Kosher Backpackers Needn’t Starve

By Rachel Spangenthal

When people hear that I backpack through Third World countries for weeks at a time, “What do you eat?” is one of the first questions I’m asked.

Because mothers aren’t the only ones who worry whether you eat enough.
Everyone worries whether you eat enough.

And “what do you eat while traveling” is an excellent question, really.

Although backpacking is quite easy to manage… kosher backpacking is another thing entirely. You can’t simply wait until you reach your destination to figure out your food options. You can’t just eat with the locals or trust that you’ll be able to pick up food along the way.

You have to know exactly what you’re eating before you set off on your adventures.
Or… do you?

Because while many kosher-keeping travelers stuff their suitcases with snacks and protein bars before their vacations, that food only goes so far.

You’re going to need more food eventually.

I used to think that kashrus and Shabbos made long-term backpacking impossible or impractical.

Then, I unexpectedly found myself with a pack, a tent and a sleeping bag strapped onto my back.

Now, developed countries were fine. There was always a store I could visit, cans of chick peas and jars of peanut butter I could buy, a kosher list I could consult.

But in developing countries… well… let’s just say my grandmother would be horrified.
Because I essentially starved. While the villagers around me devoured food such as soup made with ants collected from a nearby tree, chickens slaughtered for that night’s meal or homemade tortillas made from corn flour that was ground from the neighbor’s farm, I feasted on numerous suppers consisting of nothing more than a carrot and tomato. And breakfasts composed of a bottle of Coca-Cola and some tea.

But slowly, day by day and trip by trip, I learned how to feast like a queen while backpacking.

Want to know how to rough it while keeping kosher? Below is a list of some of the essential things I’ve learned the hard way.

So that you don’t have to.

Gotta love Chabad. Even in places as far flung as Guatemala, Peru and Cambodia… most of the time, Chabad’s got your back. When arriving in a new country, the local Chabad House is always my first stop and saving grace. Beyond the fact that Chabad serves as a watering hole for Jewish backpackers in their provision of sustenance for both the body and soul, they’ll normally allow you to purchase supplies from their kitchen that will tide you over until you next reach civilization. I’ve always found it useful to buy individually wrapped pitas if they’re on the menu.

Once, before departing Chabad of Nepal for a ten-day hike, I bought ten cheese sandwiches. The frigid Himalayan air served as a natural refrigerator and kept them fresh for the next ten days.

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