Update May 2020: Lots of new vegan tour options have popped up since I wrote this post! Go here to see the full list.
It might seem odd for me to even be mentioning group tours on this blog. After all, the whole reason I created The Nomadic Vegan in the first place was so that I could show people how fun and easy it is to travel as a vegan and how to find delicious vegan food themselves, anywhere in the world.
My personal preference has always been for independent travel – first as a solo traveler, and then, once I met Nick, as part of a couple.
Nick and I travel perfectly together; we have very similar priorities and ideas about what kinds of places we want to visit, how long we want to stay in each place, how much sightseeing we want to pack into each day, how much we are willing to spend on luxuries, etc.
After 13 years together, with much of that time spent on the road, when we strap on our backpacks we are like a well-oiled machine working in perfect unison. On the rare occasions when we travel with other people, it often feels awkward and uncomfortable. When it's just the two of us, it feels like all is right with the world.
I realize, though, that not everyone feels comfortable navigating unfamiliar places on their own. Hell, I wasn't always comfortable with it either.
Though it seems crazy to me now, on my first trip to Rome I remember walking all the way from my hostel near Termini station to the Vatican (about one hour each way), because I was too daunted by the idea of figuring out how to get there by metro. The Rome metro has only two lines, by the way, so it's really hard to get lost.
While I do encourage everyone to get out and explore the world, there's no one right way to do it. Yes, I do believe that independent travel provides the greatest opportunity for real contact and connection with a country's people and culture.
But the thing is, travel is intimidating for many people, and concerns about finding vegan food can make it even more so, to the point where some people will be so overwhelmed by the idea that they'll choose to just stay home instead.
Please don't do that. If you're directionally challenged like me, or if you just don't have the time or desire to do all the planning and organizing required to make a trip run smoothly, then group travel could be a good option for you.
But how do you find a tour operator that will accommodate your needs as a vegan traveller?
One option is to outsource the search to a travel agency that understands what vegan travellers are looking for. Green Earth Travel, for example, is run by seasoned traveller Donna Zeigfinger, who books tours that promote sustainable and eco-friendly travel.
As Donna is a long-time vegan herself, she specializes in vegetarian and vegan travel, along with customized volunteer vacations and adventure travel packages.
ResponsibleTravel.com is another agency that connects travelers with small, environmentally-friendly and socially responsible tour operators all over the world. On their website you can search specifically for companies that cater for vegetarian and vegan clients, which could offer anything from a cycling holiday in France to a small-group cooking holiday in Thailand.
While it's always great when you find a mainstream tour operator that is able and willing to provide vegan meals on request, an even better option is to join a tour exclusively designed for vegan travelers. There are several companies offering these types of tours in a number of different countries.
First, there's Veg Jaunts and Journeys, which runs personalized group tours to vegan-friendly destinations. Their tours are often centred around vegan festivals, pop-up markets and other events.
And finally, the option that I personally find the most intriguing is Vegano Italiano - a joint venture launched by Green Earth Travel mentioned above and Italian-based company Tierno Tours. Not only do participants on these tours enjoy delicious vegan meals, they also get to mingle with and learn from vegan celebrities!
This tour incorporates plenty of sightseeing - think ancient Greek temples, medieval towers and wonderfully preserved Roman frescoes - but also devotes ample time to discovering and savoring the many naturally vegan dishes in southern Italy's local cuisine. There's even a chance to eat lunch in a lemon grove and make your own limoncello!
The other option offered by Vegano Italiano is a tour of Puglia and Matera with special guest Miyoko Schinner, vegan cheesemaker extraordinaire. Nick and I just recently spent 10 days travelling around this region and completely fell in love with it, so I can vouch for the high quality of both the sightseeing and the food there, which I will have MUCH more to say about in future blog posts.
The tour includes cooking lessons with local Italian “mammas”, cooking demonstrations by Miyoko, and a visit to a local winery complete with a tasting of local wines paired with Miyoko's vegan cheeses!
Coincidentally, I received a copy of Miyoko's book Artisan Vegan Cheese for Christmas this year, and Nick and I are quite keen to start trying our hand at cheesemaking. I just started my first batch of rejuvelac today!
So Miyoko + Italy is clearly a win-win in my book. Even though I just toured Puglia and Matera on my own and have already seen most of the places covered on the tour, I would still jump at the chance to go on this tour myself.
Why? Because no matter how many times I visit Italy, I always find more to discover about its history, culture, language and delicious food. And what could be better than making those discoveries in the company of fellow vegans who share both my values of peace and compassion AND my love for travel and foreign cultures?
Plus, you know, the chance to rub shoulders with a recognized vegan cheese master.
Update: This post was written a while ago. Since then, so many new vegan tours have popped up! From multi-country tours to river cruises, to short walking tours, you're sure to find the tour that's right for you. I'm even leading a couple of tours myself! Click the button below to see the full list of vegan tours.