Grocery Shopping for Full-time Travelers

a brown paper grocery bag


You shop at Whole Foods. You look at every label on everything you buy. You are organic.

Good for you! I dig that type of an existence as well. The best way to feel good is to start by running on great fuel. In medium to large cities, in progressive areas of the country, this is very easy to do. Outside of those, you’ll find yourself laughed out of the store if you ask for organic milk.

While we do eat out a lot, and I think that may hold true of most travelers who move around more than they stay put, we still cook meals in our Airstream, just like we did back when we lived in a tiny VW Bus. Having family dinner together and even just the act of cooking makes us all happy. But, it’s not always easy to do.

What to Expect from Grocery Shopping on the Road

Western Oregon and Washington, most of California and Colorado, and in every medium to big city in the nation will have whatever you’re looking for in a grocery store. Whole Foods, yeah, they’re in a lot of places now. Safeway and Albertsons and–uggh–Walmarts and smaller regional grocery stores will often have basic good food, like local produce or organic dairy or grass fed chicken. If that’s what you’re into.

If you don’t care much about that and just want the bargains, well good news! Everywhere just about has a grocery store, even if it’s just a Walmart.

If caring about where your food comes from and what’s in it is important to you, know that you won’t find a lot of what we’re talking about in the mid-West, the Great Plains, the South or the South West. Really, the more “Red” a state is, the less likely they’ll be to have good food. Republicans, it seems, want the best deal on a can of corn, regardless of what percentage it is actually corn.

If you’re vegan or vegetarian, you might want to prepare to ditch the idea that you can sustain yourself on soy-based imitation meats like Boca Burgers or Morningstar faux sausage. You may even, gasp!, need to get real about your vegewhateverism and start eating, double gasp!, actual fruits and vegetables.

If you care about local, sustainable food–in my opinion more valuable than the most organic of products–you’ll find the country is largely divided. In places like Kansas and Wyoming, where they actually raise the cows and grow the corn, it’s hard to get the stuff near its source. Here’s a quick list of places we’ve found to be the most friendly toward local, organic, or generally just “good for you because it’s real” food:

Outside of those meccas of foodery, you’ll find yourself in grocery stores with imported produce, far away meats, and aisle after aisle of boxed, processed food. Sorry we couldn’t bring a shinier happy to you, the people.

Groceries and Mini-fridges

Next up, you may need to change the way you shop. Americans have massive refrigerators compared to most of the world. Even in England, a fridge is often small enough to fit below a counter and half as wide as our low end models. So, we get used to buying cheap food in bulk and storing it away for later.

But you will have neither ample cupboard space nor a large fridge in most situations. RVs, short of the rock star Class A varities, will have smaller than usual refrigerators. Hotels, even smaller. There’s also the factor that if you travel more than you don’t, you may end up going a couple of days without electricity, and while a fridge can stay cold longer than you think, it all depends on how good your unit is and how long it’ll be without power.

So basically, expect to spend more time in grocery stores than you probably do now.

How We Do It

What do we specifically do?

Yeah, one of those three period sentences for clarification. One or all of us, at least once every two days, makes a trip to whatever grocer we can find near us that will get the job done. While we do love locally grown food, we’re okay buying stuff from Mexico or wherever if that’s all they have. The one thing we’re most serious about is organic milk. We can get by with normal cheese, sub-standard bacon even. But bleached milk full of puss, and you can taste it for sure, doesn’t cut the mustard with us, so to speak. With young babies in our house and a growing 12 year old boy, plus adults who love to make lattes and put milk in their coffee and such, we find ourselves going to Walmarts just for the milk. And that’s coming from a man who absolutely hates that place and, otherwise, refuses to step foot in it save some emergency. You know, like running out of milk.