It used to be that getting away for the trip of a lifetime was worth any cost, and I don’t just mean the one that gets deducted from your bank account. Jetting to and fro with not even a passing thought to offsets, the leveraging of native peoples for their [super inexpensive] labor and handicrafts, and plunking down a wad of bucks to ride elephants and cuddle with tiger cubs for selfies was de rigueur, even glamorous. Things that we’d never do at home, like …. oh I don’t know….eat whale? (Iceland) or swim with captive dolphins? (anywhere with enough water to create a sad little pool of deprivation) we’d give ourselves permission to do because, hey – it’s a vacation, people, and I’ve earned it! But hey, how about this newsflash – we don’t have to abandon our morals to have life-changing experiences on holiday. Read on.
Ethical tour operators have burst onto the scene like how-ya-like-me-now(!!) to save us all from the relationship we have with our reptilian brain – that part of us that goes, I know it’s bad but I wannnnnnnnt to. Just this one time….. Well, don’t. You’ll hate yourself for it later. Instead, principled travelers love these conscientious operators because they go the extra mile to find unique experiences that won’t have been reviewed hundreds of times in the top-10 TripAdvisor category du jour, and they contribute in a positive way socially, culturally, and economically. Think along the lines of participating in a rehabilitated sea turtle release, versus going to the market and buying one as a souvenir, or being invited to dinner in a local’s home versus dining at a multi-national chain. Blow your socks off moments are a specialty here, and you’ll sleep better at night booking with a company that puts ethics above greed. Plus, your memories will be extraordinary. Let’s take a look at some of the highest-rated Ethical Tour Operators. These can be booked worldwide, no matter where you’re based.
I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.-Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
Intrepid Travel: Small Groups, Big Adventures Lauded as a gamechanger, Intrepid is an Australian based company offering extraordinary journeys all over the globe. It was the first to remove elephant riding from its tours in 2014, and they’ve been carbon neutral since 2010. Intrepid uses local guides, supporting the communities in which they operate – people who know the nuances of a location and the secret hidden places that haven’t yet made the guidebooks. Share an unforgettable meal with the Maasai people of Kenya, horse ride through vast tobacco farms in Viñales, Cuba or stay amongst Siberia’s nomadic reindeer herders above the Arctic Circle, land of the midnight sun. Bucket list stuff, for sure.
G Adventures: Go for Good “Our world deserves more you,” they say. Offering travel options including Wellness Tours, National Geographic Journeys and even Private Travel planning, no one is missing out on what makes them tick. G Adventures operates under the belief that travel is a cultural exchange, and we give back as much as we receive. Partnering with the Planeterra Foundation means lives are impacted positively, and travelers are treated to authentic adventure, in whatever capacity that suits. In Greece, voyage the Cyclades by sea with ouzo in hand, in Jaipur, become kin for a day and join a local family for shopping and a cooking lesson, and in France, go beyond the yawny usual with a Burgundy river cruise.
&Beyond: Ethical Luxe An ethos that touts, ‘care of the land, wildlife and people’ drives the tailormade luxury tours and small group journeys on offer from this company. Chiefly safari specialists, they’ve now expanded onto three continents including Asia and South America – in addition to Africa, of course. If you’ve got a bee in your bonnet for animals and culture, and the deep pockets to pay your way, &Beyond won’t disappoint. Visit Spier Winery in the Cape Winelands to see its rehabilitation center for birds of prey with your tasting or Jeep trek through Kaziranga (India) with eyes wide open for hopeful sightings of one-horned rhinos, Asian elephants and hoolock gibbons. For the truly adventurous, participate in conservation research with the once in a lifetime opportunity to notch or de-horn a rhino on a private and protected South African game reserve, Phinda. I mean, really. Up close and personal with a RHINO guilt-free? Sign me up!
Better Places Travel: Pioneering Hearts This certified B Corp operates in a more bespoke fashion. Have something in mind that you want to do, but aren’t sure how to plan it? Better Places connects you with vetted local travel experts to plan your trip. Their website lists sample travel itineraries which can be snooped for inspiration, and by planning with them, the minutiae of transport and timing is taken care of. Interested in Vietnam? Perhaps they’ll recommend the night train to Hue. In Jamaica, you might consider a treehouse villa in the Portland region, which is much less touristed than Negril or Montego Bay.
Responsible Travel: Keeping It Real Booming since 2001, Responsible Travel is a matchmaker of sorts selling tours from over 400 ethical operators worldwide. These tours can be as specialized and individual as you like, or you can choose from among a plethora of ready-made options, all the while knowing that your footprint will be small and your memories will be major. From a luxury fitness holiday in Spain to off the beaten path in Bali, offerings are extremely diverse, and basically, if you can think it, they can make it happen.
What do you think? Is ethical travel on your radar? How are you lightfooted when you holiday?