The seaside town of Cudillero in Asturias, Spain
Photo courtesy of Tourist Office of Spain

Green Spain is a region in Northern Spain that earned its name for its dense forests, lush pastures, and wet, temperate oceanic climate. Stretching along the Atlantic coast between the borders of Portugal and France, vibrant cities line the green coast.

Four autonomous communities make up the Green Spain region, which include Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque Country. Here is just a sample of the beaches, foods, museums, and parks that travelers can discover in the area’s smaller historic cities.

CANTABRIA

Santander

In Cantabria, the city of Santander sits on Sardinero beach near the Magdalena Peninsula. Strolling through the city, you might spot penguins playing in a small marine park near the water and small fish markets serving calamari.  Historic mansions line the streets and the bay. Enjoy the smell of the ocean by walking on the sand down the coast.

Altamira

Approximately 21 miles from Santander sits the Altamira Cave, which holds some of the most famous prehistoric cave art and charcoal drawings in the world. The Altamira National Museum and Research Center reconstructs the original cave and offers information on the origins. Afterwards, it is a short drive to Santillana del Mar, a beautiful village of medieval towers and Renaissance palaces.

Travelers enjoying a treat above the Bay of La Concha in San Sebastián, Basque Country
Photo courtesy of Insight Vacations

BASQUE COUNTRY

Bilbao

The port city of Bilbao in the Basque Country, the eastern most autonomous community, and home to cobblestone streets, local artists, and small bars serving pinchos. The “Seven Streets” in the old town are the origins of the city with a medieval layout. The streets link the Cathedral of Santiago and the La Ribera Market, one of the largest covered markets in Europe.

Famous for its contemporary art and architecture, Bilbao is home to the Guggenheim Museum as well as the Museum of Fine Arts of Bilbao. There are 30 other art galleries that surround the Albia gardens in the heart of the city. Funiculars, like cable cars, take travelers up and down Mount Artxanda for a panoramic view of the city. For a different perspective, there are boat rides that ride along the river for a look at the city’s architecture.

San Sebastián

Located on the Bay of Biscay is the city of San Sebastián, with a seafront promenade, sandy beaches, and vibrantly colorful sunsets. There are several fine dining restaurants credited to its 19 Michelin stars. Popular pinchos, include anchovies, seafood, and mushrooms. Live music, modern bars, and five-star cuisine line the wide streets, along with shops nestled into the 19th century architecture.

A city tour through San Sebastián, Basque Country, with Insight Vacations
Photo courtesy of Insight Vacations

ASTURIAS

Picos de Europa National Park

Although the Picos de Europa National Park spans multiple regions, it is a popular place to visit while in the Asturias area. Here, travelers can visit the two Lakes of Covadonga, which include Lake Enol and Lake La Ercina, and are perfect for hiking.

Oviedo

The churches of San Miguel de Lillo and Santa María del Naranco in Oviedo are some of the best example of pre-Romanesque Asturian art. Traditional cake shops here serve carbayones or moscovitas, popular and traditional pastries. It is also home to the 9th-century Foncalada fountain, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Gijón

Spending a few hours in Gijón is worth it for a visit to the small fishing neighborhood of Cimadevilla, with cider houses, traditional foods, and perfect sunsets over the bay. San Lorenzo beach is also a top spot to stop, with historic Roman baths and the Church of San Pedro nearby.

A local group dinner in Oviedo with Insight Vacations
Photo courtesy of Insight Vacations

GALICIA

Ribeira Sacra

In the farthest western community of Galicia, the area of Ribeira Sacra is home to monasteries dug into rocky mountains across more than 60 miles. Cliffs and trees line the horizon with wineries dotting the countryside. Travelers can even explore the area by taking a catamaran trip down the Sil and Miño rivers or riding in a hot air balloon.

Santiago de Compostela

In Santiago de Compostela, explore the old town and its cathedral before stopping at a restaurant for octopus, empanadas, pork shoulder, or some delicious seafood. The city is home to the Galician Centre of Contemporary Art and the park of San Domingos de Bonaval. Nearby, the Cíes Islands, which the Romans regarded as the islands of the Gods, are accessible by boat each summer.

See each distinct area of Green Spain in this short video…

The ‘Green Spain’ Region
Video courtesy of Tourist Office of Spain

Explore Oviedo and Gijón, on Insight Vacations’ Northern Spain 11-day itinerary filled with fine wine, local produce, and art tours. Departure is available on select dates between April and October 2021 starting at $3,146.

Spain is a destination filled to the brim with hidden gems in nature, culture, and cuisine. Mediterranean beaches, green National Parks, historic towns filled with contemporary art, and fresh seafood paired with world class wine make it a top pick for American travelers. When travel resumes, it is at the top of our bucket list.

Find more travel tips, news, and inspiration by visiting the Tourist Office of Spain.

Plan your visit with a tour operator by visiting www.ustoa.com/dream-vacation/Spain


Paella dish of rice, seafood, vegetables and spices from a Europe Express tour
Photo courtesy of Europe Express

Spain is world-renowned for its wine culture, olive oil farms, and traditional dishes like tapas and paella. Famous Spanish restaurants and chefs are experts when it comes to the healthy Mediterranean diet, and each region boasts its own specialty. Here are ten gastronomic experiences to check off your foodie bucket list on your next trip to Spain. 

A small tour enjoying wine and pintxos in Spain with Europe Express
Photo courtesy of Europe Express

1. Volcanic Wine

While travelers can experience Spain’s distinct wine culture through tastings, tours, and even yoga classes in a vineyard, they can also visit a volcanic winery in the Canary Islands. Farmers have built these vineyards by carving out holes in the volcanic gravel, where the vines flourish and eventually produce sweet and white varieties.

2. Calçots

These long, white, mild onions are barbecued and served with a sauce called salvitxada. It is a culinary tradition in Catalonia to throw on a bib and dig in by eating with your hands. On the last Sunday of January, the Great Calçotada festival takes place in Spain’s northeastern region of Catalonia as a sociable and delicious ritual.

3. Queimada

Queimada is a drink based on marc, a liquor distilled from pomace leftover from winemaking, that is accompanied with a ritual preparation. At Galician bars, the bartender will light the liquid on fire while stirring the drink with a wooden spoon and speaking a spell out loud to ward off evil spirits. 

People sharing pintxos on an Insight Vacations trip
Photo courtesy of Insight Vacations

4. Pintxos

Similar to Spanish tapas, pintxos are the types of snacks from Northern Spain, particularly the Basque County, that are eaten as an appetizer before dinner. The difference in pintxos from tapas is that the food is spiked through a skewer, typically with a piece of bread as well. Pintxo translates to “spike” or “skewer” in English. An insider tip: it is pronounced pinchos.

5. Sardines

The best way to try sardines is either on a boat or at a beach bar on the Costa del Sol, where the fish is skewered onto bamboo sticks and grilled over a fire. This delicious way of preparing, serving, and eating sardines has been popular since the 19th century.

6. Manchego

This delicious cheese is made with sheep’s milk and matured over a long period of time, ranging from one month to two years. Local cheesemakers produce it in three varieties: soft, semi-cured, and cured.

7. Olive Oil

The province of Jaén is home to 60 million olive oil trees that produce 20% of the world’s olive oil. Visit an oil mill or a museum, hike through the groves, join a tasting, or even spend the night on an oil estate.

A paella cooking class on an Insight Vacations tour
Photo courtesy of Insight Vacations

8. Paella

This Spanish rice dish, paella, originated in the city of Valencia. Travelers can grab a seat at a seaside restaurant and taste the seafood, vegetables, and spices. Cooking classes are a fun and interactive way to learn about the dish that often include boat rides and local market visits to find the ingredients yourself.

9. Cocido

The comforting and warm Cocido is a long-simmered stew. Each region has its own twist on the classic recipe, but famously, there are four main ingredients: broth, chickpeas, vegetables, and meat. A celebration of the dish is held throughout Madrid in February and March when restaurants come together to offer an entire Cocido Madrileño Route.

10. Caldereta De Langosta

Also known as a casserole of spiny lobster, the Caldereta De Langosta is a Mediterranean dish that is best found in the village of Fornells, known as the temple of this recipe. It is so popular that making a reservation at a restaurant that serves it is recommended. 

Learn to make your own paella on the Collette Spain’s Classics & Portugal, which includes a visit to a traditional fisherman’s home, known as a barraca, for a paella-making demonstration and authentic lunch.

Nadine, a local guide for Collette, takes travelers virtually to a traditional paella lunch
Video courtesy of Collette

Globus offers tapas tastings and wine pairings on their 14-day Spanish Fiesta itinerary, bringing travelers along the Costa Del Sol, through Madrid, and more. Or, go to a traditional paella dinner in Valencia on Globus’ 9-day Best of Spain itinerary from Madrid to Barcelona.

Travelers dine like a local in Torremolinos, Spain with Insight Vacations
Video courtesy of Insight Vacations

Spain is a destination filled to the brim with hidden gems in nature, culture, and cuisine. Mediterranean beaches, green National Parks, historic towns filled with contemporary art, and fresh seafood paired with world class wine make it a top pick for American travelers. When travel resumes, it is at the top of our bucket list.

Find more travel tips, news, and inspiration by visiting the Tourist Office of Spain.

Plan your visit with a tour operator by visiting www.ustoa.com/dream-vacation/Spain


5 Questions to Ask: Make Your Next Trip Animal-Friendly

By Dana Santucci, EF Education First, and Ben Williamson, World Animal Protection

Photo Credit: EF Education First

Travelers increasingly seek unique experiences that they couldn’t get anywhere else. However, many tourists, whether they’re with a group or adventuring on their own, choose activities that put animals and wildlife at risk, even if they don’t do so intentionally. Younger generations tend to be more conscientious of animal welfare when making travel decisions, but there’s room for improvement among travelers of all ages.

Travelers and travel providers alike have a responsibility to leave destinations just the way – or better than – they found them. In the context of animal tourism, this means understanding that there’s more power in proactively protecting, promoting and facilitating animal welfare than there is in holding, petting or otherwise exploiting an animal.

In 2018, EF Education First (EF), became the first international education company to launch a global collaboration with World Animal Protection, a leading international nonprofit dedicated to animal welfare. We’ve worked together to remove activities from our travel experiences that don’t meet these animal welfare standards, including shows that involve animals and excursions that involve activities such as riding, petting, holding, feeding or swimming. We’ve also committed to educating our staff, Tour Directors and travelers about the importance of animal welfare, common misconceptions and how to recognize violations.

There are plenty of ways to see the world while contributing to its resiliency. For example, you can visit responsible elephant sanctuaries in Thailand and meet with “mahouts,” or elephant caretakers, to learn about their role in Thai culture; protect sea turtle habitats and vulnerable eggs in Costa Rica; or learn about overfishing and track endangered dolphins in the Amazon River.

Instead of swimming with dolphins, volunteer to help with reef restoration, as this EF Educational Tours student did in the Dominican Republic. Photo Credit: EF Education First

Whether you’re participating in an operator-led tour or are venturing out on your own, here are the top five things we at EF ask ourselves to make sure our trips are animal-friendly, and that you can use to make sure yours are, too:

  • What is the venue’s intent? A good rule of thumb is that if a venue offers guests direct interaction with animals, it doesn’t have wildlife’s best interest at heart. Look for venues dedicated to conservation, rehabilitation and ending mistreatment.
  • Are the animals well cared for and comfortable? Reputable venues will abide by the Five Domains of Animal Welfare, which state that animals must be given positive experiences and be free of pain and suffering. Animals have good lives under human care when they enjoy good physical and mental health; have balanced and varied nutrition; and are in an environment that allows them to express the widest possible range of natural behaviors.
Training elephants to accept humans on their back is a cruel process that breaks the animals’ spirit. Instead, consider visiting a sanctuary where you can help with their care and learn from local experts. Photo Credit: EF Education First
  • Are guests allowed to pet, ride or take selfies with animals? Prioritize venues that allow animals to exhibit natural behavior (such as grazing and wandering) and do not rely on exploitative animal entertainment such as animal shows, riding, petting or holding. People participate in these activities out of a love for animals, but don’t see the extreme mistreatment and abuse that go into them.. 
  • Is this activity an ethical gray area? Some venues, such as aquariums and zoos, run the gamut on animal care and facility standards. If you can’t see animals in a more natural environment, compare the facility against the Five Domains of Animal Welfare and prioritize venues whose conservation and rehabilitation efforts have been thoroughly vetted.
  • Have you done your research? Just because a venue says it’s a sanctuary doesn’t mean it’s an animal-friendly destination. Look beyond the venue’s website and do your own digging, such as looking for references to chains or petting activities in past customers’ reviews.

It has been an honor for our organizations to collaborate and develop these industry-leading standards, and we hope other travel organizations will adopt comprehensive animal welfare standards too.  We all have a role to play in making sure our travels do not harm the animals that live in the destinations we visit. Before you book your next trip, make sure you check out additional resources, such as World Animal Protection’s guide on how to be an animal-friendly traveler and elephant-friendly tourist guide. By researching, educating ourselves and changing habits, we can make the world a better, safer place for all its inhabitants.

About EF Education First

Dana Santucci is Vice President for EF Education First and has worked for EF in a variety of capacities over more than 25 years. She has held senior positions in EF Go Ahead Tours, the organization’s adult travel division, as well as with EF Educational Tours and EF Explore America, both of which cater to educators and student travelers. Currently, she sits centrally and oversees a variety of special projects related to EF’s mission of opening the world through education. She serves on the executive board of directors for the USTOA and is the recent former Chairperson of the USTOA.  

EF Education First (EF), founded in Sweden in 1965, provides culturally immersive education through language, travel, cultural exchange, and academic programs in over 100 countries around the world.  EF’s mission is opening the world through education. Learn more by visiting https://ef.com. 

About World Animal Protection

Ben Williamson is the U.S. Programs Director of World Animal Protection, a global animal welfare organization with offices in fourteen countries. Its mission is a world where animals live free from suffering. Ben oversees World Animal Protection’s five U.S. campaign areas (Wildlife. Not Entertainers; Exotic Pets; Pigs; Chickens; and Meat Reduction), and his areas of expertise include animals in entertainment, exotic pets, factory farming, vegetarian/vegan issues, cruelty to animals and humane education. Ben has nearly a decade of experience working for animal protection in both the U.S. and the United Kingdom.

World Animal Protection has moved the world to protect animals for more than 50 years. World Animal Protection works to give animals a better life. The organization’s activities include working with companies to ensure high standards of welfare for the animals in their care; working with governments and other stakeholders to prevent wild animals being cruelly traded, trapped or killed; and saving the lives of animals and the livelihoods of the people who depend on them in disaster situations. World Animal Protection influences decision-makers to put animal welfare on the global agenda and inspires people to change animals’ lives for the better.


The Advantages of Small Ship Cruising

By Emerald Waterways

What inspires you to travel?  Is it adventure, culture, food, relaxation, interaction with the local communities, peace, or all of the above?  A small ship cruise is about all of these vacation goals and delivers them on a personal level, with no queues to stand in for buffets, no long lines to embark or disembark, simply no waiting and, therefore, less stress.

Imagine this:  a straw hat on your head, sunglasses shading your eyes, a gauzy flowy summer chemise blowing in the breeze, a drink in your hand and your feet resting on the lounge chair as you gaze to the shoreline, taking in the charming harbor coming into view.  You realize with a start that soon you’ll be strolling ashore, ready to tackle the day to discover what lies ahead.  This is small ship cruising!

What exactly qualifies as a small ship?  Typically, a small ship is considered one that has fewer than 500 guests. (Some lines consider their ship small if it’s under 1500 guests, which doesn’t seem so small at all).  In the case of the small ships in the Scenic group portfolio, Scenic Eclipse is 228 guests or less, while the recently announced Emerald Azzurra will welcome just 100 guests.  With more space per guest, these two beauties will attain unmatched comfort and luxury for those that sail them.

A yacht or small ship is a more intimate experience, both on board and on shore.  Public spaces are laid out in such a way that you never feel crowded or closed in by other guests.  You almost have the feeling of being in a guest house, with relaxed, comfortable lounges and inviting outdoor spaces with plenty of room for everyone.  When you ask what makes or breaks a cruising experience, it’s the crew that go out of their way to make a connection and to ensure that you have the best trip possible.  You’ll become well acquainted with the staff and crew.  They’ll know your name, remember which table you prefer, whether you prefer an intimate dinner at a table for two or if you’re more likely to join those new friends you just made.  They’ll know which drink you prefer when sitting on a lounge chair overlooking the sea and which one you prefer pre-dinner in the cozy lounge.  Your travel partner prefers his coffee black and cappuccino is your choice – they’ll know!  You’ll always feel like you are their number one priority.  You’ll leave your small ship feeling that you’ve made new friends, not only with the other guests but also with those staff members who delivered your trip of a lifetime.

The destinations are unique with small ship or yacht cruises.  They can enter pristine harbors where larger boats cannot, and will not, as these larger ships will overwhelm the location and have to shuttle their guests by tender to shore.  For the lucky few on a really small ship, you’ll be able to not only visit the bookend must-sees, like London, Dubrovnik, Barcelona, Lisbon, Athens, and Venice, for example, but you’ll also be able to put down anchor and perhaps even swim off the back of your vessel onto a remarkable beach like you’ve never seen before, most notably lacking in visitors.  Or perhaps you’ll take a zodiac for a short trip to shore, only because the harbor that you’ve pulled into doesn’t have substantial docking facilities.  Whatever you do on a small ship, the smaller the better, you’ll never have long lines, you’ll be free to leisurely embark and disembark.

With a small ship you can have everything included or opt for a line that gives you choices to tailor your adventure.  If you want discovery, opt for a line with fewer inclusions, to make the experience uniquely your own.  Take a bike and go off the beaten path.  Dive off the swim platform and be one with your surroundings.  Walk alongside your guide, taking in the local points of interest and then branch off on our own, meandering until you find something that suits your fancy – perhaps a lunch at a local taverna, sip a glass of locally sourced wine, chatter with the purveyor of the local coffee shop to learn about their daily life.  It’s all up to you how to spend your time.

If you prefer the surety of all-in-one pricing and are looking to up the adventure and discoveries, lines like Scenic Eclipse go above and beyond to include everything AND give you choice.  Choose from a daily menu of excursions or simply choose to indulge in the onboard amenities, perhaps a day in the spa, or reading a book in the observation lounge.  Feel like getting some exercise, check out the yoga lounge or take out a paddle board and go for a swim off the swim deck.  Take a tour of the wheelhouse where the captain will be happy to answer your questions.  As small expedition ships up the ante, look for bells and whistles like helicopters and submarines!

What’s for dinner you ask.  Of course, food is always an important part of your vacation so be sure to read the reviews to see if your small ship fits your culinary style.  Do you want multiple dining venues, which are usually only available on the bigger ships?  The Scenic Eclipse is unique in that it has more space per guest than any other ship of its kind.  Scenic Eclipse, while being a small ship, offers 10 dining venues, each with its own unique story.    From Koko’s sushi and teppanyaki to Lumiere’s fine French cuisine, there is something to please every palate.  On smaller yachts which tend to be slightly more relaxed, the options won’t be as plentiful but there will always be great food and choice at every meal. 

Destination is always paramount and small ships offer many options, with many of the options off the beaten path.  Whether it’s the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, the Adriatic, Yukon & Alaska or the Great White Wonders of the Arctic and Antarctic, you’re sure to find the next great adventure with a small ship cruise.  So, what are you waiting for?!  You surely won’t be disappointed and you surely will be looking for your next small ship adventure sooner than later!


Sustainability is Responsibility

By Terry Dale, President and CEO of USTOA

Strong and symbiotic partnerships are key to the sustainability mission. Here are a few of the many USTOA tour operators who have firsthand experience in building these types of relationships.

Quark Expeditions

Quark Expeditions launched a sustainable strategy framework named the Polar Promise that’s dedicated to protecting the Arctic and Antarctica. Working with scientists, community leaders, and innovators, Quark Expeditions contributes $500,000 USD each year through donations and funding for more research and development projects. Partnering with the Inuit Cruise Training Initiative, they hire Nunavummiut guides, while other training programs are available for people to become ambassadors of the polar region.

Intrepid Travel

In addition to many other sustainability initiatives launched over the years, Intrepid Travel released a free 10-step guide in 2020 that is designed to guide travel businesses towards decarbonizing their operations. As a B-Corp certified tour operator and carbon neutral company since 2010, they have offset more than 351,000 tonness of carbon emissions worldwide. During guided trips, Intrepid Travel prioritizes public transportation and minimizes the number of flights included in each itinerary. With expert advice and experience, they are helping other tour operators join the zero emissions movement.

Lindblad Expeditions

With more than 50 years of responsible travel experience, a focus of Lindblad Expeditions’ daily operations is to source food from local farmers and fisherman whenever its possible. In the Galápagos, they collected 27 percent of provisions locally in 2019. This supports the local economy and preserves the ecosystem by reducing the threat of invasive species entering through imported foods. With a strong sustainable seafood policy, they do extensive research to ensure that they are keeping oceans healthy and fish stocks constantly regenerating. In the assessment, they measure fish quotas, stock levels in ocean zones, method of catch, maturity levels, and feed.


Ways to Prep Your Home for Your Next Vacation

By YMT Vacations

Prepping for your travels is exciting. You’ve gotten your itinerary squared away and your packing list is growing longer and longer. But before the adventures can begin, you should make sure your house is vacation-ready. You’ll need a pre-vacation checklist to help keep your home safe and clean while you’re away.

Home Preparation Checklist For Leaving On Vacation

Don’t let the excitement of your upcoming trip distract from the tasks needed to prepare your home before departure. Before jetting off to gorgeous parts of the world, be sure to consider the following tips so that you return to a clean house and optimal sanity. 

Clean Your House & Fridge

The last thing you want when you return from a beautiful vacation is to enter a messy house. Before you jet off, make sure you thoroughly clean your home. Cleaning your house before a vacation ensures you will have less work to do once you return from your trip. Dust surfaces, vacuum the floors, wipe the counters, take out the trash, and put away the laundry.

Throw out any fruits sitting on the counter and clean out your refrigerator. If you still have a few days before your trip, save money and cook up food that could go bad while you’re gone. Toss whatever you don’t use or place it in the freezer. Once you’re done cleaning the house, be sure to take out all trash so you can return to a fresh-smelling home.

Practice Fire Prevention

Before you head out, do a thorough scan of anything that could cause a fire. Unplug electronics that won’t need power while you’re gone. This includes routers, air fresheners, computers, televisions, chargers, and small kitchen appliances. You’ll protect your space from catching flames, as well as avoid a hefty energy bill upon your return.

Also, triple-check your smoke detectors. If something were to go wrong, you’d at least want them to sound off so your neighbors can take action.

Program the Thermostat 

A great way to save some money while you’re off exploring the world is by setting your thermostat. You want the air circulating so you can avoid condensation. If you don’t have a smart thermostat, set your thermostat to a warmer temperature in summer and a colder temperature in the winter. Just make sure it’s above freezing, since you don’t want to freeze your pipes. Leaving a fan on is a great alternative to keep that air flowing.

Put Your Mail on Hold

Built-up mail is a signal to burglars that someone isn’t home. If you are preparing your house for an extended vacation, reach out to the United States Postal Service before you leave and ask them to put your mail on hold. They will keep your mail anywhere from three to 30 days. You can also ask a friend to stop by your house every few days to check your mailbox.

Ask a Friend to Stop By

It’s always the best when your friends or family members show up for you even while you’re away. If you can, ask a friend or family member to stop by your home to water plants, check on pets that don’t need 24/7 supervision, and maintain other household chores.

If you aren’t comfortable asking a friend to check on your home while you’re away, technology can help. Some companies will match you with a house sitter while you’re out of town.

Secure Entry Points

The worst thing is being out of town and realizing you might have forgotten to shut the window after that warm, breezy day. Before leaving, be sure to close and lock all windows and doors. You want to eliminate the possibility of someone having easy access to your home.

If you have an alarm system and accidentally leave a door unlocked, someone could walk into your home or apartment without setting off the alarm to alert the authorities. Double-check all entryways to make sure you have secured your home.

Don’t Forget the Details

Getting ready for a trip means crossing off your packing list and preparing all your proper documents. Call your bank and let them know you’ll be traveling. Alert your alarm company if you have one, and be sure to follow the above rules when preparing your home for your time away. You’ll have peace of mind and enjoy your trip more knowing that a secure and well-prepped home is waiting for you when you return.

YMT Vacations has been providing affordable guided tours for mature travelers since 1967. Our guided cruise and land tours, to destinations around the globe, are designed with value in mind. By thoughtfully bringing together each separate element of your vacation, we can guarantee you the best price and an easy, worry-free trip. Visit ymtvacations.com to learn more!


5 Ways Travelers Can Support Local Communities Through Sustainable Travel

Rachel Jordan is the Partnership Marketing Coordinator for Club Adventures, powered by AAA Exclusive Vacations®

“Take only memories, leave only footprints”.  It’s an oft-used phrase, and while the travel industry is filled with them, every iteration of this specific one provides the same message: leave things as you’ve found them and minimize your impact. Small changes travelers make can have large effects, whether that be on the environment, on people, or the larger world around us.

As of 2019, travel and tourism accounted for just over 10% of the world’s GDP, or roughly $8.9 trillion USD, demonstrating how many countries have come to rely on tourism to support local economies. As we become more interconnected and this number continues to grow, the idea of minimizing impact and the necessary advocation for sustainable travel is more important than ever. For all of us travelers in a modern age, we are constantly in search of immersive experiences, trying our utmost to forge authentic connections, dive deeper into a culture, and find ways give back to the local communities that welcome us. But, as a destination becomes more popular with travelers all seeking the same kinds of experiences, there are positive and negative impacts, and it can be challenging to strike a balance in making sure the positive outweighs the negative.

But what does that look like? How do we, as individuals and businesses, support local communities through sustainable travel efforts? Here’s a look at how we can all get started, cultivating the kind of responsible travel that establishes a solid foundation of well-sustained destinations to enjoy for generations to come.

1. Travel with companies who involve locals 

Truly sustainable companies keep sustainability in mind right from the get-go. They will be mindful when designing tours to ensure that as much money as possible will stay in the destination. These companies hire local guides, so the money earned by the guide stays within their family and is reinvested back into the community. These companies also seek out local restaurants and hotels, making the effects of visiting a destination more impactful on local businesses. The more you avoid the tourist “hot-spots,” the more money can help the overall economy. For example, at Club Adventures, on our Women Explorers trip in Morocco, we employ female guides and drivers. This commitment supports not only the local community, but also empowers an underrepresented demographic in the tourism industry.  

2. Get involved with local, sustainable efforts 

Many developing countries realize the impacts of industrialization and climate change, and while they may not have the infrastructure to switch to green energy, many have already established efforts that protect the local environment. With some research prior to your trip, you could plant trees in the Amazon or help clean up a polluted beach in Bali. There are countless ways to get involved, so spend your time doing some research to see how tangibly a business is taking an interest in local efforts, and how transparent they are about the effort and the benefit(s) to the destination.

3. Avoid creating dependent relationships 

With great power comes great responsibility. The power of tourism dollars requires operators and travelers alike to ensure responsible allocation. In keeping with this belief, Club Adventures does not visit or encourage tourism to any schools or orphanages on any tour. This ensures that any child-focused organization does not become reliant on funds from tourism, which is a fluid industry and could negatively impact the organization should tourism monetary support fluctuate.

4. Avoiding Animal Abuse 

We’ve all seen those pictures of people riding elephants in India or Southeast Asia.  As amazing as it might look on Instagram, many of these attractions are not treating these animals humanely. Sustainable companies and independent travelers alike should strive to not support these attractions, but instead specifically look for companies that have been strictly vetted to ensure they are treating the animals correctly, and do not allow visitors to touch or directly interact with local wildlife. Some of these companies may be rehabilitation centers, but still make sure to check if they have been thoroughly inspected before getting involved.

5. Practice green habits at home and abroad

Simple changes can truly make a difference, especially when the 40 million Americans who travel annually contribute to the change. Prior to our departures, Club Adventures encourages everyone to bring a reusable water bottle to exponentially decrease the use of single-use plastic. We advise to avoid getting plastic bags while shopping by putting souvenirs into your backpack, and to bring their own recyclable toiletries to avoid using one-use hotel containers.

At Club Adventures, we believe that sustainable travel should be the preferred style of travel, especially as our world continues to cope with over-tourism and climate change. Fortunately, sustainability is gaining wider traction across the travel industry as travelers start to dig deeper into who they travel with, and what impact their travels have on the world around them. Our suggestions are just the beginning to making a difference while traveling, but these small changes can have large effects. If we’re looking to take only memories, and leave only footprints, the work that comes along with that starts with each of us.

Rachel Jordan is the Partnership Marketing Coordinator for Club Adventures, powered by AAA Exclusive Vacations®. In her role, she assists with the implementation of comprehensive marketing strategies, while continually enhancing the strength of the Club Adventures brand. Rachel is also an avid traveler and blogger and is currently pursuing her M.S. in Global Tourism and Sustainable Economic Development. She continues to expand her comfort zone by exploring as many new cultures and destinations as possible. Follow her adventures on her Instagram account! 

Club Adventures, powered by AAA Exclusive Vacations®, is a small-group adventure travel provider created for those who want to explore the world through a local lens. With global journeys 8-14 days long, group sizes are kept small (16 passengers max) and leaders are local. Get closer, go deeper, and create memories that will last a lifetime, all the with support of a trusted brand.


Six Benefits of Traveling with a USTOA Tour Operator 

By Terry Dale, President and CEO of the United States Tour Operators Association 

Only tour operators who meet the highest standards of care, integrity, and insurance can become members of the United States Tour Operators Association (USTOA). These U.S. based companies take travelers to the farthest corners of the earth, offering unparalleled access, peace of mind, and protection every step of the way. 

During times of crisis – pandemics, natural disasters, even political upheaval – tour operators are uniquely positioned to assist their guests to ensure they return home safely.  In times of uncertainty, the tour operator members of USTOA enable consumers to travel with confidence. 

Find a full roundup of the 150 tour operator members by visiting the Member Directory and discover itineraries based on activity, destination, and duration at USTOA.com/dream-vacation.  

What’s so special about tour operators who are members of USTOA? Here are six benefits to traveling with one: 

  1. Protect Your Trip 

The $1 Million Travelers Assistance Program protects your trip when you book with a USTOA tour operator. Companies must qualify for the program to become a member, which, among other requirements, stipulates that in the case of a company’s bankruptcy or insolvency, all your tour payments are protected up to an aggregate of $1 million dollars 

  1. Travel Confidently 

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, USTOA has released a set of health and sanitization guidelines specifically for tour operators. The TOURCARE Guidelines were developed in collaboration with the Canadian Association of Tour Operators (CATO) and the European Tourism Association (ETOA). These guidelines set a universal standard for all tour operator members.  

  1. Have Peace of Mind  

If unforeseen problems arise, a tour escort, local host, or representative is always there to assist travelers. Vacations that are planned by trusted industry professionals bring this peace of mind when traveling domestically or abroad.  

  1. Save Money 

By buying in bulk and negotiating special rates for accommodations, transportation, meals, and more, tour operators can offer substantial savings to the traveler. Plus, prepaying for trips allow travelers to budget for vacations with greater certainty. Every cost and inclusion are presented upfront, and there’s a convenience of “one-stop shopping” for the vacation, which, rather than booking every hotel, meal, and transportation separately, also saves considerable time. 

  1. Find Variety and Flexibility  

Tour operators offer packaged travel to meet any vacation dream: solo travelers, multi-generational families, honeymooners, river cruise fanatics, and the most adventurous guests can find an itinerary that fits their interests with thousands of trips and a wide range of budget to choose from. Many itineraries are flexible and can be custom-made to allow for freedom to explore a destination on your own or add on new experiences.    

  1. Gain Unparalleled Access  

With insider information that is not in any guidebook, on-the-ground experts bring a unique perspective to the trip and find the best hidden gems to share with guests. By negotiating with local companies and hard-to-visit attractions, guides offer a new level of accessibility. Locally crafted itineraries take travelers beyond the hot spots and offer fulfilling and educational experiences, from eating a home-cooked meal to taking an art class.  

Representing nearly $19 billion in revenue, the member companies of the United States Tour Operators Association provide tours, packages and custom arrangements that allow 9.8 million travelers annually unparalleled access, insider knowledge, peace-of-mind, value and freedom to enjoy destinations and experiences across the entire globe. Each member company has met the travel industry’s highest standards, including participation in the USTOA’s Travelers Assistance Program, which protects consumer payments up to $1 million if the company goes out of business.  As a voice for the tour operator industry for more than 40 years, USTOA also provides education and assistance for consumers and travel agents. 


Why Danube River Cruises Are Perfect for Every Kind of Traveler

By Kristin Karst, Co-Founder and Executive Vice President at AmaWaterways

AmaViola_Danube

 

Europe’s Danube River runs through the heart of Old-World Europe where empires were built, kings and queens were crowned and some of the world’s greatest music was composed. A journey along this legendary river offers the quintessential cruise experience – perfect for both first-time and experienced river cruisers alike. Along the Danube River, you’ll see grand capitals like Vienna, Austria; Bratislava, Slovakia; and Budapest, Hungary. You’ll also see villages so charming and picturesque it’s as if they’ve been lifted from the pages of a storybook.

One of my favorite things about Danube River cruises is there is something for everyone to experience and enjoy.

 

Family Travelers

AmaWaterways is a family-owned and -operated company, so welcoming multi-generational families and accommodating their different needs has always been important to me. We’ve made sure that no matter who is sailing and what their interests are, each family member can choose their own adventure and explore at their own pace. There is so much variety in the tours we offer on the Danube River. An active family member may wish to hike up to Castle Hill in Budapest, Hungary, while another “foodie” in the family may prefer savoring local flavors at the city’s Great Market Hall. The best part for me is watching families gather back together during our Sip & Sail complimentary cocktail hour and share stories about the exciting things they discovered during the day.

 

Wine_SunDeck_Group

 

Food and Wine Enthusiasts

Many travelers like to engage with the world through local culinary experiences, seeking out new flavors they cannot find anywhere else. Their taste buds will delight in the flavors along the Danube River where we offer many included Special Interest Tours to discover regional favorites like the finest apricots and liqueur in Dürnstein, Austria and Slovak cheese and sausage in Bratislava. They can also sample Bavarian beer during an exclusive Oktoberfest celebration in Vilshofen, Germany while enjoying a performance of Bavarian folk music and dance for a truly memorable experience. While on board, they can indulge in regionally inspired cuisine like Wiener schnitzel and rich sachertorte or enjoy a multi-course tasting menu at The Chef’s Table specialty restaurant – included in the price of the river cruise. Wine connoisseurs can enjoy a specially curated Danube River Wine Cruise where they benefit from an expert Wine Host on board to conduct informative wine tasting sessions and accompany them as they discover the local Riesling and Grüner Veltliner wines of Austria’s famed Wachau Valley region.

 

Active Travelers

There are endless opportunities to stay active while exploring the timeless cities along the Danube River, including a stunning guided hike up to Slovakia’s Bratislava Castle or Serbia’s Fruška Gora National Park and an exhilarating bike ride from Dürnstein, Austria to Melk, Austria. Active travelers also enhance their best selves on board by participating in complimentary wellness activities led by a professional Wellness Host – from morning stretching on the Sun Deck while sailing into Weissenkirchen, Austria to engaging cardio and dance classes.

 

“Maximum Relaxation” Travelers

Sometimes it’s the small, quiet moments that are the most profound for travelers – whether it’s simply reading a book on the Sun Deck and savoring the moment while watching the Danube River scenery pass by or sipping local wines enjoying the Hungarian Parliament building illuminated magnificently at night. Others, inspired by Mozart, revel in the classical music played live on board, which further sets the scene for their journey.

 

Girlfriends_Vineyards

 

Girlfriend/Guys’ Getaway Groups

Guests traveling with treasured friends are able to strengthen their existing bonds and create new lasting memories together. Laughs are shared over a glass of local Grüner Veltliner wine on board and old favorite stories are often relived during excursions to places like Mondsee – where the wedding scene in The Sound of Music was filmed. Another favorite for groups of friends is visiting the Danube River’s magical Christmas Markets in cities like Vienna, Budapest and Passau, where newly found treasures are shared over gingerbread and mugs of mulled wine.

As you can see, everyone is in for the experience of a lifetime when cruising the Danube River!

 

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A native of Dresden, Germany, Kristin Karst is one of the leading executives in the travel industry known for her unwavering support of travel advisors and her personal commitment to pioneering innovative guest services. She co-founded AmaWaterways with Rudi Schreiner and Jimmy Murphy in 2002 and has been profiled in several top-tier travel trade and consumer publications. Kristin was honored with the prestigious Travel Vanguard Award by AFAR Media and the Lifetime Achievement Award from Travel Weekly.

AmaWaterways – a family-owned company celebrating 18 years on the river – leads the river cruise industry in innovation and offers unforgettable river cruises with 25 ships sailing the rivers of Europe, Southeast Asia and Africa, including Egypt. The company has the highest-rated ships in Europe according to the third edition of Berlitz: River Cruising in Europe & the USA and has received countless honors and accolades including Cruise Critic’s Editor’s Pick Award for “Best for Active Cruisers”; 2018 AFAR Reader’s Choice Award for “Best River Cruise Line” and inclusion of AmaMagna in 2019 TIME “World’s Greatest Places” as well as USA Today’s 10Best Readers’ Choice Award for “Best River Cruise Ship.”


How You Can be Part of Sustainable Travel NOW

By Allegra Lynch, President of Authentic Vacations

 Causey-Farm-1

 

When we think of sustainable travel,  what comes to mind is the energy we use to go from one place to another.  Exciting prospects are on that horizon. At the last World Economic Forum, many attendees arrived in jets powered by SAF—Sustainable Aviation Fuel.  This fuel comes from refined plants or waste products as opposed to fossil fuels—it’s a lot more earth-friendly.  How about going electric? We’ll see that for short flights by the end of this decade.

 

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But sustainable travel is so much more, and that more can offset the carbon footprint.  We just need to be aware, and active, around the other important aspects of sustainability.

 

Canoeing near Cloughoughter Castle on Lough Oughter

 

Being considerate of the environment and contributing to local businesses are huge parts of the sustainable equation.  Positively impacting a society is, too—that includes teaching, helping a community achieve economic freedom, and medical care.  But let’s talk about what we can all do right now.

 

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Whether we’re traveling for business, taking a trip we’ve dreamed about forever, exploring with friends and family, or venturing out solo on a whim, we can actively support sustainability.  Our checklist includes using local transportation and lodgings , diving into the culinary scene, shopping for items by area artists and craftspeople, and encouraging communication. (And each is a unique opportunity to create memories.)

 

Baker_Dalkey-Village

 

Step out of the familiar.  Immerse yourself in the people, nature, culture, and customs of the places you visit. Doing this sends your happiness quotient soaring, and it boosts the well-being of the area you’re discovering.

I’ve been travelling for decades—my parents got me off to an early start.   I consider that to be an enormous stroke of good luck.  Travel has taught me to move seamlessly through various cultures, both abroad and at home.  It has supported my ability to face challenges while remaining calm.  It makes me, I hope, a more understanding person.

 

Ulster-American-Park_Storytelling

 

Travel shapes us.  We become resilient, self-confident and empathetic.  These qualities serve us in our personal lives, but they also create healthy, global interactions.  We truly are one.  We see our differences disappear when we travel with people and understand their cultures.

My earliest memories are of back roads.  They were green and twisted, punctuated by homes with peeling paint and families on the front porch.  Roadside stands, with farm women selling fresh jams and juices, were always worth a stop.  I remember one stand where an ancient man, who sparkled, sold his hand-carved red birds.  (I still have mine.) The money he earned went into a tin coffee can, and you can bet that money was spent in the grocery store down the street.

My wish is for travelers to experience their vacations, even if they’re in a big city, as if they’re on a back road.  I want them to dip into local cultures and see life through new eyes.  Harmonious relations are definitely part of fostering a green world, and strong communities support our drive for innovation and need for security.

 

Cloughoughter-Castle

 

I encourage travelers to welcome awe.  When we’re filled with wonder, two things happen:  We don’t have anxiety—wonder and anxiety cannot co-exist, it’s simply impossible.  Here’s the second thing that happens when wonder is a player:  We feel deep appreciation for natural beauty and we want to protect it.  Walk through an ancient grove in Scotland, see a reindeer herd, and tell me you don’t care what happens to them. I won’t believe you!

 

Giant's Causeway, Co. Antrim

 

Consider experiences and places off the beaten path that boost locals. Natural wonders, vibrant food scenes, arts and crafts, homemade music and festivals, and unique wellness opportunities are all elements of sustainable travel.

 

Wild Irish Sea Veg PR Photographs

 

Here’s how to be part of the sustainable travel movement:

  1. Buy local products.
  2. Use local guides.
  3. Avoid chain lodgings
  4. Support local economies. (St-Georges-Market_Belfast.jpg)
  5. Be a tidy traveler—don’t leave trash behind.
  6. Enjoy fresh-to-fork foods. (Mushroom-Foraging-Leitrim.jpg.)
  7. Look for flights with the fewest stops.

 

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Last and definitely not least:

  1. Accept kindness and spread joy.  Nothing creates a healthier planet.

 

Sheep_The-Dark-Hedges

Allegra Lynch is President of Authentic Vacations, the US brand of Tour Partner Group. She sits on the board of directors for Tour Partner Group, a multi-national collection of destination management companies headquartered in London. In her role as President, she uses the latest technologies, paired with unique local in-destination products, to provide authentic travel experiences, with an eye on customization, to travelers worldwide.  Her goal is to build healthy relationships on every level of the travel industry. Her joy is to travel mindfully and with curiosity.

Authentic Vacations specializes in creating customizable itineraries, featuring a variety of authentic experiences and accommodations.  All are carefully vetted to ensure that every client has a unique adventure, one that they choose. As a division of the esteemed Tour Partner Group (TPG), Authentic Vacations is a leading travel provider for destinations across the globe. With its culturally-diverse staff of travel experts, and offices in Dublin, London, Edinburgh, Copenhagen, Scottsdale, and San Francisco, Authentic Vacations offers a level of personalization and client support that is unsurpassed in the travel industry.