Being vegan is a way of life for many around the world. Being vegan also means maintaining community with those in the world, sharing compassionate beliefs and inspiring others to live compassionately. If one eats vegan, then it’s natural to travel vegan. Yet, travelling vegan can be difficult in some parts of the world; particularly in South-East Asia. With the help of VegVoyages, vegan travel is possible and accessible. VegVoyages’ American founder Zac Lovas shares how his vegan travel company came to fruition.
“I started VegVoyages in 2004, the year of our first tour,” Zac explains. “I used to work coordinating for the movie and film industry both in the U.S and in Asian regions. After a decade of being in the film industry, I decided to switch gear to do something that aligned more to my beliefs. The one part that I truly loved was bridging the cultural gaps between our local team and the foreign team, sometimes, even between each local team.” Zac has been vegetarian since 1986, and became vegan in 2008. He found the transition from film to travel an evolutionary one; his skills on the ground translating effortlessly into vegan travel experiences.
VegVoyages employs a small group of guides that host small travel groups through countries such as Indonesia (specifically Sumatra and Bali), Malaysia, India, Laos, Thailand and India; Nepal and Sri Lanka trips have now been added. Responsibility is thus key. “It’s just an automatic thing for us, that all our tours should be vegan,” Zac explains. “ For us, being vegan is not just the type of food we eat, but being vegan is a lifestyle. We believe travel should be beneficial for both the travellers and the community we visit. So, it is very important for us to give back to the local community who have graciously hosted our travellers, share meals with us, and welcome us to their homes, schools, places of worship.” Travellers who decide to travel with VegVoyages are accepting of its philosophy, even curious about being vegan if they are not vegans themselves. “We often have travellers who are non-vegan or vegetarian. We found that most of our travellers agree with this concept, and have been such an amazing support when it comes to giving back to the places, people, organisations they visited with us on the tour. We want to make all travellers feel that they are travelling with friends, so small groups make more sense to us. It is very common to hear some travellers made a life-long friendships after they meet on our trip.”
A vital part of VegVoyages’ responsible style of travel is exploring parts of countries that many travellers don’t get to experience. Getting off the beaten track puts travellers into contact with locals of diverse cultures who provide experiences that reflect daily life, with a vegan slant. This style of travel exemplifies Zac’s instinctual ability to help bridge those cultural gaps. As much as local businesses are enthusiastic to go vegan for VegVoyages, there are times when businesses may decline. “Because our dietary requirements, itineraries and activities are quite different from the usual circle, we did have a fair share of people (including local guides), businesses, hotels, restaurants, that said ‘no’ to us. Recently, during our planning for Sri Lanka tour [one of VegVoyages’ newest destinations], one establishment initially agreed to partner with us. Then, upon learning about our itinerary, the establishment decided that it did not suit their ‘islander lifestyle’. That said we do have many experiences where individuals, communities and businesses are excited to get on board. They are willing to challenge themselves to do something new, and quite often, for most of them, something they also believe in.”
A large part of culture, regardless of destination, is food. Food is heavily engrained in culture.
VegVoyages has found a way to respect local cultures and find enough businesses and communities to partner with who are willing to explore veganism when VegVoyages visits. “We agree that food is an important part of the culture. For a lot of vegan travellers, this is the one part of the culture that, most of the time, they are missing when travelling. That is why we strive to introduce our travellers to the different cuisines of each region we visit. Some communities have just never heard of veganism. Some communities just never think of making their dishes vegan because it was never done before. When approaching a community about making their dishes vegan, we always help them come up with a substitute, and never try to convert them to be vegan. Our focus is to introduce the idea that their food can still taste good without animal ingredients. Often, we would go to the market with them, cook with them, and invite everyone to enjoy the food together. In many places, we found that, once they try the veganised version of their dish, they are more open to try more recipes. It is very common for the community and people to tell us later that they have started cooking the dishes vegan a few times a week at home.
In vegan travel, sustainability starts with food and flows into positive human action. By visiting local not-for-profit groups, animal sanctuaries and charities, VegVoayges ensures that their sustainable approach touches all parts of a local society. A traveller’s experiential visit may be short, but the effects of an experience can last well after a traveller returns home. VegVoyages is regularly contacted by travellers with heartfelt stories of action. “One traveller joined us in India. Upon returning back to her home in the U.S, she raised money by selling the pictures she took from the trip to help a local school that we visited during the tour. With the amount she raised, we were able to get the school a water filter, five sewing machines, one embroidery machine and enough supplies for a whole year. Also, we visit COPE (Cooperative Orthotic & Prosthetic Enterprise) on our Laos trip. This organisation is crucial in providing artificial limbs and rehabilitation for those affected by unexploded ordnance in Laos. One of our travellers sent in a donation to help pay for 25 people to get full treatment including transportation to and from their village to the centre, food and board, checkup, artificial limbs, and rehabilitation.”
VegVoyages attracts clientele from the U.S and Canada, and more recently from the U.K and Australia. “We believe there is an increased demand for vegan tours. Due to Australia being close to many of our tour destinations, non-vegan people in Australia don’t feel the need to join a group tour. But those who are vegan will see the benefit of joining us. [They don’t] have to worry about what to eat which, for most vegans, is one headache when travelling.”
The world and its inhabitants are currently facing a critical crossroad. With an ever-increasing demand to combat social, environmental and ethical issues, vegan numbers are rising. Zac believes vegan travel holds a place in our current social climate, and relies heavily on community spirit. “I believe vegan tours and VegVoyages will still be there in five or ten years, as more and more people choosing to go vegan or give veganism a try. People go vegan for a variety of reasons, some for the animals, some of health, and some for the environment. So we don’t assume everyone will go fully vegan. But as long as the understanding is there, about the benefit of a vegan diet, we believe there is always a need for vegan travel companies and VegVoyages. However, it does have its ups and downs. We have been in the business for 15 years now, and we have seen our numbers go ups and down. We still rely heavily on word of mouth, for our travellers to share their experiences with other people.”
Vegans – even non-vegans – in Australia can reap the benefits of vegan travel; help to visit countries close to Australia more responsibly. “Our destinations and itineraries are created to focus on cultural immersions, local interactions and, of course, lots of vegan food. There is always some aspect of our tours that we believe vegans or non-vegans can enjoy and appreciate: from the breathtaking sceneries, stunning sites, the amazing cultures of each destination, the friendliness of the people, the mouth-watering cuisines, and of course, the adventure itself.”
For more information on VegVoyages, head to their website.