“The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see”. – Gilbert K. Chesterton
Although I have traveled all my life, sometime in my late twenties I became a traveler. For most of my life I had been more of a tourist trying to rush around the world seeing as much as I could possibility see, never fully understanding what it all meant. It was in my twenties that I went on my first truly eye-opening trip to Peru. Within the first half hour of being on the ground, I was mugged inside a taxi and it was at that point I realized that the world is not a giant playground for me to explore yet a place for me to search for answers and try to understand. Since then, I have continued to follow my promise to be a good, responsible traveler as best as I can.
Over the past twenty years, travel has become much more available to people and more people are traveling than ever before. Travel isn’t only for the rich or the hippies or the retirees, but for anyone who has a passport and some financial means to pay for a trip.
According to the World Tourism Organization 2015 report, tourism is key to development, prosperity and well-being and the future of tourism could never be so bright. A few highlights from the report indicate:
- An ever-increasing number of destinations worldwide have opened up to, and invested in tourism, turning it into a key driver of socio-economic progress through the creation of jobs and enterprises, export revenues, and infrastructure development.
- Over the past six decades, tourism has experienced continued expansion and diversification, to become one of the largest and fastest-growing economic sectors in the world. Many new destinations have emerged.
- Despite occasional shocks, tourism has shown virtually uninterrupted growth. International tourist arrivals have increased from 25 million globally in 1950, to 278 million in 1980, 527 million in 1995, and 1133 million in 2014.
- The long-term outlook of tourism is impressive with international tourist arrivals worldwide expected to increase by 3.3% a year between 2010 and 2030 to reach 1.8 billion by 2030, according to UNWTO’s long term forecast Tourism Towards 2030.
However, it is hard to deny that the massive growth in travel also comes with an exorbitant price as we use up invaluable resources to reach, explore and stay in our destinations. We also run a significant risk of negatively impacting the very cultures, environment, nature and wildlife we are trying so desperately hard to protect.
How can we continue to open up the world to more and more people traveling without sacrificing our planet? By doing our very best to promote sustainable, ethical and responsible travel. That is the only way we ensure that a world worth seeing and exploring still exists for generations to come.
What is sustainable travel?
The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is the United Nations agency responsible for the promotion of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism.
UNWTO’s definition in that sustainable tourism is “tourism that takes full account of its current and future economic, social, and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment, and host communities”
Why is sustainable travel important?
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. As more and more people travel, there is more impact both positive and negative on the culture, environment and economy of the places we are visiting. As travelers, we have the incredible opportunity to make a difference on how and where we travel. By choosing to travel sustainably and responsibly, we can use the power of our wallets and passports to make a difference and create a positive impact on the places we are visiting. By choosing one of these sustainable, responsible tour outfitters, it is one way you can make a difference. Other ways include eating, staying, buying local and employing local guides, using reusable bottles, avoiding questionable travel experiences such as harmful animal tourism or mass-tourism in environmentally fragile places, and getting to know the culture you are visiting.
Sustainable Travel Companies
Above Safaris is the brainchild of a social entrepreneur and an expert with 10+ years in the travel sector. They evolved from a desire to do travel differently — to bring you unique and life-changing experiences with real impact. Above Safaris begins with a responsible and sustainable approach, and builds the highest quality experiences on top of it, creating impact-driven travel without sacrificing any of the quality and expertise that you seek.
Above Safaris places conservation at the forefront of its trips to witness the great migration through Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.
Atlas Obscura’s mission is to inspire wonder and curiosity about the incredible world we all share by offering unique trips, sharing stories, holding events and fostering a global community to create a comprehensive database of the world’s most wondrous places and foods. Atlas Obscura’s trips bring Atlas Obscura’s collection of 17,599 unique places and foods to life. From science and nature to hidden cities and culinary adventures, Atlas Obscura has a wide collection of extraordinary unique vacations.
Climate Trek Nepal
Red panda conservation is a priority in Nepal. Royal Mountain Travel is a part of the Climate Trek Nepal team developing a climate-friendly trekking route north of Kathmandu through some of the protected areas where these highly endangered pandas can still be found in the wild. Join them on the 8-day Climate Trek Helambuwhere you will see Rhododendrons (in bloom March-May), Tibetan Buddhism, meditation caves (Melamchi), and oldest Buddhist cloister in Nepal Cherughyang near Tarkeghyang . This amazing trip supports local villages impacted from the 2015 earthquake and also helps protect endangered pandas.
The Context vision is to create an atmosphere—a context, if you will—for curious travelers to engage with local experts; to give them access to places and cultures that might otherwise remain out of sight to the casual visitor; to invite them off the tourist track and into the real life of the people, history, and culture that makes these cultural capitals amazing. Context adheres to the precepts of sustainable travel and invests in programs that mitigate the effect of tourism. Learn about the Context Foundation for Sustainable Travel. Context is also a certified B Corporation. B Corporations are a new kind of company which uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.
Destinations: Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, South America
Explore Chumbe Island’s stunning coral reef sanctuary and coral rag forest, the first marine protected area in the world, with Earth Changers. Located off the coast of Zanzibar, the island’s conservation, research, education center and ecolodge are fully funded by travelers. Located off the coast of Zanzibar (off the coast of Tanzania in East Africa), just seven thatched roof bandas (bungalows) are stunningly set in the surrounding forest, 30 seconds to the beach, offering natural beauty and a way to truly support sustainable travel.
G Adventures is a social enterprise that provides responsible, sustainable small-group tours around the world. G Adventures spreads good around the world by working with local businesses and guides, promoting animal and child welfare, responsible travel with indigenous cultures, and other projects. G Adventures offers tours for families, solo travelers, age groups, classic tours, active tours, adventure tours, local living tours, National Geographic tours, and more.
Global Family Adventures
Global Family Travels’ mission is to Learn, Serve and Immerse, using travel as a means to build cultural bridges and to foster global citizens. In partnership with community-based tour operators and local non-profit organizations, Global Family Travels creates service learning tours for families which include a unique mix of cultural and educational activities, home stays and participation in local service projects aimed at directly improving the lives of people in the communities we visit.
Go Eat Give
Go Eat Give. Connecting people, places and palates through sustainable travel, cultural education and international cuisines. Experience the authentic culture, volunteer vacation, meet locals, and stay in sustainable properties, while giving back to the community.
GOOD Travel’s mission is to make it easier for travelers to have a positive social, economic and environmental impact on the places they visit. They do this through tours as well as advocacy, research and events focused on influencing tourist behavior for GOOD. GOOD Travel’s tours are carefully researched and designed to create unique, impactful and transformative experiences for travelers to have a positive impact on the destination being visited. For each trip, all accommodations and tour companies are carefully selected due to their focus on sustainability and community, and $100 per person is donated to a local project. (To read my interview with GOOD Travel click on link: “GOOD Travel: Transforming the Tourism Industry into a Force for Good“.
Destinations: Bali, Iceland, Thailand, New Zealand, Zanzibar, and Peru (a mother-daughter trip).
Human Connections is a non-profit organization that connects local people with international audiences. Their work starts with our partners — remarkable artisans, tradespeople, and organizations in Latin America. Human Connections then invites travelers and students to interact with their partners through day tours, weeklong trips, and internships.
Destinations: Central America
Responsible travel is at the heart of what Intrepid Travel does by making a real difference – by investing in local communities, human rights initiatives, wildlife conservation projects and the environment, and by incorporating principles of sustainable tourism and development into the way they provide travelers with real life experiences. These values are more than just words; they’re ingrained in the culture and daily operations of every Intrepid office and trip.
Intrepid has been a carbon-neutral business since 2010; they now have 27 carbon-neutral offices and offer over 1400 carbon-offset trips. Through their not-for-profit arm, The Intrepid Foundation, Intrepid has invested over AU $5 million into grassroots projects around the world – projects addressing issues such as healthcare, education, community development and animal welfare. Intrepid is still adding to their list of over 800 different itineraries across Europe, Asia, Africa, North & South America, the Middle East, Australia and both the Arctic & Antarctica.
Lokal is an online marketplace for booking local, sustainable adventures around the world. We carefully select each experience on our site to make sure it provides an amazing travel experience and benefits back to the local community. Read my interview, “Lokal Travel: Connecting Conscious Travelers with Unique Local Experiences”.
Ignite is energized by the growing demand in “travel for good” to pursue purpose, social responsibility and global citizenship. Ignite helps people become the best versions of themselves through purposeful journeys that combine cultural immersion and adventure. Ignite provides these journeys for individual travelers and we also work with companies who offer a journeys as a way to recognize and develop their employees. Read my interview: “Meet Ignite: Journeys that Connect, Inspire and Transform”.
Destinations: Ignite currently has partnerships in Mexico, Nicaragua and Zambia and they are pursuing additional partners to expand our journey offerings
Natural Habitat Adventures
Natural Habitat Adventures has been a leader in responsible adventure travel and ecotourism since 1985. From polar bear tours in Churchill to small-group Galapagos cruises, from Alaska grizzly bear adventures to African safaris, our journeys, led by professional naturalist guides, reveal the planet’s most extraordinary nature destinations. As the world’s first 100-percent carbon-neutral travel company—and the conservation travel partner of World Wildlife Fund—we offer eco-conscious expeditions from Antarctica to Zambia with a multitude of adventures in between.
Destinations include: Worldwide
PacWhale Eco-Adventures are based on nearly four decades of marine research and ecotourism experience. Every trip is led by certified Marine Naturalists who provide a truly unique, educational and fun adventure at sea. Watch wildlife in their natural habitat, snorkel Molokini, Lanaʻi and Honolua Bay, enjoy a relaxing sunset dinner, cocktail or stargazing cruise.
Go whale watching with marine naturalists from PacWhale Eco-Adventures off Maui. Tour profits support the Pacific Whale Foundation’s research, education and conservation programs to save whales, dolphins and our oceans.
Playa Viva is a unique yoga retreat destination where you will enjoy the rugged, unspoiled beauty of Mexico in the guilt-free luxury of an environmentally conscious resort. Become immersed in nature, volunteer in the turtle sanctuary, give back to the local community, engage in a workshop, or just relax completely.
Stay in Playa Viva’s sustainable hotel in Mexico and participate in the Playa Viva Turtle Sanctuary’s efforts to protect leatherback sea turtle eggs from predators.
Vayando is an online marketplace that connects curious travelers with local entrepreneurs in emerging economies around the world. Vayando provides a platform for travelers visiting those areas to book directly with local entrepreneurs to spend a day in their coffee fields, shops, fishing boats, studios, etc. learning about their livelihoods. Travelers get a very personally unique experience while entrepreneurs gain the opportunity to diversity their income or build their business.
Destinations: Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Costa Rica, Uganda, Nicaragua, and Ethiopia.
One the world’s leading platforms for social impact travel experiences, allowing millions of users to discover, support, and interact with ‘do-good’ organizations both virtually and in-person. Every travel experience is for a cause such as women’s empowerment, agriculture, animals, cultural preservation, economic empowerment, education, environment and human rights (meaning tour revenues goes back into local cause).
Wild Sumatra takes travelers jungle trekking to find Sumatran tigers and sun bears, while supporting tiger conservation projects in the Kerinci Seblat National Park. Trip costs support the local economy and helps with conservation.
Sustainable Women-Led Tour Outfitters for Women
Andeana Hats is a female-owned company that operates sustainable tours for travelers to support Quechua weaving community in rural Peru. Through their partnership with the non-profit organization, Awamaki, Andeana Hats provides sustainable tours that not only are fun and educational, and provide a positive impact in the Quechua communities.
Community Homestay in Nepal provides local women the opportunity to become entrepreneurs and ready their homes to house guests. Select a homestay online and meet with the local women and communities in Nepal. Community Homestay also offers such cultural experiences as cooking classes, jungle walks, wildlife viewing and more. Every tour helps local women and their families.
Fernweh Fair Travel
Fernweh Fair Travel is a women-led nonprofit organization working to empower women, mostly young widows, and bring sustainable development to communities in India through responsible tourism. Fernweh Fair Travel offers authentic travel experiences along with mountain adventure sports in the majestic Indian Himalayas. Their goal is to empower and support communities through travel that makes a positive impact on the local economy, culture, and environment.
Purposeful Nomad runs female, small-group adventures around the world designed to empower women through responsible community engagement. Purposeful Nomad was created to inspire, challenge and bring together women from around the globe. Trips can include meeting leaders in sustainable tourism, helping with community projects, living like a local and helping your host family harvest, feed animals or cook, engaging with women working to restore native alpaca customs and more.
Destinations: India, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Ecuador, Orcas Islands, Guatemala, Morocco, Iceland, and Tanzania.
Urban Adventures’ offers day tours hosted by local women and supports area organizations. “The Olive Tree of Istanbul” tour visits a community center that offers education and support to Syrian refugees, including a women’s social enterprise program.
Responsible volunteering and internships
GivingWay was created in order to make volunteering abroad simple, free and transparent, so that traveling and doing good could be accessible to all. It is a global platform connecting potential volunteers with locally run non-profits on the ground. Read my interview: ” GivingWay: Connecting Travelers to Volunteer Opportunities Around the World”.
Destinations: Africa, Asia and South America
MovingWorlds is a leading platform that connects professionals to social-good organizations for real impact. Find the best place to volunteer your skills abroad in exchange for an immersive international experience – anywhere, anytime, for any length of time. You can go on your own, send your employee/s, or choose a high-skilled volunteer for your own organization.
Volunteer with an independent, international organization and think tank which works in unknown or forgotten territories over the horizon generating space for investigation and positive change in environmental, community and social settings. (CONTACT THEM FOR MORE INFO)
Destinations: Europe, the Americas and Australasia.
Mission: To create a more equitable, just and sustainable world through travel. Providing ethical and responsible Volunteer travel/experiemental travel programs with focus on environment, human rights, health and education. Read my interview: “Backpacking with a Purpose with Operation Groundswell”.
Destinations: Asia, Central America, and South America.
Venture with impact
Mission: Venture with Impact is a 4-week coworking retreat that provides professionals with the opportunity to continue their career remotely while giving back through skills-based volunteer projects.
Destinations: Colombia, Thailand, Portugal and Mexico.
Unearth the World
Unearth the World is an international volunteer organization that strives to improve the international volunteering industry by promoting cross-cultural learning, fostering reciprocal partnerships and elevating social consciousness through responsible international programs. Read my interview: “Volunteering Abroad with Unearth the World”.
Destinations: Today they work with 6 non-profit partners in Peru, Nicaragua, Mexico, Guatemala and Zambia
Social Entrepreneurship Immersion
TribesforGOOD is on mission to inspire a generation who wants to support and work with social impact businesses. We bridge the talent gap faced by social change organizations in India by connecting them to an international talent pool of students, millennials and early retirees. TribesForGOOD is shaking up the volunteer industry by introducing a new concept of volungearing where individuals are equipped/trained to successfully offer their skills in the social impact sector. This concept gives well-meaning individuals an alternative option to the current saturated market that is voluntourism – a $173 billion dollar industry driven mostly by travel companies.
Cultural Immersion, Study Abroad Programs and Volunteer Abroad Programs for Students
AIESEC is an international nonprofit organization that provides a variety of opportunities for students to volunteer around the world. The Global Volunteer Program is a cross-cultural experience for youth who want to gain personal development and leave an impact on the world and works with a participating nonprofit to address one of the UN Global Goals. Commitment: 6-12 weeks.
The Experiment in International Living
The Experiment in International Living is the nation’s most experienced and respected provider of international education and experiential learning for high school students. Their summer study abroad programs have enabled students to explore the world in a personal, meaningful way, and to develop new, enduring friendships through hands-on cultural experiences and homestays in 25 countries. The Experiment in International Living offers 31 summer abroad programs in 25 countries.
Other Noteworthy Resources on Sustainable, Responsible Travel
Impact Travel Alliance
Impact Travel Alliance (ITA) is a global community and 501(c)3 nonprofit aimed at improving the world through travel. ITA educates travelers on how to spend their money mindfully so that their experiences empower locals and protect our environment.
ITA’s initiatives are based on education and advocacy around sustainable tourism – travel that has a positive impact on a destination’s environment, economy and culture. Sustainable tourism, while often viewed as a niche within the industry, can be applied to any type of travel. ITA believes that by working to incorporate sustainability into all types of travel experiences, we have the potential to change our world through travel.
Help Me Grow My List of Sustainable, Responsible Travel Companies
Do you know any sustainable, responsible travel companies that I should add to this list? If so, please let me know. It is my goal to grow this list and make it as helpful as possible to get more people out there traveling and doing good.
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