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An interview with vegan travel pioneer Donna Zeigfinger
by Marla Rose
is a longtime vegan and an early adopter of spreading the message of
compassionate living far and wide with her groundbreaking travel
agency, Green Earth Travel.
Based in the Washington, D.C. area, Donna has been helping people
travel worldwide without having to compromise their vegan standards (or
go hungry) since 1997 with an emphasis on sustainable travel and
personalized, unique experiences for those who love to explore other
cultures but don’t want to stress out about being able to eat. She
takes the worry out of travel, which frees travellers up to really
enjoying their adventures. Please check out Green Earth Travel and
consider supporting Donna’s conscientious independent business. Also
consider joining along on her summer tour of Italy, the Vegano Italiano
Festival, which looks like it has all the makings of a fantastic trip.
With vegan luminary hosts like the brilliant Jasmin Singer and Mariann Sullivan of Our Hen House and the divine Fran Costigan of Vegan Chocolate, this is a trip you won’t want to miss.
Marla Rose: I keep seeing references to your upcoming tour of Italy, the Vegano Italiano Festival,
which is actually four separate weeks in Cilento with four sets of
fabulous guest hosts. I just looked at your itinerary: What a blast
this looks like. You’re going to Pompeii! Could you tell us a little
more? How did you decide on your hosts and this particular area of
Donna Zeigfinger: Pompeii
is a must - see the location even if you have been in the past. In the
last few years they have uncovered and opened to the public the
bathhouses. They are spectacular with his and hers community baths that
give us an idea of how advanced the people of Pompeii were even by
today standards. That's not to mention the sheer beauty of all the
mosaics and the design of the baths themselves. What most people tend
to forget is that Pompeii was a large city completely frozen in time.
We will have 3.5 hours inside the city and will only be able to see a
fraction of what is there is to see.
I met Fran, Our Hen House girls and Miyoko Schinner through Vegucated producer Demetrius Bagley, who is helping with us on this trip. My collaborator Gretchen from Tierno Tours has been working with Jason Wyrick for the past three years on vegan Italy trips, I met Dr. Ruby Lathon through the Food Channel Network peeps. Carolyn Scott-Hamilton and I have been talking for several years about doing a trip together. Matt Frazier I have known for several years and thought he would be a great part of the fitness segment of the trip.
addition to Pompeii, your trip also includes nature walks, a boat trip
to visit some caves, touring a 13th century castle and, of course,
great local Italian food. Does someone have to be vegan to enjoy this
not and in fact I encourage and challenge non-vegans to come on the
trip and dare them to not like the food. I have yet to hear a complaint
and in fact some have gone on to become vegans themselves.
carved out an interesting niche for yourself as a travel agent who
specializes in meeting the needs of vegan travelers. Could you tell us
a little bit more about what those specific needs are and how you
typically will get a client who is vegan or whose family member is
vegan and they just do not have the time to figure this out. They rely
on me to help with arranging the hotels or tours to make sure that they
have vegan alternatives for them. And I will try to help them with
finding restaurants nearby so they do not have to spend time on their
trip figuring that out.
don’t mean to be blunt, but in the days of Travelocity, HappyCow and
Google searches, could you tell us what you bring to the table that an
average traveler would not be able to do for him or herself?
DZ: Oh gosh too many that I love.
One of my favorite places on earth is Ireland. I love the culture and
the people. And it is becoming more and more vegan-friendly. I also
love Central America (Belize and Costa Rica). I recently went to
Dominican Republic and stayed in a small resort called Natura Cabana
that had a vegan chef! The food was one of the best I have ever had -
ever! We also went into town. That said, this will be my first time to
Italy - yes, you read right - and I have a feeling this will be my new
you noticed any international trends toward an expanding vegan
awarness? How is this manifesting in terms of restaurants, willingness
to accommodate, etc.?
when I got into this business in the ‘80s there was no Internet and the
only way I could find out about places that could accommodate vegans
was to phone them (too expensive back then), mail letters, get
recommendations from other travel agents or travel there myself. It was
the same thing with the cruises. Although I pushed my cruise line sales
rep back in the early ‘90s to get a certain cruise ship a vegetarian
menu and it worked! They added on veg items to their menu.
I would say now that about 80% of the restaurants now can accommodate
vegans due to the high demand. If they don’t they lose a big community
which means they lose revenue. Same with the resorts. Even the larger
resorts like Sandals resorts have at least one vegan option in each of
their restaurants. Same with the cruise lines - Holland America several
years ago came up with a vegetarian menu (not vegan) but they can now
tweak it to be vegan.
MR: Do you have any future vegan travel destinations up your sleeves?
we have more up our sleeves and will be announcing more of them later
this year. Don’t want to spill the beans just yet. But I can say that I
am in the works as of today for something very exciting to happen
summer of 2016. [Take me with you! Thx, bye. Marla.]
can be intimidating for vegans to travel, especially internationally,
if we’re not confident with our language skills and we don’t want to
offend the locals but we also don’t want to go hungry. Do you have any
words of advice?
MW: Yes, there are some wonderful apps now that can translate for you. The one I have used the most is called Translator with Speech and it is free. You type or speak into the app and it says and spells it out for you!
There are also a multitude of guides and apps to find restaurants near where you are staying. You have Veggie Guides, which are guidebooks all about different locations in Europe. You also have the Happy Cow
app, which will locate veg and veg-friendly restaurants nearby. The
list goes on and on. But the bottom line is you need to do your
homework. And even though these guides are great to use you still need
to call or have your travel agent (or hotel concierge) call or email
ahead of time to make sure they are still open and have the same
MR: Thank you, Donna! I’m excited to what’s next for you and Green Earth Travel.
2015, Vegan Street