Growing interest in cruelty-free lifestyle sees firms keen to offer trips to destinations that explore less popular tourist areas and offer genuine interactions with locals
A decade ago, travelling as a vegan would have been a daunting task.
With the plant-based lifestyle having exploded only in the past few years, long-time vegans can probably recall fighting for scraps at restaurants and having to stand to the side in dismay while the rest of the tour group went on camel rides.
Yet gone are the days of surviving on lettuce and French fries.
Vegan tourism is on the rise and is tapping into an ever-growing market of travellers who care about sustainability and still want to indulge in delicious food and experience the local culture.
The United States-based Adventure Travel Trade Association says that people are becoming more interested in destinations that explore the less-popular tourist areas and provide genuine interactions between locals and guests.
We can all relate to the disappointment felt on a paid tour where most of your time is spent in an air-conditioned bus; the annoyance of waiting in line for hours to enter a famous sightseeing spot; and the feeling of being ripped-off in pricey restaurants or tacky gift shops that prey on tourists.
Whether you’re vegan or not, you can probably agree that leaving as little environmental impact as possible, and supporting local ethical businesses while on holiday, is essential.
Vegan tour companies
A vegan tour eliminates not only animal products from the menus, but also does not support animal tourism, such as elephant rides or zoo visits.
Veg Voyages is a popular company that offers specially tailored vegan holidays around the world that are 100 per cent cruelty-free.
You might be thinking that these holidays are targeted at penniless hippies and involve dormitory-style accommodation, but you are wrong. They cater to high-end travellers, offering comfortable quality accommodation and private transport.
Vegan Travel offers all-vegan cruises, focused mostly around Europe, but recently launched a cruise around Chile and Patagonia.
While a “vegan cruise” might sound ridiculous and not environmentally friendly, the ship is stocked with renowned gourmet chefs, cruelty free toiletries and yoga classes, as well as on-board entertainment such as “Vegan’s Got Talent”.
I recently returned from Intrepid Travel’s India
Vegan Food Adventure, one of three all-vegan tours that it offers – other destinations include Italy and Thailand.
It was an amazing and unique experience; one that has definitely set the bar high for tour companies being able to accommodate travellers with different dietary and ethical standards.
Although India is very vegetarian-friendly, the use of dairy, especially ghee (clarified butter) and paneer (cottage cheese) is overabundant.
On the India Vegan Food Adventure, I did not have to worry about a thing, with our tour leader being responsible for checking all ingredients.
Being a food tour, there was a huge emphasis on eating, of course.
We stopped for many samosa snack breaks; we spent time at three separate families’ homes to learn how to cook traditional Indian food, such as aloo gobi (spiced potatoes and cauliflower) and pakora (fried vegetable fritters); and we enjoyed lavish breakfast buffets and multi-course dinners.
We stopped for a look at the impressive Sikh temple in Delhi, Gurdwara Sis Ganj, and headed to the kitchen where volunteers were making chapatti and vegetable curry to feed to the thousands of needy people who frequent the temple each day.
We sat with them for a while and learnt how to properly prepare the food and roll out the dough.
Our tour leader even brought soya milk to the chaiwalas (chai tea vendors) on the street corners so we could enjoy a steaming cup of this spicy milk tea as traditionally as possible.
Accommodation and activities
Since many people on our tour were single female travellers, accommodation was shared twin accommodation, but you could opt to pay a single supplement for your own room, as I did.
We stayed at clean, quiet hotels in the bustling cities, with private bathrooms, air conditioning and sometimes a minibar.
The real highlight was visiting a heritage building called Castle Kanota, which was situated in a remote area.
With a private pool and bar, luxurious bedroom suites, and peacocks flying around, this provided a quiet lush getaway from the crowded streets of Delhi.
Being on a vegan tour does not mean you have to miss out on the popular sightseeing spots either.
While we did visit a lot of places that were off the beaten track, we still got a generous amount of time to take photos of the Taj Mahal, see a Bollywood film and haggle with hawkers over souvenirs.
We visited Amber Fort in Jaipur, where most tourists pay for elephant rides to take them to the fort entrance in the blistering sun.
When we arrived, there were private jeeps waiting to transport us to the entrance, so we could avoid animal exploitation altogether.
The places we visited supported local independent artisans and businesses, and avoided most of the pricey tourist traps. We got a chance to practise cloth printing on vegan materials; we watched a demonstration on gemstone polishing; and we visited local street vendors and markets.
The most meaningful event was having lunch at Sheroes Hangout, a small cafe and social enterprise run completely by women survivors of acid attacks, a horrific social issue that is still pervasive around India.
We watched a documentary about these women’s inspiring stories that brought us all to tears, while munching on tasty vegan snacks.
At the end, we had a chance to make a donation by buying something from its small gift shop.
A vegan tour makes you feel good about how your money is being spent because you are supporting local communities and eliminating animal exploitation.
Joining a tour such as this will surround you with like-minded people, and create a strong bond between you and your fellow travellers.
Whether you are a fully fledged vegan or just interested in healthy food and ethical travel, vegan tours are fantastic options that reduce your environmental impact while on holiday.
With “last chance travel” – visiting a place before it disappears because of global warming – and “overtourism” on the forefront of our minds, vegan tours are a step in the right direction and represent the future of travel.