Dietary Restrictions, Food & Travel

One of the biggest difficulties in my life is centered around food. You see, not only do I consume a plant-based diet, but I also have numerous food intolerances and a sensitive gut which dictates what I can, and cannot eat. This is usually okay when I am living at home as I cook all my own meals, but what happens when I go out, or when I travel for months at a time?

Whether you follow a plant-based diet like myself – which consists of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and completely avoiding meat, fish, dairy products (yes, cheese is included in this), eggs, and animal by-products, you have food sensitivities, or have any other dietary restrictions, it is certainly still possible to travel.

When I set off to Central America I was very worried about what I would eat on a daily basis. I pictured many hungry nights, stressed out grocery trips, and dreaded restaurant visits. To my surprise and delight, not only did I find enough to eat each day, but I actually met a whole community of people with similar diets to myself.

So how do you travel with food and diet restrictions?

1.Be Open to Trying New Local Foods

It may be difficult to find some of the staples you eat at home, however, you may be pleasantly surprised by how many delicious new foods you can try as you travel that fit into your dietary restrictions. When I first landed in Costa Rica I had never tried papaya, fresh coconut or plantains. Who would have thought these would end up being part of my daily diet while I traveled through Central America? All I am saying is, try new foods, you might discover a whole new world of possibilities.

2. Ask for Recommendations 

The best thing I ever did was ask locals if they knew of restaurants and other places that could accommodate my food requirements. I ended up with such long lists of spots to try that I couldn’t get to them all. I also discovered many hidden gems by extending my question to others.

3. Cook for Yourself

If you are a backpacker then chances are you’re looking for cheap accommodations, so this one will doubly benefit you. Many backpackers choose to stay in budget hostels as they travel, which offer a bed in a dorm shared with other backpackers. It doesn’t sound ideal if you have never tried this out, but I can vouch that staying in hostels is such a great way to travel and they have provided me with some of the best experiences of my life.

Anyways, another added bonus of hostels is they usually come with a kitchen. This is not always the case, so you must do your research before booking, but they are quite easy to find. This provides the opportunity to cook for yourself, which if you are anything like me takes a lot of the stress out of eating. I feel most comfortable when I can cook my own meals so I know exactly what goes into my food or what does not go into it. 

Whether you travel with some food staples in your pack, or hit up a grocery store to grab some fresh fruits, veggies, grains, etc., you’ll be surprised by how easy it is to whip something up in a hostel kitchen. Not to mention, it is also a wonderful place to connect with other travelers, and you may even end up sharing a meal and making a friend all while accommodating your dietary needs.

4. Learn the Words

When I arrived in Costa Rica I felt very overwhelmed because I did not know more than a few basic words in Spanish, and yet I needed to eat, obviously. The first thing I did was search for the ingredients I did not want in my food, such as milk, meat, eggs, and so on. I wrote the Spanish translation of these words down, and I practiced saying them over and over again. It took me a lot of courage to say these words in restaurants when I ordered food, and luckily I had met travelers who could speak Spanish and helped me to get my message across. However, with time I became confident with these words and spoke up for my dietary needs.

5. Don’t Worry so Much

When I think back to the months leading up to my trip, I remember constantly feeling worried and stressed out about traveling on a plant-based vegan diet. I expressed my worries constantly, and I truly thought I was going to live off of lettuce and rice. We humans have this tendency to stress ourselves to the brink of illness over things we may not have all the information about. I had a hard time finding vegan options online before my trip, and that alone led me to think I was the only person on a vegan diet who ever traveled to Central America. I know right? 

Overthinking, stressing, and assuming does not do anyone any good. Of course, it is scary to travel somewhere we haven’t been before, but it is exciting and part of the fun of getting out of our comfort zones. Regardless of your dietary restrictions, you will find what works for you, and you will not starve to death, I promise.

2018 – The Year of Self-Love

Happy New Year and 2019!

I am so excited and grateful for the start of another year, and for the opportunity to experience growth, renewal, and expansion.

However, before I dive into 2019, I think it is a good idea to reflect on what brought me to this point, to be thankful for my progress, and to contemplate 2018 – my year of self-love.

2018 was a year like no other for me. I left on January 4th for a trip to Costa Rica, where I completed my Yoga Teacher Training and volunteered in hostels. The sudden urge to book this trip was murky, if not completely unknown to me. I woke up one day with an overwhelming need to travel to Costa Rica and within two days I booked a plane ticket. Though somewhat unexplainable, this trip was detrimental to my health and well-being. Perhaps it was not the travel specifically that I needed so badly – it was the change of scenery, the expansion of my world-views and the reintroduction to myself.

When I arrived in the little surfer town of Puerto Viejo, where I planned to live for a month, I noticed how kind and happy the people living there were. Of course, the sun, warm weather and a home in paradise contributed to their glow, but there was something more to it. There was something else that brought a sparkle to their eyes and an extra friendly smile to their faces. It was their love.

It hit me like a brick-wall when I realized – no, I felt the love these people were emanating. I felt so cared for and surrounded by so much warmth. And yet, I didn’t understand why people who barely knew me made me feel so warm and loved and why I had never felt this way before.

It dawned on me that the reason my new friends had so much love to give others was because they worked on loving themselves each day. It began when I told one of my new friends that I was “so stupid” for whatever I did – a very common retort I’d use when speaking about myself after the most minor infraction – and she looked at me and said, “Love, you don’t deserve to be spoken to that way.”

I began noticing the comments I consistently made to put myself down and how unnecessary these words were. It didn’t end with little put-downs after I made a mistake either; I constantly criticized my body, personality traits, and I would compare myself to others with the notion that I would never measure up. The more I became aware of my habits, the more I realized I never actually had a nice thing to say to myself.

My epiphany, followed by guidance from the amazing women I met, led me to a place where I was able to question the way I have treated myself my entire life, and my ingrained belief that to speak with self-confidence means you are narcissistic and self-absorbed.

During those months of travel a lot of things came up that I had to deal with and overcome. I had to talk myself through a lot of insecurities, a lot of traumas based around old relationships and this constant feeling that I was not deserving of my own or anyone else’s love. I spent a lot of time alone, and a lot of time in stillness, which effectively led to a weight gain, causing even more body-image issues to surface and work through.

Of course, this is an ongoing process that I did not overcome in one year; however, the first step is to become aware of our toxic patterns, and I certainly did in 2018.

Since this discovery I have felt changes in myself. I have begun to develop a healthier self-image and my thoughts are shifting from criticism and discontentment to kindness and patience. When my internal chatter starts listing off perceived reasons why I am not good enough or why I am incompetent, I redirect my thoughts to focus on positive aspects of myself, and I remind myself that every mistake is an opportunity for growth. I have started telling myself “I love you”. I have begun questioning the social norms, advertisements and messages I have grown up consuming that indicate we can never be happy just as we are.

I have begun to work on being happy just as I am.  

2018 taught me the importance of reminding myself I am good enough and I am deserving of love from others and from myself. It taught me that love starts from within and flows outwards to others, and in order to exist within a place of love, we must work on loving ourselves first.