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Donna Zeigfinger: Owner of Green Earth Travel.Why did you open Green Earth Travel?
I opened Green Earth Travel in 1997 when I was so busy servicing my clients as well as the travel agency I worked for and decided that I needed to focusing on my clients.
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I have been a travel consultant for more than 13 years now.
What services does Green Earth Travel offer for Vegan travelers?
I am a full service travel agency that books hotels, cars, airline tickets (for a small fee) and tour packages both escorted and independent. I try to book vegetarian tours if possible but if not I will communicate with the tour operator extensively about the specific dietary needs of my clients. Clients who book packages or tours with me will also receive a list if possible of places that they will be able to eat at. If they have not booked a package or just wish to buy airline tickets thru me then I do charge a fee per city.
Do you get a chance to preview the places you send travelers?
On an occasion I do have the luxury of trying places that I send my clients. I try to go somewhere new at least twice a year where I know that my clients will go or have been to make sure that it is up to my standards which can be quite high, but unfortunately there are only 2 of us and if no one is in the office then I can't send you anywhere so not as often as I would like. I did just get back from Ireland where I stayed at a Bed and Breakfast that I had booked for my clients that will be going to next spring. I do get a lot of feedback from my clients and I do rely on that heavily as well as coworkers recommendations.
What is your recommendation for a vegan family of four for a good trip on a reasonable budget?
It all depends on the client. Some clients prefer the way off the beaten track places with very rustic accommodations others want the Ritz Carlton suite with a kitchen in the suite. Some people want to spend no more than $30 a night while I have some clients who have spent up to $1500 a night, so I would really need to get a feel for the client before answering that.
Are there such things as all vegan cruises?
No. But have no fear cruises are becoming a lot more aware of vegetarian/vegan needs. Most of the cruises now have vegetarian menus but as far as vegan specialties goes that is a slightly different matter. You do need to let your travel agent (preferably Green Earth Travel) know what you eat and don't eat and have them make sure that the special services receives that message and that they get that information to the ship because a lot of times they don't receive any messages. When you get on the ship drop your bags off and immediately go to the matri di and introduce yourself. Ask them if they received the information on your diet and if not let them know right away, because the ship will take off and you might have salad to eat. Normally if they do not have your special foods that day then when they stop at the next port the next day they will pick up foods for the week for you. Be sure to take some soy milk and maybe Macaroni and Chreese just in case.
Can you help vegan travelers find places to eat where they'll be going?
Yes, If they book their packages with me I would do all the research for them. Otherwise if they booked themselves they can pay a fee for each city they want me to research.
What is your best advice for vegan travelers who are going to a place they've never been before?
Take food with you!!! Take soy milk because even in places that have soy milk it might not be the kind you like. Take packaged foods like the macaroni and vegan cheese options. Take nuts and dried fruits with. Do your homework ahead of time and try to locate a health food store or vegetarian restaurant nearby. Ask the concierge for a recommendation on vegetarian or vegetarian-friendly restaurants in the neighborhood. I guarantee that someone behind the check-in desk knows of a place.
How do you convey your dietary needs when traveling in a different country where you don't know the language? Is it best to set something up ahead of time?
If you are on an escorted tour it is best to let your travel agent know so that they can let the tour operator know. And again when you get to your destination let the guide know. Usually the guides speak the language so they should be able to help you. There are also guides and websites that you can go to. Go to the IVU website (International Vegetarian Union) and there is a place that you click on that says Vegetarian Phrases in World Languages. And last there is a book called Speaking Vegetarian by Bryan Geon published by pilot books. This book goes into detail about how to order vegetarian while not insulting the country's culture or the chef. It also goes into detail about the types of foods that each country features.