Tag: travel

Rwanda: A Clean, Green Country

We arrived in Rwanda after a long but uneventful flight from San Francisco to Vancouver to Istanbul to Kigali. We feel like we’re back in our second home.

Kigali is the capital of this beautiful country, and it’s incredibly safe, clean, and green. We always come a couple days early before we start our group trips — to acclimate to the time difference, to unwind after such long plane journeys, and to just enjoy this city.  

Kigali is the obvious place to begin and end a journey around Rwanda, but it’s just one of the many things we love about this country. While our all-inclusive vegan trips to Rwanda focus on the food and culture — as with all of our trips — the emphasis here is on nature and wildlife. 

We traipse through the Nyungwe forest tracking wild chimpanzees, trek through the Volcanoes national park trekking for mountain gorillas and golden monkeys, honor the work of Dian Fossey, and we relish the green rolling hills throughout as we also spend a day at Lake Kivu. Many people are unaware that there is another national park here called Akagera, where you can enjoy a safari drive in the home of lions, giraffes, hippos — even rhinos. 

We’ll get to all of that, but let me answer some general questions I get about traveling to Rwanda.    

HOW SAFE A COUNTRY IS RWANDA? 

Rwanda is a very safe country, with virtually no crime directed at tourists.  Still, it’s a good idea to use common sense and not flash your wallet in public when in a city or at a market. Exercise the same common-sense precautions as you do back home, and you should be fine. But in general, it’s a very safe country, and — even as a woman — I walk around the city and countryside with no concerns.

WHY IS RWANDA SO CLEAN?

One of the main reasons Rwanda is so clean is because they made plastic bags ILLEGAL in 2008! Rwanda is one of the few countries that has imposed a ban on plastic bags, and they DO actively enforce it. (Most luggage is searched during your arrival at the airport at customs or baggage retrieval, and they will confiscate any plastic bags you bring in with you.) 

The other reason it is such a clean country is because of a monthly communal ritual called Umuganda, a Kinyarwanda word that translates to “coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome.” You can read more about our experience of it here.

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME OF YEAR TO TRAVEL TO RWANDA?

Between December and February or June to September. These periods are when temperatures are more moderate and there is less rain. As an equatorial country with a rich primate habitat, rain can be expected daily, but that’s one of the reasons this country is so green and verdant!

WHAT IS THE WEATHER LIKE IN RWANDA?

Rwanda has a temperate tropical highland climate due to its high elevation.  Most of the country is located on a plateau, around 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) above sea level, so for most of the year, and despite being just south of the Equator, Rwanda enjoys pleasantly warm day temperatures and cool nights all year round! In November, for instance, daily high temperatures are around 25°C (78°F), rarely falling below 25°C (73°F) or exceeding 28°C (83°F). 

HOW DO YOU GET AROUND THE COUNTRY?

The most common forms of local transportation are moto-taxis and buses, though most tourists get around the country on small or private tours that often use minivans and sedans. On Joyful Vegan Trips, we work with Amahoro Tours, our partners on the ground, to transport us around in landrovers since we go to national parks (to visit the mountain gorillas and the chimpanzees), and the terrain requires more rugged vehicles. We have become friends with some of the drivers, and we look forward to seeing them whenever we visit.

WHAT IS THE INFRASTRUCTURE LIKE IN RWANDA? WATER, ELECTRICITY, WIFI, ETC.?

WATER: Tap water is NON-DRINKABLE in Rwanda. For this reason, bottled water is recommended. On our Joyful Vegan Trips, to cut down on plastic water bottle usage, we have large several-gallon water containers in all our vehicles so our travelers can fill up their reusable bottles. 

ELECTRICITY: In Rwanda, the power plugs and sockets are of type C and J. The standard voltage is 230 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz. 

WIFI: Internet reliability is generally good in Rwanda. All hotels have WIFI. On our trips, we provide WIFI on board all our vehicles, though connectivity and speeds vary while we’re driving through the countryside.

WHAT LANGUAGES ARE SPOKEN IN RWANDA?

The country has four official languages: Kinyarwanda, English, French, and Swahili. You will do just fine speaking English here, but as a visitor to any country, it’s nice to learn a few courtesy words and phrases. 

WHAT ARE THE CURRENT COVID PREVENTION MEASURES?

Rwanda currently requests Covid tests before entering any national park, of which we will visit 2 (Nyungwe National Forest and Volcanoes National Park), and prior to departure from the country. 

WHAT VACCINES ARE REQUIRED IN RWANDA?

There are no mandatory vaccinations required to enter Rwanda, though according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the following vaccinations are recommended for Rwanda: hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid, yellow fever and rabies. Other recommended vaccines include meningitis, polio, measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis), chickenpox, shingles, pneumonia, and influenza. Most of these vaccines last for several years; some need boosting after a few. Just check with your medical professional. 

IS MALARIA A CONCERN IN RWANDA?

Malaria is endemic in Rwanda. Antimalarials are the best protection against infection. Be sure to use mosquito repellents as a second barrier against the disease. Like with the above vaccines, it’s up to the individual traveler whether or not you want to take any anti-malaria medication, and again, it’s a good idea to consult your medical professional. 

HOW VEGAN-FRIENDLY IS RWANDA?

I have lots to share about the food in Rwanda, and of course on our trips, we ensure our travelers are spoiled with incredible cuisine, but the short answer is Rwanda is incredibly vegan-friendly. I often quip that everyone says they don’t eat a lot of meat, dairy, and eggs, but in Rwanda, it’s actually true. Most Rwandans don’t eat meat more than a few times a month (and when they do, it’s a small amount), and the typical diet consists of sweet potatoes, beans, corn, peas, millet and fruit. Of course, in a cosmopolitan city such as Kigali, international cuisine abounds.  

More soon on the food, gorillas, national parks, conservation, and so much more! Ask your questions below, and I’ll be sure to address them!

Finding Cat Sitters When You Travel

In the work I do — as an animal advocate, as a vegan cookbook author, as a cat lover — I am forever debunking myths — about animal welfare, about plant-based eating, and about animals in general. And that’s fine with me. I chose this work for that very reason — to normalize compassion for animals and to normalize (and elevate) the consumption of plants (over animals). 

When it comes to cats, one of the ideas I’m constantly pushing back on is that cats are solitary, aloof creatures who are “easier” to take care of than dogs and who can look after themselves for days at a time when their people go away. While it’s true that cats are more self-sufficient (because…litter boxes) and are fine being alone for several hours a day (because…sleeping), it is simply erroneous to think that cats don’t get lonely or anxious if left alone for days at a time.

While this might seem extreme to people who don’t have cats (and maybe even to those who do), my cats have never slept a night alone, and we are consummate travelers — both domestically and internationally. In fact, I host trips around the world, so we’re often gone for  weeks at a time. But even when it’s just for a weekend…it’s unthinkable to me that Charlie and Michiko wouldn’t have someone staying at the house caring for their physical and emotional needs. 

The first thing I do when we confirm a trip is secure our cat sitters / house sitters, and I’m never relaxed until this is done. We have a regular sitter we tend to turn to for our trips, but because she’s not always available, I tap into our larger network of friends and neighbors. 

We’ve always been very fortunate at finding good people to stay, and while sometimes we’ve worked out a trade with a sitter, I’m also happy to pay for the peace of mind that my cats are being well cared for — not just with food and clean litter boxes but with affection, attention, and love. 

For my part, I feel much more at ease when I receive regular updates and photos, and in fact it’s one of the benchmarks that we hired an attentive and compassionate cat-sitter. I communicate this need early on, and I do the best I can to find the best person. I get references, I have them meet our cats, and I try to be as discerning as possible. 

But it’s not always perfect. Despite the 8 pages of notes I provide, anticipating everything a sitter might need while we’re gone — phone numbers of friends they can call on, the location of the emergency vet hospital, what our cats’ favorite hiding places are, etc. — there have been times when I have been more anxious than not about the person we trusted with our fur babies. Thankfully, everything has always been alright in the end.

I understand that everyone has different standards for the level of care they provide to their cats, and this is not to say that anyone who doesn’t have people sleep at their house when they go away is neglecting or harming their cats, but it is meant to convey the fact that while domestic cats may not necessarily be pack animals like dogs, they are companion animals. 

Of course, I say this aware that cats are individuals with different personalities and preferences and some may be more content to hang out alone more than others, but it’s just not true that cats can be left alone for days at a time with a litter box and large bowl of dry food without them feeling the absence of their people.

Cats are social beings who bond with their people and can absolutely suffer from loneliness and depression when left alone for long periods of time. 

I know my cats well enough to know this, and I know me well enough to know that *I* feel best when their routines are as regular as possible when I’m not home and that they’re getting as much affection and companionship as possible. 

What about you?

Do you have people stay at your house with your cats when you’re away?

How do you find the sitters you can trust and rely on?

Have you ever used a service like Trusted Housesitters?

Do you pay? Do you trade? 

Tell me in the comments below, and give some smooches to your kitties for me. 

World Vegan Travel (Bonus Episode)

Listen to my conversation with World Vegan Travel founder Brighde Reed about how joyful and abundant it is to travel when compassion is your compass. We discuss vegan travel to Italy, Rwanda, Vietnam, Cambodia, Botswana, South Africa, France, Japan, and more. Join us on a Joyful Vegan Trip!  

In this special bonus episode, Brighde and I answer such questions as:

  • How do you choose the vegan trips you do?
  • How do you vet the places you go and know that no animals are being harmed or exploited by human presence?
  • Is there such a thing as eco-tourism?
  • What are some of the mishaps you’ve experienced on your trips?
  • Why are they called CPG Trips?
  • What are the advantages of group travel?
  • How does Brighde spoil every New Year’s Eve, according to Colleen? 
  • What countries do you really want to visit? 

Follow World Vegan Travel on Instagram.

3 Tips for Avoiding Animal Cruelty When Traveling

We may not intend to, but there are so many ways we contribute to animal cruelty and exploitation while we’re traveling (domestically and abroad)! National Geographic published a hugely important article about the rise of attractions around the world that exploit animals for tourists. Three of the recommendations for travelers:

  1. avoid any kind of attraction where you pay to directly interact with wild animals (don’t pay to pet, bathe, get photos with, or touch wild animals). 
  2. make a point to see animals in national parks, protected habitats, refuges,  and ethical safaris that help generate income to protect wild animals and their homes.
  3. support genuine sanctuaries that provide refuge to rescued animals who can no longer survive in the wild. (Do your own research; just because they call themselves a “sanctuary,” it doesn’t mean they are. Always reach out to trusted sources if you’re unsure.)

I talked about exactly all of this in great detail in my podcast episode called Avoiding Animal Cruelty When Traveling to Thailand and Everywhere. 

Sadly, one of the reasons we visited so many animal rescue groups in Thailand is because of how much animal cruelty, wildlife trafficking, and animal exploitation there is in that country, allowed by the government and deeply entrenched in the culture. For instance, elephants used in the tourism/riding and logging industries endure a lifetime of suffering and separation. 

Seeing wildlife in their natural habitat — like the mountain gorillas in Rwanda, lions in Botswana, bison in Yellowstone, or the deer in our own backyards — is heart-stopping, breath-taking, and supports the animals, their habitat, and the local residents. 

Of course, when we travel (either on our own or on the group Joyful Vegan Trips we host), we take care to avoid animal cruelty, and we visit true sanctuaries and protected habitat where the safety and well-being of the animals are the main priority. We take this very seriously and vet our partners very carefully. 

We hosted 54 travelers on two back-to-back trips to Rwanda and we have upcoming trips to … well, see for yourself! I hope you can join us one day to experience the trip of a lifetime—while supporting the care and conservation of the animals whose homes we visit.  

The first-EVER vegan tours to the south of France!

People often ask me how to find plant-based cuisine while traveling around the world, and I often remind them that fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, beans, lentils, herbs, and spices are kind of universal. They’re not just for vegans. 

I also assure them that cities (more than rural areas) always have international restaurants at which you can find delicious animal-free meals. 

However, one region that can be particularly difficult to enjoy  culinarily without feeling deprived is the south of France. While Paris (as most cities) is more progressive than the rest of the country when it comes to vegan restaurants, shops, and attitudes, the south of France … less so. Although you won’t starve (your best bet is to rent a house with a kitchen so you can prepare your own meals), your food choices will be very limited when eating out. The above said plant foods are tainted by dairy-based cheeses, animal-derived cream, fish sauces and pastes, and animal fat, particularly fat from ducks.

Marseille is the seafood capital of Provence (hence, bouillabaisse), lamb and beef are the most popular meats from land animals,  foie gras is common everywhere, and duck fat is the preferred cooking fat—ruining even the favorite default of every desperate vegan: french fries.

That’s where CPG Vegan Trips / World Vegan Travel comes in. We have JUST RELEASED to the public our Summer 2020 trips: to the enchanting Dordogne region and to the charming Provence region.

Aside from the 4- and 5-star accommodations, incredible excursions, outdoor adventures we will be enjoying, our travelers will also get to partake in the local cuisine—animal-product-free. Of course where are a few local dishes that are already plant-based by default, such as ratatouille and pistou, but we go above and beyond to feature vegan versions of the dishes that make this region famous, such as:

  •  bouillabaisse
  • tapenade
  • salade nicoise
  • tarte au citron
  • ‘faux’ gras
  • various cheeses
  • and so much more!

Partnered with my good friends and travel aficionados World Vegan Travel, I am so thrilled to offer these two exciting trips—the first-EVER vegan tours to these regions. You can sign up for each separately or sign up for both and get a discount. 

All of the details are on the websites below, where you can also see and sign up for our last vegan trip for 2020: to beautiful Botswana and Cape Town (only a few spots left)!

Dordogne, France (June 2020)
Provence, France (July 2020)
Botswana & Cape Town (December 2020)

These trips sell out very quickly, so don’t delay! By securing your spot TODAY, you have ONE YEAR to prepare for these 2020 trips! Visit WorldVeganTravel.com to learn more, ask questions, and secure your spot! 

___________________

PREVIOUS AND ONGOING CPG VEGAN TRIPS:

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Our vegan trips are all about ANIMAL PROTECTION, DELICIOUS REGIONAL PLANT-BASED  CUISINE, LIKE-MINDED PEOPLE, JOY, and SO MUCH LAUGHTER. We’re all about spoiling you! You can get a sense of the awesomeness of our 5-star trips watching this video from our Thailand trip.

5-Star Vegan Travel (Join Me!)

Partnered with my good friends and travel aficionados World Vegan Travel, our vegan trips now span several continents! With the trips we’ve added for 2019 and 2020, you can now join us in Africa, Europe, and Asia! 

Alsace, France (December 2019)
Dordogne, France (June 2020)
Provence, France (July 2020)
Botswana & Cape Town (December 2020)

We sold out of our 2019 trips to Rwanda within a week, so don’t delay! By securing your spot TODAY, you have ONE YEAR to prepare for these 2020 trips! Visit WorldVeganTravel.com to learn more, ask questions, and put your deposit down for one of our trips! 

[envira-gallery id=”7889″]

Our vegan trips are all about ANIMAL PROTECTION, DELICIOUS REGIONAL PLANT-BASED  CUISINE, LIKE-MINDED PEOPLE, JOY, and SO MUCH LAUGHTER. We’re all about spoiling you! You can get a sense of the awesomeness of our 5-star trips watching this video from our Thailand trip.

DON’T MISS OUT THIS TIME! BOOK TODAY!

Best Vegan Backpack Ever!

(READ TO THE END TO GET YOUR 10% DISCOUNT!)

I’m not a girlie girl. I don’t like purses or clutches or anything that feels fussy. I like cross-body bags and backpacks, but the cross-body bags I was wearing started hurting my shoulder, so it was time to return to backpacks.

I have a very practical one from REI I like a lot, but it’s a little too casual for every occasion, so before I left for our first Vegan Paris / Alsace group trip in December 2018, I started shopping for a vegan leather backpack that was stylish as well as functional and ethical. I couldn’t find anything I liked and didn’t want to risk paying for something online that would be expensive to ship back. Alas, I ventured to Europe with my cotton backpack and figured I’d keep looking another time. (I hate shopping.)

One of the features of our Vegan Paris / Alsace Trip is a vegan / food walking tour in the Marais region of Paris, and as our lovely guide told us about the history, walked us around, and pointed out various relevant sites, she casually called our attention to a vegan leather bag shop as we walked past it. Well, far be it from vegans to pass up such a shop, so we all doubled back to see if it was open. It was closed. As we pressed our faces against the glass peering into the minimalist shop, the owner sat at his desk peering back probably wondering who this hoard of nosey Americans were. He was kind enough (and lucky enough) to open his doors for us, and it was heaven…especially for me.

This isn’t simply a vegan leather bag shop. It is a family-owned shop that specializes in one brilliant product: an animal-free, ethically made BACKPACK that comes in 3 different sizes and 10+ different colors. I couldn’t believe it. The vegan gods had smiled upon me. The bag is stylish, functional, and designed for security. (The zipper closure is hidden when closed so pickpockets can’t pick!) It’s even won awards for this design!

Truly, everything I wanted in a backpack is in this bag. It’s very stylish, very comfortable (it fits like a vest so the weight is equally distributed all over the back), lightweight, waterproof, and large enough to fit a laptop (and I got the small size!). They’re also unisex! They’re not cheap, but that’s the point: this is an ethical bag made from an environmentally friendly material that’s meant to LAST!!

The most difficult part was choosing a color. I picked a neutral dark gray color, and 4 other of our travelers bought their own: in taupe, black, teal, and mustard. 

When we returned to Paris for our 2019 Vegan Paris / Alsace Trip, we made sure a visit to Arsayo was built into our walking tour, and this time we got to see their new line of cork bags (which is what they’re focusing on now since the material is more environmentally friendly than the synthetic leather). 

NOW YOU CAN GET YOUR OWN with a 10% discount by visiting Arsayo.com and entering joyfulvegan as the coupon code! 

Our travelers in 2019 fell in love with them as well and can’t wait to use them as advocacy tools — gifting the bags to friends and family to demonstrate how you can be fashionable AND ethical!

Which is YOUR favorite color?

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