Putting Soul Back into Veganism: Reflections on Health, Travel, and Living Your Purpose

Travel, food, culture, friendship—these are some of the most beautiful things in life. 

For Nicole Ellis, our guest on episode 26 of the Unlocking the Club podcast, they’re also the foundation of her business and life’s calling.

As a certified career consultant in her “day job,” Nicole has always been eager to break free from the corporate mold and forge her own professional path. 

This desire clarified even further when she became a vegan two years ago to address health concerns. Her new healthy lifestyle, combined with a long-time love of traveling, prompted Nicole to start sharing her journey online at Nicky’s Savory Travels

Today, Nicole connects with individuals and supports their career journeys while living out everyone’s dreams as a vegan travel blogger with an active following on YouTube, Instagram, and other social media platforms. 

Together we talked about how to put your health first, what it means to be in the vegan “club,” and how travel is so important for personal growth. You can listen to the full interview on the podcast, or read on here for some of Nicole’s big takeaways.  

Putting Your Health First

Woman sitting on a gym mat and stretching

The pandemic put a lot of things into focus, didn’t it?

One of those things for Nicole was her health. Pre-pandemic she had a number of health issues—including knee issues that required surgery—and was advised by her doctor to lose some weight and prioritize her health. 

As she describes it, Nicole was “stubborn” at first, not wanting to make necessary lifestyle changes. 

But during the pandemic, she felt a small whisper of encouragement—it’s time to make a change. So, she embarked on a 30-day vegan challenge. During that time, Nicole felt the best she ever had with more energy, less inflammation (which is connected to meat consumption), and the ability to walk easier. 

She started exploring veganism further and fell in love with the variety of tasty foods. Realizing that she could integrate her vegan lifestyle with her love for travel, Nicole started posting her journey online and continues to encourage others to make positive lifestyle changes. 

There are two key takeaways from our conversation around health: 

  • Taking care of your body is self-love. By prioritizing your health, you are putting yourself first. It’s an act of love and care that each person deserves to have. 
  • There’s a movement towards healthy living. Nicole reflected on the increased interest in veganism or a generally healthy lifestyle. She believes that now, more than ever, people are prioritizing their health. She wants to be part of that movement and encourage others to do the same. 

And maybe I’ll throw in a last takeaway: eating healthy doesn’t have to be boring! Nicole’s whole existence online as a vegan proves this point—her recipes are full of flavor and are simply delicious. 

The same can be said for exercise. Instead of seeing it as a chore or way to lose weight, Nicole exercises for her mental health and as a way to feel better. Studies show that exercise reduces stress, and can therefore become an enjoyable part of your healthy lifestyle. 

Veganizing Soul Food 

Two people eating out of takeout bowls with chopsticks

We talked about Nicole’s presence as a black woman in the vegan community. She shared that while there are many other established black women in this space, it’s still fairly small. 

Nicole is committed to adding her story to the movement and continues to inspire others in the space. The 10 Million Black Vegan Women movement, for example, is using plant-based nutrition to address public health in the African American community. 

Unfortunately, black women face a higher risk of hypertension and heart disease than their non-Hispanic white counterparts. Nicole’s passion for veganism is not just a personal one—it’s her mission and purpose to help other women, too.

The vegan space is one club Nicole is unlocking, then. But she’s also part of another one—the southern black community, where food, history, and culture are inextricably linked. Despite this, Nicole doesn’t feel trepidation about existing as a vegan in the southern community. 

Why? Because healthy food can still have soul.

Nicole is committed to infusing the flavors of the south, along with all their historical and cultural importance, into her cooking. And in doing so, she’s showing other people that they can prioritize their health while honoring their ancestors and communities. 

Nicole’s learned a few things in her journey as a vegan black woman from the south: 

  • Some people get it, others don’t. Nicole has received push back from those who don’t believe you can cook vegan southern food or just don’t want to prioritize diet changes. This doesn’t phase her, though—she’s focused on those who are interested and are ready to make health changes. 
  • You can eat healthy and honor culture. Nicole is always looking for ways to take traditional southern foods, like BBQ, and veganize them in creative ways, like using jackfruit instead of meat. It’s a way to honor her health and her background. 
  • There should be no shame in prioritizing health. Some people may want to shame you for your choices, especially if they’re outside the “norm” of your culture or context. But prioritizing yourself and your health is not shameful. So, live them out boldly! 

Traveling for Personal Growth

A black woman smiling and posing in front of the Eiffel Tower

Nicole’s been to 29 countries on six continents plus 49 states (just missing Alaska, now). So, you can say she likes traveling!

Traveling both solo and with her husband, Nicole has learned not to label herself. While traveling, she’s evolving, changing, and experiencing new things daily. And, through it, she learns more about herself and her values. 

Here are a few of Nicole’s reflections on how travel has impacted her:  

  • Patience and presence. Travel forces you to slow down and be in the moment—to take it all in. One of Nicole’s recent trips was to Rome, Italy, where she simply wanted to eat vegan gelato and people-watch. What a beautiful example of savoring the moment you’re in. 
  • People are people. Despite language or cultural differences, people are the same at their core. Through traveling, Nicole has met a huge variety of people that she’s connected and become friends with. Travel makes you more open-minded to get to know people, and helps you realize that our big world isn’t so large after all—we all experience the same things. 
  • Judge people individually, not collectively. Many people are inspired by Nicole traveling as a black woman, especially independently. But Nicole doesn’t necessarily see it as brave because she keeps an open mind about everyone she meets. Without erasing the impact of historical and present-day racism and racial injustice, Nicole believes it’s important to judge people for who they are now, as an individual, and not collectively. This lets her form meaningful relationships as she travels. 

Travel has allowed Nicole to become more self-aware and more self-confident. She’s learning to tell her story and not be afraid to live as her most authentic, genuine, vegan-food-loving self. 

Nicole’s story is more than just epic travels and tasty meals. She’s also experienced some profound health challenges that shifted how she views her life and purpose in this world. Nicole elaborated more on this during our interview, so I invite you to listen to episode 26 of Unlocking the Club podcast to hear more. And if you want to keep up with Nicole, visit her online at Nicky’s Savory Travels. She’s got a lot of exciting projects coming up (including a potential cookbook!) that you will not want to miss.