Tucson, with her laid-back charm and sunny disposition, has long been a top destination for travelers craving a visit to the American Southwest. With an average of over 300 days of sunshine, four different mountain ranges to choose from, a vibrant University scene and a mecca for golf courses, resorts and spas, Tucson, Arizona’s second largest city, offers a great escape from a cold Minnesota winter or quite frankly winter anywhere.
I have been visiting Tucson for over 25 years and have always adored her vibrant desert landscape, rugged mountains, and bewitching southwestern charm. It is no wonder that Tucson is the perfect year round destination for outdoor enthusiasts who come to play golf, bike, hike, and explore nature. The options and opportunities to be outside are endless. For those seeking culture, Tucson’s rich Native American, Spanish and Mexican heritage as well as her Wild West past can be discovered within Tucson’s architecture, food, arts and overall vibe. Perhaps I’m slightly biased given Tucson is like my second home but in my opinion Tucson is a fabulous place to visit.
Tucson has a lot to offer given her size compared with her much larger neighbor Phoenix. At under a million people, Tucson is fairly manageable and you don’t have to drive too far to see great things. Although getting from one end of town to the other (such as driving from the Sonoran Desert Museum to Sabino Canyon) can be a bit tedious due to the lack of a freeway system, Tucson is a piece of cake in comparison to massive Phoenix. Furthermore, you are much closer to the mountains and hiking which is huge on my list. There are also some very nice museums to check out and enough luxurious resorts and good restaurants to keep you busy.
There is plenty to do for an entire week whether it involves relaxing at a spa or pool, hiking, biking, birdwatching, exploring culture and arts or taking a few scenic drives. Less than 90 minutes from Phoenix and a little over 3 1/2 hours to Sedona and five to the Grand Canyon, Tucson can easily be added on to an Arizona road trip. However, trust me there is plenty to do for an entire week especially if you time your visit right with the weather.
Best Time of Year to Visit
Tucson can be visited year round however it gets very hot in the summer so that is the one time of year to be avoided if possible. If you do visit in the summer, plan on rising early to do your outdoor pursuits and spending the hottest hours of the day either in the pool or checking out some of the indoor attractions. My favorite time of year to go to Tucson is late March or April in the Spring when all the desert flowers and cactus are in bloom, the water is rushing through the streams and canyons and the weather is delightful with highs usually in the 80s. Another wonderful time to visit is in mid-Fall. October is still warm yet not as hot as September. This is also a nice time to consider a visit to Sedona or the Grand Canyon as it is not nearly as crowded as other months. Winter months (December – February) are nice as well but you can occasionally get cooler weather and rain.
The end of the road
Top Five Things to Do
There is a ton to do in Tucson and it all depends of course on your interests. Here are my top five things to do that cannot be missed when visiting Tucson.
Take a Hike
Tucson is a hiker lover’s paradise. With over 300 days of sunshine a year, a desert climate and four different mountain ranges surrounding the city, there are endless opportunities to take a beautiful walk or challenging hike in nature. Whether it be to the Santa Catalina Mountains in the north, the Rincon Mountains in the east, the Santa Rita Mountains in the south or the Tucson Mountains in the west, you will find no shortage of trails to explore.
One of the best places to hike in all of Tucson, Sabino Canyon Recreation Area with tons of hikes through both Sabino and Bear Canyon. The best hikes to do: Walk any distance along the paved road through Sabino Canyon (7.6 roundtrip) , take Phoneline Trail (7.6 miles) or hike to Seven Falls (7.9 miles).
In September 2017, I had the honor of attending the White House Summit for Study Abroad and Global Citizenship, a two-day event co-hosted by Hostelling International USA (HI USA) and Partners of the Americas held in New York City at HI USA. The goal of the conference was to inspire a new generation to study abroad and experience the transformational power of travel. During the conference we learned about the abundance of funding options and scholarships available for students interested in studying abroad during college and beyond by various organizations. I had studied abroad myself in my early twenties and that experience profoundly changed my life. However, I understand how lucky I was to have that opportunity as not many people do.
The good news is that many organizations such as HI USA are working to help young Americans get out and explore the world. HI USA, a nonprofit, member organization founded on an enduring belief in the power of travel to foster a deeper understanding of people, places, and the world around has a wealth of programs and opportunities available to make it easier for young people to see the world. One amazing program currently being offered by HI USA, the nation’s leading hostel brand, is the Explore the World Scholarship which is now open to applications until March 2, 2019.
Explore the World Scholarships
HI USA created the Explore the World Travel Scholarships to help young adults aged 18-30 finance an international service or educational trip abroad. The total award given is $2,000 (split into two equal installments of $1,000) to go towards an international travel opportunity.
This is the fourth year of the program and in 2018, HI USA awarded 104 scholarships to young people across the U.S. so they could go learn Arabic in Jordan, volunteer in India and Vietnam, teach math in the Dominican Republic, or board a plane for the very first time to study abroad in Europe. Scholarship recipients have returned home from their travels with a profound sense of intercultural appreciation, and a renewed dedication to spreading the word about travel and tolerance at home.
In 2019, HI USA will be giving out 110 scholarships to would-be travelers around the country, aged 18-30, who need a little extra help along the way.
The basic program requirements and eligibility to apply for the Explore the World Scholarships include the following:
Must be 18-30, with financial need, and live or go to school in one of 14 metro areas (select counties in CA, DC/Baltimore, Chicago, New Orleans, Boston, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York City, Portland, Austin, Houston and Richmond).
Should have an educational or service trip already in mind but cost is getting in the way.
In today’s interconnected world, understanding other cultures and making connections is critical to promoting world peace, stability and a happier planet for all. Traveling has a profound impact on both the traveler and the people they meet along the way. Traveling opens your mind and your heart to differences. It fuels your curiosity and passion for other cultures and places. It helps you understand the world and puts your own identity in perspective. But most of all, it builds connections and fuels your desire to become a global citizen and lifelong explorer.
Here is what a four past recipients of Explore the World Scholarships have to say about their own experiences.
Gently pushing off the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica lies the beautifully pristine Osa Peninsula, a magical paradise of untouched primitive rain forests, deserted beaches and rural communities relatively hidden to mainstream tourism. Known for its conservation efforts and robust ecotourism industry, the Osa Peninsula is one of the most biologically diverse places on the planet with over 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity in less than one millionth of the Earth’s surface area.
With utterly jaw-dropping beauty, immense expanses of virgin rainforest and parts of lush green jungle that literally look like it is dropping into the celestial blue sea, the Osa Peninsula is my favorite part of Costa Rica. What I love best about the Osa Peninsula is it is still a bit of an undiscovered jewel. Despite a handful of small towns sprinkled throughout the peninsula, the majority of the Osa is uninhabited and undeveloped. Even the airports are simply plain old landing strips in the middle of a field or jungle. Its lack of development and its immense bounty of undisturbed nature and wildlife make it the ideal part of Costa Rica to experience pura vida, the pure life.
While many travelers chose to visit the more popular parts of Costa Rica such as the endless beaches of the Guanacaste, the precious yet touristy Manuel Antonio National Park in the Central Pacific Coast or the cloud forests or Arenal volcano of the Northern Zone, a visit to Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula will be sure to be an experience not like any other.
Where else can you be rewarded with the opportunity to immerse yourself with the local life, culture and extraordinary nature in one of the most magical, biodiverse places on earth? The pure remoteness of the Osa Peninsula works to keep the hordes of tourists away which is an added bonus. If you want the pure, real deal then go to the Osa Peninsula. It is sadly the last frontier of Costa Rica and hopefully it will stay that way.
Some of the unique things you can do in the Osa Peninsula include bathing in jungle swimming holes and waterfalls, birdwatching in a private lagoon, spending a night in a locally run guesthouse that is only reachable by foot, eating home-cooked Tico cuisine, all while supporting the local community. A highlight of any visit to the Osa Peninsula includes a day or more at the Corcovado National Park where you can see scarlet macaws, monkeys, sloths, tapirs and for those lucky few, an endangered jaguar. You can also spend a day dolphin and whale watching or diving and snorkeling off Isla de Caño or go for a sunset horseback ride on the rarely visited Playa San Josecito. The options are endless and after few days in the Osa Peninsula you will be wishing you had more.
The Osa Peninsula is idea for nature lovers, adventure lovers, families and couples, and especially those who are interested in supporting sustainable tourism. However, be prepared. The Osa Peninsula is still like the Outback and getting there and around requires a test of patience and some white-knuckle driving. Many places are only reachable on foot, on ATV or by boat. For those who love adventure, this is the place for you!
Awhile back, I was walking around one of my favorite urban lakes in Minneapolis with a good friend and she told me about an amazing program in Guatemala being run by two local non-profits, the Lutheran Partners in Global Ministry and the Community Cloud Forest Conservation. Through a unique partnership, they have been offering transformative intergenerational travel trips to a remote part of Guatemala where families, couples and solo travelers alike can work side by side the local community and do good. The trip brings travelers to the highlands of Guatemala for an intercultural and educational opportunity to work with the Community Cloud Forest Conservation on projects in education and agroecology.
As a strong supporter of sustainable travel, I was instantly intrigued and had the chance to meet with both Tricia Hall of the Community Cloud Forest Conservation and Mary Peterson of the Lutheran Partners in Global Ministry to learn more about their work and the trips to Guatemala. Tricia, a family doctor, humanitarian and mother of three, has been leading the trips to Guatemala since 2013 and I asked her to share a bit more about her inspiring work.
Tell me a bit about yourself. Where did you grow up and what were your hobbies when you were a child?
I grew up in Minneapolis and have always loved the lakes and parks of this area. We spent time in Minneapolis, but we also traveled to distant places. My parents are both social workers and we grew up with a strong sense of social justice, both locally and abroad. From an early age, I loved to travel and learn about new and different cultures.
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
I went to Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan for undergrad and then to Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine for medical school. I have always loved literature and so my undergraduate degree was in English, which I did alongside my pre-med science classes. I enjoyed the variety and have never regretted having both of these areas of study.
Why did you decide to become a doctor and what is your area of expertise?
I started to think about medicine in my high school anatomy class when we dissected a cat and I found it so interesting, particularly all of the muscles. Concurrently, I was starting to do service trips with my church. I knew that I wanted to work in some aspect of service and that muscles were cool, so there you have it! I decided on the specialty of Family Medicine because I loved the interactions with the whole family at the various stages of life.
How did you first get involved with the Community Cloud Forest Conservation (CCFC)?
We first visited Community Cloud Forest Conservation in 2013 when our daughter was just 18 months and our sons were 7 and 10. I wanted to see what my cousin Tara (CCFC co-director with Rob Cahill) and her family had been doing in Guatemala and I was immediately hooked on the beautiful area, but more importantly I was compelled by the beautiful people and the mission of CCFC.
Tell me more about the CCFC. What is their mission and how are they making an impact with the people they work with in Guatemala.
CCFC’s mission is to alleviate poverty and protect forests in the Highlands of Guatemala. These two objectives, although not obvious synergistic goals to most residents of the United States, definitely go hand in hand. The Q’eqchi’ Maya people of this region of Guatemala live in and by the land. As the land is deforested, their lives are denuded as well. Through education, reforestation, sustainable development, leadership scholarships, and ecological improvements to agriculture, CCFC is fulfilling its mission from the ground up. As kids learn about conservation, as young women are empowered to stay in school and fulfill their dreams, and as people from remote, rural villages are partners in collaboration, the physical landscape of the cloud forest improves and the personal landscape of the communities thrives.
Kids from the US and kids from the a village school making friendship bracelets together. Photo credit: Tricia Hall
Young women in a leadership training session at CCFC’s ecology center. Photo credit: Tricia Hall
Beautiful faces, learning, growing. Photo credit: Tricia Hall
Where in Guatemala do they work? What do most of the people in this community do for a living? What are some of the challenges they face?
CCFC is located in Alta Verapaz in the Central Highlands of Guatemala, a mountainous region which is largely indigenous and suffers from extreme poverty. The vast majority of the people in these communities are subsistence farmers, farming corn and beans on the steep sides of the mountains. Although corn is an important part of their diet and also the Mayan culture, when corn is grown as a monocrop, both the land and the nutrition of the people suffer. CCFC is working to increase agricultural diversity, often using ancient Mayan and native cloud forest heirloom crops to decrease deforestation and to dramatically improve nutrition.
What is your role with CCFC?
I feel very blessed to be able to work alongside the directors, staff and volunteers at CCFC and to bring a focus on community health. I have been working with Guatemalan nurses and nursing students over the past three years to assess the health needs and successes of the communities, identify areas for improvement, and develop initiatives to improve the health of the people in the communities.
CCFC in partnership with Lutheran Partners in Global Ministry, offers a unique intergenerational trip each year to see the work in Guatemala. How was the partnership formed?
We have been supporters of Lutheran Partners in Global Ministry for many years and I served on the board until recently and so I knew about LPGM’s partnerships with organizations around the world, building relationships, breaking down barriers, and partnering in the essential areas of need. A collaboration between LPGM and CCFC seemed like a great fit for both organizations. We started with a pilot travel experience and have continued to grow the partnership; because of this partnership, dozens of individuals and congregations around the United States have been able to travel to and work alongside CCFC in Guatemala, expanding the worldviews and potential of people both in Guatemala and here in the US.
Making dinner is fun! Photo credit: Tricia Hall
Peeling cacao beans to be made into chocolate. Photo credit: Tricia Hall
Cacao beans. Photo credit: Tricia Hall
Picking cloud forest native naranjilla fruit to be made into tasty jam. Photo credit: Tricia Hall
Weeding and planting with friends. Photo credit: Tricia Hall
What is the mission of the trip? What does a week look like?
The mission of the trip is to:
Experience and learn from a different culture,
Work alongside CCFC on projects that are ongoing in education and agro-ecology
Shareour lives and God’s love with each other and with those we meet in Guatemala.
When we arrive in Guatemala City, we get an introduction to Guatemalan culture and then we head to the mountains! We spend 4 days partnering with a group of children from a local village school, learning and experiencing together, and at the end of the week, we accompany them to their village, often with trees or other native products to plant. Throughout the week, we are hiking, cave-exploring, making native cloud-forest products, learning about coffee-production, playing soccer, and packing in as much learning and fun as we can. At the end of the trip, we spend a day “adventuring,” either in a natural waterpark or on a volcano.
How does this experience change you?
This summer will be my 6thyear bringing a group to CCFC and I never tire of witnessing the beautiful connections that occur on these trips. To see a 7-year-old US girl from the city and a Q’eqchi’ Maya girl from a remote village walking together, smiling, communicating through hand gestures, and learning about themselves, each other and the world around them—it just doesn’t get any better than that!
Want to learn more about the upcoming summer trips?
June 19-29 2019 | Community Cloud Forest Conservation | Intergenerational Trip – Open
July 27 – August 6 2019 | Community Cloud Forest Conservation | Intergenerational Trip – Open
The usual trip size is around 10-18 people, filled with a mixture of families, couples and even solo travelers ranging from all ages. Cost is $1250 per person plus airfare. To learn more about the trips please click here.
Community Cloud Forest Conservation alleviates poverty and protects forests through education, reforestation, sustainable development, leadership training, and ecological improvements to agriculture. CCFC believes that holistic human / community development through education and capacity building is the key to conservation and development in Guatemala’s central highlands. Education, especially for young women, is key to building peace in this region.
Lutheran Partners in Global Ministry was created in 1995 out of a pressing need to connect people with opportunities around the world and build relationships. Lutheran Partners in Global Ministry shares resources and hope through: Partnerships (with local, national, and overseas organizations), Education (for women and children, transforming lives for a brighter future), Empowerment (empower peace, stability and sustainability through leadership development), and Transformational Travel (to India, Guatemala and the Central African Republic).
While Paris has always been my first love, little did I know that I’d also fall madly in love with the old world charm and beauty of Prague. In my opinion, few cities in the world compare to the magical architecture of these two cities, both equally adored in my eyes. I first saw Prague while I was living and studying abroad in Paris back in 1993, just four years after the Velvet Revolution. With over 40 years of communism, much of Prague’s beauty had been shroud in mystery and wasn’t unveiled for the world to see until 1989 with the fall of communism.
Prague’s history is long and deep which makes this charming city even more fascinating. Founded around the end of the 9th century at the crossroads of Europe, Prague became the seat of the Kings of Bohemia with a thriving marketplace alongside the River Vltava. Feuding kings, bloody wars, and the building of the Old Town Square surrounding the immense Prague Castle defined this prospering city that reached its glory in the 14th century during the reign of Charles IV. Charles IV commissioned the building of New Town, the spectacular Charles Bridge, the Gothic masterpiece Saint Vitus Cathedral and the Charles University, the oldest in Central Europe. Thanks to Charles IV, the “golden age” inspired much of the beauty you see in Prague today.
When to Go
Today, Prague relishes as one of the top major tourist destinations in all of Europe where people from all over the world come to take a step back in time and marvel at this masterpiece of architectural delight. Prague’s multi-layered history of architecture takes us back to her founding 1,100 years ago in the Romanesque era to her flourishing by the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque eras, all within 3.34 square miles.
With only 1.3 million inhabitants, Prague sometimes can feel overrun with tourists blocking its tiny, winding cobblestone streets and filling up its squares. But despite the hordes of tourists, the magic of this city is spellbinding and is bound to take your breath away.
The best time to go to Prague if you want to avoid tourists yet take a little bit of a chance on weather is during the shoulder season meaning either Spring or Fall. We went in early May and had fairly good weather with a little spring rain. It wasn’t too unbearably crowded or hot like it gets during the busy summer months. I imagine September would be lovely in Prague.
Neighborhoods to See
Prague is made up of five independent municipalities: Hradčany (Prague Castle), Lesser Town (Malá Strana), Old Town (Staré Město) and New Town (Nové Město) and Josefov (the Jewish district) was added in 1850. Although Prague was one of the few European cities untouched by WWII, the Nazi occupation lead to the demise of the Jewish population who either fled or were killed in the Holocaust. The Germans who had formed the largest ethnic group in the city were expelled after the war. Then came 40 years of communism followed by freedom and an opening to the world.
In this guide, I will focus on the top touristic neighborhoods to see first for old world charm and architectural bliss: Malá Strana (Lesser Town), Old Town (Staré Město), Malá Strana (Lesser Town), and Hradčany (Prague Castle). We stayed in Nové Město (New Town) which despite its name, is not new as it was founded in 1348 by Emperor Charles IV to link Old Town with other parts of Prague. There is plenty to see in Nové Město as well in terms of stunning architecture, the Wenceslas Square, department stores, shops, restaurants and more. Another district you must visit is Josefov, Prague’s old Jewish ghetto filled with beautiful synagogues, an old Jewish cemetery and the Jewish Town Hall. We only had time to briefly visit the Old New Synagogue (Staronová synagoga), one of the oldest and most valuable European and world Jewish monuments, and the oldest synagogue in Central Europe. We simply ran out of time. I would highly recommend spending at least half a day in Josefov if not more. If you like to shop, then you could also easily spend a half to full day in New Town as well. The itinerary below is meant for at least 2-3 full days to explore at a leisurely pace.
There is no better way to connect with the raw beauty of nature than by doing a good hike. I grew up hiking and for the past twenty years I have enjoyed sharing many hikes with my father, my siblings and my own children wherever we can find a good trail especially when we are visiting my parents in Arizona. Tucson is a hiker lover’s paradise. With over 300 days of sunshine a year, a desert climate and four different mountain ranges surrounding the city, there are endless opportunities to take a beautiful walk or challenging hike in nature. Whether it be to the Santa Catalina Mountains in the north, the Rincon Mountains in the east, the Santa Rita Mountains in the south or the Tucson Mountains in the west, you will find no shortage of trails to explore.
Fortunately for me, my parents have lived in the foothills of the Santa Catalina mountains for over 25 years and their home is only five minutes away from one of the best places to hike in all of Tucson, Sabino Canyon Recreation Area with tons of hikes through both Sabino and Bear Canyon. Over the decades Sabino Canyon Recreation Area has become my outdoor playground and I try to hike every day when I’m visiting my parents. It is achingly beautiful and perhaps one of the most stunning places in all of southwestern Arizona.
While there are several hikes and walks to choose from, these are my top four recommendations for the best hikes in the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. I have put them in order of difficulty which does not necessarily mean distance. All of the hikes are appropriate for children over ten as long as they have a decent level of fitness however I wouldn’t recommend bringing a child under ten years old on any of these unless you are prepared to take a lot of breaks and be mindful of the dangers that exist. Instead, I would stick with walking on the paved path that runs 3.8 miles (7.6 miles roundtrip) through Sabino Canyon or even wandering around some of the shorter nature paths near the entrance of the recreation center. There used to be a guided tram service that brought tourists to both Sabino and Bear Canyon but unfortunately the service has been shut down while the park service rethinks its environmental impact. This has dramatically impacted available hiking options especially for families with young kids or for those who can’t walk as far.
As much as I love to travel, there is no doubt I feel concerned about the negative impact that travel can make on a place due to overtourism and additional stress on the environment. As the world economy improves and more people are being lifted out of poverty, tourism is on the upswing as well. World Count estimates that approximately 1 billion people arrive in a new destination each year which translates into a new arrival every 30 seconds somewhere around the globe.
“Should we feel guilty for traveling”? and “How is tourism the harming the environment and what we can do about it?” are excellent moral questions us as travelers have to often consider when planning a trip, especially to a threatened destination such as The Great Barrier Reef, Iceland, and Machu Picchu to name a few.
In this thought provoking piece, Dafina Zymeri of SUMAS (a Sustainability Business School in Switzerland), shares some areas where travel has negatively impacted the environment and the very culture of a city and how we as travelers can travel more consciously. I have added in my insight where I deemed necessary to expand upon a topic. I am hoping this is the first of many conversations on the importance of sustainable travel for we must protect and think responsibly about our impact as travelers upon the very world in which we desire to see.
It has been estimated that over half of the Great Barrier Reef has died since 2016. What impact does tourism have on this fragile ecosystem and should we go there? Photo credit: Pexels
The Burden of Overtourism
If you search on Google “How tourism is…”, the first suggestion to finish the sentence it will give is “How tourism is killing Barcelona.” Pretty sad, isn’t it? Well, we travelers – or tourists, whatever you call yourself – are destroying the environment of those beautiful countries we’re visiting. Of course, we don’t mean to do so but we are flying, visiting and trampling all over the planet. Our increase in visiting some of these destinations is undeniably having an impact and perhaps not such a positive one.
Let’s take the case of Barcelona. Check out the Guardian’s recent article “How Tourism is Killing Barcelona – A Photo Essay“. We have all seen and experienced beloved destinations like Barcelona that have sadly began to lost their charm and have become overrun with all things tourist. Trinkets, t-shirt shops and crowds and crowds of people is making a once culturally rich city feel more like a Disney-styled theme park. Will Barcelona eventually loose the charm and uniqueness that initially made it so popular with tourists in the first place?
If this isn’t sad enough, the huge increase in popularity of Barcelona is having its own negative impacts on its own people who live there. Barcelona native residents are enraged with the cost of living that they say was inflicted by tourism. Per The Guardian, it used to cost 250€ (or around $280) for a short-term rental permit but now that they are not being issued anymore. Needless to say, the average monthly rent in Barcelona (which is the most expensive in Spain) is around 700€. Residents are seemingly being forced out by high rents in Barcelona neighborhoods with a high presence of Airbnb. Since Airbnb’s intention is “revitalizing neighborhoods”, how is that possible when neighborhoods in their presence are actually losing population to a large degree?
Is tourism ruining the charm of such beautiful places as Barcelona?
Here’s another example to touch your conscience: The beautiful beach of Maya Bay of Phi Phi Lei Island in Thailand had banned, for a certain time, boats of tourists from landing on the shore. The tourists that want to take the trouble to visit need to do it by foot from the neighboring beach Loh Samah Bay. I was heartbroken when I read what the Chief of Mu Ko Phi Phi National Park said the reason behind the temporary closure was that the marine life and corals need time to recover. How utterly devastating. The beach we go to see, swim in, and take pictures of to need a break from us!
And what about Machu Picchu, a World Heritage Site? Thousands of tourists are trampling across ancient ruins every day at a level that is truly unsustainable for keeping them around for further generations. Although UNESCO has strongly recommends that they cap the number of visitors to 2,500 per day, 5,000 tourists visit and walk across these threatened ruins daily. Don’t we want to safeguard and protect Machu Picchu for future generations to enjoy?
Isn’t this how Machu Picchu is supposed to look? Untouched?
Have you ever had a dream for so long that it never stopped bugging you until you decided to just do it? For me, it has always been Kilimanjaro. I had wanted to climb this epic mountain ever since my father did it in October 1999. There really had not been any dream or travel goal that I have had for that long.
Like most dreams, there have been many obstacles and road blocks along the way. It wasn’t until a few years ago that my decades long dream became a reality. I had wanted to make this climb special and have it be somewhat similar to my life-changing trip to Nepal. Serendipitously I was connected with the U.S.-based non-profit Solar Sister, an organization who provides solar electricity in Sub-Saharan Africa. For their fifth year anniversary, an international team was planning to climb Kilimanjaro in June of 2015. Each climber was required to raise $4,000 to support the hiring and training for 8 new solar sister employees in Africa and to celebrate the success of Solar Sisters, we would climb Kilimanjaro together as a multigenerational, international team. It was a perfect opportunity and I seized it. Looking back today, it was even better than I ever dreamed it would be. It was truly epic. Figuring out what on earth to do next after such an incredible climb will be the challenge.
Kilimanjaro, the fourth highest peak among the seven summits, soaring at 19,340 feet (5,895 m) and one of the world’s highest freestanding mountains, has long been one of the most popular climbs given its relative ease of climbing (no technical climbing ability is necessary) and beauty. Located 200 miles (330 km) south of the equator in Northern Tanzania, the snow-capped volcanic dome of Kilimanjaro dominates the skyline like no other mountain on earth.
Kilimanjaro is actually not a single peak but a vast complex of cones and cores spreading over 38 miles (61 km) long by 25 miles (40 km) wide. There are three distinct volcanic cones: Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira. Uhuru Peak is the highest summit on Kibo’s crater rim and is the hopeful destination of thousands of climbers every year.
For me personally, I had grown up hiking, and climbing Kilimanjaro had been a long-term goal of mine after seeing my dad’s photos of his own climb back in 1999. I also desperately wanted to get there soon before the snow that caps the top of this mighty beast and makes it so stunning, is gone forever. Some scientists predict that the glaciers atop Kilimanjaro will be gone as early as 2030. What a tragedy!
What Route to choose?
There are six main climbing routes on Kilimanjaro with the Marangu Route (also known as the “Coca-Cola Route”) being the easiest and most popular. Our group chose the longer, more scenic Machame route that can take anywhere from 6-7 days and is known as one of the most beautiful routes on the mountain, passing through five distinct ecological zones and affording dramatic views every single day of the climb. The Machame Route also has one of the highest success rates for reaching the summit since it allows proper acclimatization before the final summit push.
Total Length of Hike: 62 miles (100 km) up and 24 miles (38 km) down.
Image of Mount Kilimanjaro Climbing Routes (Wikipedia). Our route was the Machame colored in brown.
For the past two years, I’ve been a proud member of Impact Travel Alliance, a global community of change makers, passionate about transforming the travel industry into a force for good. Through this amazing network of sustainable travel organizations, writers and travel enthusiasts around the globe, I’ve learned a lot about how we can use travel to make the world a better place.
For the next several months, I am working on putting together a searchable database of the best ethical impact-focused and sustainable travel organizations on the planet. While I’m researching these different organizations, I will be sharing guest posts to uncover each organization’s unique mission and how you can travel for good. This guest post is written by fellow Impact Travel Alliance Media Network member Marissa Sutera (creator of Little Things Travel Blog) who introduces us to Operation Groundswell a Toronto-based organization whose mission is to create a more equitable, just, and sustainable world through travel and backpacking with a purpose.
Operation Groundswell Ecuador trip
Backpacking with a Purpose
When seeking out more purposeful work to do while traveling, it can be challenging to dig deep enough to find the best route to take and the organizations that are truly carrying out positive work. In this interview you’ll hear from Justine Abigail Yu, Communications and Marketing Director at Operation Groundswell, who will be sharing her insight into what questions to ask when volunteering abroad, where to begin, and how to know what sort of impact you will make.
Operation Groundswell is a non-profit organization that facilitates experiential education programs on a host of social justice issues around the world. With ethical travel at the crux of their philosophy, they always work in partnership with local non-profits and charities on community-requested projects to ensure true sustainability. Their aim is to build a community of “backpacktivists” that are socially, environmentally, and politically aware of their impact in the communities they travel to and live in. Their programs are intentionally designed to uncover the intricacies and on-the-ground realities of each region they go to. With ethical travel at the crux of their philosophy, they always work in partnership with local non-profits and charities on community-requested projects to ensure true sustainability.
Their aim is to build a community of “backpacktivists” that are socially, environmentally, and politically aware of their impact in the communities they travel to and live in.
Meeting with our partners at De La Gente, a coffee cooperative in San Miguel Escobar in Guatemala
How can someone seeking a volunteer program abroad determine if they will actually be making a difference?
First and foremost, whatever volunteer project you work on abroad should be done in partnership with the local community. If you want to make even the slightest difference, be sure to find an organization that puts the needs of the local community first. Contributing to a project that your host community actually wants and needs is the first step towards responsible international volunteering.
But it’s also important to set realistic expectations of what exactly “making a difference” means. For many people, this requires a bit of a rethink. You’d be surprised (or maybe not) how many volunteers going abroad expect to “save Africa”, or Asia, or Latin America. And that’s just not the reality.
The majority of volunteer programs are often short-term projects that range from one week to a few months. So when you’re seeking a volunteer program abroad, consider the time you’ll be spending abroad and align that with your expectations. Because real talk – if you’re only going to be spending one or two-weeks in any given country or community, you may not actually make that much of a difference.
You’ll accomplish some things, of course: you’ll likely gain a deeper understanding of the complexity of development and what it takes to actually achieve social change, you’ll make a strong connection with a handful of people who you will hopefully stay in touch with, and you’ll contribute in some small way to a project.
But honestly, you’ll likely leave with more questions than answers. And that’s ok. This is a process.
“Change doesn’t happen overnight or even in a couple of weeks or months. Often, the work that you do when you return home, as a result of what you learned abroad, will be where you make the most difference.”
Just remember to have humility when taking part in work like this!
Over the past decade I have been fortunate to have been able to travel the world and also do good along the way. For me, it all began during that fateful trip to Nepal in 2010. I had gone on four different volunteer trips before Nepal but for some reason this trip truly changed my life and made me realize that even I can make a difference and impact in people’s lives. After returning from the trip, I engaged my children in helping me raise $4,000 to open up a reading center in rural Nepal through the non-profit organization Read Global. I realized that little things can make a big difference and have a ripple effect within a community. I was hooked. And, I’ve realized that I am not the only one.
There is a growing market for impact-based travel as more people like myself want to travel and do good. However, finding those opportunities can be a bit daunting especially ensuring that “the doing good” is truly doing more good than damage. For instance, there has been a call by many international children’s welfare organizations to put an end to orphanage volunteering as it can have a negative impact on vulnerable children. In the past, I have volunteered with children in developing countries and wasn’t fully aware of some of the potential consequences and ethical complications until I became more involved in social justice work.
Over the next several months, I am working on putting together a list of the best ethical impact-focused and sustainable travel organizations around the globe. While I’m researching these different organizations, I am rounding up guest posts to uncover each organization’s unique mission and how you can travel for good. This guest post is written by the team at Ignite, an organization whose mission is to provide experiences that benefit humanity and the planet.
Hiking in Nicaragua. Photo credit: Ignite
Ignite: Journeys that Connect, Inspire and Transform
There is a growing demand among travelers to engage in travel for good. More than $2 billion is spent annually on impact-focused travel and year-over-year demand continues to increase, as people look for something more than a stay at an all-inclusive resort. They want to travel responsibly and support sustainable development around the world.
Ignite is energized by this growing demand to pursue purpose, social responsibility and global citizenship. Fundamentally, Ignite is a people development company. We help people become the best versions of themselves through purposeful journeys that combine cultural immersion and adventure. We provide these journeys for individual travelers and we also work with companies who offer our journeys as a way to recognize and develop their employees.
Despite living in Minneapolis for decades, I’m embarrassed to admit that I know little about my own city outside of my home and life in Southwest Minneapolis. Blame it on years of raising a family or perhaps just my own tendency to stay where things are familiar and comfortable. But I found it ironic that as a world traveler and explorer at heart, I know little the dynamic culture and art in my very own backyard. Just last November, I spent three full days in Valparaiso, Chile exploring its vibrant street art scene. So why not do the same justice in my own home town?
Minneapolis is a huge, diverse city with many different neighborhoods and cultures. Although highly Scandinavian in heritage (there are too many “sons’ to name – Anderson, Johnson, Olson, etc), today Minnesota can boast being home to over 400,000 immigrants from around the world. In fact, per the City of Minneapolis’ most recent census the ten largest groups of foreign-born residents in Minnesota are (in descending order): Mexico, India, Laos, Somalia, Vietnam, China, Thailand (including Hmong), Ethiopia, Korea, and Canada. Believe it or not, Minneapolis has the largest Somali population outside of Somalia.
Given such a cultural melting pot, it is no wonder that Minneapolis has some of the richest street art and murals in the upper Midwest. During a recent self-made tour of South and Southwest Minneapolis, I discovered hundreds of colorful, impressive street art painted across the walls, buildings and garages of the city. I was so incredibly inspired and awe-struck by the incredible art I saw that a newfound love and devotion to my city began.
I have ignored you for too long, Minneapolis. It is now time that I start to share with the world your beauty, richness and culture. Better yet, I too will learn along the way.
The idea for this series on street art began when I decided to look out the car window and notice what I saw. I began to see that there was street art in many unexpected places and there was a lot of it. I did some research on the internet and found that there are not many up to date posts or articles about Minneapolis’ vibrant street art scene. I jotted down a few addresses that I found from the City of Minneapolis’ interactive street art guide (The Public “ Art Map”) but found that a lot of the art had changed.
So I decided to make my own street art guide, neighborhood by neighborhood, starting with what I know best: South and Southwest Minneapolis. Over time, I hope to hit North, Northeast and other parts of the city to complete the guide and even go across the river to neighboring St. Paul to see what kind of street art is over there. In this one sweep, I found over 80 murals so I had to cut it down to my personal favorites. Please feel free to add any locations of your favorites in the comments. I also had a hard time tracking down the artists of each work. Perhaps that will be a project for the next post.
Without further ado, here is my Epic Guide to exploring street art in South Minneapolis. Enjoy!
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Street Art Guide Part 1
Starting point: Lyndale and 38th Street
Mode of transportation: Drive, bike or walk. The complete route covers over 4 miles on mostly urban streets so driving is easiest. However if you do chose to bike (Minneapolis is a very bike-friendly city) be aware that these are very busy streets without dedicated bike lanes. If you want to bike along biker-friendly streets running parallel check out this site for a safer, more pleasant route. If you drive, street parking is very easy and I simply pulled over at each work of art. Finally, Minneapolis is a great walking city and I always love to explore a place on foot. Just don’t do it in the dead of winter! You’ll be very cold!
To complete this portion below, the total distance is: Around 2.5 miles
Time to drive: approximately 10 minutes without stops.
Time to bike: approximately 12 minutes without stops.
Time to walk: approximately 45 minutes depending on speed.
Starting at Lyndale Avenue, a major north-south thoroughfare that cuts through the city, head north towards uptown.
Traveling and studying abroad has the ability to change and transform a person’s life and create more cross-cultural understanding. In today’s world, it is critical that we understand other cultures, and there is no better time to experience the transformative power of travel than when you are young and impressionable. Unfortunately, travel is expensive and usually only available to those who have the money to pay for it. This results in an entire segment of the world’s population who are denied the transformative experiences of seeing and exploring new places, and is especially true when it comes to teens and young adults. Organizations like FLYTE are trying to change the game and empower more youth to see the world.
Founded in 2015 by the New York Times Bestselling travel author, Matthew Kepnes of the website Nomadic Matt, FLYTE is a nonprofit organization that empowers students living in underserved communities through transformative travel experiences.
I was able to speak with FLYTE to learn more about how they are empowering youth to take FLYTE and experience the world. Here is what Matt has to say.
Students participating in one of Flyte’s programs in Ecuador
Why More Students Should Tale FLYTE and Travel Abroad
By Matt Kepnes (Founder of FLYTE) and Carmela Resuma (Executive Director, FLYTE)
As travel enthusiasts, we all understand the power of travel. It’s one of the most impactful educational tools that changes perspectives. It breaks down borders, fosters empathy, and makes us realize how connected we all are.
As a former high school history teacher, I know the value of an education. I understand that I am privileged enough to be able to travel the world and do what I want because of getting a good education. Not everyone gets that chance. Let’s face it: Not everyone is able to travel. Whether it’s money, family obligations, or circumstance, travel is out of reach for a large percentage of the world’s population. Most people never even leave their own state let alone the country (only 35% of Americans have a passport!). This is especially true for students in underserved communities – from inner city Chicago to the middle-of-nowhere Idaho. These students – in communities and from families with limited resources – don’t get a chance to expand their worldview, meet people from other cultures, and bring what they learn in the classroom to life! That is why in 2015, I created FLYTE. While many wealthy school districts send students on overseas educational trips, schools and teachers in underserved areas have little or no opportunity to offer their students these experiences. Their schools and communities lack the resources to make such a trip happen. I wanted to create an organization which was open to everyone around the country. I wanted an organization that helped people in forgotten parts of the United States because everyone deserves a chance to see and learn about the world! At FLYTE, we empower youth living in underserved communities through transformative travel experiences. We provide teachers and students with the planning and funding they need to take what they learn in the classroom and put it to use in the real world!