Wanderful Interview: Ashley Blake and Laura Hamm of Traverse Journeys

If you’ve been following along over on IG you’ve seen me share several of the upcoming big trips I have planned. One that I’m considering is a New Zealand adventure coming up at the end of 2019. The trip will start from Auckland, traveling to the base of the highest peaks and the deepest fjiords - natural wonders that can only be discovered at the end of the earth. If you’re interested in joining in, you can secure your spot on the trip here. Use the code “OWG200” on your registration form to get a $200 discount on the 2019 New Zealand trip!

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Interview with Ashley Blake and Laura Hamm of Traverse Journeys

Interview by Andi Eaton / Edited by Estephanie Gomez

It’s no secret that off-the-beaten-paths are kind of our thing. But possibly the most important path to consider is a path that’s a meaningful one – a stance that each of us at Oui We and our friends at Traverse Journeys are pretty passionate about. More than your average tour group, Traverse Journeys offers impactful travel opportunities across the globe - a message we can definitely get behind.

With, quite literally, a world-ful amount of information out there, the Traverse team brings their vast knowledge and network of ethical resources to curate authentic experiences that transform both the traveler and the community. We caught up with founder, Ashley Blake, and partner, Laura Hamm to learn more about their company, what readers can expect from a Traverse expedition and what it truly means to travel with a purpose.

Andi Eaton for Oui We: The name Traverse Journeys gives me a visual of something vast and big - an expansive sounding experience. Will you talk a little bit about the name and the mission of the company as well?

Ashley Blake: The root of the word “traverse” means to cross over, to move or pass through, or, in some contexts, to route through an adversity or obstacle. And the word “journey” implies something more profound than just “travel” or “trip.” You’ll notice that the marquee photo on the Traverse website is a bridge, an image [that is] very intentionally symbolizing the way that travel creates bridges between people and cultures, and how Traverse provides experiences that allow travelers to see perspectives from both sides.

In Clash! 8 Cultural Conflicts That Make Us Who We Are, Hazel Markus and Alana Connor point out that one way the Global North – generally richer, safer and with better opportunities for employment and education – can be more understanding, empathetic and open-minded about their neighbors in the Global South is by actually visiting them. Not just places, but people. This is critical in a global economy, [especially] one with unprecedented conflict, food shortage and economic and political migrants. This is why cultural exchange and education is an integral part of every Traverse trip.

Our tagline is “People, Planet, Purpose” and our mission statement is as follows:

Traverse Journeys provides organized travel opportunities powered by social enterprises, community partners and impact-minded venturers. Our mission is to cultivate transformative experiences to unique destinations across the globe, fostering cross-cultural appreciation, environmental awareness and responsible tourism.

AE: One of the ethos of your business is "responsible travel." Describe what that means exactly.

AB: Responsible travel, when done properly, can be used to fuel social change by using its dollars in meaningful ways. The powerful documentary Poverty, Inc. gives a sobering picture of the fallacy of “quick fix” solutions – charity, government and social enterprise alike – and how more holistic and structural approaches need to be taken to create real social change.

Underlying much of the world’s problems is opportunity, specifically for jobs. This is why Traverse works with local vendors whenever possible and also donates 5% of each trip’s sales to its partner nonprofit that is enhancing their community in a sustainable way. We are diligent about keeping money within the community, not only through employment provided by tourism, but also by supporting local organizations that are working hard to enhance conservation, support community healthcare, mitigate homelessness, provide education, create job opportunities and engage in [a] myriad [of] other social and environmental causes.

AE: When someone books a trip with Traverse Journeys, what life lesson do you find the travelers walk away with after a journey is over? Do you have a story or two about someone having a life changing experience that you can share?

Laura Hamm: I love this question! Transformative experiences are literally what we're all about at Traverse Journeys. There are certain themes that I've noticed again and again from participants who join our trips.

For one thing, fears melt away. People [also] tend to discover as much (or more) about themselves as they do about a new destination. While we have had many seasoned travelers join our trips, we also appeal to “green” travelers who have never been abroad and may come into the experience with certain apprehensions. Of course, our goal throughout the months leading up to the trip is to assuage any concerns by providing extremely helpful destination-specific guides, checklists, packing lists and many [other] resources. Yet, despite being fully prepared, new travelers may still carry fears into the trip itself — and that's when the real magic can happen.

Personally, I've witnessed many magical moments with clients on our trips. On our Italy trip, [we hosted] a woman in her 60s, who'd always wanted to visit Italy but felt overwhelmed at the thought of managing such a trip on her own, and her granddaughter who was fresh out of high school and had never been abroad. Together, they bonded over gelatos and their mutual awe of the surrounding sights, but moreover, they blossomed from timid questions and feelings of overwhelm into confident and brave adventurers, setting out on their own in Florence for independent explorations that rewarded them with incredible memories.

Additionally, on our Costa Rica trip I watched in awe as a woman struggling with a personal crisis utilized her experience on the trip to push herself out of her comfort zone and discover a renewed strength and courage she never knew she had. She cherished our partnership with the Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation as it led her outside of herself and into a bigger picture. She eagerly joined opportunities to zipline in the rainforest and surf in the Pacific, though they each required her to call upon a brave adventurer within that she hadn't exactly met before. By the end of the trip, she was practically a different woman!

There are many more stories like these found in our testimonials. It's truly an honor to facilitate transformational experiences in faraway lands for each and every one of our incredible clients.

If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.
— African Proverb

AE: I'll be joining you for a trip to New Zealand (omg, can we talk about how excited I am!). What can I expect on that experience? Why should our readers here join me?

LH: First of all, you should expect to come back with completely unfair standards of natural beauty. In fact the whole definition of the word “beauty” is going to be thoroughly redefined by the end of your trip! Whether you seek pristine alpine lakes, lush rainforests bursting with waterfalls, gorgeous and expansive beaches, rugged mountains topped with ancient glaciers or hot springs bubbling up from volcanic earth,New Zealand delivers all of that and much more.

On top of that, New Zealand also boasts a truly unique culture. With influences from the fascinating Māori culture, as well as a modern character all their own, Kiwis are unique. We'll be sure to delve into immersive experiences to learn about the people and history that have shaped the land. From a traditional Māori Hāngi, to being accompanied by a native Kiwi devoted to exploring his land and its roots, and from archaeological sites to off-the-beaten-path cultural museums as well as a tour of Christchurch to see first-hand the reconstruction of a major Western city from red-zone demolitions — we'll truly absorb the stories and traditions of New Zealand's people.

All of this is delivered in an intimate, small-group experience (max of 12 clients), while having free time each day in order to further curate your trip. Included activities range from whale-watching, a scenic railway tour, soothing natural hot springs, and even a landscape photography workshop for those interested plus more! Of course, handpicked accommodations, comfortable transport, feasts of local flavors, a donation to and engagement with our community partner and a Traverse representative providing all your trip support are always a part of the package.

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We can't wait to have you, and hopefully some of your readers, along! Our December 2019 trip that you'll be on is currently open for bookings. Space is always limited on our small group trips so we encourage those interested to contact us ASAP!

AE: Traverse partners with many like-minded social enterprises including community nonprofits, yoga instructors, social media experts and photographers to create curated, experiential travel opportunities. Tell us about some of your partners and why you've made this a part of the business model.

AB: We absolutely love collaborations! It is a big, wide world and we love the African proverb, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Each trip has a nonprofit community partner [that receives a 5% trip donation] as well as a part-day activity so that travelers can learn about issues, challenges and successes in the place they’re visiting. It’s really about providing a grounding connection in each location and an opportunity for travelers to engage with locals in a meaningful way. Many travelers end up continuing their relationship with the nonprofit, which is even more rewarding.

We also value our relationships with our vendor partners – hotels, restaurants and local guides – and work to develop long-lasting relationships with them. The same goes with our yoga instructor partners. It is often challenging for instructors to build a retreat to a place they’ve never been – and that is our specialty! We love win-wins.

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LH: As an example of the grounding connections that Ashley touched on: in Ireland, our community partner is Irish Seed Savers, an organization that works to conserve Ireland’s threatened plant genetic resources and maintains a public seed bank with over 600 non-commercially available varieties of seed. They also work diligently to raise public awareness about the vulnerability of Irish agriculture. As they say, "We grow, preserve, conserve, and share our seeds, our knowledge and our love for the land... we exist as a living testimony to the richness and wealth of the agricultural legacy of our ancestors.” On our Ireland itinerary we're very mindful that we're exploring the beautiful open spaces of a mostly rural and agricultural country with such deep present-day ties to its land.There's hardly a hill or tree that exists without some local myth or legend attached to it. Thus, it's a highlight for our clients to gain a more in-depth understanding of the interaction between land and people throughout Ireland's history and present-day during our visit with Irish Seed Savers.

AE: Thank you for sharing so much of the Traverse story with us. If our readers want to get involved a good start would be to join your Meet-Up groups. You have 19 travel focused Meet-Up groups throughout North America - what happens at those meet-ups and events? How does one go about joining those groups?

LH: Yes, we're thrilled to help create communities and connections throughout the travel-loving world! Once you're a part of 'Meetup' you can find any of our groups here.

When traveling, it's often easy to find like-minded adventurers in each destination but sometimes at home those connections are few and far between. Connecting to fellow travel enthusiasts is such a vital way to keep that fire lit and to stay inspired! Besides, I can't tell you how many places I've been to simply because of a conversation I had with someone who waxed poetic about its amazingness! Many of the local events in each city are general, social get-togethers in which people come together to swap travel stories, tips, advice and inspiration from the road. In addition, there are often more focused-travel events centered around anything from travel hacks to social impact travel or destination-specific events, in which people can come out to learn or share advice about a particular country.

As Ashley and I are based in Austin, we run the group there and frequently visit the other Texas groups, plus we make an effort to drop in throughout other cities whenever we're in the area. Other groups are often led by local hosts we partner with, who are also passionate about travel and want to connect with new people in the area that share their love of the world.

If anyone reading this is interested in becoming an occasional host in the cities where we currently have groups, we're always happy to add more collaborators to the mix! Since the local hosts that engage with each community are often avid travelers themselves, we may not always have a local host in place who is spearheading the creation of unique local events, but in those time periods when the group is without a 'leader,' we still seek out and post all sorts of fun and interesting travel events happening in each city that members can still go to and connect at.

Join Traverse Journeys in New Zealand in December! Book your travel here.

Use the code OWG200 for $200 off your New Zealand adventure!

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