kristen with her book cover

She Created a Food Blog That Took Her Around the World

Taking a sip from her alkalizer juice at The Red Fern restaurant in Rochester, New York, Kristin Lajeunesse begins to share moments from her travels during the last seven years. She’s traveled to 48 states and 21 countries and found a way to make a living off of seeing the world along the way. But this wasn’t always her plan. “My life was really fine. I had a live-in boyfriend in Boston, my job was good, life was O.K., but something felt unsettled,” the 35-year-old Lajeunesse says. She was working as a communications specialist for the Protection of Animals, an organization seeking to improve the needless suffering of animals that works with the Council of Europe and collaborates with the United Nations, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Organization for Animal Health.

kristin headshot

Kristin Lajeunesse put her journey down in words by writing
Will Travel for Vegan Food, which was published in 2015.

vegan salad in front of kristin

Lajeunesse ordered the thai kale salad from The Red Fern but says with “a sugary, yummy vegan version of everything today,” she doesn’t always eat the healthiest foods. Photo by Christine Oser.

But on a lunch break in early 2011, she landed on a plan B. As Lajeunesse scrolled through several lifestyle designer blogs, she decided to start her own blog focusing on vegan travel. The phrase “Will Travel for Vegan Food” popped into her head, and from there, she started planning what would become a two-year travel journey. “Once the idea came to me, I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” she says. “I became obsessed with this idea. Could I make it happen? Could I really live in a vehicle for an indefinite period of time? Could I really eat my way around the country?”

Eight months after that lunch epiphany, she put “Will Travel for Vegan Food” into action. She quit her 9-to-5 job in Boston, sold all of her belongings, and broke up with her live-in boyfriend to embark on her journey. “I drove through 48 states, ate at 547 restaurants, and plus, I gained 25 pounds in the process,” Lajeunesse says.

Before setting out on her trip, she started a crowdfunding campaign through Kickstarter. She raised $12,560 through the campaign, which helped with the trip and the purchase of “Gerty” — a 1995 forest green Chevy G20. Her dad helped build a livable space in the back of the van, including a black curtain to separate the living and driving spaces. Lajeunesse felt ready to make her solo trip. Then she met someone who had the same passion about veganism. She talked to him about the trip, and he decided that he wanted to join her. “I thought, ‘This will be a grand love story,’” Lajeunesse says. “But after two weeks on the road, we hated each other.” She dropped him off and started her trip again the way she intended — alone.

“I think at that time I was a little jealous. I was like, ‘man, wish I could do that,’” says Tess Challis, one of Lajeunesse’s 100,000 Facebook followers.

As she transitioned from life in a quaint Boston apartment to a mobile, makeshift bedroom in the back of a van, Lajeunesse began to appreciate all the life luxuries she took for granted — like the bathroom. “So that meant going into coffee shops and cafes to brush my teeth in the morning and to pee,” she says. “If I had to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, I would use a GoGirl, which is a silicone funnel. I would go that way so I wouldn’t have to leave the van.”

But finding a bathroom soon became the least of her worries. The lifestyle she created for herself often got lonely. Her mother, Jan Lajeunesse, says Kristin would call regularly during her first trip on the road. “She would reach out to us to get that emotional support. We gave words of advice, words of wisdom,” she says. She also admits to being concerned for her daughter’s safety. But that worry evaporated after she spent a week on the road with her daughter. “She came to realize that it wasn’t as scary, and that a lot of the people I was meeting on the road trip were just the most kind and generous people,” Lajeunesse says.

She began in Portland, Maine, because she wanted to start at the most eastern part of the United States. After the initial trip, Lajeunesse began zigzagging up and down, coast to coast, stopping at countless vegan restaurants along the way. While in Oakland, Cal., Lajeunesse visited a vegan, soul-food restaurant called Souley Vegan, which she says required an entire day’s worth of her time. “I have to reserve my day to eat there because I am going to be in a food coma for the rest of the day,” Lajeunesse says.

a van on the side of the road

“Gerty,” the 1995 Chevrolet G20 Kristin Lajeunesse traveled in, contained blackout curtains so Lajeunesse could sleep privately on her foam mattress at night. Photo courtesy of Kristin Lajeunesse.

During her time on the road, Lajeunesse ran into many of her online followers. When she started, she only had a few. She gained about 10,000 followers on Instagram and 100,000 on Facebook during the trip. Beyond her social traction, some of the people who supported her journey from the beginning quickly became her friends. Tess Challis was one of them. Challis was living in Colorado at the time and wanted to meet in person because Lajeunesse was coming to the area. After following Lajeunesse on Facebook for three years, the two decided to meet up for lunch. “I think at that time I was a little jealous. I was like, ‘Man, wish I could do that,’” Challis says. Lajeunesse and Challis had a connection beyond their love of vegan food. Challis describes this connection as spiritual, and the two have been friends for three years now.

When Lajeunesse finished the formal part of her trip in 2013, she sold her van and decided to stay in New York for three months and eat her way through the city. She also launched a marketing and consulting business that she could run remotely, giving her room to travel for three to six months at a time. In 2016, she took a trip around the world for eight months, visiting 21 countries including Spain, Thailand, Indonesia, and Australia.

Although more grounded now, Lajeunesse continues to describe her lifestyle as living out of two backpacks — one carries her office, which includes a computer, external hard drive, and a camera. The second one she fills with essentials such as clothes. She’s launching a business with Challis that focuses on empowering women entrepreneurs, and she intends to spend the next four months in Sedona, Ariz., house-sitting.

“The way it started for me was a personal desire to travel, and it happened that I was vegan.”

Lajeunesse takes a final bite of her salad at The Red Fern and proceeds to tack on one more goal for the future. “One of my biggest dreams is to be the host of a vegan travel show,” she says. With more than 29,000 followers on Instagram, many of them impressed by her journey, it doesn’t seem like an impossible task. “I never went into the project thinking my intention is to inspire people to do x, y, or z,” Lajeunesse says. “The way it started for me was a personal desire to travel, and it happened that I was vegan.” But the interest in veganism she found in her travels and her followers elicits hope. “To me there is an indication that there is a real and lasting shift happening and that there is an understanding. In order for humans to survive, we can’t keep overpopulating, producing, and using animals,” Lajeunesse says. “We can’t sustain feeding each other and the animals themselves. We just don’t have enough.”


Banner photo courtesy of Annie Hall.

Bianca Moorman, originally from Roanoke, Va., graduated from James Madison University with a degree in media arts and design. While at Syracuse, Moorman contributed to newspapers such as The Stand and The Daily Orange, and she was an editor for What the Health magazine. In the future, she hopes to work for a paper that focuses on community issues while using her skills in photography. Moorman is also passionate about music.