Meet Six Companies That Are Empowering Women Through Travel

March 8th is International Women’s Day, a day celebrated around the world in honor of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It’s roots began back in 1909 by women in New York City and gained popularity in Russia after women gained suffrage in 1917. March 8th was officially adopted as International Women’s Day by the United Nations in 1975 and has been celebrated around the world ever since.

Over the decades much progress has been made in regards to women’s rights however there still remains a lot of work to be done in achieving gender parity and improving the lives of women. One area that can certainly help improve women’s lives is sustainable employment and as the travel industry booms around the world, there is a great opportunity for women to increase their livelihoods through sustainable tourism.

As a member of Impact Travel Alliance, the world’s largest community for impact-focused travelers and travel professionals, I am highlighting some of the amazing female-run travel businesses and tour operators supporting women’s programs around the world.

While I haven’t had the honor of traveling with all of these organizations, I was fortunate to have joined Lokal Travel on one of their early trips. In 2017, I went with Lokal Travel on a trip to the remote Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica where I met Xiñia, a former gold miner who has opened up her remote jungle cabin, “Descanso El Pizote” to rural tourism. Her story is one of heartbreak and hope as for years she had no choice but to continue the backbreaking work of gold-mining until she met the co-founders of Lokal Travel who changed her life. Today, her dream is to grow Descanso El Pizote into a full-time business sharing her beautiful rainforest property and her passion for the jungle with tourists. Then she can quit gold mining for good and it would be a win-win situation that promotes sustainable rural travel while conserving the environment.

Dos Brazos de Tigre Lokal Travel

Xiñia leads the way to her jungle cabin with her walking stick ready.

Xiñia’s story is similar to the hopes and dreams of many women around the world who are seeking to improve their lives through sustainable tourism. Not only does it improve these women’s lives, it also provides the traveler with a unique experience to do something different. For me personally, these kinds of trips have been the most rewarding travels of my life and I feel wonderful knowing that my travel dollars are making a difference on people’s lives.

In fact, I just returned from Belize with G Adventures and was thrilled to see that our trip included a visit to a Mayan women’s co-op to watch a live demonstration on making traditional pottery and corn tortillas. As part of G Adventure’s commitment to responsible travel and tourism, G Adventure trips always include a travel for good element to give back and support the local economy. In this case, it was to support the local Mayan women.

San Antonio Women's Coop Belize

At the San Antonio Women’s Cooperative in Belize watching a Mayan woman show us how to make corn tortillas.

Here are six amazing organizations that are working to help empower women through travel.

Sustainable Travel Organizations TRAVEL RESOURCES
Bell Tower, Prague

Self-Guided Walking Tour of Prague: A Complete 2-3 Day Itinerary

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.

Prague at sunset on the Charles Bridge.

Prague at sunset on the Charles Bridge.

Adventure Travel Czech Republic Europe TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION Travel Guides Walking tours

First Time Guide to Climbing Kilimanjaro

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.

Why go?

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.

Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

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)

Image of Mount Kilimanjaro Climbing Routes (Wikipedia). Our route was the Machame colored in brown.

Adventure Travel Africa Tanzania TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION Travel Guides Trekking/Hiking
Dachstein Krippenstein, Austria

A Hike On Top of the World on Heilbronner Circular Trail in Dachstein Austria

After days of late June rain, we finally rose to a glorious robin egg blue sky at our farm stay in the lakes district town of Altmünster in Austria. We could not have been more thrilled! Finally the sun had arrived and we could see The Salzkammergut region of Austria in all her glory. The view of Lake Traunsee juxtaposed against the incline of the Austrian Alps was even more spectacular than I had pictured in my dreams.  It was going to be a perfect day for a hike and we knew exactly where we intended to go: Back to The Dachstein Krippenstein in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hallstatt and Daschstein where we would complete the Heilbronner Circular Trail on top of the Alps. We had been to the Dachstein Ice Cave a few days ago in the rain and knew that once the clouds lifted it was going to be a magical place to see.

We left Altmünster around nine o’clock and arrived in Obertraun an hour later to find a full parking lot, a far cry from what we had the rainy day before when we visited the Dachstein Ice Cave. To our dismay, the queue for the cable car was very long, filled with families, hikers and tourists who were waiting just like us to be carried up to the top. Normally I would have been perfectly patient but I had waited so long to see the sun and get out on a hike that I was getting a bit restless. Unfortunately we waited over an hour until it was our turn to continue on up however once we arrived, it was so breathtaking that I soon forgot the long wait to get there.

Austria is a country filled with mountains. Did you know that the Alps take up almost two-thirds of Austria? It is a hiker lover’s dream!

We walked off the platform of the Dachstein Krippenstein Mountain station to the surreal beauty of the Austrian Alps. At roughly 6,886 feet (2100 meters), we felt like we were on top of the world. While the majority of the visitors veered to the right towards the 5fingers viewing platform, we choose to go to the left and take a hike on the Heilbronner Circular Trail, a two-hour roundtrip hike with dazzling, jaw-dropping views of the snow-covered peaks of the Alps, the Hallstätter Glacier, and the lovely town of Hallstatt and the brilliant blue lake Hallstätter See, in the green valley far below. We would head over to 5fingers after our hike.

Dachstein Krippenstein , Austria

Getting off at the mountain station into a breathtaking world.

Dachstein Krippenstein, Austria

Max and Sophia smiled for the camera.

Adventure Travel Austria Europe TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking

Hiking Hut to Hut in the Gaistal Valley

Nestled within the Mieminger mountains to the south and Wetterstein mountains to the north, lies the stunning, idyllic Gaistal Valley. Stretching west from the tiny hamlet of Klamm in the region of Leutasch, Austria, this achingly beautiful landscape is home to miles of hiking and biking trails, farms, alpine refuges and mountain “huttes” (huts) where you can explore some of the most nostalgic, untouched nature in Austria. It is here we chose for our third and final day of hiking in Seefeld in Tirol, perhaps saving the absolute best for last.

We headed out after breakfast, excited about the day ahead. We had heard about Leutasch from the Seefeld tourist office as it is one of five municipalities in the Olympiaregion Seefeld and is particularly known for its awe-inspiring beauty. You could easily hike for days going hut to hut, dining on delightful regional cuisine and finding refuge in the traditional alpine huts. There are plenty of amazing long-distance hikes (enough to make me drool and want to come back).  For us, we only had the day so we decided to make the best of it.

We left shortly after breakfast, heading north on L14 for roughly 10 kilometers to the small town of Föhrenwald in Leutasch where we somehow got lost. Thankfully there was a hiking store in town that provided us with much needed directions and an excellent map of Leutasch and the Gaistal Valley. Otherwise we for sure would have been driving in circles through all the different tiny Austrian hamlets that make up Leutasch. We took a left on Leutascher Ache following the windy road passing through villages and farms until we reached the start of the parking area a little bit past the village of Klamm. Thanks to our stop at the hiking store, we knew to proceed all the way to the P5/Salzbach, the last of five parking lots, where we would begin our hike. There are 12 huts interspersed along the hiking trails through the Gaistal Valley, and we decided to visit two of them, the Gaistalalm and Tillfussalm.

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Adventure Travel Austria Europe Family Travel TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION Trekking/Hiking
Stockton Island , The Apostle Islands

A Weekend Sailing in the Apostle Islands

I have always dreamed of exploring the Apostle Islands. Located off the shore of the Bayfield Peninsula in Northern Wisconsin, the Apostle Islands are an archipelago of 22 islands each unique and varied formed by ice, wind and waves over millions of years in the heart of Lake Superior. Known for their wild beauty, historic lighthouses, diverse wildlife, boreal forests, wind-blown beaches and stunning sea caves, the Apostle Islands offer endless choices for exploration either by boat, ferry, kayak and once ashore, on foot.

My first visit to the Apostle Islands was 2 years ago with my husband on a weekend trip to Bayfield, Wisconsin. During our visit, we only caught a tiny glimpse of the mysterious Apostle Islands while we took the ferry to Madeline Island, the largest and only inhabited island of the group and not an official part of the 69,372 acre Apostle Islands National Lakeshore. It was that visit that sparked my fascination with the Apostle Islands and my longing to see them by sailboat.

Last year, our neighbors bought a 42-foot sailboat that they keep in Bayfield and they make the trip to the Apostle Islands every weekend in the summer and early fall. We had been invited a few times before but the timing never seemed to work out for us until last weekend. On a whim, my daughter Sophia and I accepted their generous invitation to spend the weekend sailing with them and their two children. I was overjoyed.

Apostle Islands WI

The shore of Madeline Island. Photo taken during August 2016 trip.

Arrival at the Port Superior Marina

We left on Friday afternoon and arrived at the Port Superior Marina just before the sun began to set. Since it was too late to set sail, we spent the first night at the marina and set off for our first island early the next morning. For all my years growing up in Minnesota and near water, I had never slept on a sailboat before nor truly sailed. Ironically, I even spent two summers working at a yacht club on a large Minnesota lake yet never learned to sail. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect and whether my fast-paced type A personality would be able to handle slowing down and just being still. Would I get restless being on a boat? Would I enjoy it? Would I get motion sickness?  These were the questions that circled my head as we loaded our duffel bags and groceries into the sailboat cabin.  Surprisingly, I was in for an entirely new experience which wound up being much different from what I had imagined and I absolutely loved my time at sail.

North America TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION United States Wisconsin
Sophia on top of the Eiffel Tower

Highlights of Our Three-Week Family Trip to Europe

I will never forget the one-page article I read decades ago in Newsweek by a prominent female journalist about the importance of transgenerational travel and how it changed her life. I was in my late 20s at the time, living and working in Chicago and had just returned from skiing in the French Alps with my parents. I was soon to be married and start a family of my own yet I could not let go of the love and joy I felt traveling with my parents as an adult. The article talked about how the writer had traveled the world with her mother well into her mother’s 80s and how that time together journeying around the world were some of their most sacred, special times ever together as mother and child. It struck a chord with my soul for I too had always traveled with my parents and they were the ones who introduced me to travel at a young age and gave me my wanderlust soul.

Decades and trips later, I have continued to travel with my parents to such far-reaching places as the Himalayas of Nepal, the Andes of South America, the perched villages of Provence and the European cities of Prague, Paris and London adding my sister into the mix. These times together have been some of the most sacred memories of my life and without question our shared love of travel meant that at some point we would have to introduce our own children to exploring the world.

The idea of a transgenerational trip to Europe launched a few years back when my mom, sister and I did a trip to London, Paris and the south of France. We knew that we wanted to do a girl’s trip once again with my mom yet include our daughters. We just needed to wait until they reached the age where they could handle all the walking and traveling. With my daughter Sophia at the age of 11 and my niece Hanna turning 13, this summer was the prefect time to do a three-generational trip to Europe and it was planned.

As the time for our departure approached, there was a last minute change of plans. My husband had planned on flying over to Europe with our son Max to meet up with us at the end of the girl’s trip yet he injured his back and couldn’t go. Since the trip was already planned and mostly paid for, we changed plans and had my father fly over to Europe with Max and take my husband’s place. We would be doing another transgenerational trip, this time with my dad, my son and daughter, throughout Germany and Austria. Despite the disappointment that Paul couldn’t go on the trip, there was a silver lining. My dad was able to come and get to spend 13 days with his grandkids exploring the Austrian Alps.

All in all, it was an absolutely amazing trip with lots of silly travel mishaps, magnificent moments and fun stories along the way. It will take me quite some time to put the entire journey into words but I’m excited to start sharing our trip with this first post on some of the main highlights. I hope you enjoy!

Our route: First a flight from Minneapolis to JFK then London. Four days in London with a day trip to Warwick. Next the Eurostar to Lille, the TGV to Paris and then a flight to Munich where we met my dad and Max and picked up our car. The rest a driving tour through Germany and Austria.

Austria England Europe Family Travel France TRAVEL
Transfăgărășan Highway

A Drive along Romania’s Stunning Transfăgărășan Highway

I fortunately (or unfortunately depending on how you look at it) tend to be that traveler who has to try to see it all no matter what. I think half of my obsession with seeing and doing it all is that I normally don’t have a lot of time in a given place. Usually my trips last under ten days and in the case of Romania, I was literally on the ground for only five full days before I had to begin the long day and a half journey back home.

Despite only having five short days in Romania, I felt that I truly got to see quite a bit of this magical place. I had a full day in Bucharest, several days in Brasov, saw the Bran Castle and the Rasnov Fortress, went hiking in the Carparthians and on the last day took a crazy adventurous drive back from Brasov to Bucharest via the world famous Transfăgărășan Highway.

It may have been a little bit crazy but deciding to take the Transfăgărășan Highway on our last day in Romania ended up being the highlight of our trip. This says a lot for someone who hates car trips and gets carsick on windy roads. But the drive along the Transfăgărășan Highway was one of the most stunning drives I’ve taken in years and it gave me a wonderful glimpse into Romania’s majestic countryside. A place of sheep herders, men in horse drawn wagons, and women clothed in traditional long dresses. Old churches, stone walls and terra cotta rooftops awash in greenery and flowers were just as I had imagined it would be in the nostalgic Romanian countryside.

“Also labeled “the Road to the Sky”, “the Road to the Clouds”, “the Best Driving Road in the World” and even “A spectacular Monument to Earth-Moving Megalomania” the Transfăgărășan climbs, twists and descends right through Moldoveanu and Negoiu – the highest peaks in Fagaras Mountains and in Romania. This is no pass through a gap but a frontal assault, a stark and spectacular reminder of unchecked power stamping itself on an obstreperous landscape”. – Romanian Tourism

The Transfăgărășan Highway (DN7C) is the second highest paved road in Romania, after the Transalpina further west, which travels for 56 miles/90 km through the southern section of the Carpathian Mountain across the Făgăraş Mountains. The road twists and turns up to the altitude of 2,042 metres (6,699 ft) with enough hairpin curves to make your stomach leap and adrenalin rush with excitement.

Constructed from 1970-1974 during Ceaușescu’s iron-fist rule for presumably military reasons, this amazing feat of engineering required lots of money, manpower and dynamite making people question the true reasoning behind its very existence. At the time, there were plenty of other high mountain passes that could be used for strategic reasons yet  Ceaușescu instead that the Transfăgărășan Highway be built.

Today the Transfăgărășan Highway is one of the most touristic drives in Romania and driving enthusiasts, bikers, hikers, tourists and locals alike flock to this spectacular road making it one of the top scenic drives in the country.

Romanian countryside

Adventure Travel Romania TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION
Trinidad Cuba

Trinidad: The Color of Cuba

Tucked away atop the hillside of the surrounding Sierra del Escambray mountains in Central Cuba lies one of Cuba’s most precious colonial jewels: The beautiful colonial city of Trinidad. Founded in 1514 as Villa de la Santísima Trinidad by Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar, a Spanish conquistador, Trinidad has rightfully earned the reputation as one of the most beautiful and well-preserved colonial cities in all of Latin America.

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