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3p Weekend: 12 Offbeat Companies for the Conscious Traveler

Mary Mazzoni headshotWords by Mary Mazzoni
Leadership & Transparency
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With a busy week behind you and the weekend within reach, there’s no shame in taking things a bit easy on Friday afternoon. With this in mind, every Friday TriplePundit will give you a fun, easy read on a topic you care about. So, take a break from those endless email threads and spend five minutes catching up on the latest trends in sustainability and business.

Love to travel but hate the impact? You're not alone. After all, what's the point of going to a new place if you lay your head at a chain hotel, spend your days in crowded tour groups with other Americans and create little more than waste for the community you visit?

Luckily for the conscious and curious travelers out there, you can have the best of both worlds. This week we tip our hats to 12 offbeat tour companies that are perfect for the low-impact traveler. So, give it a read, and go out there and see something!

1. Alianza Mesoamericana de Ecoturismo (Mesoamerican Ecotourism Alliance)


This nonprofit sustainable tourism alliance weaves conservation into every trip. It starts by identifying conservation potential and desire for tourism in a mostly unexplored corner of Mesoamerica. The alliance then works to establish infrastructure, which not only serves tourists, but also the local community.

Working with local operators, the alliance helps communities bring their offerings to market. It currently offers tours in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Panama, ranging from developed to pristine environments.

2. Myths & Mountains


Established in 1988, Myths & Mountains provides cultural tours in Asia and South America. You can also travel with a purpose through its READ trips. "We wanted to give something back to the people who let us inside their homes," company president, Dr. Antonia Neubauer, told TriplePundit at the AdventureElevate conference in Colorado last week.

For every trip taken to Bhutan, India and Nepal, Myths & Mountains provides a donation to READ Global, a separate 501(c) nonprofit entity founded by Neubauer, to fund the construction of libraries and community centers for rural villagers. The nonprofit seeds for-profit businesses to make each library self-sustaining and "connect centers with other organizations providing such diverse resources as microcredit, women’s empowerment, literacy training and health care." To date, READ has established over 107 enterprises supporting almost 80 READ Centers serving almost 2 million rural villagers.

3. World Nomads


Insurance is a good idea for any adventure traveler. With insurance provider World Nomads, a portion of the price of insurance goes toward community development projects around the world.

Formed 10 years ago, World Nomads' Footprints program was established to help travelers make a difference through small donations to specific community projects. From free eye care to school tuition, these poverty alleviation projects "bring life and color" to the communities in which World Nomads operates, said Christina Tunnah, the company's regional manager for the Americas.

Users can also track their donation online, and each donor receives an email when their project is complete. The program has proven to be an overwhelming success: Last month, Footprints surpassed its millionth donor -- representing $2.4 million in funds raised and life-changing projects for more than 850,500 people.

4. Context Travel


Lifelong traveler Paul Bennett started Context Travel 12 years ago on a trip to Rome -- a city that, as he puts it, suffers from "an epidemic of mass tourism."

As an antidote to snooze-worthy tour groups and sweaty crowds, Context Travel brings intellectually-curious travelers together with local academics in more than 35 cities for offbeat and culturally vibrant tours.

If learning about the sites from a doctorate-level docent -- rather than a bored tour guide -- isn't awesome enough for you, Context is a fellow B Corp and donates a percentage of its profits to the Context Foundation for Sustainable Travel, a U.S.-based nonprofit that invests in projects that mitigate the impact of tourism on the seven cities where the company operates.

5. Untours


This B Corp travel company lives up to its name: No fancy-dancy hotels and overcrowded tour groups here. The 38-year-old company offers apartment-based independent vacation packages in Europe, bringing travelers together with locals for a truly unique experience.

Untours is also carbon neutral and donates nearly 100 percent of its profits to sustainability and poverty alleviation projects through the Untours Foundation.

6. Wilderness Travel

Wilderness Travel hosts low-impact adventure trips around the world and donates a portion of the proceeds to a conservation fund.

From bringing education to Nepalese Sherpa communities to conserving wilderness that's home to big cats and rhinos, the donation that accompanies your exotic treks makes a difference for thousands around the world.

7. Firefly Journeys


If you're looking to travel abroad, it can often seem tough to work with an in-country tour operator. Sure, you want your dollar to support the local community. But there's often a language barrier, and it can be stressful to send credit card information over the phone. Enter Firefly Journeys, which serves as U.S. sales office that connects Western travelers to in-country operators around the world.

Looking to make a difference when you travel? Firefly Journeys has just the ticket. Its latest voluntourism offering, Ace the Himalayas, allows visitors to help Nepalese communities recover from earthquake damage by rebuilding homes. At $1,199, the 13-day trek is both affordable and impactful: Travelers will enjoy the beauty of Nepal while spending three days helping villagers rebuild, and $200 of the trip price pays for building supplies.

8. Rios Tropicales


Enjoy ecotourism in Costa Rica while supporting reforestation and educational programs? Sounds like a win-win to us.

Established in 1985 and celebrating its 30th anniversary, Rios Tropicales offers whitewater rafting, biking, kayaking and more, but that's far from its only mission. In 1989, the company purchased 90 acres of rainforest along the Pacuare River near a small subsistence farming community. The previous owner planned to convert the area to farmland to feed his family, but Rios hired him to kickstart a restoration project instead. Since then, the company has purchased and restored 2,000 acres of Costa Rican rainforest in collaboration with travelers and local communities -- you can even plant a tree on your visit!

The company's roots in the community are deep: It employs 95 percent local staff and offers higher-education opportunities for its trekkers and guides. Not enough green for you? Rios is also carbon neutral, powers its operations with a hydropower plant and was one of the first tour companies of its kind to take up composting.

9. EcoVentura


Established in 1990, EcoVentura leads the way in expedition cruising in the Galapagos Islands. Due to the delicate nature of the Galapagos ecosystem, it's only natural that the company's roots are built on a foundation of sustainability.

In 2006, EcoVentura and the World Wildlife Fund teamed up to create the Galapagos Marine Biodiversity Fund, aimed at helping local communities manage natural resources through environmental education and marine conservation. It also provides ecology-related scholarships under the auspices of Ecology Project International, a nonprofit NGO, and has earned numerous accolades for its sustainability programs. The company also invites visitors to pack with a purpose by carrying 5 pounds of necessary supplies to donate to communities that need it.

3p founder Nick Aster took an EcoVentura trip to the Galapagos earlier this year. Click here to learn more about the experience (and check out his antics with giant tortoises).

10. Frontiers North Adventures

Frontiers North Adventures offers wildlife and nature travel in Northern Canada with a portion of the proceeds going toward conservation.

The company is also committed to invest in the communities in which it operates: It hires locally, buys locally and supports local causes.

11. Say Hueque


Want to get off the beaten path? Look no further. The No. 1 tour operator in Argentina, Say Hueque will connect you with a local guide and a custom-made itinerary through its TEEM Project.

The company also supports education and development in local communities through donations and employee volunteering.

12. REI Adventures

REI Adventures is known for its killer adventure trips, but did you know it also provides volunteer vacations?

The company teamed up with Conservation Volunteers International Program — a nonprofit dedicated to conserving iconic wilderness areas and cultural sites around the world — to make a difference with its trips.

Volunteers work alongside expedition leaders and local park rangers to do things like trail maintenance, restoration of wildlife habitat and collection of native plant seeds. Choose from five destinations: Galapagos, Machu Picchu, Torres del Paine, Virgin Islands and Yosemite.

Image credit: Flickr/David Berkowitz