In the reader survey I did a couple months back, a strong area of agreement was readers wanted more about RV life and life on the road. I’d always planned on writing about everyday aspects of RV life and how they are the same and different from regular life. The survey let me know it was time to start that series in earnest. I have written about showering in an RV shower, as well as shower in a campground bathhouse. Today is the first of many to come in the RV Life series. Today is all about RV life grocery shopping.

I start with grocery shopping for two reasons. First, it comes on the heels of two posts all about the RV kitchen. There was the Best RV Kitchen Appliances followed by the Best RV Kitchen Gadgets. A post about shopping felt like a nice tie-in with those.

The second reason—and this might be hard to believe but it’s true—is that I’ve had more around-the-campfire conversations with other RVers about the difficulties of RV life grocery shopping than any other aspect of RV life.

Getting to a New Place

In several posts, I’ve mentioned that the first thing I do when I am settled into a new place is take the pup and walk the campground. I want to look at the quality and cleanliness of the bathhouse and restrooms. How many quarters does it take for a load of laundry? I want to know where to take my trash (and with pets, it’s a daily chore) and whether they have recycle bins.

We all have our thing at a new place. Walking the campground is mine. I have a full-timing RV friend whose thing is grocery shopping.

Once settled, she heads into town to scope out the grocery stores. She stops in several and shops, figuring out which places have the best vegetables and brand of cereal her daughter likes. She likes filling her refrigerator first thing at a new place.

I Know What You’re Thinking

In only the first few paragraphs, you might have done an eye roll or two. “Come on. It’s grocery shopping, not rocket science,” you might be thinking. You’d be right. And wrong.

Photo by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash

Marshmallows, chocolate bars and graham crackers. Yum!

One thing RV life has taught me is how much of non-RV life is routine. And how much of that routine I never gave much thought to. In sticks-and-bricks life I shopped primarily at one grocery store and I knew where everything was. I knew what brands they carried and the likelihood they’d have an unusual ingredient I was in search of for a recipe.

If I wanted to make s’mores in my old life, I could go to the store and be in and out within 15 minutes. Without thinking, I’d go to the candy isle, the cookie/cracker isle and the baking isle (chocolate, graham crackers and marshmallows). Done. In a new grocery store, I can spend 15 minutes alone trying to figure out where the marshmallows are because putting them in the baking isle isn’t a given.

When you shop at a new location, a new grocery store, it’s almost like your first time grocery shopping. Ever. That’s how lost you can feel and how frustrated you can get.

I’ve had the “I hate new grocery stores” conversation with many equally frustrated RVers.

That said, experience has made it easier. Not at finding items in a new location but at generally navigating the grocery shopping chore. Below are a few things I’ve figured out along the way. Maybe they will help you.

Tips for Navigating RV Life Grocery Shopping

There is no tip that will make you know the layout of a new grocery store. So, the first, very practical (and maybe obvious) tip is simply to allot more grocery shopping time. If you are in an area for a while, you’ll be familiar with the store so may not need to allot extra time for every visit.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I love grocery stores with big produce sections.

But, for me, I usually figure double the time it would’ve taken in my routine life. If it’s the major weekly shopping day, I would’ve figured about 45 minutes in my old life. In a new location, I’ll plan on 90 minutes.

When I go in with the mindset of 90 minutes, I find I get less frustrated and have more patience than if I allot my old 45 minutes. For me, that makes a big difference. It leads to the next tip.

Be flexible. You must be. Circumstances won’t give you a choice. Know that there will be times when you can’t find what you want. Maybe you have a favorite brand of mac-and-cheese or a microwave popcorn or bag of mixed salad. If you don’t have an attitude of flexibility, you will find yourself wanting to throw yourself on the ground kicking and screaming when you can’t find your brand.

But that actually opens you up to a wonderful and positive aspect of a new area, a new grocery store. You get to try food you never have before. It could be a local food or, more likely, a food traditional to the culture of the area. For example, when I was in Walla Walla, it turned out there was a large Hispanic population so I found lots of the traditional Hispanic food choices at the store. In the Midwest you might find a dense population of Germans and, therefore, a grocery store stocked with traditional German food.

Try to see grocery shopping as part of the adventure in RV life. It can help. You came to explore a community. A grocery store and the food it carries is a reflection of that community.

You might find it useful to look for patterns. It took me a while—and a lot of different grocery stores—before I started to realize there were patterns. A good example from my experience is non-dairy options. I prefer non-dairy “dairy” products such as cheese, coffee creamer and yogurt. Over time, it dawned on me that 95% of the time, those items will be in one of two places.

Either they will be mixed in the regular dairy case. So the soy or almond or coconut creamer will be next to all the other flavored creamers near the milk. Or, they are considered “alternative” and can be found in a separate section of the store with all of the alternative items such as vegetarian and vegan foods, non-GMO wheat and corn products, gluten-free products, diabetic low-sugar products, etc.

What that means is if I can’t find what I’m looking for in the dairy case, I no longer wander up and down isles looking for vegan cheese or cashew yogurt.

If you are in an area and find a store that carries brands you love or sometimes-hard-to-find items or you are there long enough to get the layout of the store, ask the question, “Is this a regional chain?” I find stores with the same name, even if individually owned, will have similar layouts.

A Grocery Store Love Story

I discovered a store called Hy-Vee in Dubuque, Iowa, (link to post 112) and kind of fell in love. It was a perfect store with a large “alternative” section. Because eating vegetarian and vegan is new to me (more on this topic in January), it was so much fun exploring new foods and brands. I liked the store so much that I did a little internet sleuthing to learn about the company and find if they were a chain.

Turns out there are Hy-Vee stores in 13 Midwestern states. I also learned the unusual name comes from combining parts of the last name of the two founders (Charles Hyde and David Vredenburg) and that they signed the lease for their first store only weeks before the October 1929 stock market crash.

And Finally

The last tip I want to share is to think and plan ahead. If you are in a town where you’ve found items you like, don’t assume the next town (even if nearby) will have the same items. Similarly, if your next stop is in a smaller or more remote location than your current one, the likelihood is you’ll find less of what you want. This means, even though it might be inconvenient with your small RV space, stock up while you can.

girl and shopping cart full of eating, goods, food, beverage, beauty, lifestyle

Fill the grocery cart when you can. In RV life, you’ll always have your favorite stuff on hand.

It’s only recently that I understood this. I mean, I always understood it. But it’s only recently I figured out how to put it in practice. It is going to sound simple and obvious but it wasn’t.

I finally made the transition to allowing myself to use my van as food storage. Since I full-time in a small rig, the van, as you know, is my storage. But it’s for clothes and paperwork and adventure equipment. In my mind, food belonged in the kitchen. Only in the kitchen.

But when I ordered a case of eight boxes of vegan mac-and-cheese because I was no longer going to be in states with a Hy-Vee, I finally saw the wisdom in using the van to store extra non-perishable food. When I find a store I love that carries products I love at prices I love, now I no longer agonize over stocking up.

If you have tips for grocery shopping on the road, please do share. Do you have unusually “must have” grocery items you worry about not finding in a new location?

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