Vegan Van Life – The Ultimate Guide

by Leoni
Vegan Van Life - The Ultimate Guide

Vegan van life might sound like quite the challenge at first – not only don’t you have a proper kitchen, now your list of possible ingredients is shrinking, too. But don’t worry, it’s much easier than you think. In fact, not having to worry about the shelf life of milk and meat in your home on four wheels is amazing. 

We’ve been living the vegan van life for quite a while now and can confidently say that we have become experts in the field. This Ultimate Guide will teach you everything you need to know about a plant-based lifestyle on the road, from what to cook and where to eat out, to essential gear, tips and tricks, and mistakes to avoid. 

(Just so you know, this page contains affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase after clicking on one of our links, at no extra cost to you we may earn a commission. For more info, read our affiliate disclaimer.)

Cooking In A Campervan

Let’s face it: You can’t compare the space and variety of tools in your kitchen at home to the gear you work with in your van or on a campsite. But – believe it or not – you’ll soon come to realize that you don’t actually need that much, if you are well prepared. 
Vegan Van Life - Softback Travel

Vegan Van Life Essentials for Cooking

While van life is definitely a rather minimalistic travel style, there are certain essentials we recommend you bring to make (vegan) cooking a lot easier.

  • Propane stove: An absolute must-have. Brew your favorite coffee (or tea) in the morning, and cook your favorite vegan food wherever you want. Compared to other fuels, the emissions of propane gas are fairly low, and it basically lasts forever. If you need a little help choosing the best propane stove for you, check out our Single Burner Propane Stove Buyers Guide.
  • Spork: Simple, smart and small, this tool combining a spoon and fork deserves a spot high up on our vegan van life essentials list. We use bamboo sporks from Wild Camping International (available here), but there are countless alternatives, and you can most likely find a spork in your favorite outdoor shop around the corner, too.
  • Knife: We have made the experience that it is really worth it to invest in a high quality knife. You’ll use it on a daily basis (most likely mainly to cut fruits and veggies though). Opt for a multi-function knife; an all-in-one solution will come in handy when you need a can or bottle opener, corkscrew, scissors or (depending on the knife) even a small saw (which we often use to adjust the length of smaller fire food pieces). The knife that we have been using for the past two years is the Victorinox Huntsman Swiss Army Pocket Knife with walnut wood (if you are interested, you can check it out on Amazon here)
Non-sticky pan - Softback Travel
  • Non-Sticky Pan: If you bring a proper non-sticky frying pan, you don’t rely on tons of oil to cook your meals. Plus, they are much easier to clean! We always bring at least one large cast iron pan (such as this one).
  • Reusable Water Bottle: A stainless steel bottle is the ultimate classic of all the essentials that make traveling more relaxed and eco-friendly. Not only do you save tons of single-use plastic bottles; sometimes, you won’t even find a place where drinks are sold. We love exploring places off the beaten path and often end up parking the van in the middle of nowhere for a few days. Usually, our van water tank lasts very long, but we like to be prepared for the case that we are short on filtered water. For those times, we have a Life Straw (more info and price here) on board. It removes bacteria, parasites, and microplastics from water and makes it drinkable. Definitely a recommendation for all the wild campers out there!

  • Spices: Different regions offer different foods and the vegan van life requires a little creativity. To make sure that you don’t end up with the same dish on your plate everyday, bring a variety of spices. They don’t take up too much space, and make your little van kitchen really homey. 
  • Staples: Also veeeery important: Stock up on staples! We usually have rice, couscous, pasta, and quinoa to choose from. Just add fresh veggies and some spices, and voila – you have four different meals! Another staple we couldn’t travel without are oats. Add regional fruits, peanut butter, nuts and seeds and you have the most delicious and Instagrammable van life breakfast we can think of. 

Vegan Van Life Recipes

The main goal when cooking vegan meals on the road is to keep it simple.  But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be delicious! The following tips and tricks help us to make different tasty vegan camping dishes every day. 

One van life hack that has proven useful to us countless times: Make one-pot meals

When you only have one stove, you want to cook as many ingredients at the same time, as possible. That way, there are no long waiting periods and you avoid ending up with a meal that is half cold when you’re ready to eat. Stir fries, stews and lots of pastas are great examples of that. 

Another thing we do quite often: “Veganise” it! 

Burgers, Pizza, Pasta, Cake – most of those mouthwatering meals are typically known to contain meat and dairy. But with a few changes on the ingredients lists, they turn into delicious vegan dishes that are quick and easy to make. (There are also great vegan cookbooks that help a lot, such as this one)

Here’s a list of our favorite vegan recipes for van life!

Breakfast

Vegan van life breakfast can be so many different things. While I’m a creature of habits and would have a hard time giving up my oats in the morning, there are countless other healthy and delicious breakfast recipes that we love. 
Oat Meal
Oat Meal Recipes - Softback Travel

How awesome are oats?! They are full of nutrients and energy, and you can prepare them with endless combinations of fresh fruits, nut butters, nuts seeds, coconut flakes, …

Here’s how to get the most of your vegan oat breakfast!

For different flavors everyday, switch between the following recipes. 

Tropical Oats
  • 1/2 cup of quick oats
  • 1 tbsp shredded dried coconut
  • optional: 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp dried pineapple, papaya, mango, or other tropical fruits
  • 1 – 2 tbsp Macadamia/ Cashews
  • 1 tbsp Chia seeds
Chocolate Oats
  • 1/2 cup of quick oats
  • 1 tbsp tbsp cocoa powder
  • optional: 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbps dried berries (blueberry, strawberry, …)
  • 1 tbsp Chia/ Linsen seeds
  • 1 tbsp walnuts
Peanut Power
  • 1/2 cup of quick oats
  •  1 tbsp peanut flour
  • optional: 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp dark chocolate chips
  • 2 tbsp peanuts
  • 1tsp peanut butter
Apple & Cinnamon 
  • 1/2 cup of quick oats
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup chopped dried apple
  • optional: 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp walnuts/ peacans

The oats are best enjoyed with hot water, however, we also use cold water from time to time in summer and when we don’t have access to hot water. Alternatively, you can mix the recipes with almond, oat, or soy milk. 

We also always top the prepared mix with fresh fruits, to get the most out of our vegan van life breakfast. But in case there are no shops and markets in the area and there is no access to fresh food anywhere near you, the good news is that our breakfast oats recipes are absolutely delicious without any added ingredients, too. 

You can prepare them in glass jars in advance, and all you have to do in the morning is add water or plant-based milk

Pancakes 

Pancakes are a great way to start your day, but let’s be honest, you could eat them all day long. It doesn’t matter whether you make them for breakfast, lunch or even dinner – here’s our favorite pancake recipe.

Just like our breakfast oats, you can prepare the pancake mix in advance, keep it in a glass jar and just add some plant-based milk and apple cider vinegar when you are ready. 

Ingredients for 3-4 servings:
  • 2 cups of quick oats/ equal amount of oat flour
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar/ coconut sugar
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • optional: cinnamon, dark chocolate chips, banana, blueberries, …

  •   cup unsweetened plant-based milk*
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar (alternatively you can use juice of 1/2 lemon)
Instructions:
  • Add oats, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt to a blender and blend until the oats form a fine powder.
    Tip: For all van lifers who don’t have a blender on board: Just bring oat flour instead and stir the mix well.
  • Add plant-based milk (we usually use almond milk) to the mix and stir until it forms a thick batter.
  • Pour your desired amount onto your non-sticky pan (if yours is not 100% non-sticky, use vegan margarine or any natural oil of your choice)
  • Flip the pancake when you can see bubbles and bake until its golden brown. 
  • Optional: Top off with fresh fruit, maple syrup, peanut butter, nuts, or seeds. 

If you prefer savory pancakes, add

  • mushrooms
  • tomatoes & chives
  • spinach 
  • zucchini
  • tofu 

instead.

Chickpea Scrambles 

Alternatively, for everyone who is not into sweet stuff in the morning, we recommend chickpea scrambles. 

Ingredients for 2 servings:
  • 1 cup chickpea flour
  • 5/6 cup of water 
  • 1 tbsp aquafaba (the liquid in a can of chickpeas)
  • 2 tbsp nutritional yeast (such as this one)
  • 1/2 tbsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tbsp cumin
  • season with: salt, pepper, chili powder

  • 1/2 small onion
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 tomato
  • 4-5 mushrooms
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
Instructions:
  • Combine all ingredients for the dough in a bowl and stir until it’s an even mix.
  • Heat up olive oil in a pan and add cut onion pieces and crushed garlic.
  • Cut the mushrooms in small pieces and add to the pan when the onions turn translucent.
  • Add cut tomato pieces and stir for a few minutes.
  • Pour the dough over the veggies, and scramble until the dough begins to dry out. 

Now add salt, pepper and sauces as you like. We love to top it off with fresh avo and toast!

Lunch 

The following three recipes are quick and easy to make and provide you with all the extra energy you need for your outdoor adventures.

Vegan Bowl - Softback Travel
Vegan Bowls
The great thing about vegan bowls is that they can be made from almost anything. Sometimes, we just check what is left in the van fridge and by mixing it all together, create a beautiful, healthy lunch bowl. If you prefer to be a bit more prepared, choose one of the following options!
Peanut Tofu Buddha Bowl
Ingredients for 4 servings:
  • 2 cups of cooked rice/ quinoa/ couscous/ rice noodles
  •  3 cups chopped kale
  • 4 chopped scallions/ spring onions
  • 2 peppers
  • 1 avocado
  • chopped peanuts
    ______________
  • 1 block of tofu
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  •  1tbsp maple syrup (or honey)
  • 1 tbsp corn starch
  • 2 tbsp bread cumbs
  • 1/2 cup peanut sauce
Instructions:
  • Remove the tofu from its packaging, drain the excess liquid and chop it into small pieces. 
  • Mix the marinade (soy sauce, sesame oil and maple syrup), add the tofu pieces and let it marinade for about 20 minutes. 
  • Add cornstarch and bread crumbs and then bake for about 25 minutes in your non-sticky pan over the fire until they are crispy.
  • Meanwhile, cook the rice/ quinoa/ couscous/ rice noodles (you are going to need a separate pot for this meal). 
  • When the tofu is done, remove from the pan and start cooking the veggies. Start with the peppers and scallions and add the kale after about 5-10 minutes. 
  • Prepare your bowls. Put in the rice first, followed by the veggies, and the cut avo, and put the tofu on top. Add peanut sauce. Top off with chopped peanuts. 
Sweet Potato Chickpea Bowl
Ingredients:
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2  red onion 
  • 2 small sweet potatoes 
  • 1 bundle broccolini 
  • 2 big handfuls kale 
  • 1 can of chickpeas
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 3/4 tsp chili powder
  • 3/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric 
  • pinch of salt + pepper
Instructions:
  • Slice the sweet potatoes in half and grill them over your camp fire in your non-sticky pan with olive oil. 
  • Remove the sweet potatoes when they are crispy and add onion, broccoli and kale to the pan. 
  • Repeat the process with the chickpeas with cumin, chili, garlic, turmeric, salt and pepper. 
  • Combine everything in a bowl and add tahini sauce or fresh avo to top if off. 
Veggie Sandwiches

Vegan sandwiches filled with veggies, avo, hummus, or nut butter are easy and quick to make, often don’t require any cooking, and are healthy and full of energy. 

We couldn’t sum it up better than this mouthwatering list of 18 delicious vegan sandwich recipes!

Tacos

We could eat tacos everyday and this 5 ingredient vegan taco recipe is definitely used on a regular basis on our van life adventures. 

Ingredients for 6 tacos:
  • 1 cup TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein), such as this one
  • 1 can black beans
  • corn tortillas
  • 1 tbsp taco seasoning
  • 1/2 tbsp dried minced onions
  • 3/4 water
Instructions:
  • Add the dried onions and taco seasoning to the water and bring it to a boil. 
  • Add the TVP, reduce the heat and let it absorb the liquid.
  • Drain the black beans and add them to the mix. 
  • Heat up the tortillas over your propane stove or the bonfire in your pan.
  • Prepare toppings of your choice. Here’s what we love: avocado, salsa, red onions, tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, cucumber, chickpeas, …

Dinner

With the right recipes, you can create delicious vegan dinners in your van or outside over your bonfire. 

Burgers
Vegan Burger Recipe

At the latest since the Beyond Burger and co have revolutionized the vegan food market, vegan burgers are on the menu in countless restaurants throughout the world. 

If you are traveling in an area where you have easy access to shops that sell “fake meat” patties, go ahead and pop them on the grill!

However, that’s not always the case. Plus, fake meat is often even more expensive than “real” meat and not affordable for everyone. 

There are also other reasons why fake meat is not on every vegan’s menu: Many of the products contain much more sodium, fat and other unhealthy ingredients than meat. 

For everyone who can’t find/ afford it, or would like to avoid buying processed soy products, you can easily make your own vegan burger patties from a small number of ingredients. 

Simply sautee mushrooms and onions and mix them with mashed beans. Add spices (and vegan BBQ sauce if you like) and form patties.

Pan-fry until they are crispy. And voila – there’s your delicious protein-filled and healthy burger patty that can be served with grilled veggies and vegan sauces. 

Sweet Potato Peanut Stew

This recipe is quick and easy to make and since it’s a one-pot meal, it’s definitely also one of our favorite camping dishes. 

Ingredients:
  • 1 medium sweet potato
  • 1 onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 2 cups broth
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 2 cups chopped kale
  • salt (about 1 tsp)
  • chili powder (about 1,5 tsp)
Instructions:
  • Heat up some olive oil in your pan and add the diced onions and minced garlic. 
  • Cut the sweet potato into small cubes. When the onions are translucent, add the sweet potato, the diced tomatoes, broth, peanut butter, salt and chili powder.
  • Stir well and simmer until the sweet potatoes are cooked.
  • Add the chickpeas and the kale and stir until the kale has wilted. 

Delicious Vegan Snacks

What is a road trip without snacks? I don’t know, and I don’t think I want to. Snacks are great for long drives, for hangry road trippers (yes, that’s me), and for bonfire evenings with friends. Here’s what we munch on the road. 

Vegan Snacks Van Life
  • Dried fruit
  • Veggie sticks
  • Dark chocolate
  • Bread sticks with guacamole and hummus
  • Rice cakes with avo
  • Trail mix
  • Homemade nut butter sandwiches
  • Oreo cookies
  • Crunchy granola bars (homemade or from Nature Valley)
  • Crispy chickpeas
  • Popcorn
  • Olives
  • Homemade veggie chips

Vegan Van Life Gear

We have already touched base on the cooking gear that comes in handy on your road trip. However, as you probably know, veganism doesn’t end with what you eat. 

You want to avoid buying any kind of gear that contains animal products (such as leather or down) or was produced using animal testing. 

Here’s an overview of the most common outdoor essentials you might need.

Read also: Vegan Leather Backpacks (Our Top Choices)

Vegan Sleeping Bag

Vegan Sleeping Bag

Down sleeping bags keep you warm, while being very light and easily compressible. Unfortunately, the production process is extremely cruel.

The alternatives to non-vegan sleeping bags on the other hand are often criticized for their environmental impact due to the use of plastic and fossil fuels. 

So, what to do now? 

One option is to opt for used down sleeping bags. That way, you don’t support the industry, while still getting the most out of the product. We personally try to avoid any gear that’s not vegan and buy alternatives that are as eco-friendly as possible, while not containing any animal products at all. 

If you are in need of a new sleeping bag and would like to do the same, look for the following synthetic down technologies.

PrimaLoft

PrimaLoft is on the forefront of the development of high-performance insulations and fabrics. Their sustainably conscious innovations are used by more than 800 global brands, such as Patagonia and The North Face.

The tiny fibers used for vegan sleeping bags are designed to lock in air, while being completely waterproof. The use of recycled content makes PrimaLoft’s eco line not only vegan, but also greener than comparable products. 

Thermal R

Designed by Marmot, this featherless material traps heat close to your body while keeping moisture and perspiration away. It is very persistent and has a great warmth to weight ratio.

(Marmot’s Thermal R® Eco is proprietary polyester insulation made of 100% recycled fiber. While it’s not commonly used in their sleeping bags, you can find it in Marmot’s jackets, pants and gloves.)

SpiraFil

Made of thick, hollow spiral fibers, this material blend is very soft and offers great compressibility.

SpiraFil is also found in Marmot sleeping bags, such as this one.

Outdoor Clothing

Just like with sleeping bags, not every outdoor clothing brand that is vegan is automatically also eco-friendly. That’s why we have put together a list of vegan AND eco-conscious clothing brands that we trust and use. 

Patagonia

Patagonia is definitely one of the most popular outdoor clothing brands with high quality vegan products. 

They offer transparency throughout the production process and durable gear. On their website you can also find used gear, which cuts the combined carbon, waste and water footprint by 73%.

The North Face

Along with Patagonia, the North Face is one of the most established outdoor brands that offer eco-friendly and vegan gear. 

Whether you are looking for rain coats, fleece jackets, hoodies, or backpacks, you’ll find the perfect fit in one of their stores or online. 

Cotopaxi

Cotopaxi is mainly know for their unique, eco-friendly backpacks (which we love and highly recommend). However, they also offer a range of high quality insulated jackets made from 100% repurposed fabric. 

You can read more about our favorite eco-friendly backpacks here

Save The Duck

Clothes for women, men and kids that withstand the toughest conditions while being 100% vegan and sustainable – welcome to Save The Duck!

Traveling with your dog? The brand also offers cruelty free dog jackets!

Bleed

Vegan, sustainable and sporty – the German brand combines love for the outdoors with love for the planet. 

Ecoalf

This sustainable brand has won several awards (including from PETA for their 100% vegan collection). 

They have everything including shoes, yoga wear, bags, and jackets, and also offer clothes for kids. 

La Sportiva

La Sportiva is our go-to brand when it comes to vegan outdoor shoes. Hiking, trail running, climbing – no matter what you love to do in the great outdoors, you will find it on their website or on Amazon

Merrell

Merrell clearly labels all their products, which makes it easy to find exactly what you are looking for. They have shoes for any occasion, from slip-ons to hiking boots. Check out their products on Amazon here.

Hiking Boots

When it comes to vegan hiking boots, it is important to choose your pair based on the conditions you’ll be using them in, whether or not they have to be waterproof, how often you plan one using them etc.

To help you choose, we have put together a list of our favorite eco-friendly and vegan hiking boots for all kinds of activities

Resources For Vegan Van Life

Veganism has not reached every remote corner of the world (yet). But don’t worry, there’s a solution for everything. The following resources have saved us a lot of time (and frustration), for example when looking for vegan restaurants in our area, and explaining what we don’t (and do) eat.

  • Happy Cow: No matter how kitted your van kitchen is, there might be a day or two where you feel like eating out. Depending on where you are traveling, it’s not always easy to find a place with vegan options. Enter Happy Cow. This website not only helps you find vegan restaurants (and accommodation!) near you worldwide, it is also a great platform to meet other vegans and vegetarians wherever you are.
  • Barnivore: You may not be aware of this, but your favorite beverage possibly contains animal-derived ingredients. Barnivore is a website and app that lets you now if your booze is vegan. Highly recommended!
  • The Vegan Passport: This app, which was developed by The Vegan Society, is a vegan phrase book that includes 96% of the world’s population’s languages. Wherever you are, you can be sure to avoid misunderstandings regarding ingredients and foods that you do and don’t eat. 
  • One Green Planet: This is an all-rounder website that offers recipes, as well as news and trends related to veganism and the eco-conscious lifestyle. You can also find a number of petitions on their page. 
  • Food Monster App: The largest vegan recipe app you can find. It was created by One Green Planet’s founder Preeta Sinha and has everything from breakfast, lunch and dinner ideas to sweets and snacks. 

Are you ready to start your vegan van life adventure? Or are you already on the road? We would love to read from you!

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