Traveling as a Vegan Part I
As I mentioned in a recent post, my first vacation as a vegan was.... horrendous to say the least. The first time I attempted to go out to eat at a restaurant since becoming vegan was in Cape Cod, MA on vacation with my fiancé; I attempted to order about 8 different menu items, each one receiving a response similar to, "I'm sorry, but we cook that in butter." My final effort involved me asking for a packet on instant oatmeal and access to a microwave. Even that was unsuccessful (not to mention embarrassing) and the endeavor ended with me sobbing in the passenger seat of Jesse's Acura, screaming things like "ALL I WANT TO DO IS HELP COWS NOT DIE AND THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS."
Now, almost one year later, I'm on my second big vacation as a vegan. My mom and I are visiting my brother in San Francisco! Fortunately, this is probably one of the most vegan-friendly places to visit. But still... I was hesitant. Traveling while maintaining a vegan diet and lifestyle makes me a little nervous for two main reasons:
1. Several years ago, I battled a nasty, long-lasting eating disorder. On more than a few occasions, I passed out from a severe lack of food. The worst time was on a city bus. This was really the specific event that shook me enough to finally break free from this disease, but the psychological effects are everlasting. It truly is a lifelong therapeutic undertaking, but every day is a little clearer. I take public transportation to work still; and not a day goes by that I don't make sure to pack a snack in case I'm stuck on the train or subway somewhere. I will never go without a snack on hand at all times to prevent the worst moment of my life from recurring. Now, as a vegan, this fear grows slightly just due to the fact that it can be harder to find a snack so quickly. I try to always pack one myself, but things don't always work out perfectly.
2. Probably the biggest reason I fear traveling as a vegan, or even going out to eat locally, is the feeling that I inadvertently cause other people to experience. A lot of times, the people I'm with try to avoid going out or going to certain places because they don't want me to feel bad or excluded. But I always remind them that I will find something to eat no matter where we go. Fortunately (a big reason I've been able to sustain being vegan), I LOVE basically all fruits and vegetables. So if we are going to a breakfast place that only serves crepes, I'll just order a fruit salad! Or if we're going out to dinner at a steakhouse, I'll ask for a baked potato and steamed vegetable medley. I've never encountered a restaurant that is unable to prepare something simple for me on the fly. They never complain, they never say no, and I've never felt embarrassed or guilty for asking.
I wanted to start this trip off right by spending the week before shopping around for different vegan snacks. I wanted enough to pack into my carry on bag as well as a few to have in my checked bag. I might get a little hungry at 2 am, who knows. I telecommuted on Monday and spent half of my day finishing all of the work I needed to get in before my vacation, and the other half of the day packing for California. The day flew by, especially since Jesse had the day off, but I managed to get (almost) everything done. Once my work was done, we headed out for a Target run (I'll use ANY excuse to go to Target). I found a ton of delicious vegan-friendly snacks! I bought mini LARABARS (cuz omg so cute), LARABAR bites, Justin's nut butter and pretzels snack packs, Vega protein bars (chocolate peanut butter AMAZING), Archer Farms omega-3 walnut trail mix packs, and That's It bars. I shoved most of them in my carry on and a few into my checked bag.
I woke up at 4am on Tuesday, packed a few last minute items, kissed Jesse goodbye, and was on the road by 5:30am! I had to drive seven hours to my mom's house first in northwestern Pennsylvania. I usually have to stop every two hours because my joints tend to lock up and because I have to pee basically all the time. Perpetual pee-er. I try to pack enough of my own snacks to get me through the long trip and to prevent myself from buying overpriced and unhealthy snacks at the gas stations. HOWEVER - I do always have to make one quick stop toward the beginning of my trip... coffee coffee coffee <3 My current love is Dunkin Donuts cold brew with almond milk. I also packed some healthy vegan approved snacks to eat throughout my drive.
The seven hour drive went by SO fast for some reason (NOT complaining) and I got to my moms around 12:30pm. I was exhausted so I really just spent the afternoon doing some work and relaxing with my mom. For dinner we made burgers on the grill with green beans and raspberries. I made a Gardein chipotle black bean burger and omggggg it was so delicious - highly recommend!
I passed out at 9pm and was up bright and early at 5am to make our way to the airport! We left around 6am and of course, our first stop was coffee <3 I have to admit, I like Sheetz cold brew a little better than Dunkin. I would kill for Sheetz to open up in NY!
I also got a couple of vegan snacks for breakfast #1 (I'm going back three time zones... I obviously have to eat two of each meal. It's not my fault, it's science.)
We got to the airport a little early and we were starving again so I got breakfast #2 (told ya). Subway is definitely one of my go tos for eating vegan on the go; I usually get either a veggie salad or a veggie sub. Like I said, I felt like I was STARVING so I went with the sub. It had lettuce, spinach, pickles, banana peppers, tomato, cucumber, green peppers, avocado and brown mustard on Italian bread. Subway never fails me!
We boarded our plane and took a quick jaunt from Pittsburgh over to Chicago - I swear we were only in the air for 10 minutes. We landed in Chicago around 12pm Central time. We love the Chicago airport! They have the coolest bathrooms... seriously. The bathrooms are amazing and we should adopt this toilet cover system EVERYWHERE. My mom loves them so much she took a video...
Anyway... of course we were hungry again by the time we got to Chicago (that 10 minute flight was exhausting) so surprise - we got more food! It was time for lunch #1 and we were dying to sit down for a nice meal given the two hour layover we had to pass... but the only sit down restaurant in our terminal had a huge line. So we decided to just pick up some things from a little convenient place and eat at our gate. I was so excited when I walked up the refrigerated area and saw an ENTIRE vegan section! They had sandwiches, wraps, salads, desserts.. It made my heart so happy! I couldn't decided between a burrito and a corn/black bean salad with tortilla chips. Considering I made my own corn/black bean salad the other night, I decided to go with a vegan "steak" burrito. It did not disappoint. It had some sort of sauce on it that tasted exactly like thousand island dressing!
LOOK AT THE INSIDE OF THIS!
I scarfed down this amazing burrito, finished up my snack post, and boarded our next flight to San Francisco! This one was quite a bit longer, about 4.5 hours. I finally convinced my mom to watch an episode of the office (she was not amused... I do not understand). We tried to nap but it didn't work... so of course we snacked :) As you know, I'm a huge snacker!
Side note... my mom literally looks 30 in this picture. I hope I follow in those genetic footsteps! Since our flight was a little bit longer, we had the option of purchasing snacks and dinner. I usually don't like to spend the money on overpriced airplane food, buuuuuttttt.. I'm on vacay! I wasn't hungry enough for a meal (plus none of the three dinner options were vegan), so I went with two of the snacks: crackers with hummus and popcorn. These were both delicious! This is my favorite popcorn and I always load up on it every time I go to TJ Maxx. They make it with coconut oil which inspired me to try this at home with popcorn on the stove... amazing. Definitely a popcorn game changer!
A little later I had one of my LARABARS and before I knew it we were on the ground in San Fran! Mom and I kept snapping a ton of pictures, the mountains were so beautiful as we were landing. I felt so bad for the guy that had the window seat in our row. We were probably the most annoying passengers he had to sit by... my apologies, stranger!
My brother picked us up at the airport and we went straight to his place to unpack and unwind. We were all exhausted and decided to order in for dinner. We chose a Mexican place - I love Mexican food, it is definitely one of the easiest cuisines to eat vegan! So many of their staples are naturally vegan so it's almost always super simple to just chose something straight off of the menu, or to ask for just a little bit of modification to an order. We ordered from a place in Santa Clara called Iguanas . I order a taco salad and just asked for no cheese - so easy! It had lettuce, black beans, pinto beans, mild salsa and guacamole in a crispy flour tortilla bowl. We also got a side of chips and guac because CHIPS AND GUAC DUH.
We were stuffed after this meal and passed out almost immediately. The next day was our "work and relax" day because after that, we had the next four days packed with things to do. So Thursday was spent doing some work, taking a Target run to stock up on some food while we're here, and going to Ikea to look at some patio furniture for my brother. I made sure to pick up a couple of things at Target for breakfast and lunch - we plan to go out for dinner most nights. Before we left I had some fruit and oatmeal for breakfast - my constant go tos for a quick, cheap and easy vegan friendly breakfast.
Once we got to Target, I grabbed a couple different types of cold brew to try. I haven't been able to find a store bought, bottled cold brew that I love yet. This time I got Chameleon mocha cold brew and Jittery John's espresso blend cold brew.
I also picked up some apples, tortillas, guacamole, lettuce, black beans, tomatoes, bananas, cashew milk, and Gardin mandarin crispy chick'n. I didn't get any drinks because my brother got my mom and I welcome to California gifts when we first got here - he bought us each a Swell water bottle. WE LOVE THEM. They keep your water ice cold for so long, which will be really useful while we're here. I've been chugging so much water since I got here because I love this bottle! Highly recommend it for anyone looking for a new bottle :)
We finally left Target around 2pm and went home to put groceries away and eat lunch before running over to Ikea. I just made a quick wrap with some of the things I picked up at Target and an apple. I've only been to Ikea once and I didn't realize how AMAZING IT IS. Jesse and I are looking for a new couch so I wanted to take all of them but I ended up getting a little picture instead - it would probably be tricky trying to fit a couch on the plane back to NY. I'm going to hang my new picture up in the kitchen when I get back. I love it! The best part: it was $3.00.
We spent the rest of the afternoon going to a couple of different stores shopping around for patio furniture for my brother. We didn't have much luck but it was still a fun and relaxing day. We were all pretty tired from running around all day so we decided to stay in and just eat some of the stuff we got at Target. I don't mind go go go days, but once they're over, I crash immediately.
Saturday was SO MUCH FUN! We had a lot of fun activities planned for the day so I was pretty excited from the beginning. We decided to spend the day in San Francisco. We started by Ubering to the Academy of Sciences. I don't even know how to describe this place, but I guess it's like a combination of a museum, aquarium, and research facility. They had tons of museum exhibits with different fossils, casts, animals, bones and replicas. We wandered around this area for a little while, got lost a few times, and then decided to stop for lunch. We didn't really have breakfast so we were all starving! They had an entire cafeteria section with a ton of options - including vegan friendly ones :) You see the little VG all the way to the right of the 'Organic Nut Butter with French Fries'? Yeah... that means VEGAN! This is just one section, there were a ton of them! I almost chose this burger, but instead I went with sushi. I got a cucumber and avocado roll and BOXED WATER! This water actually tasted so different than bottled water. With every bottled water I've ever had, it always tastes a little like chemicals. This water tasted so fresh.
The cucumber avocado roll was amazing as always :) We finished up at the Academy of Sciences by going into the earthquake simulator (TERRIFYING) and walking through the aquarium. I love aquariums. I always question whether or not these animals have enough room in the environments their kept in, but I do love watching how beautiful they all are. That's an area I want to educate myself on more. I sit here and preach about veganism and how it's changing my life and then I spend a day walking around an aquarium. (Add look into aquarium animal rights to my life to do list).
When we first booked this trip, the first and most important thing my mom wanted to do was ride the cable cars in San Francisco. So after we finished up at the Academy, we took an Uber over to the place where the cable cars turn around and we got a ride up to the top of Lombard Street. The view was incredible! I was climbing on every possible thing I could find just to get pictures of this view.
We walked all the way down Lombard Street and then headed over to Fisherman's Wharf and Pier 39. We bought tickets for a wine tasting event at Pier 39 and were SO ready for a drink at this point. We sampled a few different wines (bought a bottle or two... whoops) and eventually decided to go grab some dinner at a Thai restaurant.
So here is the thing when it comes to beer and wine and being vegan... The unfortunate truth is that not all wine and beer are vegan. You would think that wine is just made from grapes and you're good to go, right? Wrong. During the wine making process, there is a step called fining. Some wines are able to complete this process on their own without any additives to assist. However, many wine producers add fining agents to their wines to contribute to the fining process. These agents can sometimes be vegan, but other times can include casein, gelatin, and albumin, all of which are not vegan. Now these additives are removed from the wine before it is sold; so some people may argue that it does not make the final product non-vegan. I think that everyone's veganism is different and this really is up to the individual to decide. For me, I would like to stay clear of the wines that use these fining agents; to do this, I use the website Barnivore. I understand that it may not be 100% correct all the time, but it is the best resource I have discovered so far. And I actually love it! All you have to do is type in the name of the alcohol in question and it will tell you whether or not it is vegan friendly, when it was originally checked, the last time it was double checked, and any proof they have from the company. I used this to look up the different types of wine we tasted at the event. One of them was not listed on Barnivore, so I decided to just taste a little. Maybe some vegans would not have tried it, but I am on vacation with my family and sometimes you sacrifice :) I actually didn't even like that one, so I poured it out anyway!
Pier 39 was beautiful, it looks like it would be so fun to go to in the evening with all of the lights on.
Guys... I also did the most amazing thing in the world. One of the shops on the pier had an aquamassage machine. It's this big tub that you climb into and water jets move up and down your body. There is a barrier between you and the water so you don't get wet, but you can still feel the full effect of the water. It was incredible! I totally recommend this to anyone who looooves massages, as I do!
For dinner we ended up at OSHA Thai. The menu has several vegan options, which was super helpful. We started with the vegetarian tofu spring rolls and the potato curry samosas for apps. The spring rolls were delicious and tasted so fresh. For my entrée I went with two smaller portioned choices - the asparagus and tofu and the garlic green beans. Both were delicious! I stuck with water because of how much walking we did all day.
Since this vacation has started, there was only one time that being vegan has been slightly difficult. We had a bit of a tough time searching for a dinner restaurant last night because my mom really wanted to try some west coast seafood, and the majority of the seafood restaurants were STRICTLY seafood. But my brother managed to find this Thai restaurant that worked out for everyone! So far, so good on my vegan venture :) I'll be posting all about the second half of my vacation and my vegan eats in a few days!