By Yahoo Travel Explorers
September 24, 2015
Panda Tours
Credit: Panda Tours

It sounded like yet another kooky Japanese fad: sending stuffed toys on vacation. The first “toy travel agency” debuted in Tokyo in 2010, running local tours for clients who wanted to live vicariously through their plush animals.

But perhaps this trend wasn’t just a flash-in-the-pan. Japan now has several successful agencies that take mascots all around the country, as well as overseas. And Europe has even joined the fad too — a few “toy travel” companies have popped up, including ones in Paris, Barcelona, and in the unlikely city of Warsaw.

The owner of Poland’s Panda Tours, Agnieszka, was inspired by a TV report on the Japanese phenomenon. It dawned on her that this whimsical business had meaningful possibilities. “Many tours for humans are too expensive, and some people can’t travel due to illnesses or physical restrictions,” she explains. “But they might have a fondness for a stuffed animal, and can experience the world through them instead.”

Panda Tours, which began this past spring, is named after her favorite bear, who “leads” the excursions. The cheapest package costs US $35 with shipping, and it is a tour to Warsaw. The company also offer trips around Europe, such as to Berlin, Norway, and London.

Agnieszka says her client base is growing, and she gets requests for customized itineraries from around the world. Uniquely, Panda Tours also runs an educational program for students. “We offer low prices to classrooms, and teachers can send one large parcel of toys,” she explains. “The cuddly animals help the children learn about geography, history and English in a creative way, such as via social media."

I understood the appeal of a toy tour because I always wished my Scottish Fold cat could join me on my trips. I knew my friends and family would enjoy seeing Basil Farrow on vacation — so I mailed his stuffed doppelgänger to Panda Tours in Warsaw.

For a recap of his travels, head over to Yahoo Travel.