EASY ECOTOURISM TIPS: 10 Simple Steps To More Sustainable Travel

Whether you call it ecotourism, green travel, responsible travel, nature travel or ethical travel, the ethos oftraveling more sustainably is becoming an increasingly hot topic in the tourism industry. But if people seem to have a difficult time figuring out which name to call the “take only pictures, leave only footprints” approach, they seem to have an even harder time figuring out practical ways to do it. And to play online casino games in New Zealand using NZ$, go to onlinecasinokiwi.co.nz , where you can find a list of best casinos for Kiwis.

The truth is, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to become a more eco-friendly traveler. In fact, becoming more conscious about HOW you travel can actually save you money. Better still, when responsibly applied, the principle ideals of ecotourism can stimulate financial growth in developing nations, strengthening the global economy.

Individually, one person taking these baby steps to going green might not seem to make much of an impact. But if we all take simple strides towards being more conscious of our impact in the planet, collectively we can make a world of difference. Here are 10 easy ecotourism tips so you can travel more responsibly and sustainably, not just for Earth Day but for every day!

1. PACK LIGHT- Lightening up your load saves money on baggage fees and increases plane fuel-efficiency. Pack items that can be washed in the sink and are quick drying so they can be worn multiple times during your trip. We recommend (but do not receive compensation from) the ExOfficio brand, and wear it everywhere we travel.

2. SAVE WATER- Take shorter showers, turn off the faucet while shaving and brushing your teeth, and re-use towels for multiple days. And NEVER use the hotel laundry, as they typically wash each guest’s clothes separately, even if there are only a few items.

3. SAVE ENERGY- When you leave your hotel room, turn off the lights, heat/AC and TV. Consider leaving the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door so that the housekeeping staff won’t clean your room every day, which will save on harsh chemical cleaning supplies and the electricity of vacuuming and washing bed linens.

4. REDUCE/REUSE/RECYCLE- Take a BPA-free water bottle you can refill, use just one bar of soap for both sink and shower, return brochures and maps once you’re finished using them, and hold on to your trash until you find a place to recycle it.

5. BUY LOCAL- Seek out indigenous artisans and learn about their craft. When we were in the Riviera Mayanear Coba, we saw tons of assembly line art, but wound up buying from a man who taught local children and tourists the ancient craft of Mayan pottery and distributed profits equally among families in his village.

6. LEAVE ONLY FOOTPRINTS- Stick to marked trails to avoid harming native flora, and consider taking a bag to pick up trash along your journey. Not only is it a great way to help keep the outdoors beautiful, but it also protects wildlife that might eat or get tangled in the garbage.

7. BE A TRAVELER, NOT A TOURIST- Take time to immerse yourself in the local music, art and cuisine. Embrace the cultural differences that make it unique. Get to know the locals and how they view life. You might be surprised at the things you learn when you open your mind to new ideas!

8. HONOR LOCAL TRADITIONS- Some cultures have very different traditions from yours. Women are forbidden to show skin in some Muslim countries. For some, being photographed in like having your soul stolen. Understand and respect these traditions, or risk offending the people whose culture you’re there to experience.

9. GIVE BACK- Developing nations are badly in need of basic necessities most people take for granted. Traveling gives you a unique experience that stays with you for the rest of your life. In return, consider giving something back, such as bringing school supplies on tours in which you know you’ll interact with locals.

10. SHOP SMARTER- Read labels, and ask questions like “What is this item made from?” All over the planet people sell items made from non-sustainable hardwoods, endangered species, and ancient artifacts. It may be alright in their country to sell them, but you can still vote with your wallet by refusing to buy them.

About Green Global Travel

Green Global Travel is an ecotourism, nature/wildlife conservation & cultural preservation website focused on inspiring people to travel more adventurously, consciously and sustainably. Co-founded by veteran journalist Bret Love and photographer/videographer Mary Gabbett, the site has been named Best Specialist Travel Blog and has been highlighted among the best travel writing on the web numerous times by National Geographic’s Intelligent Travel. We’ve also been featured by BBC News, the Chicago Tribune, The Guardian, Huffington Post, NPR and Today. We are also co-founders of Green Travel Media, which utilizes a talented group of experienced media professionals– journalists, editors, travel bloggers, photographers, videographers, marketers and social media experts– united to provide a powerful platform for promoting eco-conscious brands on a mass scale.

Four Off-the-Beaten-Path Responsible Travel Experiences in Peru

With plenty of investment in transport and tourism infrastructure it is now possible to see the highlights of Peru, including the relatively remote Machu Picchu, in just a few short days. Spend just a little more time, however, and you will begin to uncover some of the ‘hidden’ Peru – people and places that most visitors don’t get to experience, all while contributing to local livelihoods and communities.

Here are four examples of ethical and responsible slow travel experiences in Peru that foster interaction with local communities, provide stable livelihoods, and enhance the wellbeing of host communities throughout the Andean region.

Tierra de los Yachaqs

Working together with several communities in the Sacred Valley, La Tierra de los Yachaqs preserves the culture of the local people while allowing them to support their economy through responsible tourism.

La Tierra de Los Yachaqa

Crucial to this initiative is that the design and operation of the tourism remains in the hands of the community members, selecting the aspects of their culture they want shown and determining how they want to portray these aspects. Each of the five communities has its own unique experiences, and during a visit guests can pick and choose combinations of the activities depending on their own tastes and interests.

For example, visitors can engage in a textile demonstration or an exploration of herbal medicine and homeotherapy at the community of Amaru, learn about the traditional and sustainable agricultural practices of the Huayllafara community, or participate in the gastronomy experience, trying locally grown and traditionally prepared food of the Huchuy Qosqo community. These are just a few of the opportunities available to visitors of this ethical and sustainable experience.

Luquina Chico

At the tip of the Chucuito peninsula of Lake Titicaca lives the indigenous, Aymara-speaking community of Luquina Chico. The village is relatively small and seldom visited, yet the rural population living here as maintained thousands of years of tradition, apparent in its festivals, the clothing, and their everyday rituals.

Luquina Chico

This Andean community, whose way of life continues to be unaffected by mass tourism in the region, is protected by strict travel regulations with the guidance of an NGO called Swiss Contact. Supporting the local community financially, the Luquina Chico initiative raises money and uses the funds to help alleviate poverty in the region, raise their living standards, and provide basic necessities.

During the visit, travelers will have opportunities to view, and participate in, the daily rituals of farming, fishing, sailing, and cookery that allow this community to retain its self-sustainability. Visitors of the Luquina Chico community also have the privileged opportunity to enjoy the traditional dancing and music during the various festivities celebrated here.

Kusi Kawsay School

Located in the Urubamba Valley, walking distance from the Pisac market in Cusco, the Kusi Kawsay (meaning “happy life” in Quechua) school teaches students ranging from kindergarten to 8th grade. The school was founded by five families dedicated to improve the school system in the area, and through grants, donations, and personal sacrifice, they have raised, and continue to raise, money to fund the school and provide the area’s children with an alternative style of education.

Kusi Kawsay’s pedagogy aims to promote high self-esteem to its underprivileged youth through the integration of the native and traditional Andean culture into the classroom, allowing students to fuse their education and culture into one empowering identity.

The school welcomes visitors to come see the classrooms, interact with the students, observe the teaching principles, and contribute financially to the improvement of education for children in the Sacred Valley.

Living Heart

NGO Living Heart, a UK registered charity, provides a wide range of services to a variety of communities throughout the Sacred Valley. Founder Sonia Newhouse utilized her entrepreneur and organic gardening skills, compassion, and integrity as a foundation for what later would become a successful organization that would improve the lives of countless women, children, and communities in need.

Among many other services the charity provides, Living Heart donates educational and school materials to local children, organizes art and theater classes with volunteer teachers, delivers nutritional food to children and the elderly, teaches them about sustenance and healthy habits including contraception, and works on water purification projects to eliminate the risk of water-born parasites.

Collaborating extensively with the local communities and assessing their needs, Living Heart provides cost-effective and sustainable solutions that provide safety, knowledge, and a brighter future for Andean communities in need.

Visitors can get involved with Sonia Newhouse’s NGO during their trip by choosing to donate one of the essential items on their Wish List or more directly by volunteering your teaching, marketing, medical, engineering, agricultural, or other areas of expertise.

Short-Term Voluntours – Can You Really Make A Difference?

Voluntourism has generated a new wave in travel, the growing feel good factor creating opportunities for the everyday traveller and not just the career minded charity worker. But the question remains, can you make a difference when you’re a short-term tourist? The debate appears to be ongoing, however, it’s not essential to be on a three-month sabbatical or longer stint if you want to give something back to the country you are visiting.

The African continent is a good place to start, adventurers in search of the Big Five also helping out on more practical projects.

Building and painting local schools in Uganda is valuable input. Of course, you might be visiting the project for just one day, but you’re still a much needed pair of hands, and non-profit projects with little in the way of budgets will welcome that kind of practical assistance with open arms.

Your first step into the world of vouluntourism – On an overlanding tour you’ll have the opportunity to visit seven or eight countries in Africa, and along the way there are usually various community and conservation based programmes on offer. Whether you decide to participate in an ethical project or simply gain some understanding from the local scheme on a guided tour, you’ll bring back some relevant insight that might help you decide on a more focused voluntour next time you visit. Remember, even on a two-week experience it’s a real commitment, and it’s important to invest your time in something you believe in, making prior hands on knowledge invaluable.

More specific voluntour itineraries will enable you to gain a deeper understanding of the project’s aims and build closer relationships with your fellow travellers and members of the local community who also help to make it happen.

Where to Head?

Zanzibar is often seen as a sun sea and sand destination, but it’s now home to an exciting educational project. Illiteracy affects over 40% of the Spice Island’s population, then again you don’t need to have a teaching qualification to get involved. The activities range from assisting with the education of with primary school classes to adult education, and you will also have the opportunity to be involved in recycling and tree planting programmes; the scheme endeavouring to engineer a more well-rounded approach to the needs of the community, whether its education or conservation.

With the Big Five being central to almost any itinerary in Africa there’s the option to combine game viewing and volunteering on many tours. Undoubtedly, the wildlife is still the main draw for anyone choosing to travel on the continent so organisations involved in the protection of endangered animals are becoming part and parcel of the whole voluntour industry. And, what better place to start than the Masai Mara, host of the annual migration. Volunteers coming on board from July to October will certainly be assured of a little more excitement, and a two-way ethical scheme, there is the opportunity to learn from the Masai tribe, ethical travellers assisting on conflict management programmes and helping to improve educational facilities in the area.

Your Checklist to Voluntouring
* If you’re not sure how to make the best of your skills, look out for one day voluntour experiences within a tour, you’ll gain much needed insight when it comes to taking a longer commitment

* There are plenty of voluntour experiences out there, but quiz the company you are booking with. If the travel advisor is able to give you a detailed description of what’s on offer, it will speak volumes about their involvement

* Check out the options in Africa, as you may well be able to combine a voluntour holiday with some additional sight seeing and game viewing

* Ask about the ratio of local and tourist involvement. In general, voluntour projects that show a strong concern for local labour are rated more highly when it comes to their values and ethics

Go Local Iceland: Grassroots Efforts to Promote Responsible Rural Tourism

Local Travel Movement in Iceland

In July 2010, I published an article on the Local Travel Movement website about how I saw tourism in Iceland at the time. I’ve always been particularly interested in regions off the beaten tourist track, which in the past would often be overlooked and overshadowed by the more commonly promoted highlights and ‘must-sees’ of Iceland.

In this context, I’ve been thinking about the different types of experiences tourists can gain while traveling, based on what kind of travel they choose. Over the years I’ve come to find that there are many people all over the world who are ready to travel mindfully and give themselves enough time to explore local culture and nature in a respectful manner. In light of this, I felt empowered and inspired to dedicate my time and efforts to promoting this type of travel in Iceland.

Initially, I had many questions about how to move forward with this. After a year of working on the Go Local Iceland initiative and exploring Icelandic tourism even further, I have arrived at some answers to these questions. In my quest for answers, I have also come up with some new questions and concerns.

Uniting Tourism Providers in Iceland

Tourism in Iceland is a young industry, and therefore is relatively uncoordinated. For example, in Eyjafjordur (the longest fjord in Iceland), there is not one institution that is responsible for promoting the fjord as a whole. There are seven municipalities included in the area of Eyjafjordur, although each municipality finds it more important to focus on their own designated area rather than on the fjord as a whole.

While Eyjafjordur represents great potential for local travel, it is not promoted as a destination in a cohesive manner and is every year losing thousands of potential visitors, who visit the touristic magnet of Grimsey Island, which is located in Eyjafjordur but don’t take the time to also explore the whole fjord with all of its beauty.

The Go Local Iceland initiative focuses on solid cooperation with local tourism providers who are interested in improving ethical standards of tourism. By uniting these people and organizations under one common platform we will be able to connect them directly to mindful travelers all over the world.

There are many rural destinations in Iceland that don’t get as much attention from mainstream tourists as do the typical Icelandic highlights. However, these relatively untouched places are dream destinations for the mindful traveler. It is important that such travelers find their way to these rural places. With some local assistance and guidance, you can find ways to reach any hidden fjord in any part of Iceland, whether you choose a destination in nature that is near or far from populated towns and settlements.

As of May 2011, I’ve carried out a total of 28 interviews with local tourism providers in Eyjafjordur. This research was a very important step for me, and has helped me to understand how local tourism providers see themselves and others, as well as what their visions for the future are. The results of the interviews varied quite a bit. However, a unifying concept was the desire to be advertised under one common image. These interviews, based on appreciative inquiry, contained some great material; the results of the study have been borrowed for use in further research within the tourism department of one of the universities here in Iceland.

Go Local Iceland continues to support local tourism providers, such as Iceland Hiking Tours, and our team continues to write about current offers in tourism in Eyjafjordur and the Troll Peninsula, regardless of municipal borders. You can view these Iceland Travel Tips here.

About the Author: Lenka Uhrova

Lenka was born in Slovakia, but has since spent many years in Iceland volunteering, working in the tourism industry, and forging sustainable tourism initiatives across the country. She has an educational background in tourism, although upon attaining her degree she was rather unmotivated to work in the tourism industry due to issues and controversies of the time. Something did not feel right. It was at this time that she discovered a deep passion for volunteering and community development, and a wish to work for an NGO. This passion for volunteering has been a constant over the years, and so as soon as she had the opportunity, she set off for a year-long volunteer project in Iceland. Having been working as a freelance trainer in non-formal education and facilitating various projects, she was lucky enough to return to Iceland a few years later, where she met the man of her life and settled in a small fishing village in North Iceland. At this point, she began to recognize both the potentials and threats of tourism in Iceland. She set to work conducting research on the subject, and volunteering in the field. Before long she started her own initiative, GO LOCAL ICELAND, with the aim of improving ethical standards in tourism.

ecoDestinations Scandinavia

From unique traditional foods to cutting-edge green technologies, to amazing natural wonders from across the region, Scandinavia offers a Smörgåsbord of eco-travel and adventure opportunities! Check out the ecoDestinations Scandinavia feature, and Explore various opportunities available for travelers and destinations from around the world, and support our efforts to protect and promote amazing travel experiences. Share your photos, stories and tips, and spread the word!

The Happy Planet Index as Travel Guide

Ethical tourism is not just about travel choices made on the road or steering clear of the over-capacity beaten path. It’s also about choosing destinations based on where tourism is most needed and deserved. In the past, calls for boycotts have tried to discourage travelers from visiting certain places, with mixed results. Perhaps a more effective approach is positive reinforcement – rewarding destinations that are making progress and doing things well.

The Ethical Traveler’s 10 Best Destinations

Each year, the Ethical Traveler comes out with a list of The Developing World’s 10 Best Ethical Destinations. The organization, which hopes to “empower travelers to change the world,” uses three main criteria. They consider environmental protection, social welfare, and human rights in developing countries, paying close attention to how they have recently changed and improved.

The lineup for 2011 is: Argentina, Barbados, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominica, Latvia, Lithuania, Palau, Poland, Uruguay.

In this rating, countries make the list by demonstrating growth in all three areas. For example Costa Rica returned to the list after being omitted last year because it took real steps in addressing human trafficking issues. Meanwhile, Belize did not make the cut because of a growing problem with child sex tourism.

The Ethical Traveler does a great job thinking about tourism as economic clout that can influence policy and planning in a destination. But for longer-term travelers who live abroad for awhile, impact reaches far beyond spending money.

The Three Components of the Happy Planet Index

The Ethical Traveler’s list is a blend of three important variables – the environment, social welfare, and human rights. Over the past decade, another index has emerged with a similar idea. The Happy Planet Index (HPI) ranks countries based on life expectancy, life satisfaction, and per capita ecological footprint. The reasoning is to identify places that offer long, happy lives that don’t cost the earth.

The second ranking from the HPI was released in 2009, with troubling results. No place on earth is able to provide long, happy lives for its people while staying within environmental limits of “one-planet living*.” To achieve one-planet living, a country must keep its ecological footprint below the level that corresponds to its fair share given the world’s current biocapacity and population.

*”If everyone in the world lived like an average European, we would need three planets to live on. If everyone in the world lived like an average North American, we would need five planet to live on.” (One Planet Living)

The countries that come closest to long, happy lives with one-planet environmental impact are often middle-income countries. Latin America, for example, does particularly well on the HPI. The latest top-ranking countries on the HPI: Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Guatemala, Vietnam, Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador and Brazil.

The Happy Planet Index data on a World Map (HappyPlanetIndex.org/explore)

What does the HPI mean for travel? Travelers love to speculate about how happy the people of a destination are. It’s an important aspect of place. Looking at the ‘life satisfaction’ variable alone, good data exists to inform the speculation. Combining this with life expectancy as an approximation of health, “happy life years” can be quantified.

The usual winners emerge: Scandinavia, Western Europe, and Anglo-Saxon countries of Australia, Canada, and the US. If health and happiness are the only concerns, then maybe there’s no need to leave home. What sets these countries behind on the HPI is their disproportionate ecological footprint per capita. The longest, happiest lives are often the ones that are costing the planet the most.

Lowering Environmental Impact by Living Somewhere Else

Longer-term travel is a rising trend. Students from all over are following Britain’s example of a ‘gap year’ before university. Study abroad and volunteer tourism are also gaining popularity. International travel is occurring to more and more people as a way to spend a chapter of life rather than just a way to take a short break from it.

For an environmentally-minded long-term travelers who like to park their backpacks and call a place home for awhile, some important questions arise. Can living in a place with lower per capita ecological footprint decrease individual footprint? Are health and happiness compromised in the process?

Of course, individual carbon footprint is always a function of personal choices. It doesn’t matter where in the world you are if you’re driving a hummer, flying frequently, and eating imported meat for every meal.

What is it like to live in a country whose per capita ecological footprint is within the “one-planet” limit? The HPI could be seen as an atlas for those who want to find out. If a traveler lives like an average local resident for awhile, then theoretically their individual footprint will be similar to the local population’s. At that level, can high standards of health and happiness still be maintained? The HPI offers good insight about where in the world it is most possible to find the best of both worlds.

If you’re thinking about volunteering, studying, working, or just living abroad for awhile, check out Ethical Traveler’s list and the Happy Planet Index. They overlap in some interesting areas. Parts of Latin America are making a lot of progress that deserves tourism attention, and the region also does well in the HPI. Three small island countries appear in the top ten of both.

Find a destination where you can reinforce progress. If you stay long enough, your destination may even influence your own ecological footprint, health, and happiness.

Pack for a Purpose: Making a Difference, Five Pounds at a Time

How to Make Big Impact with Little Effort

Pack for a Purpose™ is a newly founded non-profit organization dedicated to providing needed educational materials and medical supplies to children around the world. The organization was founded on the principal that every little bit helps, and all it takes to get involved is to use a small amount space in your luggage for supplies when packing for a trip abroad.

The concept is simple, and getting involved is easy. The Pack for a Purpose website lists, by country, the contact information for lodges around the world already supporting legitimate educational and medical community projects, and their specific needs based on the projects they sponsor.

All travelers need to do is visit the site, find a listing for a location where they are staying on their vacation, and bring a few pounds of the requested supplies in their luggage to drop off when they arrive. Each lodge listed on the Pack for a Purpose website has been contacted about the program, has agreed to participate, and will eagerly welcome all contributions from travelers.

The first time we took supplies, we visited a local school in Botswana and the kids were playing soccer with a ball of rags tied together with string. It’s startling to see just how little some of the schools and clinics have to work with.

Five pounds can be as much as 400 pencils or five deflated soccer balls. While crayons, Band-Aids and similar items are very simple things that most Americans take for granted, many people in the places where we have traveled just don’t have them. We can all find a little space in our luggage for a bag of supplies. If enough people make small contributions, we have the potential to make an enormous positive impact.

Changing the Way World Travelers Pack

The idea behind Pack for a Purpose came to me while talking to my travel agent regarding a trip to Kenya in 2008. I asked the agent why his other safari clients did not also use some of their luggage allowance for taking supplies. “Because nobody thinks about it,” he said. That was my Aha moment. “Then I need to provide a way for them to think about taking supplies.” I told the agent.

From that conversation, Pack for a Purpose was born.

One of the first contacts we established for the program was Michelle Puddu of Wilderness Safaris in South Africa. My husband and I had personally worked with Puddu to bring many hundreds of pounds of school supplies to South Africa and Botswana over the course of several different trips.

“The idea is a brilliant one – it costs almost nothing on the part of the donor, just a great deal of kindness and a small amount of effort,” Puddu said. “This is the type of goodwill that nobody really thinks about, but makes a big difference.”

Initially, we identified 25 locations in popular tourist destinations in Africa, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. The goal is to identify all appropriate locations on every continent and in every country where vacation travelers are already staying and can drop off needed supplies. To facilitate this, visitors to the Pack for a Purpose website can go to the contact page and submit an appropriate lodging for consideration.

As word spreads and more travelers participate, we have the potential to deliver several tons of needed supplies each year directly to the people who need them. Pack for a Purpose makes it easy for everyone – vacation travelers, honeymooners and business travelers – to contribute in a meaningful way.

TIES Business Members on Pack for a Purpose

Here are a few examples of TIES business members participating in Pack for a Purpose, and the items needed for the local community projects that the lodges support.

Arenas del Mar Beach & Nature Resort (Costa Rica): Printer paper, graphite and coloured pencils, construction paper, rulers, clay, scissors, glue, dictionaries, markers and white boards, pens, notebooks, crayons, erasers, uniforms, coloring books, accessories for motor skills development such as puzzles.
Lapa Rios Ecolodge (Costa Rica): Games (e.g. Shoots and Ladders, checkers, dominoes, playing cards), mathematical functions flash cards, soccer balls, uniforms and cleats, jump ropes, jacks, frisbees, clean, second hand children’s clothing (both boys and girls, ages 6-15 years).
Yachana Lodge (Ecuador): Laptop computers (new and used), white board markers, deflated soccer balls, books in Spanish, solar calculators, rulers, pens, pencils, large maps.
>> See full list of destinations & participating businesses

More about Pack for a Purpose
Pack-for-a-Purpose_logoRebecca Rothney, a former North Carolina school teacher turned entrepreneur, founded Pack for a Purpose along with her husband, Scott and several friends. For more information about Pack for a Purpose, travel locations, lists of needed supplies and other ways to get involved

Considering Voluntour-ing? Tips for Travelers – Daniela Ruby Papi, PEPY Tours

Wondering what it’d be like to participate in a voluntourism trip? Interested in making a difference through travel but not sure where to start? This week, TIES asked Daniela Ruby Papi of PEPY Tours and Danielle Weiss of Planeterra Foundation for their insights into on-the-ground voluntourism experiences and some advice for travelers interested in learning more about voluntourism.

Read on to find out what voluntourism means to Daniela and PEPY Tours!
*For our interview with Danielle, see: “Considering Voluntour-ing? Tips for Travelers – Danielle Weiss, Planeterra Foundation”

Ask Daniela – PEPY Tours

TIES: If you were to summarize, in 100 words or less, the reason PEPY Tours is engaged in voluntourism, what would it be?

Daniela: Our goal is that people who join us on a trip will be inspired to live, travel and give differently after their trip to Cambodia. We aim to expose travelers to the people and ideas that are having the most impact on the issues we are looking to effect change in: education, the environment, and health. We focus less on service and more on learning, and like to look at our trips as edu-ventures: educational adventures which allow travelers to support projects, programs, and people we believe in. We think experiential learning is the best way to change attitudes and actions, so rather than teaching the lessons we have learned about development via writing and books, we want to expose travelers to these ideas in an experiential way through our tours.

TIES: Have you received any requests or suggestions from travelers who have participated in PEPY Tours’ voluntours to change the way the tours are run? If so, what was the feedback and how was it implemented?

Daniela: We have been operating PEPY Tours for four years and our initial tours were very focused on giving travelers volunteer opportunities. Slowly we realized that the best projects we wanted to support were working to build human capacity and to improve systems in Cambodia, not building or giving things. As such, it was harder to incorporate travelers into all of the projects we were supporting because they couldn’t add value to teacher training the way they could with school building.

As we began to offer less service and more learning, we started to get feedback from travelers that they wanted more hands-on volunteer projects. Rather than cater to those requests, we began changing the way we marketed our trip to be more focused on the learning aspects of our tours and, even more importantly, on the how’s and why’s of the decisions we have made to our travelers themselves.

Now, when guests turn in their feedback forms at the end of trips, they often reflect that they had previously thought they would be able to add value physically on their trips, but were grateful that they learned on the trip that the biggest ways they were adding value were through funds supporting longer-term projects and by the actions they will take when they leave. That is EXACTLY the attitudes we want people to walk away with!

TIES: Tell us about your first voluntourism experience (personal or professional) and the impact that the trip has had on your life.

Daniela: My first voluntourism experience was with Habitat for Humanity in Nepal. I left that experience so grateful for the chance to interact with and learn from Nepalese people during our building project. I decided that I wanted to travel that way “at least once a year from now on,” and I did. I went with Habitat to the Philippines and Papua New Guinea and then independently to Sri Lanka after the Tsunami.

It took me a while to realize that the key wasn’t to try to “do good” now and then to compensate for the rest of my year, but to actually change how I lived and my daily actions to have a better impact overall. I realized, after starting PEPY, that pursuing a career which allowed me to learn from and with other travelers to improve the impact we all have when we travel was a way for me to do work I believed in and was passionate about year-round. I attribute that first trip to Nepal as an influential.

TIES: What would you recommend first-time voluntour participants to do before their trip so they will be prepared to make a difference?

Daniela: Learn! Learn about the organization you will be working with, the area, the issues, etc. Setting the historical and cultural context of the place will help you learn even more when you travel. In addition, I would read things like “To Hell with Good Intentions” by Ivan Illich or other critics of western aid travel. Though not any one of these views is “right,” it is just important to hear other voices than just those saying “GO ABROAD AND SAVE THE WORLD!”.

The best impact we can have are with how we live our daily lives and the influences we have on the people and the world around us. Setting up your mind to be in a place to learn during your travels, not just to give, will set you up to be better able to transfer the new skills and ideas you learn into your daily life.

TIES: What should travelers participating in PEPY Tours’ Cambodia voluntour program expect from their voluntour-ing experience, and what should they not expect?

Daniela: Don’t expect that the world can be changed in a week or a month or a year. What CAN be changed is YOU. If you expect that you will be plugged into a hole and be able to add value right away during your trip then you will probably be disappointed. Instead, you will be most likely to make the most impact by being willing to do whatever is needed of you at the time.

Sometimes the biggest impacts you can have are meeting people, sharing and learning from them, and showing them that you care about learning about their culture and their work. By seeing how your work is a part of something much larger, that started before you got there and will continue after you leave, you will see how your investment of time adds value.

The biggest changes don’t always happen in a short time so if you expect to start and finish a project in your time there, you will be disappointed. Instead, look to add value when and where you can, and then follow up to learn about the longer term impact you are having even after you leave!

About PEPY Tours

PEPY Tours offers edu-ventures, from bike tours to service learning experiences in rural Cambodia. By traveling with PEPY, your funds and time are channeled into on-going educational programs operated by PEPY’s local staff members. PEPY Tours are designed share lessons about development and responsible travel and influence how we all live, travel, and give in the future. This is highlighted by PEPY’s tag line: Adventurous Living. Responsible Giving.TM The team at PEPY Tours worked with a range of industry professionals to create internal monitoring guidelines for voluntourism which was just launched on Voluntourism101.com. PEPY Tours was recently chosen as a winner in the National Geographic and Ashoka Geotourism Challenge.

About Daniela Papi, Director, PEPY & PEPY Tours

Daniela Ruby PapiDaniela Papi is the director of PEPY, an educational development organization working in rural Cambodia. PEPY is funded in part through PEPY Tours, and edu-venture tour company offering cycling trips and service learning experiences in South East Asia. Driven by a young group of social entrepreneurs, in the past four years PEPY has grown from a one-off bike ride which funded the construction of a rural school to a non-governmental organization working in over 10 schools and employing over 30 local staff. Daniela is active in the voluntourism sector, speaking regularly on the both the negative and positive impacts of this growing trend and encouraging industry players to be self-reflective and proactive in measuring their impact. Daniela was a finalist for the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards. Daniela grew up in New York but has spent the last seven years in Asia working in education and tourism. She currently manages PEPY from her home in Siem Reap, Cambodia.