My little family of three takes a road trip at least once a year, usually in the summertime. Since we all became vegan eaters, the couple of road trips we've taken have required a bit more food packing and planning. Our most recent trip involved 3 days of driving each way, and we learned a great deal about how to eat vegan on the road and still maintain a fairly healthy and non-monotonous diet. Here are a few tips for a vegan friendly road trip:
1. Dry Goods Are Your Friends We found Trader Joe's to be our one stop shopping place when it comes to non-perishable items for road trips (or any time, really). We separated the following foods into Snapwear stackable trays (We found ours at Target.) for the car food, and then kept extras in baggies in the trunk stash. We've collected a number of trays over the years, so our Snapwear stack was about 8 trays high! While this is super convenient, any containers or baggies will work.
- pumpernickel pretzel sticks
- organic raisins
- raw unsalted cashews
- Thai lime cashews
- raw unsalted almonds
- maple leaf cookies (Sweets to balance the salty treats are essential!)
- tortilla chips
- everything crackers
2. Keeping It Cool We used a cooler for the backseat and another in the trunk. Although you can pick up a bottled water almost anywhere, you will want to pack healthy fruit drinks (like a Naked or Odwalla), because they are rarely found at the gas station grocery stores. Also, I seem to be getting incredibly picky about my water, and the cooler was great for water from home in my trusty reusable Nalgene bottles. Other items to pack in your cooler are listed below.
- carrot sticks (or baby carrots, to save prep time)
- a bag of vegan chocolate chips (They're small and a great way to curb a sweet craving on the road. These are affordable at Whole Foods.)
- unsweetened applesauce cups or whole apples
- sandwiches (See "A Note About Sandwiches" below.)
- rinsed black beans in serving size containers
- rotini noodles in serving size containers (Keep a Braggs nutritional yeast flakes shaker and a spice or two handy for seasoning.)
- any dressing or condiment you absolutely can't live without (Veganaise can be hard to find in a small town, for sure.)
3. A Note About Sandwiches If you haven't turned to the Field Roast dark side, you must must must! I made a handful of Celebration Roast sandwiches on vegan sandwich buns with Veganaise and honey mustard. They're hearty and fit easily into your hand for on the road eating. I wrapped mine in foil and put the wrapped sandwiches in a large plastic zip bag to keep in the backseat cooler. We had a six year old riding along, so we also packed a creative combination of fruit spread and nut butter sandwiches also on buns. Cutting these in half before wrapping made them more appealing to tiny hands.
4. If You Need a Pick Me Up The gas station grocery stores are good for chips and soda, if you feel that after 8 hours of driving you must have the junk. Carefully read the labels on chips, because even the plain ones aren't always vegan. I'm not sure where you draw your lines, but our is currently at a place where we won't eat things that "May contain milk" but we will eat things that are "Made on equipment shared with milk." It will open up more possibilities in this situation. There is a brand of popcorn called Rocky Mountain Popcorn that comes in a "naked" flavor, and the kettle corn version is also vegan, I think. Very few stations had this, but we did see it a couple of times whilst crossing the country. Virtually nothing else in the gas station will be for you. It will make your children sad, so be sure to have some special treats packed in the car.
5. Restaurants and Hotel Breakfasts If you research ahead of time, you can pick the cities with the best cuisine and budget your driving time to make room for sit down dining. Our best move was to stop in Albuquerque, where we ate dinner at Thai Vegan and breakfast at the Flying Star Cafe. There's also a natural foods co-op we made time to raid before getting back on the road. It was well worth the time. Fast food is a bit of an option, but it's not a healthy one, and you need to research to make sure the french fries or whatever are vegan. The hotel breakfast can be a good place to stock up on fruits, but choose the bananas over glossy pesticide-ridden apples. We brought our own instant oatmeal packets and used the hot water in the lobby to make it. The only other thing you might be able to trust is a bagel. Most likely the breads and waffles contain milk.
Being a vegan usually means you do a lot of cooking for yourself, and being on the road can feel pretty unsatisfying. If your prepared with the staples and some yummy splurges, you can make it to the next kitchen in comfort!