Traveling While Plant Based and Gluten-Free in Namibia

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This is not a sponsored post. We did not get paid or compensated for anything mentioned, photographed, included or linked.

It was the morning of our departure to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia in southern Africa. 

Luanne and I were waiting outside in the wet, cold February Seattle morning for our Lyft to go get COVID-19 tests. The results would determine if we could get on our 4:30pm flight to Doha, Qatar (14.5 hours), followed by a flight to Johannesburg, South Africa (8 hours), and finally another to Windhoek, Namibia (2 hours). It would take us a little over 24 hours of flying time to reach our destination. From there, we would pick up a truck to drive around Namibia and Botswana for one month on a self-guided road trip of epic proportions. We also planned to take a quick side trip to Zimbabwe to experience the biggest waterfall in the world: Mosi-oa-Tunya (the original Indigenous name for Victoria Falls). 

We had a long journey ahead of us, but first we had to get our nose holes swabbed. 

Our Lyft driver, a Caribbean man well into his sixth decade, arrived right on time and welcomed us into his light blue Prius with a beaming grin that could be felt from under his mask. 

He asked us what we thought of the rainy, cold weather, and we told him it was a nice change from the constant sunshine in Hawaii. As the words came out of my mouth, I felt a flush of embarrassment. Who complains about constant sunshine? As I was thinking I must sound like an asshole, the driver laughed with delight in an understanding tone. 

“Yes!!! You are experiencing a different flavor of weather! You are used to one flavor, and now you are enjoying a different one. If you ate strawberry ice cream every day, that would get old; you have to switch it up and try different flavors sometimes! Enjoy this flavor, ladies, enjoy this flavor!” 

It was my turn to beam a big smile under my mask. 

I no longer felt like an asshole. I felt like a person who had been at her house on an island for three years without changing the flavor. I was so ready to taste something different. 

That afternoon, negative COVID-19 tests in hand, one carry-on and a backpack each, some plant based snacks, plus plenty of downloaded podcasts and audiobooks, we boarded our plane and settled in for the long ride. 

**TMI moment: my period started an hour into the flight, and it was the heaviest flow I’ve had in literally five years. Do you know what’s more grueling than flying for 24 hours? Flying for a whole damn day while having to change your Diva Cup EVERY FEW HOURS. At one point, I woke up from a miraculous nap with an actual puddle of drool in my mask and a pool of blood in my underpants.

My first thought: I’m so gross.

My second thought: I’m definitely gonna tell people about this.

Seattle airport, ready to get this party started!
One carry-on suitcase and one backpack each for 30 days. We used and wore everything we packed!
Masked up and at our gate.

We landed in Windhoek at 10am, dazed, hangry, jet-lagged, and if I’m being totally honest, smelling super funky. We booked our trip through a Tanzania-based safari company called Makasa, which partners with a company called Explore Namibia. Explore Namibia set up the logistics of our trip: the itinerary, lodge reservations, truck rental, maps, pre-programmed GPS for the truck, everything that made our trip smooth and easy. 

All we had to do was follow the itinerary and drive. And drive we did! We drove 5,000 kilometers in 30 days (that’s just over 3,000 miles!). If it weren’t for someone local setting everything up for us, it would have been difficult to sort out the logistics ourselves. We wouldn’t have known where to start. 

We were greeted at the airport by an Explore Namibia driver who brought us to our hotel, N/a’ankusê at Utopia. We showered (phew!), changed clothes, ate lunch, and I stretched and rolled out my body. Then we broke the golden rule of arriving from a long-haul flight. We closed our eyes at 3pm, and it was lights out for the next three hours.

Lunch was a chickpea burger with caramelized onions, sprouts, tomato, and lettuce. I took the burger off the bun to keep it gluten-free.
I ordered zucchini fries not thinking they would be breaded. Doink. That’s okay, I just took the breading off and ate the zucchini!

When I travel, I eat plant based as much as humanly possible. That can be challenging, but I like to think of it as a game and make it work. The other crucial thing when plant based and traveling is to keep your expectations super low. When you don’t have unmet expectations, you won’t be disappointed.

Back in 2020, I stopped eating gluten because I figured out I had a skin condition called perioral dermatitis. I don’t feel sick if I eat it, but my face breaks out and gets super itchy and uncomfortable. Avoiding gluten really helps keep my PD at bay, so now I eat plant based and gluten-free when I travel.

I gotta say, it was a whole lot easier to eat plant based while traveling when I ate gluten. The most basic, easily accessible plant based staples like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, avocado toast, pasta, and wraps are now a no-go. There were many times on our trip when plant based options were available but no plant based and gluten free options. I learned quickly that this would be more challenging than I thought. But I was up for the challenge and ready to document my food to show you how it’s done!

A packable yoga mat and balls are non-negotiables when I travel. Stretching and rolling out my body is part of my daily routine and I don’t skip it, even when I travel. It makes everything so much more enjoyable when my body feels good.
The view from outside our hotel in Windhoek. Everything looked so vibrant and fresh.
Fresh ‘n Wild restaurant at Utopia in Windhoek

After we woke up from our nap, we got our bearings and headed to Fresh ‘n Wild, the hotel restaurant. I could have ordered a veggie pizza with no cheese, but that wasn’t an option because of my gluten issue. So, I ended up getting french fries, vegetables, and rice. This was my first introduction to Namibia’s love of butter.

Butter was introduced by the Germans, who colonized Namibia in the 1880s. There are still traces of German culture throughout the country, from the food to the architecture—we saw many castles standing tall in the middle of nowhere. Namibia has been independent since 1990.

My veggies were bathed in copious amounts of butter. So I rinsed off what I could in my water glass and ate most of them.

French fries, white rice, and veggies. Again, keeping expectations low!

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20 Comments

  1. Mary Ann Scanlon on April 16, 2022 at 9:57 am

    I was so excited to hear you two were going to Namibia. My favorite trip ever was going to South Africa and Botswana. Now I have to go back again. I love the photos and the food advice. Looking forward to planning this trip.

    • Molly Patrick on April 16, 2022 at 8:26 pm

      Oh my goodness, it was the best!!
      Namibia is highly recommended. This will not be our last visit!

  2. Carin DeGroff on April 16, 2022 at 7:40 pm

    Absolutely amazing trip. I am living vicariously through you!

  3. Devi Kasson on April 17, 2022 at 5:54 am

    Thats the way to travel and so cool that someone set it all up for you. I leave in 3 days to see the copper canyon in Mexico and will be using all your tips about food esp the biggest one about just accepting what is.
    Gracias!

    • Stephanie from Team Dirty on April 17, 2022 at 9:51 am

      Hi Devi,

      We’re so excited for you to experience all that Mexico has to offer. We hope our post helps you stay fueled with plants on your trip!

      xo

  4. Jackie G on April 17, 2022 at 6:23 am

    Breathtaking! Thank you for sharing your adventures.

  5. Laura Spinosi on April 17, 2022 at 6:55 am

    Thank you for taking the time to share your story!

    • Molly Patrick on April 21, 2022 at 1:43 pm

      You are so welcome! Happy to do it!
      Molly

  6. Robin Smith on April 18, 2022 at 6:50 am

    Thank you for sharing this with us. I feel like we are on the trip with you and the food pics are great! Thanks for showing us that you can eat simply and as close to plant based as possible even when on a trip without all your usual comforts.

    • Molly Patrick on April 21, 2022 at 1:43 pm

      Yes! So happy to show people how I do it.
      Not always easy, but mainly doable!
      xo
      Molly

  7. Leigh Hensley on April 18, 2022 at 3:56 pm

    Molly, thank you for chronicling your adventures. I love reading your food and travel tips. Cheers to enjoying the ride and learning from other cultures… for me, it’s the best thing about travel!

    • Molly Patrick on April 21, 2022 at 1:42 pm

      I couldn’t agree more!

  8. Sandy on April 19, 2022 at 1:27 am

    Seems like it was really tough to eat plant based on your trip (from my own perspective as someone that is flavour obsessed looking at your meals, you on the other hand seem happy, accepting and gracious, which is brilliant).

    My partner and I are PB but he has an egg allergy, so we really struggled when we travelled around smaller towns in Taiwan (we spent 2019 slowly travelling Asia eating PB but not oil free), we still remember the peanut butter and banana sandwiches made with sugary white bread that we ate for lunch in our car many times. I think in future, he’ll eat fish to widen our choices a little (he does from time to time anyway) and I’ll be vegetarian if need be, it makes for a more comfortable trip and gives us a chance to explore local cuisine when there aren’t any other options. But kudos to you Molly for keeping with the plan despite such limitations! You’ve got some serious willpower!

  9. Joan Lazaunik on April 19, 2022 at 8:54 am

    I am in awe of your adventures and greatly appreciate your sharing it with us! So very many places on earth that I would love to experience, I feel like I was there with you. Thanks.

    • Molly Patrick on April 21, 2022 at 1:41 pm

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it!
      Part 2 will be published soon, so there is more to come.
      I very much enjoy sharing my adventures with you!
      Molly

  10. Heather on April 23, 2022 at 11:27 am

    Loved reading through your adventure! I just found your blog! I’m starting to be plant based more seriously after years of messing around! I’m stationed in Italy and moving to Germany soon! We ar heading to Morocco next month for my 50th birthday! I hope I can find plant based options! Thanks for sharing your adventure!

  11. Lis on April 23, 2022 at 1:42 pm

    Beautiful, even breath-taking in places. Thank you for sharing it all with us, especially the food pictures (to inspire us to new possibilities :).

  12. Julia W on May 9, 2022 at 11:56 am

    Oh, these photos are beautiful, and I am so glad you shared.

    I know this wasn’t the point of you sharing your photos at all, but I will tell you what struck me. I struggle with my weight. When I see the sizes of your meals it is eye opening because most of those meals look tiny to me. Upon reflection, I do habitually clear my plate and go beyond fullness. So it’s something for me to reflect on. Anyone else, or am I the only one?

    • Stephanie from Team Dirty on May 9, 2022 at 2:29 pm

      Hi Julia,

      Thanks for the love!

      You’re definitely not the only one who can struggle with eating beyond satiation. 😀

      Keep in mind that serving sizes can vary a great deal from person to person (and from meal to meal) and that there were meals and snacks that Molly didn’t share here. Typically, working on mindfulness and being able to notice when you’re hungry/satiated/just wanting to eat for stimulation or distraction can be really helpful with releasing weight.

      Molly’s done some coaching on this topic that may also be helpful for you. The replays are available with a Plant Fueled Life membership. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions and we’ll be happy to help.

      Cheers,
      Stephanie

    • Linda on May 10, 2022 at 4:49 am

      Julia, you are not the only one. At 61, food and weight have always been a struggle and I am working to become conscious of the difference between what I want (food heaped on a plate) and what I need. I’ve recently retired and life has slowed enough that I am allowing myself the time to be mindful of these things. I think, like our plates, we have overfilled our lives so we don’t take the time to truly reflect on what our real needs our. Good luck on your journey.

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