Traversing the globe to experience different cultures can be enlightening. But it can also be unintentionally damaging: tourism can drain the resources of communities, threaten traditional ways of living, and funnel dollars to big service providers instead of local families.
For explorers who only want to leave positive marks on the places they visit, travelling with reputable companies who prioritize giving back to local communities can make all the difference. Check out these seven socially-conscious travel companies for an adventure that feels good for everyone involved.
This Canadian travel company helps travelers avoids two common traps: cookie-cutter vacations and global volunteer projects that have little impact. What they do provide are immersive “backpactivism” experiences that combine exploration, education, and acts of service. While visiting the diverse regions of northern India, you can spend one day learning about the complexities of gender in the region, and the next day volunteering with local groups working to achieve equality. The volunteer components of Operation Groundswell trips are based on partnerships with on-the-ground community leaders, non-profit organizations, and local governments, so travelers can be assured that the work they participate in is based on real needs.
This progressive, passionate travel organization curates small group tours to Cuba, Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, Nicaragua and beyond, all grounded in belief that you are a traveler, not a tourist. They work with local entrepreneurs and small businesses to make sure your money is funneled back into these countries’ economies and not into the hands of big corporations, all while ensuring their guests feel safe. If you (or your giftee!) is a traveler with an adventurous spirit looking to make the world a better place, El Camino’s comes highly recommended (we aren’t kidding—they have over 100 five-star reviews).
G Adventures offers off-the-beaten-track trips to more than 100 countries, with diverse itineraries to suit a range of travel styles. This Canadian company maintains a philosophy that “travel is an exchange, not a commodity.” To that end, it focuses on working with small, locally-owned companies, adheres to robust child and animal welfare policies and works with the non-profit organization, Planterra Foundation, to ensure that local people benefit from the tourism dollars that G Adventures generates.
On Tanner C. Knorr’s first trip to Tanzania, he learned that high season brings in hordes of tourism dollars while low season faces economic instability as the flow of capital slows to a trickle. He had an idea: what if there was a travel company that focused on off-season trips?
Today, that’s exactly what his company, Off Season Adventures, does, with their off-peak season trips to Uganda, Nepal, Ethiopia, Tunisia, and Tanzania. The concept is a win-win for socially conscious travelers, who get to enjoy crowd-free experiences at more affordable prices, and for the countries they visit, who receive a boost of income when it’s needed most. Off Season takes their environmental stewardship one step further by carbon offsetting all ground operations, accommodations, and flights. Plus, five per cent of all tour package prices are in-reinvested in community and environmental initiatives.
“In order to create sustainable change, you must experience the problem firsthand.” Journey’s guiding philosophy is that empathy is a human instinct, and people care about the places they visit and the people they meet. They create 6-9 day travel experiences, each split into two parts: cultural immersion, and social impact. And while some parallel organizations have been criticized for their lack of long-standing impact, Journey’s first priority is lasting change, working with a network of partners to make sure the work done on these trips produces the housing, infrastructure and help the community actually needs.
This marketplace is a hub of sustainable adventures around the world: overnight cacao tours through Peru, exploring the Arctic with reindeer herders, spending the day with Guatemalan coffee roasters—Lokal makes these once-in-a-lifetime experiences not only possible, but purpose-driven. From family-run businesses to community co-ops to vetted charities, each of Lokal’s destinations details exactly how your trip will be helping to make a difference, so you can feel good about where your travel dollars end up.
Looking for something a little closer to home? Check out what social impact experiences Airbnb offers in your area. Beekeeping workshops, cooking classes, paddling with penguins—Airbnb waives its fees for these social impact experiences so you know that every dollar you spend will go back to the non-profit organizations that host them.
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