I finally got a passport at age 33. This seems to surprise a lot of my friends and colleagues. Who doesn’t have a passport, right?
This has made me feel feelings about my race and economic privilege relative to my family. We never had passports growing up because we vacationed every three years and we went to Northwest Iowa to visit my dad’s family. On the rare occasions that international travel opportunities presented themselves while I was in school, my mother’s response was somewhere on the spectrum of “we can’t afford that” and “hell no.” (She’s maybe a bit overprotective — she still texts to make sure I made it okay when she knows I’m traveling.) In college I chose to spend a semester in Washington, DC instead of abroad, because it seemed more practical/attainable and after college I worked political organizing jobs with long hours and tiny paychecks for lots of years. Clearly, some of my friends and colleagues could afford to travel, but it just seemed liked something other people did.
The idea of international travel has only felt possible (financially, timewise) to me within maybe the last three years? And I didn’t need a passport for Puerto Rico when my friends and I went in 2014. But this year we chose Jamaica as our Spring Break destination (yes, adult spring break is a thing we do. Five of six of us live in silly cold places with long winters, so we travel in March to someplace warm and beachy).
All of that context aside, I was holding onto a pretty major concern about international travel: what the hell was I going to eat? I’ve heard many stories about friends who try mysterious foods or compromise on vegetarianism while traveling, and while that sounds fun, spending most of my trip holed up near a toilet definitely doesn’t. I was super relieved when my friends suggested an all-inclusive resort option (meaning all meals, drinks and activities are factored into the cost of your hotel room). Of course, familiar food isn’t necessarily ibs-friendly food, so I still packed in: two packages of Udi’s gf hamburger buns (8 total rolls, or enough to have one at lunch and dinner each day of the trip); eight single serving pouches of Justins’s nut butters; four NuGo bars; four Clif bars; and four packets of oatmeal. IBS has made me a light packer clothes-wise, since I always need room for food.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Montego Bay, and while I have nothing to compare it to, my friends said it was pretty standard compared to similarly-priced all-inclusives they’d stayed at. Food is served buffet-style at breakfast, lunch and dinner, and there are several “restaurants” (really just dining rooms that serve themed food) on site. Our package included dinner reservations at their Jamaican and Italian restaurants, and the rest of the time, we were buffet-bound.
Breakfast was the most challenging meal for me, and I leaned heavily on the rolls and almond butter, with fruit and usually potatoes from the buffet. The buffet was well labeled with both vegan and vegetarian items identified, as well as gluten free. This was super helpful, as my downfall is often eating the thing that looks least harmful, only to find out a few hours later that it was probably cooked in butter.
I took a couple of plate pictures from the buffet. This what a pretty typical lunch: Pumpkin rice, potatoes, a cooked vegetable (not delicious) and some kind of bean stew or salad). I only saw tofu on the first day of our trip and it was raw, cubed, and served over pasta. Odd. The highlight was the burger shack near the pool where we went for grilled cheese sandwiches (for my friends) and fries (for me) sometime between lunch and dinner. Most of my friends are vegetarian, and it was hard to stay full on the fairly limited protein available.
The “restaurant” dinners were a lot sketchier. We were assigned reservations at the Jamaican place the first night and they had one vegetarian option on the menu. It was a coconut curry that was more like a tiny portion of soup with a large plate of rice. We ended up paying for bottles of wine at dinner, because the free wine was the foulest substance I have ever willingly ingested. When we checked out, the front desk clerk through there was a mistake because we had so many wine charges on our bill. Whoops. The Italian restaurant was the best night for my friends and the worst for me. There was nothing I could eat on the menu, but a note indicated that entrees were served with roasted potatoes and steamed vegetables, so I asked for a plate of that. Pretty lame to be eating plain potatoes and steamed veggies while your friends get pesto gnocchi, but it was our last night.
Of course, the end of the story is that the vegetables were cooked in butter and I was pretty sick the next morning. The ride to the airport was stressful, but I felt okay by the time I boarded my plane.
So what did I learn? First, that I can leave the country and eat and not be terribly sick the whole time. Baby steps. Second, that I have actually learned how to take care of myself pretty well and I just need to do what I already know how to do. Third and finally, next time I go the all-inclusive route, I will pay more for a child-free resort. #notsorry