For many people, lugging around a nagging feeling of discontent and the weight of unfulfilled dreams is as normal as carrying a book-laden backpack. Statistics suggest more than fifty percent of Americans are unhappy at work (not to mention everywhere else), and it's rare that anyone has the courage to throw off the shackles of conformity and do something totally, utterly, completely different.
Kristin Lajeunesse, however, did. Four years ago, she had everything everyone is supposed to want: a graduate degree, a good job, a stable relationship. What she didn't have was happiness. So she sold her belongings, launched a Kickstarter campaign, bought a van and set out on a wild, cross-country road trip, determined to eat at every single vegan restaurant in the United States. It took her two years, but she nailed it.
Fast forward to now, and Lajeunesse is an author, a speaker and a major inspiration for vegans and non-vegans everywhere. Her first book, Will Travel for Vegan Food: A Young Woman's Solo Van-Dwelling Mission to Break Free, Find Food, and Make Love, recently hit store shelves, so we spoke to Lajeunesse on her favorite spots in South Florida, the best meal ever and why it's important to follow your dreams, ASAP.
New Times: During the two-year trek, exactly how many restaurants did you visit?
Kristin Lajeunesse: I dined at 547 vegan (or very vegan-friendly) establishments. They ranged from restaurants and cafes to food trucks and vegan coffeehouses.
Where was your all-time favorite meal?
Vedge in Philadelphia. Although it's pretty well tied with Portobello in Portland, Oregon.
Tell us about your favorite vegan eateries in South Florida.
I really like Sweat Records, a vegan coffee shop with baked goods, as well as Choices. I was pretty full and on my way out of town when I stopped at Choices so I didn't get to try too much stuff but I remember being impressed with their options and the Yelp! reviews from other customers. I also loved Life Food Gourmet's healthy options and fresh juices. Mi Vida Cafe is always delicious, and T.H.R.I.V.E. had a fantastic raw pad thai dish that was totally impressive. Oh and La Vie En Raw had fantastic whole food, raw options as well.
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What was the worst/most unexpected part of the adventure?
One of the most difficult things about the journey turned out to be leaving behind people I'd meet and really connect with. I met the most generous and delightful people along my journey and it was often hard to continue on the trip knowing I may never see them (in person) again.
Clearly this was a life-changing trip, so how did the experience change you?
Oh, gosh, I'm not sure I'm capable of putting words to all of the incredible emotional shifts I experienced, but in short I can say this: 1) I learned more about who I was before the trip, who I want to be going forward, and the type of life I'd like to lead; 2) I came to understand that most people are truly and deeply good people, which had made me more open and trusting and in general less judgey regarding strangers or perceptions about who someone is based on their looks or career; and 3) I've become more in touch with taking care of myself and how that impacts the people around me.
You did something most people will only ever dream of doing: broke out of the grind and went all in for a project you were passionate about. Do you have any words of advice for frustrated dreamers?
My advice to those who have a crazy dream or passion project that they've yet to chase, is this: Start now. Start before you're ready because the timing will never feel right (at first). If you want something badly enough, you'll find a way to make it happen. And that's awesome.
Kristin's book, Will Travel for Vegan Food: A Young Woman's Solo Van-Dwelling Mission to Break Free, Find Food, and Make Love, is available on Amazon.