Vegan Traveling: Portugal

When I’m traveling by myself, being vegan is not a huge problem. I can always find stuff anywhere, Happy Cow is my best friend when I’m researching for vegan restaurants and I don’t mind traveling through the whole city just to find that one awesome vegan curry.

This time, I spent ten days in Portugal though with a group of teens, we had a few meals with locals and others where everyone just grabbed something quickly, and so that was a whole different challenge. Portugal is on the verge of changing when it comes to diet. A few years ago most restaurants didn’t even have a vegetarian option, tons of fish and meat, and even now there are some where you literally can’t find anything without fish in it. However, I was up to the challenge. I traveled to Porto, Lisbon and a few tiny towns and villages in between.

What you can eat in Portugal

First of all: I had prepared snacks at home that I brought, and to be honest – that’s a good advice to take for any vegan who is traveling. Bring nuts, protein bars and maybe crackers, just to have something to eat when you can’t find something quickly. Being hungry is the worst feeling in the world. Portugal is famous for its pastelarias where they sell all kinds of baked goods – they aren’t vegan 99% of the time.

Bread. Portugal has the best bread. You can always ask for olive oil with it, and I could live on that alone.

Tapas. Almost all restaurants have some great tapas! I just mentioned bread, but they also have delicious olives, tremoços (lupin beans), peanuts and chips.

20161020_145929

Salad. You can almost always order a mixed salad. In Portugal it is common to just make the dressing yourself with oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, which is perfect for vegans.

Soup. Often there’s a vegetable soup on the menu and if it’s not, chances are, they’ll still have some. It’s one of the most delicious Portuguese foods and a lot of people eat it as a starter. Just ask if it has dairy in it – I asked every time and it was always okay for me to eat.

Fruit. Fruit is cheap, fresh and there are tons of different kinds at the markets! Most restaurants also have a dessert option that is basically only fruit or a fruit salad. In the vineyards I also had the best fruit that I just picked up, so amazing.

Ask the server! Their hospitality is one of the things I love the most about Portuguese people and so when I asked in restaurants if they could prepare something for me, they were all so helpful and understanding. They asked what I could eat and what I couldn’t eat, and then they made the most delicious veggie, rice and potato combos that I’ve ever eaten.

Lastly and most importantly: wine! One of the best things about Portugal is their amazing wine and port wine, I could basically live on that alone.

 

Special thanks to thebrightmornings for answering my questions about being vegan in Portugal before I went!

Advertisements

18 Things I Appreciate About Germany After 18 Months Abroad

With recent events, it’s so easy to forget that Germany is a pretty great country in some regards. Coming back here after 18 months has showed me that there is so much to appreciate!

415738_4705365236272_1930744353_o

#1 Punctuality: If a German person tells you they’ll be there at 6 pm, they’ll most likely be there by 5.55 pm – just how I like it.

#2 Sidewalks: In Germany, it’s super safe to walk on the side of the road, you can walk almost anywhere! Try doing the same in Thailand and you’re considered suicidal.

#3 Road signs: There’s a sign for everything. E V E R Y T H I N G.

#4 The bread: Obviously. You won’t get this selection of amazing breads anywhere else. Whole-grain is actually whole-grain and not that weird kind of soggy, syrup-coloured brown toast that you get in the US.

#5 People know how to drive: Since driving school is mandatory in Germany if you want to get your license, everyone knows how to drive. It’s pretty safe on German roads in general despite the zones with no speed limits (yes, I do love the Autobahn, of course).

#6 People get things done: You want something? You’ll get it.

#7 You can drink alcohol in the park: Or anywhere, really. I am not talking about getting drunk, but having a glass of wine or a cold beer by the lake and it’s even legal, how perfect is that?

#8 Affordable food: Veggies are actually pretty affordable compared to other countries, who would’ve thought! You can also go out for a meal and as long as you avoid the really fancy places, it won’t break the bank.

#9 Public transport: While we love to complain about our trains being late – there’s a train or at least a bus to e v e r y w h e r e, and in my city they run 24/7.

#10 Being naked is totally acceptable: jk, but no, seriously, in NZ you had to go to the sauna with a swim suit – I don’t get it, it’s disgusting. In Germany you even have to go nude in most places.

#11 Late opening hours: Pubs and restaurants and bars are open until late, some even all night – I have missed that so much.

#12 Phone plans are cheap: Seriously, I pay 7 euros/month while in Canada I paid three times as much and didn’t even have half of the stuff included that I do now.

#13 Education is free: Well, mostly, at least there are no high tuition fees.

#14 The villages are beautiful: Especially after seeing country life in NZ and Thailand, I was amazed by how neat and beautiful German villages are – I never appreciated that.

#15 Roadtrips are so easy because everything is so close: Honestly – while in Canada, it sometimes took us three days to drive where we wanted to go, here you can’t even drive for three days without hitting water, except for the East towards Russia etc.

#16 Tall people everywhere: Idon’t consider myself extremely tall, for a woman in Germany I’m pretty average, but on my travels I felt so tall sometimes that I couldn’t imagine myself wearing heels.

#17 Great coffee: The worst coffee I ever had was in New Zealand, and it really was hit or miss there – same in Thailand. Other countries just have huge pots of coffee but they don’t appreciate fresh, well-brewed coffee – I do!

#18 People leave you alone in stores: What I absolutely hate in stores is when there’s someone following me around the whole time even after I said that I don’t need help and that I’m just browsing. Won’t happen in Germany because it’s considered rude.

I will try to come back here and read this list when I’m annoyed by life in Germany because all in all, I like the country, I love the culture, and I love a lot of Germans. Not all of them, but well, who does?

The Scariest Part About Traveling Is Coming Home

Exactly one month ago I got on a plane in Bangkok and came back home for the first time in 18 months. I was terrified. Going to a foreign country? Meeting new people? Living in a strange culture? Bring it on! Going back home? Honestly the scariest thing about this whole experience.

I’ve had bad experiences with coming back home in the past. When I was 16, I lived abroad for a year and once I got back, more than half of my friends didn’t talk to me anymore. I had the biggest existential crisis of my life, wanted to quit school, go back to Canada and do – well, didn’t get that far, but something other than have to face my life in Germany. Of course, this time I wasn’t 16 anymore, but the fear remained.

There are a few things that helped me with this experience, and maybe they’ll help you, too.

Tell your family exactly how you want to arrive.

They won’t know unless you tell them. Last time, they thought I wanted a quiet first day – but I wanted the big party. This time I told my family that I wanted nobody to know that I was coming back (I didn’t want my whole extended family there because I knew I’d feel overwhelmed), instead I planned a family get together for the following weekend. I wanted to meet everyone on my terms. My sister picked me up at the airport, my parents were waiting at home with a homecooked meal and a glass of wine. Perfect!

Reach out to your friends before you get back.

Last time, I didn’t really keep in contact and then I got back and was like “Hey I’m back, let’s meet up!” – needless to say, that didn’t work out. In the end I’m glad I got rid of those friends anyway, but at the time I was devastated. This time, I made plans with everyone for the first two weeks. I wrote the dates in my calendar, planned different things with everyone and in general just let everyone know way beforehand how much I was looking forward to seeing them. I went to a festival with some, ate breakfast with others and we had the best time. So glad to have them in my life!

Make a plan for the next steps in your life.

Now, this is all depending on what you’re planning to do with your life. The first time I came back, I thought it was all planned out anyway – I was going back to school. That was seven weeks from then though because the summer holidays came first. With barely any friends, nothing to do and the fear of going back to school building up, those weeks were horrible. This time, I wrote job applications on the beach in Thailand. I planned a holiday in Portugal in October. I made sure that I had things to look forward to and it worked. I am having a bit of downtime right now and it’s quite boring until I start my new job, but at least I know what I’m waiting for and I’m not having doubts.

Talk about your struggles.

When I was 16, I wasn’t able to show how hard coming back was. I cried alone, I got angry at the weirdest things and at myself, and it was not a good experience. This time, almost everyone who has asked me how coming back home was got an honest response: It’s not easy. It will never be easy. It’ll always feel weird and that’s okay. You can also reach out to others who have gone through the same thing, that has actually helped me a lot. Even though everyone goes through different stages, you’re not alone!

Remember that it’s not the end of traveling.

Just because you are back home now doesn’t mean you have to stay there. I looked for a job in the city where I really wanted to go back to (which is kind of home for me but quite far from my parents, I went to university there) and I also know that I will always be traveling. For now, it’s not going to be another huge trip like my last one, but I will always leave the country for a few weeks at a time to explore new cultures, to visit my friends abroad and who knows, maybe one day I will leave again for a long time. It’s comforting to know that I can. It’s also comforting to know that I don’t have to. It’s all up to me, the same as your life is up to you. There’s always a way, you just have to find the one that’s right for you.

While the scariest part about traveling is coming home, it’s also a very exciting part because it’s a chance to change how things are at home, too. To reconnect with your family and friends, to find out which parts you didn’t know you missed. There are easier days and more difficult ones, and sometimes you just have to accept that a day will be just you lying on the sofa, missing traveling. It happens and you have to get through those days, too.

Feel free to reach out to me if you’re having a bad day, trust me, I will understand.

4 Amazing Couchsurfing Stories

.. and they all happened to me during the past 18 months. I had never tried couchsurfing before, though I was registered on the website. If you don’t know, it’s a website where everyone can sign up to host travelers and be hosted by locals for a number of days that you agree upon.

What you usually read are scary stories, things gone wrong, weird hosts and stolen goods. While it can be dodgy and I have had my fair share of weird experiences, I wanted to show a different side: the amazing people that you meet and the extraordinary experiences that you can have.

#1 Joe in Quebec City

We arrived at Joe’s house and the first thing he did was invite us up to his roof for a beer. It was noon, a hot summer day and the roof wasn’t actually accessible – we literally climbed out of the window and up the slope. He then told us about his plan: He was a radio host, so he asked us to be on his show. The show is in French, my friend doesn’t speak a word in that language, but that wasn’t a problem, as he had a different idea. He was going to ask the questions in French while we answer in German. Needless to say, we had a blast during that show (where everyone was drinking again). Not sure what the listeners thought, but it was a hilarious experience for us.

#2 Mike in New York City

Mike lives in New Jersey, just across the river from Manhattan, and he gave us his basement. The house had a pool that we could use, a huge kitchen and his lovely wife and daughter. As if that wasn’t enough, he thought that there was too much traffic to go into the city, so naturally, he took us to Manhattan on his boat. On the way back it was almost time for the sunset, so he asked us if we’d like to make a detour to the Statue of Liberty – umm, yes?? He was the best, honestly, I trusted him so much that I left my car with him while I flew to California. He showed us around Manhattan, he was the best host I could imagine.

#3 Sharon in Los Angeles

We didn’t meet Sharon through Couchsurfing, but I’ll tell the story anyway because it’s THAT amazing. We were in the Sierra Nevada, sitting in those hot springs and got talking to Sharon and her friend Amy. They gave us their numbers in case we’d go to Los Angeles so we could stay with them. We called Sharon a few weeks later and she offered to let us stay at her house. We got there, she was just about to leave – for the weekend! She went to the store, bought everything we’d need, told us how to care for her dogs and left. We had a house in the hills in L.A., Netflix, dogs, food and a whole weekend to ourselves. Is there anything better?

#4 Molly in Tahoe City

When we arrived at Molly’s cabin, we were amazed: built out of wood, tiny, but so beautiful! Two blocks away from the famous Lake Tahoe. She had to leave right away, but let us take her two dogs down to the lake, she showed us her box of veggies from the market that we could use, and she offered to take us to yoga. She’s such a kind spirit, it was great to meet her and the way she trusted us with her dogs right away was incredible.

Have you ever had an amazing experience with Couchsurfing? I’d love to hear about it!

After-Vacation Breakfast (or: Overnight Oats Porridge)

Ever got home after being on vacation and didn’t feel like going shopping right away? Well, depending on how long you’ve been gone, most things in your flat won’t be edible anymore. I have just the thing for you – vegan, healthy, easily prepared and the best thing is, all the things you need are things that you should always have at your flat anyway! (i promise they won’t spoil. unless you’ll be gone for a few years, that might be a problem)

20160920_184012

I got the recipe from a woman in New Zealand, I lived with her for a few weeks and she made this. You can always add fruit, of course.

Ingredients:

Oats
chia seeds
flaxseed
millet
cashews
pumpkin seeds
sunflower seeds

(but really, which ever nuts and seeds you prefer is fine!)

Preparation:

Quite simple. You layer the ingredients in a glass (for example a mason jar with a lid) and add about the same amount of water as dry ingredients. Put the lid on, put it in the fridge overnight and take it out in the morning. Pour the mixture in a pot and add a bit of water (you can also add almond or rice milk if you have the non-perishable version. or if you haven’t actually been on holiday, just add whichever you have at home). Heat it up for a few minutes (on my stove, two are literally enough) and stir it. Done!

I enjoyed mine today with some fresh coffee – best way to start the day!

How To Deal With Homesickness

Everyone who has been traveling knows homesickness. It doesn’t always have to be the soul-crushing sadness that some people talk about, it can also mean the inexplicable feeling you get when you see pictures of your best friend’s birthday while you’re not there or the festival in your city that you always went to. It can come after a week or after a year, often in waves, and it’s not always something you recognize at first. The question is though – what can you do?

The advice you usually find in these kinds of posts is ‘going out’ and ‘distracting yourself’. While that is very true, it’s never that easy. Usually there’s also the advice to ‘not call your friends and family because you’ll miss them more’. Honestly? I think it’s bullshit.

Call your Mum to tell her you love her, to hear about what she’s been up to. Call your best friend and tell her that her birthday looks like the most fun ever and you wished you were there. Call your sister and tell her that everything sucks because you’re missing home. It’s okay. It honestly is.

Don’t spend days and weeks on the phone with them, but just call them if you feel like that’s what you need. Afterwards you might feel worse – that’s true. But you also won’t think about calling them anymore and you can go out and do something else. You might feel better, too. For me, that depends on the situation. Don’t force yourself to not have contact with your loved ones though, in my experience, that almost never helps.

If you have a friend that’s been through something similar, talk to them. If you don’t, find someone on the internet who’s been through the same thing (facebook groups are a good way to start). There’s nothing to be ashamed of, if someone says that they never miss home – well, they are either lying or they really don’t have anything worth missing back home, and that’s just as sad as being homesick.

IMG_1166

How To Live In A Minivan

Living in a van sounds romantic, right? Driving wherever the road leads you, parking the car where you like it, sleeping with a view of the stars above, breakfast at the beach.. Sometimes it actually is that way. Sometimes it’s not though. There’s police officers chasing you away, rainy days where you don’t have anywhere to go, a lack of privacy and most importantly mosquitoes. Tons of mosquitoes.

Anyway, the all in all six months I spent living on the road in a van were some of the best ones in my life. Hard, but also fun. I am going to talk about some important points and maybe after that you’ll decide that clearly, living in a van is not for you. Maybe you’ll want to try it out sometime, though!

Get a van. Obviously. There’s tons of different models, big ones, small ones.. I decided on a minivan, a Honda Odyssey 2002, which I bought with my friend David who helped with checking that it’s running smoothly (because frankly, while I’m a good driver, I don’t know much about cars). The good thing about minivans is that they don’t use a lot of gas and are quite cheap on the upkeep. Other good models would be a Ford Windstar or a Dodge Grand Caravan. Bigger vans are more expensive on gas, but have more space. Whatever fits your budget. Local car dealers might have what you need, but private sales on sites like craigslist are usually the cheaper option. Registration and insurance are important, even in countries where you don’t necessarily need it (looking at you, New Zealand!). If you have questions about the Canadian system, let me know, I know quite a bit about that.

Name your van. Totally necessary step! Mine was called Bobby (the car).

car mountains

Equip your van. You don’t need a fully equipped backpacker van with a bed and everything, despite what everyone says. I even kept the seats in there in case I wanted to bring more people and to sell it in the end as a normal car, not just for backpackers. I simply put an air mattress in the back, flipped the seats to the front and bought sleeping bags. Very important: make some curtains (we used shower curtains, another time just cut up some fabric from Walmart)! If not, you’ll have street lights or the sun shining in your face (especially fun if you go to Alaska in the summer – we had kind of forgotten that it won’t be dark at night). A camping cooker is pretty handy. You’ll figure out what you need along the way, depends on how long you want to live in it.

car inside

 

Find a travel partner. Of course you can also go by yourself, but it can get quite lonely and you might not want to sleep in dodgy areas. I traveled with a girl I met on a farm, then a friend from Germany joined us and in the end it was just the German friend and I. There will be arguments, it won’t always be easy, but in the end I was so glad I had someone by my side to share this adventure.

Find a route. Check if there are unpaved roads. You are risking popped tires (I had three of those during the 15 months I had the van), and if a road is only suitable for 4WD, don’t go on it if you have 2WD. Check for road conditions. Do you have snow chains if needed? Do you even have winter tires? You won’t need them if you’re roadtripping through California in the summer, but go up to the Rockies and it might be a different story. Also remember that in some parts of the world, you won’t  find gas stations every few kilometres, sometimes there might be a few hundred in between. Know the route.

Sleeping. There are different rules in every country, but in general, you are pretty unsuspicious in a minivan. Nobody will suspect that there’s someone sleeping in there, unless you wash your dishes in a parking lot at 10 am (yes I did that. Yes I got caught). Ideally find somewhere where a public toilet is nearby (or alternatively a bunch of bushes). In the US and Canada, you are allowed to camp in most Walmart parking lots, so if you’re near a city, that’s a safe option. Other big supermarkets sometimes allow it, too. There’s public rest areas, a lot of those are okay. Sometimes they are next to the beach, the most perfect spots. Sometimes there’s fire places, go there. Other people have camped there before and most likely didn’t get caught. Check Allstays and Freecampsites (they are not always reliable, but I found some awesome spots on there!)

Don’t leave a trace. Take your garbage with you. In so many places I found other people’s trash, it’s not pretty. There are less and less places where it’s allowed to camp without paying, and people that leave their trash are the reason for that. Don’t be a part of the problem.

Apologize to the police if they find you. The two times I ran into the police while sleeping in a van, the encounters weren’t bad. A warning, they sent me away, that’s it. Don’t turn up again the next day! They might give you a fine sometimes, but usually they just warn you the first time.

Find a place to shower. There’s a few places where you can shower. Firstly, there’s community centres or pools. Truck stations often have showers (for a fee, obviously, but they are mostly pretty clean and sometimes you can do your laundry, too!), some hostels will let you shower. Campgrounds will most likely let you shower for a fee (or you just walk in and don’t get caught).

Take a break. Sometimes it’s good to book a motel room just for one night. You’ll see when you’re at that point. For me, it mostly came after about three to four weeks. It’s okay – you don’t have to live on the road full time.

Word of advice: It always sounds great to buy a van and then sell it in the end, because you’ll get your money back anyway, right? No, not always right. Sometimes it costs a lot on the road because it’s expensive to get parts replaced or repaired, and sometimes you won’t be able to sell it for the same price because the demand isn’t high. We were lucky with repairs, just a few new tires and oil changes, but in the end, our brakes were done, the doors didn’t work and we had to scrap him. So when you buy a car, always remember that you might not get your money back. Still cheaper than a rental though, and to be honest, way cooler. Once we knew that we wouldn’t get any money for it, we drew on the ceiling – in the end it was an artwork of our time there.

scrap van

Got any questions about living on the road? Let me know, I’d love to help!