Jess's random travel life

I love when my passions collide! This weekend was quite the combination when I joined 40 other vegan runners/drivers to conquer the hills at the Adirondack Ragnar Relay and raise awareness about the treatment of animals. I flew into Albany Thursday night and was greeted by Kaitlyn, who I had never met before but graciously offered to pick me up and let me stay with her. After meeting a few other teammates and carbing up on vegan pizza, we headed to her house to get a few hours of sleep. With the adrenaline rushing none of us really slept. But fueled by love, passion, and lots of coffee we headed out at 5 AM to take on the next 30+ hours and 200 miles of the ADK hills!Ragnar

SHVP2My first leg was a beautiful 5 mile run along a bike path, that ended on the beach at Lake George. I paced it well and came in about 3 minuets faster than expected. The night run was a 2.6 scenic run at 4 AM. I gave it my all because I knew it was a short one. I ran nearly a whole minute/mile faster than anticipated! My final run was 8 miles of hills in the heat, I knew to start off slow so I could run the whole thing. I was steady climbing for the first 5 miles, admiring the first colors of Fall leaves, but at mile 5 I kicked it into gear knowing my teammates were all waiting for me at the finish (I had the privilege of being the last runner).

Our A team took first in their division and second overall! Proving that vegans can be just as strong, fast and athletically accomplished as omnivore athletes. One of the things about being vegan is we are constantly questioned about our nutrition, and health. Wins like this prove you can accomplish all your athletic goals without causing harm to others. To quote one of my favorite places, Edgar’s Mission, “If we could live happy and healthy lives without harming others…why wouldn’t we?”SHVP1

While I love this accomplishment, winning the race was second to what we were there for. If being vegan made us run slower and caused us to come in last, we would still be vegan, run and have fun – The harm caused to animals for our ‘food’ is not worth the suffering. We were there to make a statement, and we weren’t easy to miss! While we received some of the expected, “Want some beef jerky?” comments, the overwhelming majority of people were curious with their comments and questions, “So are you all actually vegan? “ “Yay vegans!” “You guys are fast!” “I’m vegan too!”. SHVP

Although I had some PR runs, my most important win from this race was the loving community I was with, and the new friends I made. All too often vegans spend precious time and energy arguing tactics or being angry at the imperfection of this world. This group had quite the opposite energy (maybe it was the runner high!) but I loved being around them. Passionate, smart, fun, caring…the list of positive adjectives could go on and on.

We run for those who aren’t able. We run to build positive community. We are strong. We are passionate. We push our own limits. We are Strong Hearts Vegan Power, and with our participation in ADK we have made this world a bit more of a compassionate place.

One last huge THANK YOU to all those involved in organizing, to *our sponsors for keeping us fueled along the way, and to those who supported my fundraising for The Humane League!
*Zevia, Temple Tumeric, GU Energy, Pretzilla, Sophie’s Kitchen, Gardein, Picky Bars, Field Roast, Chao Cheese, SurfSweets and GoMacro

PS- I’m never never taking off this hoodie, it’s such a badge of honor!Ragnar


Cuba Part 1

In many ways Cuba feels like I went back in time. For the past 2 weeks I’ve had little internet, communicated with landlines, and drove in old school cars from the 50’s. But I didn’t feel like I lost anything, in fact I gained so much from the technology detox and inspiring spirit of the Cuban people. The Cuban people are incredibly resourceful, creative, honest, fun, and love Americans. The country may be under a restricted government, but the people are rich with community, art, music and laughter.

It still isn’t legal to just travel to Cuba. You must fall under one of the circumstances outlined here. OFAC takes this seriously. Do not make any mention to your bank, PayPal, or any authorities of your Cuba plans. A memo note of “Cuba” when paying my friend back for a flight lead to our accounts being under investigation, being reported to OFAC, and the Feds now having my money. We met other travelers who have experienced similar situations. Even if you are going legally do not mention Cuba in any financial transaction. We met travelers who went flying under the radar as well. If you plan to travel this way it IMG_5247appeared very easy. Just ask Cuba immigration to not stamp your passport, they are very used to this and I actually had to ask them to stamp my passport, and they asked if I was sure.

Going with the flow led to some really great situations. We flew to Cuba via cancan, Mexico. In Havana we waited at the airport for a very long time for our bags, and then headed to the money exchange counter outside of the airport. Some friends had Canadian dollars, others Euros, and I have USD to exchange, we found we all got about the same rate in the end. Since American banks still don’t do business in Cuba make sure we had to make sure we had enough cash to last our whole trip.

We booked and Airbnb and stayed with a great Cuban/Russian lady. Our first night she recommended a local place for dinner, Starbien. Many restaurants in Cuba are state run, but this one was private. They easily accommodated our vegan diet and we were served a feast of local veggies including a fried taro root with a grape vinaigrette, as well as black beans and rice.  We also for got the most delicious, strong, mojitos. All for less than $10/person. After dinner we took a taxi to the capital, and explored the cobblestone roads, ultimately ending up in an intimate bar with live music called Cafe Cuba. The musicians were phenomenal, and the intimate atmosphere lead to talking to the locals.

One young alternative guy I got to chatting with explained how he has a background in computer science but how he make more money at the bar, so works there instead. Conversations like this continued throughout my trip as I learned most people makeCigars $30-$40 a month, and working in tourism and hospitality is one of the few opportunities to make more. He invited us to join him and friends that weekend at a really interesting warehouse space called Fabrica del Arte. We exchanged numbers and called him the following day from our host mom’s landline to set a time to meet. Fabrica del Arte was fascinating! It was a museum the met a bar that meet a movie theater and dance club. With alternative political art featured throughout the 3 story warehouse, different dance clubs, or the second level where you could watch a film, there was something for everyone. We found a space where we could sit together and chat about culture, and life. Our time in Havana continued like this, not meeting any tourists, just talking to the friendly locals.

After a few days in Havana Mimi and I joined an organized tour that took us to a few different cities, and areas of the countryside.


Travel for me is about more than seeing beautiful places, it’s also about the beautiful people you meet and experiences you share. Connecting with people I hardly know has never been as easy as it was in Vienna.

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Hike with new friends at Schönbrunn.

I decided to go to Vienna on a whim. My sister and I were in Budapest and when she had to go back to work I decided to stay and travel on my own. I looked at a map and thought “Ah Vienna is close, and I’ve never been there…”, so off I went. My stay in Vienna started with a stranger from Couchsurfing who gave me a key to his apartment and also gave up his room for me while he slept on the couch. The kindness of those I met in Vienna melts my heart, and it just kept getting better. He welcomed me to join him and his friends at a local veg pub where we drank microbrews with the owner, ate vegan schnitzel, and talked about his work in immigration rights, veganiam, and about life. We laughed a lot, as all those I met in Vienna seem to do!


Schnitzel at Rupp’s.

My second day in Vienna I met with Carina, another stranger who immediately felt like a best friend. She educated me on the growing vegan scene in Vienna, with new restaurants, availability of vegan options, activism, growing public awareness. I could write for days about the vegan scene here but I’ll try to give you a quick brief…there are multiple animal rights groups, a vegan clothing store, 2 vegan grocers, 2 vegan ice cream shops, a vegan wine bar, a vegan hotel, and a big vegan dumpster diving scene. There is even a restaurant that started in the 1700’s with traditional Austrian food that transitioned to becoming vegan and is opening their second location next week! What more could I ask for. Oh yea, as I mentioned the vegans there know how to have fun! I got the celebrate New Years at an all vegan parted hosted by Felix, the President of the Vegan Society. The Viennese were a great reminder of the need to love more, laugh more, and embrace the positive energy that life can have.

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Veganz Vienna

As much as I travel I still sometimes over plan to try and avoid missing out, but the truth is I usually miss out when I plan to much. I planned too much this trip. I was meant to leave my Couchsurfer’s home after 2 nights and travel back to Budapest where I had a flight back to Frankfurt. Good news is it’s never too late to change your path, in travel or life! I decided I couldn’t leave, the amazing people (and food) compelled me to stay. I filled time with my new friends by ice skating, visiting castles, playing games, fun conversation and of course lots of eating! On January 3rd I finally left to meet my sister in Garmish, a ski town in the German Alps.


Ice skating to beautiful classical music of the New Years concert.

I’m not sure what sparks everyone I met in Vienna to be so nice, considerate, giving, fun, and amazing. Maybe it’s the free education that creates smarter well thought out population. Maybe it’s the more equal culture, where people don’t need to fight to get ahead and have their basic needs like healthcare met. Or maybe that it’s just contagious nature of those you surround yourself with.  Whatever the case, I’m heard over heals for you Vienna. Thanks for the laughter, kindness, nougat dumplings, nougat cake, and nougat chocolates galore!

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View from the highest point of the German Alps.

I’ve heard a lot of resentment from vegans about the recent buyout of a popular well loved brand, Gardirn, being bought out by food giant, Pinacle Foods. I understand the frustration from vegans that this is no longer an exclusive vegan company, and even worse that Pinacle’s parent company Blackstone invests in Seaworld. But I’m here to make the case that Gardein’s sellout is more positive that the vegan community is giving Gardein credit for.

Before we go any further, can we all agree this acquisition will lead to higher Gardin distribution? Big business care about profit before anything else, and would not purchase Pinacle if they didn’t see an opportunity to increase profits.

While I personally rather choose to support an exclusively vegan business (be it a restaurant, a vegan doctor, entrepreneur, etc) I completely support business decisions that make vegan food more widespread and accessible. Gardein could not do for the brand what Pincale Foods will be able to do. Pinacle will be able to invest more, increasing the economies of scale and lead to Gardin being distributed even more widely. We have seen what Dean Foods has done with Silk. They have made soy milk mainstream and then moved onto tapping into the almond and coconut milk industries. This no doubt has had a tremendous impact saving many cows from a life of suffering.

Imagine if more big businesses invested in vegan products, we’d no doubt have a vegan world faster. Then we could move on the tacking other problems with food giants. Some argue the acquisition comes with another range of problems like Pinacle being pro GMO or having connections with Sea World. I don’t mean to dismiss these arguments, but there are so many problems in this world focus is important. More vegan food is one of the best ways to help the world, more pressing than taking down big business or GMO’s in my opinion. One of my most important values is making veganism mainstream and accessible and if this comes at the price to selling out to a larger company, so be it. The more vegan food in the world the better.  Once it’s all vegan we can work on the next level of breaking down the monopolist food industry. We could do both right now but this would mean a slower process to animal liberation.  It is nerve racking that our food supply is controlled by so few companies, but what what me even more upset is the way animals in this country are treated.

Lastly luckily here are many exclusive companies that vegans can continue to support while Gardin becomes more widespread under Pinacle’s rule. Vegan businesses seem to  pop up every time I blink. Have you heard about this vegan food company? I just heard about Impossible Foods the other day, they are launching in 2015. There are many all veg meat companies that vegans with access can continue to support.

Tour Life

Warped Tour has been awesome! We’re reaching so many people, including a record high of 1398 people in New York. Every day we average showing the video to about 1,000 people. Most people are very receptive. aImagend want to have a meaningful conversation after. It reinforces my belief that most people love animals and don’t want to see them hurt, yet eat meat because of their habits.Image

Almost everyone pledges to try a few days a week being vegan and others pledge to go veg completely. This shows me how fast things can change with effective outreach, and also that this movement isn’t stopping it’s only getting bigger. There are so many memorable interactions everyday it’s impossible to describe them all. In general seeing how people ‘get it’ after watching the video is amazing, one guy said he used to think veganism was just a hippie thing but now he really understands why people choose it. He’s right this movement is not a hippie thing. I’ve talked to people from all walks of life including hunters who say our food system is fucked and don’t want to support it, people of all ages from a father saying he’s going to try veg days with his family to a little girl saying she’s going vegetarian.

dropping every year, we don’t have to kill animals to live so why would we?

Jersey ain’t that bad

We had our day off in Ashbury Park, along the Jersey shore.  I never thought Jersey would have anything to offer me, but I was surprised.  Walking along the boardwalk we found a place with vegan ice cream that was awesome!image

Coconut based cinnamon chocolate, om num num, the perfect thing to temporally cool us down in the wretched heat.  We took a stroll into town and found yet another place with vegan ice cream; we sampled a couple including an awesome vegan Almond Joy.

Later that afternoon we went shopping to stock up on food for the bus.  We found a natural food store that had so many vegan options, including the new Daiya cream cheese and a vegan salad bar! photoWe bought some goodies here and also walked over the Wegmans for some odds and ends. I’ve never been to a Wegmans but apparently they are big in parts of the East coasvegan shoppping t, they had tons for vegans and lots of organic foods. I love shopping with vegans!

Speaking of food, today we were in D.C so some staff from the FARM office came out to help and to feed us tons of delicious food.  The highlight was the Tofurky pockets and quiches; did you know Tofurky makes those now? Did you know these Doritos are vegan too? There is no reason to eat any animal products, we have totally badass delicious animal free foods here in 2013.  It’s better for us, better for the planet, and certainly better for the animals.Vegan Doritos

Warped Tour begins

My time on Warped Tour has begun with a bang! After getting picked up from the airport we headed to the hotel to meet our driver for the tour, we drive overnights so we met her around 11pm and headed off. I dosed in and out of sleep as the ride was bumpy and rougher than I imagined it would be. Around 7am we made it to the venue, ‘finally I can get a few hours of sleep before work starts’ I thought. Not long after I heard a loud pop, one of our tires had blown. We were able to get it fixed quite efficiently thanks to our awesome crew. We were up and running again by 11, and were able to get into the event a bit late and still reach about image

Let me back up for a second. I’m spending the next month following Warped Tour with a non-profit group FARM. They pay people $1 to watch a 4minuete video. Watch it here, I won’t pay you a dollar but it will change your life and empower you to make more conscious decisions. Actually you should give me a dollar for opening your eyes to something that is such a big part of most people’s lives but it isn’t talked or thought about. For real though check it out and if you change because of it maybe I’ll make you cookies.