Green Earth Travel is a vegetarian/vegan/eco travel agency that offers customized packages that make for diverse yet unique vacations. We reached out to the President/Owner Donna Zeigfinger to learn more about the company's beginnings as well as get some insights into her own experiences as a veg traveler.
When and why did you make the switch to a veg lifestyle?
1983 I had been working under Ingrid Newkirk for about 1 year and she would show me flyers and books. It took about another year and another job before I went vegan.
What was it like being a veg traveler when you first started traveling?
I started traveling a lot in 1986 when I started working at a travel agency. It was extremely difficult although not impossible. I would get salads, pasta. Chinese food was a big staple internationally and then finding the occasional vegetarian restaurant that would have vegan options.
How much has vegan travel changed for you over the years?
It has been amazing. Going from very hotels that catered to vegetarians (let alone vegans) to vegan hotels, tours and cruises and they sell out!
Back then people either did not travel or they always brought their own food or eat staples of salads and pasta. Now if the restaurant does not have vegan options they are shamed!
As far as the hotels go they not only will have at least one or two vegan options (just went to a Hyatt in Baltimore MD that served the Impossible Burger) they now have alternatives to wool and feather blankets to alternatives. Same with the pillows.
Also back then I would have to write letters or fax to hotels to see if they could accommodate my clients. It would sometimes take a month to get a response. Now I just email them and get almost instant answers.
Tell us more about Green Earth Travel. What inspired you to start your own vegetarian/vegan/eco travel agency?
When I became a travel agent in 1985 all of my animal rights/vegan friends were wanting to support my business. Then around 1990, I approached the person that was head of the March For The Animals. I became the official travel agent. That was under a travel agency called Sea and Ski Travel.
In 1994 the Washington Post food section approached me and did a rather lengthy piece on what I do (I was working at All Ways Travel then). The article went national.
In 1995 The Vegetarian Times also did a piece.
People would hold onto articles for years and so the business was getting to the point where I could no longer service the agency’s clients as I had too many of my own.
So in 1996, I decided it was time to go off on my own.
Does Green Earth Travel offer specific travel and tour packages?
Yes, we have partnered with several tour operators to do group trips. We also customized packages for individuals that want to travel just with friends or family or on their own.
What can vegan and non-veg travelers expect when they join your tours?
It depends on what they have booked. If they are on a group tour that one of my tour operators that I use, everything will be vegan. From the meals to the bedding to the tours. When I mean the tours I mean that they will take you to only the most ethical tours possible. No animals used for our entertainment.
We have gone to animal sanctuaries, vegan walking tours, and even vegan cooking tours to name a few.
What have you learned about the global vegan community based on your experiences as a veg and eco-travel agency president and owner?
That most people are travel-savvy now and know what to look for. That said some people still find it difficult to travel as a vegan. That can be true if they have other things like oil-free and gluten-free or are celiacs or kosher on top of being vegan. That said it is still much easier than 30 years ago. And it is growing like crazy. When you can go to places like Ireland and find a Subway in each corner with vegan subs and go to almost any major city and they have vegan walking tours or vegan festivals-that is saying a lot.
Any advice or tips you want to share with vegetarian and vegan travelers?
Get online and follow vegan travel bloggers. Wendy Werneth of the Nomadic Vegan has a blog and a free how to travel as a vegan.
When you book your travel tell your agent that you are vegan and you need vegan meals on your flights. You should check-in online the night before and when you do you can re-check your vegan meals and make sure you have your meals. When you check-in at the gate, ask them again. And then when you get on the flight make sure the attendant knows it is you that is vegan. They have been known to give special meals away. Bring trail mix or vegan sandwich or a power bar with you for the just in case.
When booking a hotel or a non-vegan tour ask your travel agent to make sure that they can accommodate you. Same for a cruise. There is a special services department that usually handles that.
Once on the cruise when you arrive go to the special services or guest services desk and let them know that you are vegan. Also, go to the concierge and ask them as well. Get to know your staff on board and treat them nicely and tip. That goes a long way.
When at a hotel ask the front desk or concierge and ask them if they have a favorite vegan or vegan-friendly place that they could recommend.
Of course, use the apps. HappyCow is a great one although you need to check and call to make sure that the restaurants are still there. Go online and search for vegan restaurants- let's say Nairobi. You will find a ton of options online.
The most important thing is to have fun and enjoy yourself. You should never have to stress about food and animals when traveling.