Happy Diwali

Happy Diwali noCaptionIn the Hindu world, Diwali is celebrated with beautiful lights, sweets, feasts, fireworks and general partying. It’s a time to shed light on the darkness, a metaphor for a victory of good (the light) over evil (the darkness). A deeper meaning has to do with light as metaphor for wisdom and enlightenment. Diwali is actually a five day festival, but the main event occurs on the Hindu month of Kartika, the first and darkest night of the new moon, and in our Georgian calendar, between mid-October and mid-November.

If you’re planning a trip to India or Nepal (or half a dozen other countries around the world), you’ll be in for a major treat if you happen to travel during Diwali. You’ll see families out and about in their new outfits, participating in prayers to Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth and prosperity) lighting lamps and candles inside and outside their homes, setting off fireworks and exchanging gifts with families and friends.

The holiday of Diwali is all about the lighting of lights, both external, as in flames, fireworks, and candles, and internal, as in becoming happier, wiser and enlightened. In gaining this wisdom, you find the way to a more fulfilling, richer life, both for yourself and for others. It’s a beautiful holiday full of meaning and blessings for everyone who participates, Hindu or not.

10 Reasons You Should Visit Greece Now

Mykonos, Greece1Without a doubt, Greece is comprised of some of the most beautiful islands in all of the Mediterranean. There are thousands of gorgeous islands to choose from, spread over just a few hundred miles. This makes Greece the perfect destination for island hopping.


Enjoying seafood in Crete2Foodies rejoice! In Greece you’ll find fresh seafood (and we mean fresh!), local produce and fruits, tender oven-roasted lamb, and the original feta cheese. And don’t forget the olive oil, wine and Ouzo!


Parthenon, Athens3History comes alive! Greece is the country that gave rise to Western Civilization and the birthplace of democracy, drama, art, science and philosophy. From the Acropolis in Athens, to Knossos Palace in Crete to the site of the first Olympic games in Olympia, Greece is filled with important historical sites and archaeological wonders.


Romance on Santorini4Romance is no stranger to Greece. Whether you’re planning a honeymoon, anniversary, or just looking for a romantic getaway, the charming island of Santorini is just one of the many perfect fairy-tale settings.


Meteora 5Greece is one of those destinations that truly has something for everyone (it’s also kid friendly). Whether you’re a history buff, adventure seeker, foodie, nature lover, or you’re just looking to soak up some rays on the white sand beaches, Greece is the place for you!


Canal D'amour Beach, Corfu6If you’re looking for breathtaking beaches, look no further! Greece has hundreds of diverse beaches to choose from for swimming, snorkeling, or just relaxing.


Sunset in Santorini7The scenery in Greece is second to none. From lush gardens filled with olive trees, to the picturesque whitewashed villages in Santorini, to the rocky view of Mount Olympus, you’ll put that camera to good use.



Greek Man with Donkey

8Greek people are some of the friendliest, happiest people you will ever encounter. Despite the hardships the Greeks have faced over the years, they’re still as warm and welcoming as ever.


Heraklion market9Right now traveling to Greece is more affordable than ever. Tourism also happens to be one of Greece’s main industries, so you won’t be the only one benefiting if you decide to travel to Greece.


Caryatids porch, Acropolis, Athens10If you ask us, Athens is one of the most interesting and unique cities in all of Europe! While it’s one of the world’s oldest cities, it’s also modern and cosmopolitan.


Visiting the Most Popular Greek Islands

Santorini windmills

There are some places on earth you have to see to believe, because you can’t possibly imagine them in all of their vivid colors, smells, sounds and tastes. Greece, with its countless picturesque, ancient and famed islands, is one of those places.

Thousands of islands, endless beauty

No matter how many times I visit, I’m always stunned by the impossibly beautiful vistas from Santorini’s steep cliffs; intoxicated by the juicy freshness of Greek tomatoes, feta cheese, grilled octopus and squid; and altogether charmed by the many whitewashed villages and quaint, labyrinthian island towns that beckon you in to while away an afternoon, or an entire week, exploring them further.

Island hopping is one of the best ways to experience this traveler’s bounty, as there are more sights and experiences than one could squeeze into a lifetime. Greece boasts as many as 6,000 islands—depending upon how you count—though only about 200 are inhabited. Mykonos, Santorini, Crete, Patmos, Rhodes, Symi, Chios- just to name a few!

Here are 3 of the most popular islands:


The largest Greek island, and among the most storied. The colorful history, legends and mystique surrounding Crete are tied to many sources. read more
Knossos Palace, Crete


Another must-see on a Greek island itinerary. Some even go so far as to call the island’s village of Oia one of the most beautiful and romantic sights on earth. read more
Nea Kameni volcano and Fira, Santorini


One of the most popular and bustling Greek islands, Mykonos offers everything from designer boutiques, to beautiful beaches, five star hotels and trendy nightclubs. read more
'Little Venice', Mykonos

Miles of Isles

No matter where you start your journey, here’s what you will find — a place of more colors than you knew existed, unforgettable sunsets, tiny villages that in some cases, time seems to have forgotten; warm, welcoming people, and archaeological ruins whose combination of mind-boggling antiquity and intellectual advancement will confound you.

Exploring Santorini

Another must-see on a Greek island itinerary is Santorini, (known as Thira or Thera by the Greeks), one of the world’s most photographed and famous islands. Some even go so far as to call the island’s village of Oia one of the most beautiful and romantic sights on earth.

But this is no ordinary island. Santorini is a large volcano that has repeatedly exploded and collapsed, leaving a ring of steep cliffs surrounding a large water-filled caldera. Its eruption around 1,650 B.C. is the largest in recorded history, rumored to have wiped out the Minoan civilization on Crete and caused havoc in Egypt, throughout the Mediterranean, and as far away as China. But this tumultuous history is long past, and today Santorini is famous for its quiet, stunning beauty.

Santorini today is a magnet for the jet set, romance seekers, artists, photographers and those simply wanting to experience a slice of Greek island paradise at its finest. Arriving by boat, the clusters of Cycladic white houses scattered atop Santorini’s cliffs look like a light snowfall. When lit up at night, the homes resemble a glittering string of Christmas lights strung along the crescent-shaped island.


Other highlights of Santorini include the charming main town of Fira, and the ancient village of Akrotiri, which dates back 7,000 years. Some believe Santorini is the site of the lost city of Atlantis and Akrotiri has a lot to do with the island’s tie to that legend.

Akrotiri’s first inhabitants have been traced back to at least the 4th millennium B.C. Some of the fascinating accomplishments here include an elaborate drainage system, multi-story buildings, sophisticated wall paintings (many seen as high art), and equally exquisite furniture. At the same time, pottery making, metalworking and shipbuilding all flourished here. It’s hard to believe that this is a place just shy of 10,000 years old!

Today Akrotiri is a covered museum and archaeological site. You can wander amid its many, partially intact ruins and streets, getting a close up view of its cosmopolitan sophistication.

The town was abandoned around the middle of the 17th or 16th century B.C. Its inhabitants are believed to have fled a volcanic eruption or were perhaps forced to leave after an earthquake. Where they went however, is a mystery. Their remains have never been found. Could this remarkable village have been Atlantis? The answer to that question remains the subject of much debate.


Oia, on Santorini’s northwest tip, is a picturesque town of narrow, winding walkways connecting houses, shops, hotels and restaurants – many of which seem to spill impossibly down the side of the caldera and have been carved into its face. This is also where you’ll find many of the stunning blue-domed churches that have come to typify Greece in our collective imaginations and on mass-produced postcards.

The best activity in Oia is simply wandering to your heart’s content, following an intriguing path here, traipsing down a winding stairwell there — color and charm are around every corner, bend and alcove. It’s a visual feast. Once you find you can absorb no more, and your senses are overwhelmed, relax in one of Oia’s bars, restaurants or cafes that look out over the expansive, sapphire blue ocean below. The views here are breathtaking and watching the sun slip below the horizon amid a rainbow sherbet sky, with its softly merging streaks of orange, pink and powder blue, is an experience you’ll not soon forget.

Also see:

Exploring Crete

Exploring Mykonos

Exploring Crete

Crete, the largest Greek island, and among the most storied, is where I started my recent visit. The colorful history, legends and mystique surrounding the island are tied to many sources including that it once was the center of Minoan culture, the earliest recorded civilization in Europe. For mythology fans, the island is said to be the birthplace of Zeus. An island whose recorded history is more ancient than that of the European continent, Crete has been written about by Homer, Plato and Aristotle.

You could easily devote a week to exploring just this one island, which is home to stunning beaches, pastoral hillsides of olive trees, and magnificent gorges. I had merely an afternoon, which I spent wandering the mysterious Minoan ruins of Knossos and the Heraklion Archaeological Museum.

Knossos, Crete’s largest Bronze Age archaeological site, is thought to be Europe’s oldest city, and for 2,000 years it flourished as a civic, economic and religious center. Today, there’s little left of that original grandeur, but on portions of the site there are reconstructions of what the original buildings might have looked like, assembled by archaeologists in the early 1900s.

What you will see during a visit is a series of workrooms, storerooms and living spaces surrounding a central square. The highlight is the complex’s royal domestic chambers. The most complete portion of the former palace complex, these rooms provide the best sense of Knossos’ past glory and sophistication. In the Queen’s Megaron (bedroom) for instance, there’s an elaborate, playful fresco of dolphins, while in the adjoining rooms there’s a bathroom and beyond that, the Hall of the Double Axes – a large, airy, elegant room that belonged to the king.

Even without being fully intact, a visit here is eye-opening. Knossos was a remarkable place. It had at least three separate water management systems, and the first water-flushing system for a toilet. Pottery making at Knossos was also prolific, involving the creation of heavily decorated and uniquely styled vessels. The palace itself was a place of high color – its walls and pavements coated in paint made from red ochre.

The nearby Heraklion Archaeological Museum, where all the finds from Knossos have been transferred for safekeeping, helped bring all of this to life. The museum is filled with rooms of recovered pottery, statues, frescoes and more. In a sense, the museum picks up where a visit to Knossos leaves off — helping to fill in the visual gaps and presenting the site’s treasures and grandeur in full color and detail. 

Also see:

Exploring Santorini

Exploring Mykonos

Exploring Mykonos


One of the most popular and bustling Greek islands, Mykonos offers everything from designer boutiques, to beautiful beaches, five star hotels and trendy nightclubs, all with a picturesque Cyclades island backdrop. In many ways it is an island to see and be seen, and party all night long, but it also offers much of the charm Greek island vacations are famous for.

Windmills in Mykonos

Mykonos Town is a warren of tiny winding streets, homes with colorful doors and tiny blue chapels that look as though they would barely accommodate one dozen people. The smell of freshly baked Baklava wafts from bakeries and lazy cats sleep in doorways. Three iconic Greek windmills stand watch over the town, and there is no better place to enjoy them or the ocean view, then from “Little Venice” – a charming quarter that seems to spill out into the Aegean, it’s bars and cafes built right up to the water’s edge, waves lapping at their foundations. But getting a seat here early is essential, because watching the sun set from Little Venice is on nearly every visitor’s agenda and tourism is Mykonos’ number one industry.

Little Venice, Mykonos

Beyond the reaches of cosmopolitan Mykonos Town, there are smaller and quieter coves and villages, including the charming Ornos, where it’s easy to while away an afternoon or an evening at a tiny restaurant, sipping on Ouzo and dining on freshly caught local seafood.

Also see:

Exploring Santorini

Exploring Crete

Cruising the Greek Islands


The appeal of small ships

It’s safe to say I’ve never really been a cruise person, but 10 days cruising the Greek islands changed that point of view.

Sailing effortlessly from one colorful port to the next, visiting islands big and small, touring charming Cycladic villages, intriguing archaeological sites and sleepy out-of-the-way beaches, I suddenly realized the value, ease and possibility that comes with touring this way.

There is a certain delight in waking up in a new location each morning, the sun rising outside your cabin window to illuminate all the colors and sights of a new port. There’s also a comforting feeling each night as you drift off to sleep, knowing that the chore of traveling to a new destination will be taking place while you rest.

With thousands of islands large and small spread over only a few hundred miles, Greece is uniquely suited to island-hopping.

And touring the Greek islands via a small ship allows you to visit a long list of destinations in a compressed period of time. In some cases, you can tour one island in the morning and enjoy dinner on another that evening—without feeling rushed. Trying to coordinate visits to this many islands on your own would be logistically daunting, to say the least.

Halfway through my recent trip, I started thinking about Jackie Kennedy and her days sailing amid the Greek islands while being romanced by Aristotle Onassis. Suddenly this mode of travel took on a whole new meaning and historically glamorous appeal.


Island hopping

For my recent journey, I sailed with Celestyal Cruises, a Greece-based company. With small ships, Celeystal is able to access tinier harbors that the large cruise ships cannot — a feature that sets the company apart and allows its cruises to include charming, less frequented ports of call.

My island hopping was divided between two different cruise itineraries — one that focused on the iconic Aegean islands: Mykonos, Santorini, Patmos, Crete and Rhodes and a second that highlighted smaller, more idyllic ports and lesser-known islands like Samos, Milos, Syros, Kos and Ios.

I also appreciated the fascinating variety of pre-arranged, hassle-free excursions on each island. There were options for those interested in scenery, culture, fine dining or merely beach hopping, or a little bit of all of the above.

When touring the island of Kos for instance, the excursions included visiting local, family-run wineries and honey makers; spending the day lounging on remote, pristine beaches or touring the intriguing archaeological ruins of Askleipion, which date to around 400 B.C. Often, there were simply too many tempting choices to squeeze into a single day’s visit.

There was a similar variety of choices on Ios — including whiling away the day on the pristine Maganari Beach, touring the pre-historic ruins of Skarkos, and meandering through the charming Chora village, where picturesque white cube houses and narrow stone streets cling to a steep hillside and offer dramatic views of the bay below.

On Mykonos, I enjoyed dinner in an incredibly quaint and charming beachfront restaurant in Ornos that I probably would not have found were it not for the cruise company. The small community offered a quiet, idyllic place to dine and escape thecrowds of Mykonos Town. A smattering of kids played in the water a few hundred yards from my open-air table. Sailboats bobbed quietly in the cove before me, and lights from the houses cascading down the nearby hillside twinkled, as the sun slipped beneath the horizon.


Traveling with Relaxation and Comfort

After a long day exploring archaeological ruins or wandering down the winding, cobblestone streets of the many small villages we visited, I was ready for a little rest and relaxation.

Back on the ship I found the perfect antidote in the spa, where each afternoon I pampered myself as we sailed from port to port — choosing a facial one day, a pedicure, foot and leg massage the next. I also enjoyed lounging on the poolside deck as we cruised through the impossibly blue waters of the Aegean, observing the island scenery as we sailed.

And because I did not have to waste time packing and unpacking each day, I was able to focus more time on just relaxing, digging into a good book, or reading about our next destination. During our sailing time, Celestyal also showcased Greek culture with language lessons, dancing classes and mythology quizzes.

Celestyal Cruises Olympia

A trip I won’t soon forget

Visiting the Greek islands is easily a bucket list trip. The islands have long had a special glamour, mystique and allure associated with only a select group of other destinations. There’s a reason Jackie O, as she later came to be known, came back again and again.

And cruising from one island to the next, not worrying for a moment about how you will get from place to place, makes the experience all that much more pleasant. Instead of being distracted by any of the hassles of travel, I was free to focus on the many pleasures of vacationing in this fabulous part of the world.

What’s more, I took my trip amid the height of the Greek financial crisis. While news headlines around the world projected gloom and doom, and a descent into chaos for the country, the islands remained as they ever were: a quiet sanctuary from the cares of the world.

Independent Getaway Packages From Friendly Planet

Independent Getaway Packages

What is an independent package?

Friendly Planet Travel is known for creating exciting small group international tours. But perhaps you sometimes prefer to travel on your own, with no itinerary and no schedule? You’re not alone! By popular demand, we’ve put our 30+ years of expertly creating package tour deals to work just as hard for the independent traveler.

With our Getaway packages, you can create your own custom travel experience. Ideal for those who want to explore without structure or limits.

  • Freedom to explore
  • No set itinerary
  • Top-notch hotels
  • Flights from 195 cities
  • Pick your own dates & excursions
  • All for incredible prices!

Taking a selfie in GreeceWhy not just use Expedia?

Lots of other sites let you choose your own travel dates and hotels, but with our carefully curated packages, we’ve done the legwork for you of choosing the best prices and quality. In addition, you’ll also enjoy the same level of personal care and attentive customer service we provide to all of our Friendly Planet travelers.

Whether you’re visiting Paris or Prague, Venice or Vienna (or even Hong Kong), skip the hours spent figuring it all out, and just enjoy all of the exciting things you’ll want to do once you arrive! All you need to do is pick your departure city, travel dates and hotels and we’ll get you the best price possible based on our negotiated rates.

What’s included

Enjoy top-notch hotels, like the Kempinski Bristol in BerlinThese getaways include flights from your selected departure city and hotels, with the ability to add optional tours and excursions.

  • Easy & Flexible
    Skip the hours of research, because we’ve done it for you! Choose your own travel dates, number of nights, and which U.S. city you’d like to fly out of. Our booking engine selects the best flights, hotels and transfers so you can build your own customized package.
  • Great Hotels
    Choose from a collection of quality hotels in each destination that we’ve pre-selected based on location, amenities, service and price. These hotels are conveniently located near tourist sites as well as shopping, restaurants and other attractions. You can even upgrade or change your hotel.
  • Included Flights
    Save with included airfare from the city of your choice from a wide variety of carriers. Tired of the trouble and expense of connecting through a few major cities to join a package? Now you can build your package with flights from your home city and get the best possible rates, with no surprises.
  • Freedom to Roam
    Create your own custom package with no set itinerary, take each day as it comes. No guides or escorts accompany you and there’s no touring schedule, so you you’re free to roam on your own. Or, enrich your stay by adding a variety of optional tours and activities available when you book.
  • Same Amazing Customer Service
    As always, whether you’re traveling on a group tour or an independent getaway, we care about our travelers like they’re our friends. If you ever need help during your trip, we’re just a phone call away, 24 hours a day.

Exploring Venice by gondolaDiscover

See all of the exciting places where you can get away!

Independent Getaway Packages

Want help planning or booking? Call now at 800-555-5765 to talk with a reservations agent. They’ll be happy to help you create the getaway adventure of your dreams.

Bangkok: A Sensory Celebration

Grand Palace, Bangkok

You’ll never forget the first time you experience Bangkok. It startles all the senses, instantly tuning you into the hum of life in the “land of smiles.”


Petite women clad in chut thai wait on restaurant tables. Their long, straight skirts and matching tops of stiff Thai silk in vibrant hues shimmer with thread that’s golden like the spires of the temples scattered throughout the city.

Inside the walls of the Grand Palace you’ll step into a dreamland of the greenest lawns and trees. Thousands of tiny pieces of colored glass beads and porcelain, meticulously arranged piece by piece, adorn massive columns and spires, dazzling the eyes as sunlight sparkles off each one.

A long narrow boat with a rainbow-covered canopy takes us up and down the canals of Bangkok, past the houses on stilts sitting just inches above the river that overflows every rainy season. People wash and bathe, waving and smiling as our boat coasts by and we get a glimpse into their lives. Brightly colored spirit houses (miniature temples with offerings) brighten up the dull wooden shacks with tin roofs showing how important it is to give the spirits—bringers of good fortune and health—a more desirable home.


When Thai people speak, you can hear the smile woven into the soft chatter. Even the guy in the nightclub who’s had a little too much Singha to drink, slurs, “Welcome to Thailand…everything here no problem. Smile, be happy!” The zooming of cars, motorbikes and tuk-tuks is a modern counterpoint to the traditional ways of life that still exist today.

Tuk tuk


The Royal Hotel is one of the oldest hotels in Bangkok and a significant building during the student revolution 30 years ago. The restaurant has a nice vibe and offers cultural favorites in the restaurant lounge, such as a nice bowl of tom ka gai (coconut milk soup).

If you like spicy food, you should know that spicy dishes served up in Thailand tend to be much more fiery than the ones we get back home. You can always ask for not spicy and the Thais will readily oblige.

In the street stalls you’ll have your pick of moo ping (grilled pork) and kai yang (grilled whole chicken) and delicious som tamthai  (papaya salad), an unripened papaya salad like coleslaw without the mayo but sweet and spicy.

Thais also like sweet things like koa nieow (mango and sticky rice) and kanom krok, a morning treat of coconut custard grilled in a special iron skillet with depressions like a small egg poacher.

Som tamthai


It’s not just a whiff; it’s the sweet hot air you experience in this city of golden temples and Buddhas. Unfamiliar scents from fruits and vegetables you’ve never seen before combine with the delicious aroma of spicy noodles sizzling in big woks on street corners, blending with incense burning in a traditional family shrine at a sidewalk shop. Olfactor-ily speaking, there’s nothing in our experience to even compare it to.


A great cure for jet lag is a visit to a traditional Thai massage school for an hour of stretching and kneading. Thai massage comes from India and China, an invigorating blend of yoga (with somebody else doing all the work) and strong pressure along the meridians (the chi energy points) of the body. For just under $12 you’ll walk away rejuvenated and ready for your next tuk-tuk ride.

Thai massage

Thai silver is a favorite treasure to bring home from Bangkok. If you want to follow Thai custom, particularly for men, look for a little Buddha amulet (you get to choose your own) and have it embedded inside a triangular case lined with red felt, and hung on a gold or silver chain.

Get out and shop early, as the first sale of the day is thought to bring more business for the shop owner and they’re more likely to take a lower offer to encourage the sales to keep flowing. We bargain for every souvenir but just keep smiling.

Women who want to do something you don’t usually do at home, get your hair braided with beads on Khao San Road where all the farang (foreigners) hang out—a global, cultural experience in itself.


Whatever you do in Bangkok, do it with open heart, mind and senses. In this city you’ll likely feel more alive than you’ve ever felt before.


Sustainable travel: taking the first step

Exploring a national park in Costa Rica

I’m Cameron, Friendly Planet’s web developer. And each year around Earth Day, I get a little edgy.

Part is my frustration as I watch companies large and small trot out their green credentials. It’s encouraging to see so many businesses taking earnest steps to reduce their impacts. But with so many of them—maybe even most—all I see is a thick layer of greenwashing over business as usual. And lately, it’s getting hard to tell the difference between the two.

The other part is my own introspection. Who am I to judge? What are my green credentials? Am I doing enough to reduce the impacts of my lifestyle? All my careful recycling, all those LED bulbs I shelled out for, all those trips by bike—am I really making a difference? Or just making myself feel better?

An eco-conundrum

My biggest eco-conundrum is that I love to travel. Nothing is more exhilarating. So I’m a lucky guy that I get to work for a travel company. I can probably blame my parents for my wanderlust. I was born in Australia to an American mother and a New Zealand father. Before I was three years old, we had already spent months hopscotching across the islands of the South Pacific. And once I was old enough, I began my own journeys. Wandering through the ancient streets and monuments of Istanbul. Gliding down the Ganges in a small skiff. Spending months becoming intimately familiar with London. Exploring an ancient, overgrown Mayan city in Guatemala. Watching the sun rise over the blue domes of Oia in the Greek Islands. Joining the locals in Carnival parades in a gorgeous Portuguese colonial town in Brazil. These experiences have been some of the pinnacles of my life.

So it’s quite vexing to know that perhaps the single biggest thing I could do to reduce my environmental impact would be to never set foot on an airplane again.

The impacts of travel

Case in point: last November, my wife and I headed to Australia, my first trip back since my family left in 1977. It was an incredible homecoming: I got to know the land of my birth, to rediscover the farm where I was born, and to meet up with cousins I hadn’t seen in 15 years. But yesterday, I ran the numbers on the carbon impacts of that trip. According to Sustainable Travel International’s carbon calculator, our round-trip flight from LA to Sydney produced 11.7212 tons of CO2—and that was just our share. Flights and driving within Australia produced another 0.68 tons. Grand total: 12.4012 tons of carbon emissions for a two-week vacation for two people.

To compare, I estimated the impacts of all our driving and home energy use for that same year, with the help of the U.S. EPA’s carbon footprint calculator. The total: 7.1304 tons. I was proud to see that our efforts to drive less and use more efficient lighting and appliances were paying off. But my heart sank when I realized that our short trip to Australia was responsible for 174% more carbon than all our driving, electricity and natural gas usage for the whole year.

I believe travel is one of the most valuable things a human being can do to appreciate other cultures and fall in love with Planet Earth. It’s difficult to understand how beautiful and fragile the whole thing is until you see it with your own eyes. Which is why some of the world’s most ardent conservationists are also some of the most well-traveled. So it’s ironic then that tourism is perhaps one of the more damaging human activities. According to various sources, tourism is responsible for about 5% of global CO2 emissions, most of it from air travel. And unlike things like eating and heating our homes, travel is a luxury that’s completely optional.

With that in mind—is there such a thing as sustainable tourism? There’s no shortage of so-called “eco-lodges” and companies claiming to offer green tour packages. But how much of this is simply greenwashing to assuage the guilt of first-world travelers like myself?

Steps for meaningful action

Here at Friendly Planet, this conundrum has been on our minds for some time now. Not only are we all travelers ourselves, but we want to be a force for good in the places we visit. That’s why we’ve worked for years on various philanthropic projects, such as providing clean water for villagers in Cambodia. We’ve tried to craft responsible tour packages that introduce our travelers to some of the more incredible (and threatened) ecosystems on earth—like Borneo, Costa Rica, the Galapagos and the Amazon. And it’s the reason we take our travelers to nature preserves and conservation projects that protect rather than exploit indigenous people and species, in places like Thailand, South Africa and Kenya.

Meanwhile, one incredible member of our staff is going much further. In her free time, 25 year-old Alyssa Ramos has founded a nonprofit organization, Schools for Sustainability, which is building a series of innovative learning centers in impoverished areas. Students obtain high school degrees while getting trained and certified in organic food production, water harvesting and purification, renewable energy, waste management, and more. The schools themselves will be built of sustainable materials and will serve as models of environmental stewardship. Development is already underway on the first school in Sabana Grande de Boyá in the Dominican Republic. Future schools are planned for Philadelphia, the Bronx, Tanzania, Haiti and Israel. Alyssa is an inspiration to us all.

With all that we’ve done so far as a company, we understand that it’s far from enough. That’s why we’re now working on a carbon neutrality initiative to mitigate the impacts of our tour packages and our office operations. We’re exploring possibilities including carbon offsets, renewable energy credits, and direct contributions to projects that reduce greenhouse gases. We’re certainly not the first company to embark on such a project. But as we follow the lead of other trailblazing organizations, we’re determined to offer our customers a way to travel that is both enlightening and responsible—a way to explore the planet while also doing less harm to it. Why? Because we want to live up to our name. Because it’s the right thing to do. Because we cherish the destinations we visit. And because we want to ensure they’re still there for our children to enjoy as well.

Solutions like carbon offsets and renewable energy credits are far from perfect. The best way to reduce carbon emissions is not to create them in the first place. But we believe there are so many overwhelming benefits to experiencing other cultures and places, and that offsets and credits offer probably the best solution right now to neutralizing the impacts.

Stay tuned for updates on our initiative. In the meantime, consider offsetting your own travel, using the Sustainable Travel International carbon calculator, or by purchasing carbon offsets through sites like the Carbon Fund, Native Energy or TerraPass.*

Cameron at a wildlife reserve near Brisbane, AustraliaI offset our Australia trip yesterday. And I’m feeling just a bit better today.

Cameron Clark has been Friendly Planet’s web developer and webmaster for over a decade, and is spearheading the company’s carbon neutrality project.

* These popular carbon offset websites are not necessarily endorsed by Friendly Planet Travel.

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