Life-changing would perfectly sum up Kristin Lajeunesse's decision to quit her job, let go of most of her possessions, and start the Will Travel For Vegan Food project in 2011. By August of the same year, she was already starting to travel around the US and writing about the all-vegan food spots she came across while on the road. Soon after that, she set off on a months-long road trip in her van that took her to different states across the country. Her award-winning website Will Travel For Vegan Food features stories not just about all the vegan establishments she has been to but also about the sights, people, and experiences that were all part of her unconventional and amazing journey.
Q: When and why did you decide to pursue your passion for food and travel?
It was 2011. I was happy, my life was good, but something felt unsettled internally. Upon exploring this, I learned of an entire community of people who are following or chasing their greatest passions. They called themselves “lifestyle designers.” I was hooked! I started reading all I could about them – people like Chris Guillebeau, Tim Ferriss, Marie Forleo, and Gary Vaynerchuk. Some time later I returned to my work desk (in a literal cubicle at an animal welfare group in Boston, MA) when the words “will travel for vegan food” appeared before my consciousness. In that moment I knew exactly what I needed to do! I needed to quit my job, get rid of all my stuff, move into a van, and try to eat at every single all-vegan restaurant in the United States! It was about six months later that I gave my notice at work, launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money, used that money to purchase and renovate a van, and off I went!
At that point, I’d been vegan for about 5 years and shortly after becoming vegan (in August 2006) I’d totally fallen in love with food. Prior to, I couldn’t have cared less about what I was eating (I was vegetarian for 8 years before going vegan) but learning about all the amazing vegan options out there turned me into one of those people who takes photos of their food - even out at restaurants. Haha!
I’d ALSO told myself for a long time that I wanted to travel. I hadn’t even left the country at that point in my life. Well, other than to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls once. So in this project, I saw the opportunity to explore two passions at once: my newfound love of food and interest in travel.
Q: What was it like to leave your 9-5 job and embrace a nomadic lifestyle?
In reflection, it was so much more than leaving a job. When I’d finalized my decision to go on this adventure I also chose to end a long-term relationship and to rely on donations largely from strangers. As a whole, it was exhilarating and exciting but also a bit scary, sad, and lonely at times. It was as if a complete chapter or my “normal” life narrative was coming to an end and a new one was beginning. What made me push through the obvious uncomfortable parts as well as the logistical planning was this deep sense of knowing that this was exactly what I was supposed to be doing. I blindly trusted my intuition and it has since completely changed my world in the most amazing and unpredictable ways.
Q: What is it like to spend most of your time away from home? How has extensive traveling changed you as a person?
What I didn’t know prior to leaving for the trip was, (1) that living location-independent and minimalistically would very easily and comfortably turn into an ongoing lifestyle choice for me, and (2) just how little I truly knew myself.
At the time I left I’d lived in Boston for four years (2 for graduate school and 2 for work). I hadn’t lived “at home” or the place I grew up, since leaving for college at 18. And while I’ve always been pretty close with my family I never felt drawn to spend much time in the tiny town I grew up in. So it was off to college, work for a couple of years, then grad school, then more work. So being “away” wasn’t an issue. It was being away and utterly alone for 2 years, that was the challenge.
Yes, I met loads of amazing people, having visited 48 states by the time the trip had concluded. I had a couple of friends join for a week here or a week there. My mom joined me for a week too! But otherwise I was totally alone - alone driving, alone dining out (mostly), and alone writing blog posts, managing logistics, connecting with donors, etc.
After spending so much time by myself I came to realize how much I was depending on other people for emotional support. I’d been in back-to-back romantic partnerships from the time I was 16 until I left for the trip at 28. I didn’t know what it was like to be truly an independent thinker. Outwardly, sure but in practice, it was totally different.
By the time the road trip had concluded (August 2014) I’d gained so much more clarity on who I wanted to be and how I wanted to live my life—with greater presence, intention, and passion. It’s now been about 6.5 years that I’ve been traveling full-time and still single. I’ve had a few flings, a few short-lived loves, but as time goes on my clarity for the type of person I want to share my time with, as well as who I am and who I want to continue to strive to be, has become so sharpened, that there’s no sense of urgency for partnership. I’m so creatively fulfilled with the work and lifestyle I’ve created for myself that a romantic partnership would be icing on cake.
My career and work life have also changed, of course. Once the road trip ended I knew I didn’t want to go back to a desk-job. So I started my own business and have had the joy of working with many different people and businesses of all types. It’s been a true pleasure to grow into a role of solo entrepreneurship, joint ventures, and clients that I adore.
Now, as a person I am one thousand times more confident in who I am, the clarity of who I want to spend time with and HOW I spend my time is so razor sharp that I rarely feel out of balance - but when I do my network of global friends is always right there.
Being able to work remotely from anywhere in the world (where there is wifi) is an incredible privilege that I do not take for granted. Love is clearer. Joy is easier. Goal setting is more exciting. And life is simply sweeter.
Q: How do you respond to questions like if it is safe to travel so much, especially on your own?
Like with anywhere in the world, whether it’s my hometown or a new-to-me country, I always recommend people be hyper-aware of their surroundings. Most places are totally safe to travel alone. Just be smart about the company you’re in, how and when you’re traveling, and plan ahead for where to stay. Also, as a general personal rule, I never go out alone after dark - definitely not to dance clubs or bars. I’m not much of a late nighter anyhow so it’s not a biggy for me, but if you’re a woman traveling alone I often suggest waiting until you’re with someone you trust, to go “out” out. Other than that just be smart about your plans, scope out a location really well, connect with people who have been there already (there are loads of Facebook travel groups these days - some just for women), and you should be fine.
Q: What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned so far as a vegan traveler?
Most people are good people.
Q: Things don’t always go as planned when you travel. What was the worst experience you’ve had so far and how did you deal with it? What was the best experience you’ve had so far?
I can’t think of a “worst’ experience actually because even the seemingly bad ones ended up teaching me something or are good stories to share now. And with best experiences, it’s hard to choose just one. I’ve had SO many amazing, eye-opening experiences.
Q: What’s your take on “don’t worry about money, just travel” advice? Any tips for people who want to travel but feel financially stuck?
I don’t feel there is blanket advice for this because everyone has their own take on their personal money situation. Someone could see what I did in my early travel days and think I was nuts. I had no savings, had one client that barely kept me afloat (so I could feed myself and book places to stay, really), no backup plan, no emergency fund, nothing really. After the donation portion of my travels ended I had no plan for work or what I was going to do (until I started my own business). It was a huge risk but I lept without fear - partly because it felt so right, but also because I knew without a doubt that if I got into deep waters my parents would do whatever they could to help me. And honestly, I did have to ask for their support a few times early on. Not always financially but sometimes “just” emotionally.
I do think there’s something to be said for winging it, but these days I’m more comfortable suggesting folks have a bit of a game plan and do some financial planning before journeying or going on a grand adventure. I suspect my travels would have been a bit less stressful at times if I had planned the financials out in advance. ;)
If you feel financially stuck put a game plan into place. Map out a timeline for yourself on your financial goals, and work your friggin’ damnedest to get that stuff in order so you can go live the life you dream of!
Q: What was the last place you’ve visited? Why did you choose to go there? What veggie-friendly dish would you recommend for vegan travelers who may be heading there?
The last place I visited was Toronto, Canada. I spent two weeks there to visit my dearest friends who moved there a little over a year ago. Toronto is filled to the brim with vegan and vegan-friendly eateries. Definitely, go to Istanbul Cafe in ‘Yonge and Eglinton’ neighborhood and try one of their vegan baklava or other veganized Turkish treats, along with an incredible almond milk cappuccino!
Q: You spend a lot of time traveling. What is the longest time you’ve spent in one place?
The longest I’ve spent in one place, since living location-independent, was six months. That was Chicago - one of my favorite cities in the world.
Q: Did you ever felt homesick while on the road?
No. I’m relatively introverted (something I’ve come to learn and appreciate about myself) and I talk to my parents fairly often when I’m traveling so being homesick is never a thing for me really. Plus, I now have friends the world over, so there are always people to connect with. And most of my immediate community is accessible online these days.
Q: What’s on top of your travel bucket list?
To get paid to be the host of the world’s first internationally televised vegan travel show. ;)
Q: What are the most veggie-friendly places you’ve been to so far? What’s your most favorite place among them?
Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Portland Oregon, Toronto, and Berlin. My favorite is Philly!
Q: What surprising/valuable/unforgettable lessons have you learned in your travels?
More than I could possibly name. But here are a few:
- The things that excite me most and light a fire within end up being the things that help and excite other people too. If I let the fear of the “what ifs” take over, I never would have experienced this life or connected with so many people who needed “my journey” just as much as I did.
- Your intuition knows best. Tap into it and trust it above all else.
- Most people are good people.
- Traveling is not just about new experiences for you, it’s about opening up and being present, understanding, and compassionate toward other cultures and ways of life.
- It’s okay to fall in love overnight. And it’s just as okay if it doesn’t last. You’ll be fine and better for it.
- Snap out of conditional relationships - it is not the other person’s job to make you happy or to fill a void, only you can work on that yourself. It’s never the responsibility of someone else to make you whole.
- Courage is a choice, not a feeling.
Q: What would you have done differently if you knew then what you know now?
Q: What would be that one piece of advice you’d like to give to vegan travelers?
You must start before you’re ready because you’re never going to feel 100% ready to jump into a big trip. You can do all the planning and get your things in order, but it’ll still feel nerve-wracking at first. Choose courage (and pack snacks just in case your long flight has crappy food). ;)