Seasoned world traveler Donna Zeigfinger founded Green Earth Travel in 1997 with one mission in mind: to provide a wide range of travel options for people who crave adventure and care about the planet. Since then, the company has remained on the cutting edge of conscientious traveling and become the nation’s premiere vegetarian/vegan/eco travel agency.
Green Earth Travel lives up to its name by booking tours that promote sustainability, biodiversity and leaving a light footprint on the planet. Donna uses her own eco-travel experiences to meticulously plan each vacation package and turn fantasy vacations into reality. She specializes in creating customized Volunteer Vacation and Adventure Travelpackages for groups, individuals, couples and families.
Donna doesn’t do cheap cookie-cutter vacations. Instead, she consults with each prospective client to identify exactly what they want to get out of their trip, and then helps people choose from a menu of options. After that, she makes all the arrangements – taking the stress and worry of pre-trip preparation completely off of her clients’ shoulders. The personal touch Donna brings to vacation planning, as well as her attention to detail and outstanding customer relations, are all part of what make Green Earth Travel’s signature travel services special.
Hi everybody, we’re back. How are you doing today? It’s St. Paddy’s Day. Are you wearing some green or orange or drinking some beer? What are you doing? Celebrating, I hope? I want to bring on my next guest Donna Zeigfinger, seasoned world traveler she is. She founded Green Earth Travel in 1997 with one mission in mind: To provide a wide range of travel options for people who crave adventure and care about the planet. How are you doing Donna?
Donna Zeigfinger: Good, how are you?
Caryn Hartglass: I’m good. So what are you wearing? Got any green on?
Donna Zeigfinger: You know I just checked because I was like, “oh my God, did I wear green today?” Yes, it’s an olive green t-shirt, so I’m good.
Caryn Hartglass: OK, you’re good. I like to wear both green and orange.
Donna Zeigfinger: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: Kind of a balance between hope and peace and Catholics and Protestants and whatever.
Donna Zeigfinger: There you go.
Caryn Hartglass: Balance. I’m always looking for an opportunity to celebrate food any way I can, so it’s green and orange food today.
Donna Zeigfinger: And travel.
Caryn Hartglass: And travel!
Donna Zeigfinger: Love to celebrate travel.
Caryn Hartglass: There we go. Now what I learned from you when I met you a few weeks ago—in fact you’ve been doing this vegan thing for a very long time.
Donna Zeigfinger: Yes, longer than most people listening have been around.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, so of all things to decide to do, you decided to do Green Earth Travel and you’ve been doing it almost 20 years.
Donna Zeigfinger: It’s actually been longer than that. I’ve been a vegan since 1983 or something. As soon as all my friends found out I was a travel agent they were like, “oh you gotta support her, she’s vegan, she’ll help us…” So that’s where it started. It’s been thirty-something years. Anyway, yes.
Caryn Hartglass: Now I imagine there are far more places to travel easily as a vegan without having to pull out all your explanations and apologize.
Donna Zeigfinger: Well, I never apologize but yes. What I make them do is…well I don’t make them…but they get annoyed with me enough where they put it in their menu and it actually sells very well. I’ve had that happen a few times. I started doing this as I said in the 80’s and I would get other travel agents who weren’t necessarily vegetarian, they would see a vegetarian restaurant and they would pick up their business card and give it to me and we would write from overseas to each other. That’s kind of how it started. It’s so much easier now. The internet and just in general. All of these places are putting vegan options because people want it. There’s a demand for it. It’s definitely a lot easier than it was back then.
Caryn Hartglass: So what do you do at Green Earth Travel? Do you come up with packages and programs for people?
Donna Zeigfinger: We do both. We have both groups that we have going and we can customize trips for people. I can book their airline tickets. I can find them hotels that will work for them. I will work with the chefs or whoever, the food and beverage department, whoever it takes to make sure that they can eat as a vegan. So we book the air, the hotel, the cruise ships, whatever…the train. I just went on the train recently and had a vegan burger. I was blown away.
Caryn Hartglass: Which train? Amtrak?
Donna Zeigfinger: Amtrak.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow. That’s a long time coming because my sister who is also a vegan has asked them many, many times and she got horrible responses so that’s very exciting to hear.
Donna Zeigfinger: Very exciting.
Caryn Hartglass: It only takes a lot of complaining, whining vegans to get some action.
Donna Zeigfinger: And we can be whiny.
Caryn Hartglass: (in whiny voice) Does that have chicken broth in it? Does that have fish sauce? (normal voice) Yes. A lot of people are intimidated to request food outside of their home or in a restaurant. It gets even more intimidating when you’re in a foreign country and the language is different. So I imagine this can help make the trip more relaxing.
Donna Zeigfinger: Oh yeah, it definitely can. There’s actually an app…there’s a couple of apps. You can get the Happy Cow App if you want to find restaurant listings but if you…there’s a translator now that you can get, a free translator, and I used it when I was in the Dominican Republic this past fall and all you do is say what you eat or don’t eat and it translates it for you. It will actually say it so you don’t have to show it. It will actually say it for you.
Caryn Hartglass: You know I have this thing, I’ve had it for so long—the Vegan Passport?
Donna Zeigfinger: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: It cost me like $5 and I’ve taken it everywhere. My favorite time was back around 1999. I was doing a lot of travel to Korea back in my engineering days. Usually there was somebody who was taking me around. They were always really very protective of me when I was traveling there…my colleagues. But at one point I was alone and I remember being in a restaurant and I gave this server the book and she read the Korean page so intently, so respectfully, I was blown away. She just nodded and brought me some beautiful food.
Donna Zeigfinger: Wow. That’s awesome.
Caryn Hartglass: True story.
Donna Zeigfinger: And especially in those areas because Korea, Japan, China are not always the easiest. You would think they would be but they are not always the easiest to get vegetarian food. They tend to have chicken broth or fish broth in everything including their rice.
Caryn Hartglass: Right.
Donna Zeigfinger: So you have to be very…
Caryn Hartglass: …very vigilant and aware.
Donna Zeigfinger: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: OK, so where can we go with Green Earth Travel? Where have you been? Where are you going?
Donna Zeigfinger: Well, I’m actually going to Italy this summer. I’m taking a group of people. It’s with a lot of…I like calling them celebrities. They won’t call themselves celebrities but I think they’re vegan celebrities in their own right. We’ve got one in June with Colleen Patrick-Goudreau and that’s the end of June and then we’ve got like a month long, you can pick your week, with different vegan celebrities. The first week is with the Hen House girls and Jason Wyrick.
Caryn Hartglass: We love Jason. We’ve had him on this show. We talked about his vegan tacos book. I talk to a lot of chefs on this show, a lot of vegan chefs, and cookbook authors, and he blew me away with his knowledge and his skill. He’s like at the top of the list for me.
Donna Zeigfinger: Yeah, he’s great. The three of them together are going to be a lot of fun. Those Hen House girls are fun. The week two we’ve got Dr. Ruby Latham. She’s a dietician and a speaker. She does a lot of great work. We teamed her up with Carolyn Scott-Hamilton of the Healthy Voyager. And then week three is Miyoko Schinner and Matt Frazier. Miyoko’s got those unbelievable vegan cheeses that I can’t eat another kind of vegan cheese ever again. I have to only have hers. And I can’t wait until they come to Whole Foods because I have to go cold turkey. I just bought some last week. I ate the whole round by myself.
Caryn Hartglass: I just want to make a comment about vegan cheese here. I love Miyoko and I’m so glad she’s doing what she’s doing but just like dairy cheeses there are thousands of varieties of vegan cheeses.
Donna Zeigfinger: I know.
Caryn Hartglass: We will soon have as many if not more because the vegan people are so creative and so passionate about food. The cheeses are just going to get better.
Donna Zeigfinger: Right, yeah, I know, but I love hers right now. I want her to come live in my house and make it. And then there’s Matt Frazier who I’ve known for a few years, a no-meat athlete. He’s going to take people on hikes and do some fun stuff. Then the last week we have is Fran Costigan. Also with Fran Costigan we have Benay, the general manager of Candlelight 79. She just joined us with Fran. So the two of them…it’s going to be food and chocolate. You can’t get anything better than that. It’s basically going to be in Southern Italy. It’s a week long that you can take. You can go as a couple, as a single, you can bring family as long as the children are over 10 years old, it’s good. So that’s where I’m going this summer. I really encourage everyone to join us. I did go to the Dominican Republic last year and I was so pleasantly surprised with this place. It’s not in the Punta Cana area, which is very touristy, which can be nice but it is very touristy. It’s in a town called Caberete in a resort called Natura Cabanas. I’ve been sending people there for the past ten years with nothing but rave reviews about it with the exception of one or two minor things. The chef that just started there about three months before he’s been vegan for two years and he’s so excited to do all these vegan menus. They tried out everything on us that week. It was wonderful. I think that was some of the best food I’ve ever had anywhere.
Caryn Hartglass: Tell me what kind of food did you have?
Donna Zeigfinger: Oh my God I have to pull it off my Facebook page. We had a five course meal. Let me see if I can pull it up here real quickly. I have a photo of it—the menu. Every night it was kind of like eating at Millenium every night. That’s how good this food was. The Millenium is actually one of my favorite places on earth. I’m really sad that they’re closing down. I had like a sushi dish one night. I had this pumpkin soup which I don’t like pumpkin soups but I loved it. It was just fabulous. There was a mushroom dish that was fabulous. You can actually see the menu on my Facebook page that I posted. They even made vegan ice cream out of bananas one night that…oh my God it was so good.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s exciting. So this place isn’t normally vegetarian?
Donna Zeigfinger: It’s not. They’re incorporating it. I think part of it was because I’ve been sending so many vegans down there. As I’ve said that’s happened a couple times before. There was another time where I used to take groups of people to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. We would volunteer at the Sanctuary for a couple days and then we went to Zion National Park for a couple of days and stayed at a spa. There was a hotel there called…it’s an Irish name and I’m blanking out on it…anyway they had a restaurant there called Red Dog Café and because I would bring so many vegans down there they started doing a tofu scramble in the morning and they put it on as their permanent menu.
Caryn Hartglass: Oh, nice.
Donna Zeigfinger: So, yes, when you travel as a vegan it does make a difference.
Caryn Hartglass: Are there some places you frequent more than others?
Donna Zeigfinger: I tend to go to Ireland.
Caryn Hartglass: What do you get when you’re in Ireland?
Donna Zeigfinger: Oh my gosh, you know what I love about Ireland? It’s not just the food it’s the people. We usually rent a car and get bed and breakfast properties and we stay with the locals. You get so much more out of that. You get the behind the scenes kind of things to do and see and hear. The music is great there. The food is better than other parts of Europe I think.
Caryn Hartglass: Really?
Donna Zeigfinger: It’s gotten a lot better in the past ten years.
Caryn Hartglass: It’s not just potatoes?
Donna Zeigfinger: No, it’s not just potatoes but you know what? They’ve had so many problems with hoof-and-mouth, Mad Cow and these other things that they have a better understanding of being a vegan or vegetarian than a lot of other countries do. They really got hit hard ten years ago with all that stuff. Every year I go back it just seems there’s more and more vegan options there.
Caryn Hartglass: And what kind of vegetables do you get there? Do they grow everything?
Donna Zeigfinger: Yes, everything is typically organic and grown locally. At the very least grown locally.
Caryn Hartglass: I’ve traveled a lot but I have not made it to Ireland. I’m going to have to do that.
Donna Zeigfinger: I love it there. In fact I was just with my stepson and his fiancée and they’re looking at….they just said to me “we think we want to go to Ireland”. I was elated. Oh my God I can just tell you right now what we can do.
Caryn Hartglass: Have you been to other places that really surprised you in terms of what they offered when you got there that you weren’t expecting?
Donna Zeigfinger: Kenya.
Caryn Hartglass: Kenya!
Donna Zeigfinger: There’s a couple. Paris was another one…well Paris was a little harder…but Kenya…I went there in 2001 and I do intend to go back there soon because that’s why I got into the travel business was to go to Africa. That was a childhood dream. I had been to South Africa for my honeymoon back in 1994. It was hard then. I think it’s gotten a lot easier in South Africa. So I thought when I was going to Kenya I would have the same difficulties that I did in South Africa. I was actually kind of happy because I thought I would lose some weight. What happened was I was with a bunch of travel agents. We were on what you call a familiarization trip which means you go to these places and you learn about the country and the hotels. It’s a work trip basically but you do have fun at the same time. I was really kind of nervous that I wouldn’t eat anything so I do what I always do as I told the tour operator, I’m a vegan I don’t eat this, that and the other—this was in 2001 while the internet was around it wasn’t quite as easy. I made sure all that was going to be ok. Then I get there and at each restaurant they say “oh you’re the vegetarian” and I’d say “yes”. They’d leave and say no problem. Then I’d look over to the right or left of me and I’d see that there was a vegetarian table. So I would go over to the vegetarian table and I’d get my dinner. Then they’d come over with my special vegetarian dish they made for me. So I’d have two dinners, two lunches, two breakfasts, whatever and it was all vegan. The reason is because there’s a very large Indian population in Kenya. It’s very easy to be vegetarian and vegan there.
Caryn Hartglass: Wow, well I’m hungry and you’ve got me wanting to go. The weather’s getting better here, it’s time to go.
Donna Zeigfinger: Absolutely.
Caryn Hartglass: Well thanks for joining me on It’s All About Food. So people can find you at greenearthtravel.com?
Donna Zeigfinger: Yes maam.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s great. OK, travel safely wherever you go.
Donna Zeigfinger: Thank you, bye bye.
Transcribed by Suzanne Kelly, 4/13/2014