Travel: Cheap Healthy Vegan Diet on the Road

Plan ahead, eat sandwiches, cook in motels, avoid restaurants, carry emergency rations

Road Food Sign

We manage to eat well and economically on the road, without compromising our veg diets TOO much.

And I’ve learned to keep it simple, which is harder than it sounds.

The last time I travelled across country by car, I dragged along a huge cooler full of spreads, fruits, veggies, olive oil, plus a kitchen in a suitcase, with hot plate, slow cooker, fry pan, saute pan, 2 small sauce pans, various cooking implements, can opener, chefs knife, cutting boards, plates, cups, bowls, thermoses, utensils, a dozen or more different spices, dried beans, grains.

That was WAY too elaborate. Bordering on obsessive!

During the summer of 2011, we traveled around California, which has far better than average vegan fare. Just one of the many reasons why I love vacationing in CA!

In California, we ate sandwiches almost every day, and I often cooked in motel rooms.

It’s amazing what you can do with a hot plate, 2 small pots, a paring knife, 2 bowls, 2 spoons, 2 cups, and a motel fridge the size of a medium suitcase. I ignored the microwave ovens, since I don’t want me or my food nuked, and invested in a small beverage cooler for the car.

Highlights of Motel Cuisine:

I used my 2 qt pot and hotplate to make black bean soup with canned black beans and tomato sauce, plus zucchini cut up with a paring knife, cilantro (leaves torn off stems and hacked with the paring knife), a slice of ginger, coriander, cumin, spike seasoning mix, and meditteranean herb mix. It had plenty of umami!

Every morning I made oatmeal on the hotplate, with pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, raisins, currants, cinnamon and a pinch of salt. I used cooked brown rice to make rice pudding, with almond milk, a glob of tahini, a spoonful of veggie spread, raisins, currants, sunflower seeds, dried coconut, and cinnamon.

The rice pudding was very tasty and satisfying, sustaining me through a hike in the woods with 3 active grandchildren and a dog. Later in the day, I used the rest of the brown rice to make a stove top casserole with beans, summer squash, curry spices, coconut milk and more cilantro. That was a pretty typical meal.


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When I didn’t cook and we didn’t go out, we ate sandwiches, nuts, dates and fresh fruit. I bought sliced sprouted grain bread, hummus, avocado, sprouts, salad mix, cucumber, tomato etc. So those were Healthy Sandwiches.

The best cooking experience was staying with family and friends and using their kitchens with real stoves and cooking utensils. The right thing to do in return is to buy the food and feed everybody who’s willing to eat what you eat.

Eating Out in CA on a Budget:


Quinoa Recipe Ebook

About half a dozen times during our month in CA, we ate in restaurants for a change of pace or because there was no other option. That was a great break from one-pot meals, sandwiches and oatmeal (I really missed toast).

We ate cheeseless pizza in San Francisco, organic vegan burritos and tasty Thai food in the small N. CA town of Willits, a scrumptious eclectic meal at the Mendocino Cafe in Mendocino on the N. CA coast, and a tasty low fat vegan lunch at Slice of Life in Sebastapol, next to Whole Foods Market.

By the way, Whole Foods has great delis, and they’re everywhere in CA. The food is delicious but on the pricey side. At a friend’s house in Mill Valley, we ate WF kale salad and coleslaw to die for!

After hiking through Montgomery Woods redwood forest, we visited the Mendocino Cafe and ate a lovely meal of guacamole with blue corn chips and fresh salsa, spicy lentil curry soup with home made crusty bread, a beautiful side salad with lime vinaigrette dressing, and apple blue berry crisp for dessert. We were happily stuffed.

All the restaurants we visited were economical, with generous servings. The Mendocino Cafe was pricier and fancier (actual tablecloths and attentive wait-staff), but we thought, a necessary indulgence.

Slice of Life in Sebastapol CA had an extensive low fat vegan menu for a small diner size cafe. The service was great, the food was tasty, the prices were good. The kitchen was separated by only a half wall from the tables, there was music playing and it was busy so it was a bit noisy for me, although others might like that!

The best restaurant meal we ate in CA and perhaps the best restaurant meal ever was the wonderful lunch we had at Gaia’s Garden Vegetarian Buffet, 1899 Mendocino Ave, Santa Rosa. I had a lovely build-your-own salad w. sesame dressing, corn chowder, brown rice w. dhal, spicy cooked veg (mostly greens & potatoes), whole grain bread baked on site. Most dishes were vegan, cheese available as a side.

It pays to find out ahead of time where the natural food stores and veg friendly restaurants are located along your way. I highly recommend Happy Cow as an excellent resource for finding veg-friendly restaurants, stores, and places to stay all over the world, but especially in the good old USA.

Consider adjusting your travel plans accordingly – it makes eating on the road so much easier! We were lucky in Willits CA, having a motel room right next door to Mariposa natural food store, down the street from a supermarket which stocks organic foods, and walking distance from veg-friendly restaurants.

That goes for much of CA. In the past, we’ve often traveled all day before finding a store or restaurant that had something we could eat.

If you’re camping, it’s even more of a challenge to eat vegan. Or eat anything! I remember a camping trip with my daughter and her 2 small children. Much of our day was taken up with building fires and cooking food, then cleaning up under what we think of as primitive conditions (normal in much of the world). And keeping warm (the weather was quite unseasonably cold).

We managed to get in a few hikes, with the 5 year old whining about the lack of videos, and the 1 year old (not yet walking) bouncing up and down in a pack on my daughter’s back.

For camping, think canned and dried food, get a first class camp stove, and leave the kids at home with grandma until they’re at least 8. Grandma won’t mind missing the camping trip!

My Travel Food Philosophy:

Aim for Zen-like simplicity, bring along the bare minimum you need to produce food, be creative & flexible, do your research, think ahead, and take advantage of opportunities.

And don’t forget the can opener. Opening cans with a key and a paring knife or your trusty Boy Scout knife gets old fast. Fortunately can openers are available everywhere. Except maybe on camping trips.

Planning is important, but so is spontaneity when travelling. You might find yourself in an area where there are plenty of fast food restaurants and convenience stores, and not much else. Even those places will have something you can eat if you adopt temporary amnesia about organic, non-GMO, and food additives.

Taco Bell and Subway are well known examples of fast food outlets (I wouldn’t call them restaurants) where you can get something veg and filling to eat in a pinch. Every town in North America has at least one supermarket, and many have delis where you can buy salads etc.

Always carry an emegency food supply – protein bars, nuts & seeds, dried fruit, trail mix, crackers, chips, fresh fruit, water – enough to keep you going for a day, just in case there’s no other food available. Especially if you’re backpacking or hitchhiking, which I saw many young people doing in CA.

A side note about panhandlers: In my much younger days, I hitchhiked around Canada and California, and sometimes found myself hungry and broke. I never had the nerve to beg for money, and I admire those who do.

I know, I know, there are professional beggars who make a good living from sitting on the street with hats in hand. I annoyed one in the NYC subway when I gave him a sandwhich instead of money which I didn’t have. Then there was the con artist at a rest stop who was working a real scam. But I also encountered a young couple at a rest stop who cried when I gave them some of our food.

Now that I usually have a few dollars in my pocket, I always give some to people who approach me, because I feel that most of them wouldn’t be doing something that humiliating unless they really needed a few bucks.

So, if you find yourself in the unimaginable spot of being broke and hungry on the road, don’t hesitate to ask strangers for a hand. Most people are kind, and know that what goes around comes around.

However, safety first. I never pick up hitchhikers in spite of having done it myself, and wouldn’t hitchhike now unless I were truly desperate. Maybe not even then.

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5 Responses to “Travel: Cheap Healthy Vegan Diet on the Road”

  1. Erika says:

    Thank you for your insight and experience! I am about to venture out on the road for 2 weeks and some of your tips were exactly what I needed- if it’s okay, I’d like to refer back to your post on our blog next week!

  2. Savvy Veg says:

    Thanks, Mary! Try these posts too: Eating a Healthy Veg Diet On The Road, and Savvy Veg Eats Her Way to CA and Back. Have a wonderful time!

  3. Mary Windram says:

    Thanks for posting this. It’s got us thinking about how best to eat our way from Detroit to CA this fall. It was also very helpful.

  4. […] are expensive, vegan options are few and far between except in big cities, which we avoid. cheap healthy foods – Google Blog Search This entry was posted in Low Cost Health Foods and tagged cheap, Diet, food, healthy, Road, […]

  5. TC RYAN says:

    Great Blog! I wish I would have read this before my wife left for het trip, she could have used some tips!

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