite brands, and they aren’t carried in all grocery stores. I learn to find alternatives like avocado and soy-sauce dressings. I’ve been to my share of small-town supermarkets that have no plant-based alternatives. I won’t find things like tofu, miso, or other ethnic items that are staples of the vegan diet. I either come prepared with a stockpile or adjust and eat other things.
3. Dining Out Can Be Fun
Because plant-based eating is getting more common, restaurants and even chain fast food places are jumping aboard. Beyond Burger, Impossible Burger, and veggie burgers can be found at most restaurants and chains these days if they serve meat burgers. In large cities, it isn’t too difficult to find vegan restaurants and food trucks. Even in more rural places, I can find a restaurant with veggie options most of the time. Some of the hip and cool small towns are loaded with options. VeganRV.com recently posted a great story about dozens of vegan options in Durango, Colorado. Sometimes coffee shops, micro-breweries, or other off-beat places will have some plant-based options. I typically type “vegan restaurant” in Google Maps to check my options. I also use the Happy Cow app to track down vegan places. If I’m going to be somewhere out of the way for a while, I’ll see if I can find an Amazon locker in the area and order supplies from them. I don’t recommend this for perishable items, however. Certain ethnic cuisines like Indian and Asian often can provide a vegan option. Even Mexican places can offer up some good options to craft a mostly plant-based plate. Even the tiniest places will likely have one of these three types of restaurants. And don’t be afraid to ask the restaurant to make your dish vegan or ask for a vegan option. Many kitchens are happy to be accommodating.
4. Cook In The RV Or Over The Campfire
Campfire cooking may suggest food on a stick — hot dogs and marshmallows come to mind. I can’t get tofu on a stick but I can make veggie kabobs. And while some campgrounds are filled with the smell of bacon and eggs in the morning, my site is filled with potato veggie skillet with pungent seasonings and maybe some crumbled tofu. Beans can be made on the campfire, and watermelon and corn on the cob are favorite camping staples. All are plant-based. If I’m cooking inside, then it’s no different than if I were cooking in a house or apartment (sort of). My RV kitchen is a little more primitive, but I’ve learned to make it work for me. Google “vegan camping” and you will find dozens of sites that suggest recipes for camping meals that are plant-based. Some people who hike and backpack have found plenty of dried foods, protein bars, and other small and lightweight options to keep them fueled. I make protein powder smoothies regularly and if I’m boondocking, I plug my blend into the socket that is in the bed of my pickup truck or just use a shaker for a quick drink.
5. Organic And Farm-Fresh Produce Lasts Longer
Some people don’t feel there is much of an advantage to selecting organic produce. We can debate the health effects, but there is one undeniable benefit — organic produce lasts a long time. If you store your veggies with care (and even if you don’t), organic produce will last a week or more, often much more. I search for organic produce and sometimes can’t find it. When it’s not available, I buy only the produce I’ll use for a few days because the veggies will fold after that if I haven’t eaten them. If there is no organic produce, I go in search of farm stores.
I have found roadside stands, Amish farms, and farmer’s markets all across the country brimming with wonderful local produce. Some farmers markets truck in produce, and it kind of defeats the purpose of getting farm-fresh foods. I typically ask where the food was grown and if I can’t get a specific answer, I move on. A bonus at the farmer’s market is often fresh baked goods, jams, flowers, and dried fruits and nuts. One of the best farmer’s markets I found was in Moses Lake, Washington. I even got some lavender sachets. I was fortunate to spend a summer in Wisconsin near an Amish bakery and produce stand. I passed on the pies with lard pie crusts, but the jams and veggies were awesome. I picked blueberries on Lake Superior near Ashland, Wisconsin. They were amazing.
I also find farmstands to be a great place for some conversation. I stopped at one in a tiny town near Potosi, Wisconsin, where a woman had turned her backyard into a farmstand. I learned about all kinds of things in the area I might not have found otherwise. And that’s what traveling is about — meeting some people, having conversations, and finding new places and experiences. You can do all of that without being vegan, but I find it a great byproduct.