Annnesha Banerjee reports on VegVoyages, a travel firm, which is creating a sustainable planet by taking the bold step of promoting in their tours not only veganism, but its core values—compassion and non-violence
Travel has become an indispensable part of our lives. Whether you travel in a group or solo, prefer backpacking or lavish vacationing, travel broadens your perspective. Witnessing the scenic landscapes, experiencing various shades of cultural diversity, and indulging in local delicacies can rid a person of their prejudices.
However, despite the value addition that visiting different cities and countries brings to our lives, we cannot ignore the negative ecological impact it leaves on our planet. Adding to the plastic trash, engaging in animal safaris and zoo visits, contributing to greenhouse gas emission, and animal agriculture (which itself is responsible for 14-18 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions), are a few of the ignored aspects of travelling that contribute to climate change.
Be that as it may, there are a number of things one can do to offset the environmental impact of travelling. Instead of choosing not to travel owing to moral obligations, we need to bridge the problems with creative and practical solutions. Going vegan is the simplest and most effective way of reducing and compensating for your carbon footprint. Opting for a lifestyle that is in harmony with the ecosystem can go a long way in shifting the global perspective on sustainability. Travelling vegan not only opens the door to new opportunities but also lets us open our hearts to be more compassionate.
A new wave
With rising awareness among people, the vegan movement is catching wind in its sail. An increasing number of individuals are opting for sustainable options and travelling is just another part of a vegan lifestyle. Although travelling vegan poses many challenges for first-time travellers, it has become easier to find vegan meals thanks to the entrepreneurial opportunities the movement brought with it. One of the first to recognise this opportunity was VegVoyages. With a shared passion for travelling and veganism, three people from three different countries, cultures, and religions came together to bridge the gap of ethical travel.
Since its inception in 2004, the vegan tour operator has embarked with many on numerous trips over the last 15 years. Now a leading vegan travel firm in Asia, VegVoyages organises 23 trips per year in seven different countries. The aim of the organisation is to allow travellers and foodies to explore the potential of plant-based cuisine. Opting for vegan trips to Thailand, India, Malaysia, Laos, Sumatra, Nepal, and Bali, one can immerse in the diverse cultural experiences. In addition to promoting ethical and responsible travelling values, it ensures that visitors become a part of the destination rather than remaining just spectators. “We focus on building bridges, not walls,” explains VegVoyages co-founder, Zac Lovas. “Our itineraries emphasise on connecting our travellers and the people of the country they’re in, promoting an understanding of different cultures, traditions, cuisines, and the idea that we all share something in common.” The objective is to see beyond what is visible on the surface and experience a wholesome vegan adventure.
According to the VegVoyages team, veganism is more than just changing dietary habits. By default, it extends to how you view and treat people, animals, and the planet. Travelling consciously is the responsibility of every individual because the negative impact caused by one is borne by many. So, instead of increasing their carbon footprint, travellers get to live as part of a community and its culture. With VegVoyages, travellers can be sure of not promoting any exploitation of animals by visiting animal parks or zoos. In fact, it is a founding principle of the vegan tour operator to design 100 per cent cruelty-free travel adventures without causing harm to any animal or human. How wonderful, how utopian, not having to worry about adding to the misery in the world! Choosing the power of non-violence and peace in all spheres of life. Isn’t that what veganism promotes?
True to its motto, VegVoyages ensures giving back to the community it visits. ‘For us, travel is not just business,’ says their website, and rightly so. They help in sustaining rural schools by providing books and other study materials as well as assist with funds for grass-root social welfare organisations. With a strong sense of responsible travel imbibed in the team, the travellers engage in community visits to rural schools, NGOs, and animal rights groups. Local interaction and cultural intermingling are hugely credited for the success of VegVoyages’ trips. In an interview with Forbes, Lovas said, “We don’t go in and thrust our beliefs on the locals. We work with local communities and develop programmes to help them tell their story to our guests and make their story—including their cuisine—vegan-friendly. They’re often surprised that some of their classic home dishes can still taste good when they’re made vegan. We like to look at the whole experience as a cultural exchange.” VegVoyages also runs its own foundation, which currently supports four local village schools, two children’s homes, and six animal sanctuaries.
Each voyage takes the off-beaten track, which ensures that every participant truly lives the best adventure they can. It is an opportunity for vegan adventurers where one can rest assured of living and breathing with the cities they visit, without having to compromise on their ethics or on the immersive experience. What adds more value to each traveller’s experience are the small-group tours that allow for enough time, making the adventure unique and personal. Catering to travel enthusiasts from all walks of life, VegVoyages ensures that everyone takes lasting memories back home.
The ethical appeal of VegVoyages is indeed an attractive factor, but so is their international experience. The founders have lived in most of the destinations they organise tours for and hence have a deep knowledge of the regions, which is one of the reasons they are able to create quality services and a true vegan adventure. Not only this; the trips are inclusive of both vegan and non-vegan travellers, who can get together in the most ethical form of vacation. In a way, it is helping non-vegans and transitioning vegans warm up to the idea of veganism by experiencing its perks at first hand. Interestingly, the majority of people identified themselves as vegetarians during the initial tour years of the company, but in recent times, many are vegan. According to Lovas, approximately 75 per cent of guests are vegan, with 2 per cent non-vegan, the latter typically comprising friends or spouses of vegans or those who are curious about the lifestyle.
It’s all about food!
Food is always a highlight in one’s travel itinerary. More so, on a vegan trip! Busting the myths about boring vegan meals, VegVoyages ensures that food is the biggest incentive for travellers to choose vegan tourism. “People don’t want to go to a country and be able to only eat only side dishes and salads or be stuck eating the same thing that they eat back home,” Lovas says. “One of the benefits of travelling on a vegan trip is to be able to enjoy eating what the locals eat and not having to worry about whether or not it’s 100 per cent vegan. You can still get a glimpse of the local culture and history through the community’s cuisine on a vegan adventure.”
Food is a great tool to get an insight about a country’s culture and the perks of travelling with VegVoyages is that travellers don’t miss out on the authentic dishes which are specially prepared with a vegan twist. Since Asia has a diverse range of vegetarian and vegan dishes to offer, the culinary feast is undoubtedly exotic. In addition to introducing the popular trademark dishes of the destination, voyagers are also served with the hidden treasures of regional and local dishes found in only certain areas. Dishes that have escaped the restaurant menus and recipes that have been passed down over generations within families are a part of the whole experience. The challenge lies in preparing vegan food, which is often confused with vegetarian cuisine. “When we first contacted many of our current community partners, they had never heard of veganism. Since we began planning tours, we have worked closely with several local families and chefs to ‘veganise’ their best recipes. From buying fresh ingredients to cooking and enjoying the vegan meals together, we make sure each dish is as close as possible to the original recipe,” says their website.
VegVoyages has truly done a remarkable job in providing vegans the opportunity to travel without missing out on the bold global flavours. It not only allows exploring different parts of the world but also fosters travelling responsibly by minimising the impact on the environment, animals, and communities. Indeed, the future is vegan.
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