Ashley and Gabby, two Kiwi vegan friends united by food and deeply infected by a severe urge to travel, are making a name for themselves as they journey around New Zealand and internationally, reviewing vegan restaurants and posting their impressions online at www.plantbasedescape.com
Whole Food Living caught up with them recently to ask about their vegan journey and future plans with their site. They said their vegan paths “were pretty much intertwined”.
Originally, Gabby decided to go vegan after a lot of friendly persistence (and challenging discussions) with Ashley! Meanwhile, Ash went vegan overnight after watching the Cowspiracy documentary. Then, on a boat in Indonesia, as they sailed to the Komodo islands, Gabby switched from a vegetarian diet (of 5+ years) to a vegan lifestyle. They’ve both been vegan for around five years now and have never thought about going back.
WFL: So, what gave you the travel bug? Are there any specific ways you think you can help fellow travellers, and what about personal safety?
We created our blog to help fellow vegans and backpackers find plant-based eats and provide a guide for affordable and adventurous travel. Our aim is to prove that no matter where you go in the world, you don’t have to miss out on eating delicious and traditional food just because you’re vegan.
When we got our first jobs and started earning money, the travel bug got us. Earning an income meant we finally had the opportunity to travel, so we began saving up as much money as we could for a backpacking trip to Asia. We’ve always had similar mindsets when it comes to how we want to experience our lives, so travelling together and making a blog about it seemed like a good idea!
When it comes to safety while backpacking together as women, we make sure we always have as much knowledge of the country we’re going to as we can. We find it’s essential to do the research and have those conversations with fellow backpackers and travellers who have most recently been there. A lot of it is common sense, but you never want to visit a country without being aware of the current climate.
On our next trip, we will provide full guides of countries and cities we visit regarding activities, safety tips, transport and accommodation, and most importantly, Food!
WFL: So when do you plan to hit the road around NZ again or head overseas?
We’ve just returned from a summer trip through Nelson and the Golden Bay area, stopping to do four days on the Abel Tasman Great Walk which we’ve recently posted a guide to. And while Ashley did a roadie around Tauranga and Rotorua towards the end of last year, Gabby had been visiting smaller towns just outside of Christchurch on weekends. However, there is exciting news! Gabby has recently resigned from her job and will be heading across the ditch to live and work in Australia before our exciting backpacking trip later this year! Location to be confirmed…
WFL: Do you plan to have more on the activities available in the areas you travel to?
Absolutely! The current plan is to create guides for multi-day hikes that we have planned for summer. After that, we plan to create more activity guides and itineraries for the countries that we visit alongside the food guides.
WFL: What is the best way to follow you?
We are most active on our Instagram at @plantbasedescape, with regular posts here and on Facebook. We are always looking for recommendations for the best vegan kai to try around New Zealand and new places to visit and explore.
WFL: What do you think about the number of vegan options available, especially in small towns? How do you cope when you hit somewhere like that?
Travelling in small-town New Zealand can be challenging, but there are almost always vegan options somewhere, even if you have to fall back on a classic veggie sub at Subway or try your luck at the local Indian restaurant!
We recommend watching for vegan options at places you wouldn’t necessarily think to look, like the Fairly Bakehouse (vegan pie!) or the Cafe and Beer Garden at Okere Falls, Rotorua. And if you’re really running low on options, there’s nothing quite like a vegan sausage roll from the Z station. If worse comes to worse, there’s always a Foursquare nearby selling the vegan essentials.
WFL: How do you ‘read’ (as in understand) the vegan restaurant scene out there now? Many restaurants have had a tough time over the last two years. Do you think it’s as vibrant as ever, or is it a struggle for them to get customers?
Given that the basis of our blog is heavily food-related, we’ve definitely done our fair share of eating out. We spend a lot of time in or talking about restaurants and have witnessed the comings and goings of several restaurants we’ve known.
While some of our favourite places to eat are no longer around, new and creative businesses are always popping up, providing inventive and exciting vegan eats to try out! As veganism becomes more normalised, and with the increase in tourism in the last year, the vegan restaurant scene is only growing! And with summer well and truly here, things are beginning to look alive again.
WFL: What about strict WFPB eating? Do you think its requirements are or can be catered to in traditional vegan restaurants?
Many vegan restaurants and cafes cater to a whole-food, plant-based diet, even if it is just a raw slice or bliss ball in the cabinet! However, this is mainly in the bigger cities, so it’s unlikely you’ll find anything in the smaller towns. You’ll probably end up having to cook for yourself, which is something restaurants could do better. It would be great to have more readily available whole-food meals at restaurants and cafes. A few more healthy plant-based options would be awesome!
WFL: Do you guys have any particular food ‘addictions’ or, say, preferences for specific cuisine types, like Mexican, Italian, Asian, Asian-fusion, etc?
We love Food. Any food. Delicious Food, no matter what cuisine. Asking us to pick is so hard! We froth over a spicey ramen or a crispy dosa.
Ashley is particularly obsessed with Asian cuisine, mainly Vietnamese, and she will never get sick of a good bánh mì or some fresh spring rolls. Whereas a soft, warm pita with creamy, freshly made garlic hummus will always put Gabby in a good mood.
We tend to pick the countries we visit based on the food because we love trying new flavours and learning about foods we’ve never tasted before.
WFL: What’s the most exciting (or memorable) adventure you’ve been on so far?
Our three-month backpacking trip around Southeast Asia is one of our most memorable experiences. We got to know each other a lot more, grew as people, and experienced all the Food and culture of the countries we visited.
One of the highlights was a sunrise hot air balloon trip in Vang Vieng in Laos. We could see the tall limestone mountains and the town that stretched between them from the balloon. It was an incredible way to start the New Year.
WFL: What is it about this way of life that you love so much?
We love the travel community, and from that stems connections and life-long friendships that you wouldn’t make in your hometown. Having no plans is the way we like to do things. Wandering around, being spontaneous when deciding where to go next, and finding the unexpected hole-in-the-wall restaurants and cafes that make the best kai we’ve ever tasted! We get to explore new places, new cultures, new cuisines. And while being vegan draws like-minded people to share these experiences with, we also can appreciate our reduced impact on the environment by having cut out meat and dairy, and the harm those industries have on animals.
WFL: How do you make it all work since you are both based in different cities? Do you always travel together or separately at times?
We were both based in Wellington for a bit, but Gabby has since moved back home to Christchurch. There’s nothing we can’t talk about over FaceTime! We both visit each other regularly, so we manage to get a decent amount of content together, although we still do our own weekend adventures when we’re not with one another.
We’ve backpacked together in the past but have also done some overseas travel separately. Ashley has recently come back from Mexico, and we’re planning a big, exciting trip at the end of this year! If you’re looking for some good travel advice or want to know more about the best vegan food around New Zealand and in more foreign parts, check out Ashley and Gabby’s blog on www.plantbasedescape.com or head over to their Instagram account @plantbasedescape.