Conscious Road Tripping: Making vegan and sustainable choices on the road
McDonald's fries, Skittles, Smiths chips and Coca Cola used to all by synonymous with road trips for me. Crinkly plastic wrappers, plastic straws and enough oil, sugar and salt to fuel an army. I always thought road tripping left you feeling exhausted, bloated and generally crappy. That was until I went on a 2.5 week road trip with my fellow vegan, minimalist and eco-minded boyfriend. Instead of experiencing stress, sore joints and digestive issues I lost weight, slept well, felt stronger and healthier than normal, and produced very minimal waste along the way.
We achieved this simply by thinking about our purchases. We discussed what meals we wanted to make, packed our reusable supplies, wrote shopping lists, and looked up the best places to shop. We didn't wander stores mindlessly throwing any old thing in the cart, we thought about our health and our values and went in with intention. We mainly did three large grocery shops at organic grocers. One in Queensland, one in New South Wales, and one in Victoria. And with the money saved by sleeping in a campervan, shopping well still came with a lower price tag than more extravagant vacations.
The benefits of slow travel
There are obvious eco benefits to driving rather than flying and using less electronic products. The petrol saved is enormous which is a win for the planet. Plus, traveling slowly allows you many other luxuries such as shopping in bulk, cooking for yourself, more space to carry reusable products, being able to sit down for a coffee or a meal rather than grabbing takeaway or eating on the plane, and lots of time to stop, stretch and move your body.
Where did we shop?
When supermarkets were the option available in regional areas, we shopped at supermarkets (approximately three times). However, we prefer to shop at organic wholefood markets to find packaging-free or just plastic-free packaged food. Our three biggest hauls came from Charlie's Fruit Market in Brisbane, Fundies Wholefoods in Byron Bay, and Surfcoast Wholefoods in Torquay.
By stopping into organic and bulk markets along the way we were privileged to be able to buy mostly locally grown, ethically sourced and pesticide-free. Being on the road did not limit our ability to eat vegan or organic. It made it all the more possible and enjoyable! By having a van we had plenty of space to store our groceries and therefore didn't have to reach for high-fat, individually wrapped snacks.
What did we cook?
The ability to cook for ourselves was the real upside to a van road trip. Cooking your own food is obviously the key for saving money and eating healthily, but when you travel you tend to not want to waste time in your hotel or apartment when you could be out seeing the world! So having a portable kitchen was amazing! We could pull up at the beach or the carpark of where we were heading and Tim would brew us up some coffee. We felt so great eating high carb low fat meals for such a low cost, and sticking to our usual diet made the less healthy meals so much easier to digest so we bounced back quicker when we did eat salt or oil. This let us enjoy the splurge of travel without leaving us sick and miserable.
Breakfast was the same every day: Organic rolled oats with pears, dates and cinnamon, plus Oxfam Fairtrade coffee with Bonsoy. For snacks we always had organic bananas on hand. As well as kombucha, reishi chai and turmeric latte powder!
Lunch and dinner when we ate in the van were a variation of brown rice and quinoa rice pasta. All our food is salt, oil and sugar free made with organic produce, salt-free sauces and the occasional lentil. We brought our own spices from home to save waste, but replaced them in plastic-free containers from the organic stores as we ran out. The favourite from the trip was eggplant, zucchini and mushroom GF pasta with reduced sodium pasta sauce, mixed herbs and vegan Parmesan (which is definitely not all that healthy or sustainable and is absolutely our guilty splurge).
Where did we eat?
We ate a lot of good food. We ate at 20 vegan or vegetarian restaurants, plus a few others that serve meat. Aside from friend recommendations, most of the places we found were through the HappyCow app. While the website happycow.net is free, it's just $6 to download the app on your phone which has the fun benefit of being able to notify you of places to eat in your area. This covers places that are vegan-only, vegetarian-only or that simply have a veg-option, as well as useful stores. We stopped in a lot of organic stores using this app!
Our favourite eats included:
- Moo-Free Burger Truck - Brisbane
- Elixiba - Byron Bay
- Soul Burger - Sydney
- Wombat's Cafe - Dromana
- Fina's 2 Vegan Restaurant - Melbourne
- Smith & Deli - Melbourne
What did we pack?
As minimalists and mindful consumers, we pack light. About 40L per person, and a shared bag for things like cooking and cleaning supplies. My complete packing list can already be found here: jaclynmccosker.com/travel/winter-packing-list. Packing light makes you prioritise what's important, keeps consumerism down, as well as - here's the bonus - weighing less and therefore consuming less petrol on a road trip!
What was important from our packing list was the zero-waste section. Minimising waste production is all about preparation! We used our reusable produce bags, shopping bags and water bottles daily, and things like the cutlery, straws and reusable coffee cups more sporadically. Packing your zero-waste kit is essential to living your values on the road and maintaining a sustainable lifestyle. Know what you need to pack by considering what it is you already use. E.g. All of us need a reusable water bottle because water isn't always readily available, but not all of us care about coffee or tea so maybe you won't even want to bother with a KeepCup.
When you're living in a van, the freedom to move every day allows you the possibility to source anything you need ethically while travelling. At times we were in the middle of nowhere and had to grab something from Woolies, but we also knew the next night we'd be able to hit a bulk store, so we only bought what we needed and waited to do our big hauls at a more ethical store.
Road trips are not restrictive and do not require you to compromise or sacrifice your health or your values. They just require you to be mindful and plan ahead, as anybody living a slower waste lifestyle would already know. Veganism is spreading, and awareness of single-use plastic is spreading. Sustainable and vegan options can be found all over the country now, and living in a van is just the best chance to practice minimalism and mindful consumption.