It's easy to travel the world without really seeing anything.
We've all done it: With only a few days to spare, we reduce our chosen destinations to checklists of 'must-see' tourist sites. Our trips become formulaic: Go, snap a photo and move on to the next. Without immersive experiences, we're often left with little to show for our adventures but a few poorly-composed landscape shots, which, let's be honest, the Lonely Planet photographer is way better at capturing anyway. The vibrant cultures we visit beckon us, but it's up to us to answer the call.
Here at TriplePundit, our favorite way to do this is through adventure in its most literal sense: Get outside. Hike the road less traveled. Appreciate the beauty of your surroundings, and ask locals what it means for them.
REI Adventures is working to make that philosophy easier. Taking the love of the outdoors projected by its parent company, REI, to new heights, REI Adventures invites travelers to get off the beaten path on 150 trips that span all seven continents. I recently returned from a seven-day hiking trip with them through Machu Picchu and Peru's Sacred Valley. And it didn't take me long to realize the outdoor focus is not only essential to REI Adventures' trips, but it also defines REI Adventures as a company. Cynthia Dunbar, general manager of REI Adventures, seemed to agree:
"One of the things that sets us apart from other adventure travel companies is we're focused on activity. We really embrace the activity segments that REI is behind: hiking, climbing, backpacking, kayaking, cycling. We create trips all over the world that support those activity segments -- and really our focus is being active in some of the world's best places."
While other groups of 40-plus travelers dozed off to history lessons in monotone, we skirted the crowds and learned about local culture in digestible and vivid snapshots -- delivered with contagious enthusiasm by guides who looked as happy to be there as we were. Of course, this is no accident. REI Adventures hand-picks each of its local guides, partnering with individuals and operators who share the company's values: enjoy the outdoors through travel while leaving a light impact.
"We have a long-term philosophy around working with people who live in, love, care for and know the places we visit like the back of their hands," Dunbar told 3p.
This attention to detail isn't lost on travelers. For Carolyn Herbst of Asheville, North Carolina, the journey to Peru marked her fifth trip with REI Adventures, and she plans to keep coming back. "We're well taken care of," Herbst told 3p. "REI has some of the best guides. Period. And I've done a lot of travel in my years."
"We believe in supporting local communities, local economies," Dunbar said. "We want to see our colleagues in the outdoor industry really thrive as well and be great partners for REI."
For guides and operators both inside and outside the United States, a partnership with a company like REI can make it possible to have a viable profession in the outdoors. "That's what REI is all about," Dunbar told me, "helping build community."
We'll take a closer look at that community over the next week. You'll hear from guides and locals about how ecotourism impacts them, and we'll explore how REI Adventures operates sustainably in some of the world's top adventure destinations. Follow the series here.
Image credits: Mary Mazzoni
Ed Note: Accommodations, travel and guidance in Peru were courtesy of REI Adventures. Neither the author nor TriplePundit was required to write about the experience. Opinions are our own.