Ask any well traveled person to recount a positively underwhelming experience abroad and they’ll likely cite that time they took a group tour. While group tours have their time and place– and they can undoubtably save you money– they can also present a laundry list of cons. Most travel companies promote exotic excursions and locales while what they deliver are long, cramped bus rides, massive groups led by flag-wielding guides and selfie stick-obsessed tourists who are more concerned with taking pictures than taking in the sites. But the worst part of it all is that they often leave you with two major travel offenses; little to no cultural immersion and hardly any interaction with locals. So, how does one see and do everything while avoiding said pitfalls? Visit.org thinks that they have the solution, and it’s something that has been right under our noses. While the group tourism industry has presented a rather united front in terms of their operations (since the advent of online travel booking, that is), it’s time that the smaller guys– nonprofits and local host organizations, get their turn to update the practice.
Why we love Visit.org
Based out of NYC, Visit.org is “the world’s first social platform connecting travelers with tours, workshops, and activities, all hosted by nonprofits around the globe.” By bridging the gap between travelers, guides, local organizations and nonprofits, the platform encourages off-the-beaten-path travel while also promoting worthy causes and investing in community-based projects. Though they haven’t officially launched yet– they’re presently running a beta version of the site– they have already connected with seven country leaders–travel experts and changemakers, in Peru, Brazil, India, Israel, Greece, South Africa and the United States. They’ve also partnered with over 100 global organizations, helped 400 people book their own c-in-a-lifetime trips and are being advised by Google, FaceBook, the United States Agency for International Development and more.
Working with nonprofits, travel experts and those in the social impact sector, visit.org already has some pretty incredible trips to offer. You can visit rescued penguins in Cape Town, explore the Amazon Rainforest, surf with local children in South Africa, make your own coffee in Guatemala or learn to weave in Peru. If you’re looking for something else, you can simply search the site by location or causes you care about to find more options. There you can also read up on organizations’ tours, workshops and activities, and learn more about what the organization is looking to accomplish.
On the surface, it’s easy to see that connecting travelers with small international businesses is a win-win, but how does it work exactly? Visit.org partners with local organizations who “have a track record of positive impact within their respective communities” to create an authentic and low cost experience for visitors. They then help the organization market their workshop, providing the necessary technology and support to help them continue to attract travelers and turn a profit. In the end, 100 percent of proceeds go straight back into participating community organizations, strengthening their ability and capacity to strive for social justice, conflict resolution, protection of human rights, environmental and cultural heritage preservation, and economic development.
Looking towards the future, visit.org hopes to connect with upwards of 20,000 different domestic and international organizations. Along with translating their site into French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Mandarin, they also hope to add direct booking to sustainable hotels, local meals, flights and in-country transportation to their site.
Take a look at this nifty little image for visit.org’s concise mission statement. In addition to facilitating communication and trips between travelers and global communities, the platform is also seeking to do so at a relatively low cost.
How to Get Involved
There are a number of ways you can support visit.org’s efforts, the main ones being to donate to their Indiegogo fundraiser– they have a goal of $15,000 USD and are steadily making their way there, or book a tour on their website. Outside of those, you can also connect your favorite nonprofits with them, share their campaign with friends, like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter, become an ambassador, or email them if there is any other way you feel like you can contribute.
While I hope that their mission alone has inspired you to donate, there are also some pretty cool incentives to supporting their campaign. With each milestone funding level visit.org reaches, a country leader will complete a predetermined challenge. Each of the seven leaders represent different funding levels and their challenges include not spending a dime for a day, learning to milk a cow, drinking a frog, and getting a Harlem makeover. In funding these dares, you could also benefit from a few perks and/or win some rewards yourself, so be sure to take a look.
About the Writer
Chelsea Stuart is a recent graduate of Boston’s Emerson College. When she’s not reeling from wanderlust (she lived on a ship for four months and visited 15 countries with the study abroad program Semester at Sea), she’s planning her next trip, reading, writing, thrifting, drinking an absurd amount of coffee and Netflix bingeing like any good Millennial. Her next feat includes a move to NYC – with her cat Chance at her side, to pursue a career in publishing.
All images via Visit.org Indiegogo page