Travel isn’t just a one-way ticket to self-improvement; it can also change lives on the other side. Here are our picks for 2018 adventures that will make an impact—both for the traveler and destination.
“New year, new me.” We’ve heard it all before. And, like you, we know our resolutions will last a microsecond before they’re flung out the window. So instead of focusing on how you can better yourself (chances are, you’re all right anyway) consider the ways you can help improve the world instead—and have an adventure.
From helping rebuild hurricane-battered Caribbean islands to sustainable husky sledding sojourns in Finland to walking the Masar in the Middle East, we’ve pulled together trips you can take in 2018 that’ll still give you everything you crave—adventure, growth, challenge, excitement—but also raise awareness, shift perceptions and provide resources to destinations in need. And in some cases, just give a much-needed cash injection into the local economies and communities.
Rebuild Dominica, Responsible Travel
Hurricane Maria hit the Caribbean hard this year, with many islands suffering loss of life, homes, and businesses. The ‘nature island’ of Dominica was one, with parts completely obliterated, and the harsh wind leaving 95 per cent of its trees without leaves.
In response, several tour operators have created new holidays where travelers can enjoy the island and help with rebuilding. On the Help rebuild Dominica after Hurricane Maria trip, you’ll stay and help at an ecolodge which needs everything from gardeners and anyone who can sew (to make school uniforms for children who lost theirs) to skilled carpenters and roofers. They also welcome donations of tools and school items. In between jobs, you can relax in hot springs, go snorkeling, and see Dominica’s famous waterfalls.
You can also help to clear debris from the island’s only long-distance path, the 185-kilometer Waitukubuli National Trail; the route is also a community tourism project, bringing revenue to nearby villages. And if you want to help while being at sea, this special yacht charter with purpose combines the two. When the company’s fleet manager lost her family’s farm and life savings, it prompted founder and CEO Ann McHorney to set up a Gofundme that’s already raised over $25,000. The itinerary includes clearing debris from the trail, and from the marine reserves and rivers, plus plenty of sightseeing, hiking, and cultural activities.
Trekking in the Caucasus, Walks Worldwide
After years of conflict, lesser-visited Georgia is beginning to hit its stride from a tourism perspective. Looking to showcase the heart of the destination, Walks Worldwide is offering a brand new group trekking adventure that aims to “explore the soul of Georgia on foot.” Starting in capital Tbilisi before heading north to Shatili then east to Omala, the challenging Trekking in the Caucasus trip promises a bounty of snow-capped peaks, rolling grasslands, plunging valleys, and dramatic rivers—not to mention abundant opportunities to meet and spend time with locals.
Led by local guides, trekkers will wild camp and stay with families in remote villages—completely cut off from the outside world—in which traditional life remains intact, and generous hospitality and delicious cuisine awaits (as documented by adventurer Levison Wood in his travelogue Eastern Horizons.) And while you find your feet on these exciting and unseen trails, you’ll be helping Georgia find its feet in the brave new world of tourism.
Find out more at Walks Worldwide.
Hetta Huskies, Finland
If Iceland is all the rage right now, Finland could well be the next red-hot, cold-climate destination—minus the crowds. So in effort to lessen the impact of overtourism in Iceland, why not consider Finland in 2018?
And no self-respecting traveler could possibly visit Finland without embarking on a husky sledding adventure. Not all husky sledding operators are created equal, however, and while many companies in the Arctic claim to provide their dogs with the highest quality of life possible, sadly this isn’t always the case.
Finland’s Hetta Huskies, however, has taken it upon itself to not only provide an ethical and sustainable husky sledding experience for travelers, but also to improve the industry overall. The company was awarded a gold in the 2015 World Responsible Tourism Awards for Best Animal Welfare Initiative.
Offering incredible short and multi-day husky safaris through arctic Finland, Hetta Huskies also provide a wealth of information on their website about the worldwide need for better welfare standards in the sled dog industry. They even offer a service that allows regular punters to adopt their elderly or injured dogs who can no longer run.
Find out more at Hetta Huskies.
Walk the Masar with Leon McCarron, Edge Expeditions
It’s not a region that gets the most positive press, but it’s one that offers so much, taking in some of the world’s oldest inhabited cities and a landscape of desert gorges, rocky mountains, and olive groves. It’s also home to some of the warmest people on earth; in fact, the idea behind this itinerary was to give a “human face” to the Middle East, as well as develop new trails, promote walking in the region, and encourage sustainable community tourism.
The 12-day trip from Edge Expeditions travels north to south in the West Bank along the ancient Masar Ibrahim al Khalil or Abraham’s Path, from the village of Rummaneh near Jenin all the way to Jerusalem, staying in family homestays and Bedouin settlements. The walk is led by Adventure.com’s new featured contributor, long-distance walker and adventurer Leon McCarron who says, “Of all the expeditions I’ve done, the Masar has been the most instantly inspiring.”
Find out more at Edge Expeditions.
Haiti is more than its disaster and aid-dominated headlines. There’s no doubt it’s had its fair share of challenges, from natural disasters to ongoing social and political unrest, but it has plenty to offer culture- and adventure-driven travelers; think undeveloped beaches, hidden waterfalls, centuries-old forts, and Vodou-infused art.
Curious about Haiti? One way to see the country while still making an impact is via English in Mind (EIM) Haiti, a non-profit Haitian-led adult English program in Port-au-Prince that aims to empower rising Haitian leaders through vocational training. Speaking English greatly improves Haitians’ chances of finding meaningful, long-term employment—jobs generated by the influx of foreigners, NGOs, and a developing tourism industry.
EIM Haiti’s volunteer and tourism trips are one way to support this Caribbean nation. Led by Haitian students, these trips provide them with rewarding work, simultaneously letting visitors see Haiti through a local’s eyes. Trips include language and culture exchange with the students, and experiencing the country under their lead, from hiking the mountains in Furcy to following Rara bands through the streets of Jacmel.
Find out more at EIM Haiti.
Aboriginal Cultural Tours, Australia
Just three per cent of modern-day Australia’s population is comprised of people of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent. That’s a whole lot of culture—some 50,000 years’ worth—that needs to be sought out. And it’s just not going to come to us.
Owner Quenten Agius has built an immersive and award-winning set of itineraries, offering travelers the opportunity to embark on coastal (Adjahdura) or outbush (Ngadjuri) tours, or both. “Our aim is to take people on journey, not only physically but also spiritually, to a place where they have never been to before,” says Agius. “With each tour, our guests gain a wealth of knowledge about Aboriginal heritage, culture, traditions, and beliefs.”
Find out more at Aboriginal Cultural Tours.
Raft, Kayak and Hike Albania, Much Better Adventures
When the team at Much Better Adventures heard that one of Europe’s last wild rivers was under threat of being dammed by the Albanian government, they took it upon themselves to use tourism as a weapon to fight back.
Scientists claim that plans to dam the Vjosa River—one of Europe’s last wild rivers—would completely destroy the local ecosystem, but locals are hoping to illustrate the potential of tourism as a sustainable economic alternative.
And thanks to Much Better Adventures, Albania’s untamed 167-mile Vjosa River can be rafted, kayaked and hiked over the course of an exciting (and sustainable!) two days. By encouraging people to “vote with their feet,” travelers will play their part in securing national park status for the Vjosa and its surroundings, while having a once-in-a-lifetime Albanian adventure in the process.
Find out more at Much Better Adventures.
Paraguay Expedition, Intrepid Travel
When you think about traveling to South America, what usually comes to mind is Brazil, Peru, Argentina, Chile or Bolivia; and lately, Colombia has been popping onto travelers’ radars. But fewer consider landlocked Paraguay, the much-ignored splash of land bordering Brazil, Argentina, and Bolivia. And with recent restrictions on access to Machu Picchu in an attempt to reduce visitor impact on Peru‘s most popular site, now’s the time to start to seek more magical places on the continent.
Intrepid Travel (part of the same parent company as Adventure.com) is hoping to remedy travelers’ ignorance with its brand-new-for-2018 Paraguay Expedition. Launched in early December 2017, the 12-day trip will see travelers sample the flavors of the capital Asunción, before exploring the subtropical Atlantic forest, the sprawling wetlands of the Ñeembucú and its 279 different bird species, and learning about the nation’s Jesuit history. For this less tourist-trodden destination, tourism could make a major impact in building and sustaining the local communities.
So if you want to escape the Instagram-obsessed herds on Peru’s Rainbow Mountain and Machu Picchu, consider Paraguay as a South American alternative.
Find out more at Intrepid Travel.
Social Tours, Nepal
It’s been an eventful two years for Nepal with the devastating earthquake of 2016, economic blockades, and the first general elections in almost 20 years. Social Tours, whose trips support local communities, promote entrepreneurs, and generate income for local people, has now created a fascinating 12-day Experience nepalNOW itinerary which helps travelers discover what makes Nepal tick.
You’ll see how the capital Kathmandu has got back on its feet post-earthquake, and better understand the country’s cultural, political and even architectural history. Travelers will also see the part Buddhism and Hinduism play in the Nepali psyche. The tour then explores the Kathmandu Valley to see life in rural Nepal—including meeting artisans who are keeping traditional skills alive—before ending with a stint in the lakeside town of Pokhara or wildlife haven of Chitwan National Park.
Find out more at Social Tours.
No Footprint/Lighthouse Relief, Greece
Struck by both a financial and refugee crisis, the last few years haven’t been kind to the people of Greece (or those hoping to enter Greece, for that matter.) Travelers hoping to head to this spectacularly storied part of Europe can help alleviate—if only in a small way—some of these difficulties through making better choices and being better informed.
Billed as Greece’s “ultimate eco-walking” company, No Footprint is focused on low-impact walking tours that maximize the positive impact on local people and the environment. All tours use local businesses, guesthouses, taverns, agriculture, and markets—and in a country dealing with a devastating national debt, tourist dollars can go a long way.
For those interested in helping refugees, the first step is research. Rushing over without finding out where your help is required will do no good; it could even add extra strain to other volunteers and services on the ground. Lighthouse Relief takes into account each volunteer applicant’s skills before deciding where they’ll be best situated to help.
Volcanoes Safaris, Rwanda and Uganda
Gorilla tourism isn’t just about seeing the great ape up-close; tourism has also helped to conserve this magnificent creature and one of the pioneering companies behind this is Volcanoes Safaris, renowned for their gorilla and chimpanzee tourism.
After the Rwandan genocide in the ‘90s, Volcanoes Safaris helped kick-start gorilla tourism in both Rwanda and neighboring Uganda; they were also the only private sector company to sign up to the UN Kinshasa Declaration on Saving the Great Apes. Now, they’re part of a wider aim to not only preserve the habitat of the great ape, but also ensure local communities benefit.
Volcanoes Safaris runs several safari tours including the popular six-day Gahinga and Virunga trip in Rwanda and Uganda. You’ll get to track gorillas and golden monkeys through pristine bamboo forests, climb a volcano, and get to know the Batwa people of southwestern Uganda through community and heritage tours. You’ll also trek to the grave of celebrated primatologist Dian Fossey and the gorilla cemetery where her favorite gorilla Digit, among others, has his final resting place.
Find out more at Volcanoes Safaris.
Maori cultural tours, New Zealand
New Zealand is streets ahead when it comes to celebrating its indigenous culture: Artwork and Maori greetings adorn most international airports; the All Blacks—their international rugby team—perform the Haka (a traditional Maori war dance) before every game; Maori language and history is taught in schools. But on a global scale, there’s still much to be done from an education perspective.
Luckily, there are plenty of on-the-ground adventures for those who want to dig deeper. Napier Maori Tours, run by a young local Maori family, offer ‘eco-cultural’ day tours along the protected Ahuriri Estuary where travelers can practise traditional fishing methods and take archaeological tours of an ancient Maori village, the largest and oldest in the country.
And if you find yourself in Northland—New Zealand’s northernmost peninsula—Footprints Waipoua offer Maori-led tours through the Waipoua Forest, home to Tana Mahuta, the country’s largest living tree.
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