Local blogger on healthy food in Chicago and beyond

Loumay Alesali
Medill Reports

From Havana to Athens to Lima and many more destinations around the world, Sapna the Chicago vegetarian traveler, blogger and Instagrammer delivers international journeys to people’s fingertips with one click, or swipe.

She started her blog, vegetariantourist.com, six years ago to share her traveling experiences with people and help them find the best of food out there in the U.S. and anywhere abroad. Her 15,000 followers on Instagram turn to her when they want to find restaurants that accommodate their vegetarian and gluten free dietary needs. Sapna’s goal is to make it easier for people to experiment with food while traveling and escape the daunting fear of food restriction.
“It makes places less scary, so that you yourself can feel comfortable, like okay I’ve seen all these pictures on Instagram or I’ve read a couple of blogs and people said it’s okay not to worry,” Sapna said.

Living in River North, Sapna likes to keep her last name unknown and doesn’t use any identification on her website and social media for security purposes. She gets weird messages, she said.

Vegetarianism and traveling adventures are a lifestyle and passion that taught her about PR and marketing, and started generating money for Sapna by getting events’ invitations and sponsored posts from companies who find their targeted audience in her fans. However, the profit that she makes is still not enough to make her quit her day job. Sapna is the senior manager at American College of Surgeons. She develops educational programs for surgeons to access on their cell phones. “I always joke that by day I’m a health tech and by night I’m a vegetarian food traveler,” says Sapna.

Her former boss encouraged Sapna to create the blog because of her writing skills and interest in traveling around the world.
“My first international trip was probably when I was a year old when my parents took me back to India, where my parents are from,” says Sapna. “Travel’s been part of my life. And I studied abroad in college, so I think that’s when I really got the chance to kind of explore, get out on my own and start to realize just how much there is to see in the world.”

Sapna visited all but 11 states and traveled to 25 countries, including her latest trip to Cuba, which sparked her follower’s curiosity about rare Cuban vegetarian cuisine. So, one of her posts was about finding organic product in Vinales, Cuba.

“I found awesome foods and I was a little nervous, like—eww—eating rice and beans every day. That doesn’t sound exciting, but they were prepared differently everywhere so they never tasted the same,” said Sapna.

Sarah Baker, a plant-based nutrition and holistic health coach, and a friend of Sapna for four years, says “healthy eating is booming” and that people are now aware of healthy actions’ role in maintaining their health. She adds that “with social media there is more education and awareness around healthy eating, and influencers are also definitely making an impact.”

Sapna grew up as a vegetarian, a major part of who she is, and new trends are easing her hobby of restaurant hopping. However, she doesn’t try to influence people’s choices, she only recommends places based on her followers’ questions on how to find unique places in Chicago or the country they are traveling to.

“I archive so many of her posts when she visits various restaurants that have vegetarian friendly meals. Her content is authentic, genuine, and she is one of very few people who is growing organically simply by staying consistent,” Baker said.

When Sapna created her Instagram account, it was an exciting time for her because social networks provide people with fast and short pieces of information instead of long reads.

Sapna believes that her virtual world keeps evolving and growing while she continues to help people, learn more about and refine her writing and photography. “If you asked me six years ago I would never have thought I would even be at this place,” says Sapna.

Photo at top: Sapna is considered a local celebrity on Instagram. (vegetariantourist.com)