I’m sitting on the patio of a fancy touristy hotel, overlooking the historic district of the oldest city in the United States, St Augustine, Florida. I’m staying a few blocks away, at the local hostel, which (though lacking a coffee shop), is cozier, and far more amenable to my needs.
One of the coolest things about running a Renaissance Business, is that you can take the party on the road and work from anywhere with an internet connection. I did it last fall, on my six week trip down the West Coast. There were challenges productivity-wise, but I made it work by maintaining my strict morning work rituals.
While getting “time off work” is not an issue for self-employed multipotentialites, there are other things about my lifestyle that make traveling a more difficult. The first is that I don’t own a car. (I’m from Montreal. The rush to get a drivers license and buy a car at an early age is just not part of our culture. It’s not necessary either, because public transportation rocks and parking/snow shoveling sucks.) For some reason that mentality has stuck with me, even since moving to Portland. So anyway, no car.
The second issue is that I’m on a very unusual diet. Without getting into too many details, I’ve been dealing with a lot of digestive issues these past few years, and I ended up cutting a lot of foods out of my diet. I finally got some answers a few weeks ago, and it turns out I have celiac disease (and despite being gluten free for some time, I’ve been poisoning myself with trace amounts of gluten that were in my hair products– crazy!)
Anyway, not only does this means that the usual junk food travel diet is out, but I also need to avoid eating a lot of otherwise healthy foods. My system is so out of wack, that for now, I can’t even eat at healthy restaurants. Basically I prepare all of my meals myself, which I’ve been doing for the last two years.
You might think that the need to prepare all your own meals would make traveling impossible, and to be honest, it makes it a lot harder. You spend a lot of time hunting down grocery stores. But it is not impossible.
Making it work has more to do with your attitude than anything. You need to learn how to calm yourself down and maintain a positive frame of mind. Traveling with dietary restrictions is actually not so different from having food restrictions at home. Focusing on how much your situation sucks, will only make it harder. Your mindset just needs to be: this is just how things are. You do what you need to do.
Here are some tips that will help you stay healthy while traveling, whether you have serious food restrictions like me, or you simply want to eat well on the road.
1. Make sure that your accommodations have a kitchen you can use
Hostels are a great option, since they usually have a kitchen where you can prepare your food. However, be careful because some hostels have certain hours when you can’t access the kitchen and other hostels don’t let you use the kitchen at all. Make sure to double check with them before booking. Oh and label your food well!
Couch surfing is another great option. Just be sure to let your host know in advance. But hopefully you will get the “my kitchen is your kitchen (as long as you clean up after yourself)” green light. The hosts I’ve stayed with have been great about this. People on that site tend to be more open-minded and more understanding about dietary needs than the staff at hostels.
Another good option is Airbnb. When doing your search, just check off “kitchen” and “wireless internet” (if you need it) in the Amenities section.
Finally, some hotels have kitchens in the rooms, or will at the very least bring a small fridge up to your room for fee. The line “it’s for my medications,” helps too. ;)
2. Make sure that your accommodations are within walking/biking distance of a large grocery store
The next thing I do when researching a place to stay, is I locate the nearest large grocery store. I do this by using the Google Maps “Search Nearby” function. If it looks like there’s a grocery store that’s accessible without a car, then you’re good to go.
On rare occasions, you might be hit with a rude awakening when you arrive and realize the grocery store isn’t as close or accessible as you thought. I actually had this problem here in St Augustine. The closest grocery store was two miles away, down a highway. When this happens, I check for public buses, take taxis or charm someone at the hostel to bring me along on their grocery trips (another reason to stay at hostels where you’ll meet people, and develop your confidence/social skills). It turns out that taxis are ridiculously cheap in this town. I’ve taken three cabs already, and they cost around $3.50 each!
3. Whole Foods is Your best friend (farmers’ markets, and local health food stores are good too)
Another thing to look up on Google Maps is the nearest Whole Foods or local health food store. When you find one, stock up on your specialty items. Grab those Brazil Nuts or some coconut kefir. Whatever your thing is, stock up.
When I was in Vegas last fall, Whole Foods saved my life. I couldn’t afford to stay at any hotels that had kitchens, so I stayed at a hotel where they would at least rent me a fridge (for a ridiculous fee) and then I took the bus to Whole Foods to pick up a plain roasted chicken and a bunch of veggies. That held me for the two days I was there. If you don’t do meat, but you eat grains and sugar, there are lots of snacks you can grab at health food stores.
I know it’s a giant corporation, and I get that there’s a lot of marketing and psychological tactics going on here, but I will admit that I find it comforting walking into a Whole Foods market. It feels safe and familiar. That familiarity meant a lot to me in a place like Las Vegas, where I felt totally disconnected from the “culture.” It sounds silly, but that store really felt like a safe haven.
4. Compartmentalize your packing system
I travel with three bags: one small back pack a tote bag, and a fabric grocery bag.
Last fall, I challenged myself to go minimalist with my packing, and bring a day pack, instead of a big backpackers backpack or a large suitcase. It’s not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. You just roll your clothes up, bring as few bulky items like sweaters and shoes as possible, and do laundry more often. It’s like my aunt says, “all you really need is underwear and a credit card.”
Next I have a small tote bag that contains my work stuff: a laptop, cell phone, wallet, and important documents.
The third bag is for food and vitamins. You might not even need a separate bag for this, if your dietary issues aren’t as extreme as mine.
Find a system that works for you. If you like the big backpack method or the rolling suitcase, go for it. But this system works for me because I like knowing exactly where everything is. There’s no need to go digging through my luggage. My backpack is my wardrobe, my tote bag’s my office, and my grocery bag’s my kitchen. Easy.
5. Bring Tupperware
Every time you cook, try to make big portions and then save some for future meals. In addition to a couple well-sealed tupperware containers, you’re also going to want a plastic fork and a small folding knife (remember to check it in your luggage when you hop on any airplanes).
6. Learn to love (or at least tolerate) the Greyhound
In terms of getting around, certainly try Amtrak, look for flight deals, check out local buses, and search for Craigslist ride shares. But spending your time researching transportation options can be a black pit of hell. Greyhound goes most places. It’s not comfy, but it’s often the easiest and cheapest way to travel without a car.
Finally, there are some places that are really just inaccessible without a car. In these situations, try to buddy up with someone who has a car, but if it really feels like it just isn’t meant to be, let it go. For instance, don’t attempt to go to Big Sur “at all costs,” and ignore your intuition, because you could end up stranded by the side of the highway with people you can’t stand…
Having a good system will free you up to focus on your multipotentialite adventures
I hope these tips have been helpful. I hope they’ve shown that if someone with as serious dietary and transportation restrictions as me can travel happily, then so can you.
This may all seem like a lot of work, but once you routinize your transportation and dietary needs and find your rhythm, it just becomes “what you do.” Try out some of these tips, modify them to meet your needs, and come up with your own system. That way you can stop thinking so hard about your basic needs, and go enjoy those multipotentialite adventures.
How have you dealt with any challenges or limitations while traveling?