Travelling on a whole food plant-based diet
When travelling, a lot of health nuts/fitness fanatics do worry about having healthy options to sustain the lifestyle they follow at home. Airports are well known for being the home of many fast food chains and we all know the deal about airplane food.
What about finding suitable options at your destination? Will you have to just forgo the good habits and try and pick up the pieces on your return?
What about if you are a vegan as well? Will you be only having vegan protein powder and apples for every meal?
I have been a vegan for more than three years now and I follow what you could describe as a high raw whole food plant based diet. Two of my daily meals are generally fruits and my go to dinner is a giant salad with lots of greens, veggies and avocado. I find that this is what makes me feel the best: great digestion, clear skin, strong hair and nails (now that I kinda stopped biting them!), high energy and optimal body weight.
I have travelled to different parts of the world on this diet: Australia, USA (mainland and Hawaii), Canada, Bali, Singapore. I can easily state that with a little bit of preparation and some willpower, I can always take my healthy habits with me on holiday.
My most recent trip was a quick two weeks stint to mainland USA: Texas (Austin), Nevada (Las Vegas) and California (Santa Monica/Los Angeles) were out three destinations. This is how I navigated everything, from start to finish.
Luckily, most international carriers give you the option to order a “special meal” of your choice, that will be served to you in lieu of the usual chicken or pasta on offer. On previous trips, I had ordered the Vegan Meal ('VGML' - airline meal code) or Oriental Vegetarian meal ('VOML', which is completely vegan with the exception sometimes of honey). Those were fine, but due to their high sodium and oil content, they were usually leaving me lethargic, bloated and yes, gassy. For this trip with Air New Zealand, I decided to pre order what is called the fruit platter (FPML), which is pretty much described as being “only fresh fruits”. In reality, it was a fair array of fresh fruits of impressive quality as well as a piece of cheese or yoghurt, which I didn’t eat, of course. The amount was fairly small, which was expected. This meal was however not available on the shorter legs (Melbourne – Auckland, Auckland – Melbourne) of my trip. On these instances, I just declined the regular meal and resorted to my stash, detailed below).
Because the food I eat has a generally lower caloric content (leafy greens, fruits, etc.), I consume a large volume of food in one sitting. I knew the amount served on the plane would not sustain me for more than an hour, even while sitting for a prolonged amount of time. This is why I always carry a bunch of calorie dense fruits in my carry on luggage such as: medjool dates, bananas (in a plastic container to avoid having them all smashed) and dried fruits and/or raw bars (I try to avoid the ones with a high fat content) and a container of Supergreens from PranaOn. I know some worry that airport security will confiscate food, but it has never happened to me. The regulation only applies to liquids, so do not carry any juice, nut mylk or even pastes like jam or humus. Due to quarantine laws, you might also want to finish everything before arriving at your final destination.
This trip, I definitely noticed a difference in my digestion and energy levels while flying and at destination. I felt light and comfortable all throughout and even had a normal bowel movement (sorry for TMI but everyone who flies regularly know how amazing it is!!!). I was also able to go for a run the morning of my arrival in Austin and felt fine.
Air BNB was invented for vegans! No joke: it is godsent. It was amazing to be able to prepare most of our meals in our apartment, with complete access to a full size fridge, oven and hot plates and a blender!
One of the first thing we did on arrival was to make our way to the closest Wholefoods, which happened to be the flagship store. It was pretty dang amazing (insert angels singing here) with a lot of vegan and organic products along with a reasonable selection of mostly good quality produce.
I am aware that Wholefoods does not offer the most cost effective option, but as we were not driving and could not make our way to a farmer’s market or wholesalers, it was a great one stop shop for us all throughout our time in the U.S.
In Austin, I was able to pretty much eat the exact same way as I would at home. In Los Angeles, we were also staying in an Air BNB which was a much smaller studio apartment close to Venice beach. The kitchen was a lot more rudimentary but we luckily had a full size fridge and were situated close to a Wholefoods and a couple other nice grocery stores. Due to the limited space, I often had to chop veggies kneeling down over a small makeshift kitchen counter but still managed to make it work.
Hotel with no cooking or storing facilities
Our biggest challenge was Las Vegas. Wanting to get the real “Vegas Experience”, we booked a room in one of the main luxurious casino/hotel of the strip. Our hotel room was great with a super comfy bed, giant toilet and view of the strip… but no cooking facilities at all. The mini bar was equipped with sensors which did not even allow us to put some of our own items in without incurring a charge of $30 a day. We did have access however to an ice machine on our floor along with a small bucket in our room: this would be our “fridge” for the week.
We did not have a car and were limited to the the strip or wherever the public transport system could take us. Wanting to limit our expenses, we did not want to eat our meals in restaurants which weren’t really vegan friendly anyways.
We were over the moon when we learned that a Wholefoods was only a short bus ride away from our hotel! We visited it on a daily basis. We bought breakfast supplies which were bananas for me and cereals/granola for Luke. For lunch and snacks, more bananas, trail mix, individual sized nut butters, dried fruits and protein bars (Luke) were on the menu. For dinners, we both got salads from the amazing salad bar. Luke also got “chicken” from Beyond Meat to supplement his large his higher protein intake. He used the ice bucket to keep it cool, replacing the bucket with new ice few times a day when we were back in the room.
Throughout my travels, the best way to find vegan/vegetarian friendly restaurant have always been the Happycow app/website.
The only omnivorous restaurant we visited was Chipotle, in Las Vegas. We really wanted to try their “Sofritas” which is a soy based meat substitute and were positively surprised. Our salads/burrito bowl, were tasty, fresh and really filling.
In Austin, we treated ourselves with Ice cream from Sweet Ritual, a vegan ice cream parlour. It was by far the best ice cream I had ever had. A decadent treat that was well enjoyed!
In Los Angeles, an herbivore paradise, we visited three vegan restaurants. The first was Sage, a vegan café in Culver City. Lots of raw options and absolutely delicious! We sampled a lot of tasty dishes like raw nachos, pizza, buffalo style artichoke hearts to only name a few... The highlight for me was the margarita, probably one of the best I have ever had… tequila is raw isn’t it ;-)
The following day, we had lunch at Matthew Kinney’s new addition in the heart of Venice Beach: Plant Food and Wine. I very much enjoyed my three course gourmet raw lunch nicely complemented with a glass of wine. The best part however was the beautiful courtyard where we leisurely dined.
On our last day, we visited a personal favourite, Café Gratitude, in Venice as well. I made sure to slowly savour the best raw pizza ever, "I am Hearty" and my equally delightful coconut pie, "I am Irresistible" fully raw as well. No alcohol this time, I chose "I am Restored", a warm adrenal tonic, made of of mix of medicinal mushrooms and warm almond mylk. DEELICIOUS!
I came back home as fit and healthy than when I left and did not get too much affected by jet lag. I still got to enjoy some down time and delicious indulgence while keeping my training going and choosing nutritious food to fuel my body. Most importantly, I was rested and energized which is I believe the best outcome we can hope from a holiday!