6 months ago I embarked on a two-phase road trip across the US. Not my first road trip, but certainly my biggest. From my college town in Auburn, Alabama I would be making my way to Denver, Colorado and then eventually San Diego, California. You would think 4 days, 5 tops, but instead of going from point A to point B, I essentially hit all the letters of the alphabet.
Leaving Auburn, I jam-packed my car with just enough room left for me to drive. I was 6 months into the strict plant-based lifestyle already and I’ll be honest in saying I experienced mild panic and anticipation before I left. Countless questions raced through my head. How many gas station bananas would I be consuming? Does Wal-Mart sell a car-charged stovetop? How long could I really go without eating? (NOT GOOD). And the biggest question of all, are there plant-eaters in Middle of Nowhere USA?
If you fail to plan you plan to fail. I know. The saying is overused and sometimes it’s fun to be spontaneous, right?! Well, when it comes to a plant-based lifestyle this prepared way of thinking is solid gold. The only times I’ve truly found myself miserable with this lifestyle are in the moments I’ve failed to stock my place with enough fruits and veg to satisfy. It has been one of my biggest challenges balancing a need for spontaneity with the need to properly prepare.
Old habits die hard, so it’s no surprise that mine bit me in the ass. When I drove out of Auburn all I had was a cooler of fruit to my side and no other plan. Literally. No. Other. Plan. I was headed to Nashville the first night, Indianapolis the second, and Denver the seventh? Maybe? I immediately regretted worrying so much about packing up my apartment and not enough about my plant-based foodie duties.
Thankfully I’ve developed a knack for quick fixes making me a prime candidate not only to let you know the Do’s of plant-based road tripping but to simultaneously fill you in on the Don’ts as well.
WITHOUT FURTHER ADIEU:
1. Don’t let your cooler stock run low.
It is not okay to go without eating, especially when you have to be driving for hours on end. You’re pretty super, but even Superman needs his fuel. Rolling down your windows and belting Johnny Cash’s ‘I’ve Been Everywhere’ will only buy you a solid hour of rejuvenation before you get restless again and accept that you truly haven’t been everywhere. So stop. Pull over. And eat.
2. Don’t leave food in your vehicle overnight.
Pretty straightforward but just trust me on this one. It gets hot in your car, there are bugs, depending on location maybe even bears with excellent burglary tactics, and who knows just how hungry that drunk college girl is when she decides to walk past your car at 3am. Those are your kale chips!
3. Don’t eat while driving.
All right, an apple is fine, and maybe those carrots. But for heaven’s sake, it is not okay to eat an acai bowl while flying down the highway at 80 mph. Instead tune into the sweet outdoors or hip part of town and get outside that vehicle! Your legs will thank you and that’s what road trips are for anyways; discovering sweet places and meeting awesome people in cities you may or may not know how to spell.
4. Don’t give in to gas station temptations.
They’re good at making you think you need those pre-packaged glazed donuts or those ready fresh hot dogs with a side of nachos and cheese. Conveniently placed right in front of your face at check out. Fortunately some of the bigger gas stations these days carry fresh fruit cups and veggie packets galore, which will lead to the lady at the register complimenting your choice of pistachios, celery, and grapes. Definitely aim for the compliments. It will keep that plant-based spark lit in you and you may light a healthy spark in fellow truckers and road trippers en route!
1. Do plan ahead.
Research research research. Are there any plant-based restaurants along your route? What is the largest leg of your trip without a Whole Foods near by? What produce is the longest lasting? What days will you need to stop at the store and what days will you need to eat out? What snacks can you prepare ahead of time? It is good to have a plan and then from there do all the bending you’d like! Just in general for road trips, I always make sure to be aware of what cities are within a 50-mile radius of me at any given point. Also, not everywhere has great cell service meaning stock your trunk with maps of each state you’ll be in. Siri is great until she decides to be a diva. I’m not kidding. This has been essential.
2. Do have a mapped out budget.
How much are you willing to spend on groceries for your cooler? How much are you willing to spend to eat out at cool plant-based restaurants? How much extra are you giving yourself for any last minute changes to the plan? You can do this day by day, or just in a huge lump sum, either way, be aware that it is easy to overspend when eating with strict guidelines in places unknown.
3. Do bring a cooler.
You’ll need one that suits your specific needs. Mine was a soft case with a shoulder strap, which made it easy to carry in and out of the places I was staying and easy to stuff in my over packed car. Pros of soft case: lighter, more flexible to fit in smaller areas, easier to transport. Pros of hard case: Easier to access while driving (button vs. zipper), the ice lasts longer, depending on size typically holds more food than the soft case. Cooler is a staple, then it’s just preference from there. (Side Note: For the soft case, keep it upright. Yes it is flexible, but if you have it bent in a weird way and the ice melts, you better believe the water will leak out through the zipper all over your guitar case).
4. Do use hotels for refilling on ice.
Ice machines are heaven sent for roadies. You can fill up on your way out of the hotel and call it a life. OR if you aren’t staying at any hotel, pretend you are and politely ask which floor the ice machine is on. They all have one and someone has to use it right?
5. Do pull over for farm fresh goodies.
I kid you not; best peaches of my life were had in Indiana. There will be billboards and sketchy tumbledown signs inviting you to take a pit stop at their farm or fruit stand. And darn it, no road trip is complete if you haven’t second-guessed driving by yourself, down a shrub lined dirt road, after reading a battered up old sign saying “Juicy Peaches This Way”. No regrets. But really, I bought a bag full and could have turned into a peach by day’s end. Not only did I land upon an amazing farm with lots of fresh produce for sale but also met some great people who were new to the agriculture business. They had such a passion for fresh fruit! Needless to say, we got a long splendidly. Definitely look out for these signs.
6. Do Whole Foods.
I don’t know what I would have done without this grocery chain. In each one you will find the largest, healthiest, hot and cold food bar you’ve ever come across. Warning: Whole Foods can be pricey. Make sure you note this in your budget map. They base the price on weight. What I did was try to stuff the most nutrient-filled foods I could into one of their brown food containers and then ate that for the next two meals. This was incredibly efficient. Not to mention you can stock up on cooler essentials while you’re at it. Two birds one stone. Am I sponsored yet Whole Foods?
7. Do venture out of your comfort zone.
Eating alone is insanely underrated. First you can completely immerse yourself in the plant-based meal your having making it extra delicious. Second it’s ridiculously fun and easy meeting new people when you’re kicking back at a restaurant solo. Third, if in walking distance to your hotel/AirBnB/tent/cave, have that glass of wine or that only available in Kentucky bourbon you’ve been dying to try. Next just snooze till it’s time to cruise! Makes for a solid night if I say so myself.
8. Do give yourself a pat on the back for being a kick ass plant-based foodie.