Q & A with Matt Thompson, Brand Manager, Country Walkers, Williston, Vermont, USA.
Recommended by National Geographic Traveler and Travel + Leisure magazines.
HOW IS COUNTRY WALKERS A SUSTAINABLE TOUR OPERATOR?
We take sustainability very seriously in our office. That value is woven into the DNA of all of our tours in ways both small and large. We're committed to using low-emission vehicles for our tours, partnering with locally owned accommodations, and visiting local artisans, musicians, and craftsmen. We make a donation on behalf of every guest to causes both local and international - from supporting the restoration of a historic chapel in Italy to providing clean water to thousands of families in Haiti. We have a cross-department Sustainable Travel Committee that reviews every facet of our operation with a focus on lowering our carbon footprint and reducing waste.
Glacier National Park in Montana is a perennial favorite for nature lovers. It's one of the least visited national parks in the United States because it's so remote. You do not have to contend with crowds. It has spectacular mountains, and there's always a chance to see grizzly bears!
I would also recommend our new tour to the state of Georgia which includes the lovely coastal city of Savannah and the Golden Isles. The coast offers breathtaking landscapes; it's also a great destination for bird watching and photography.
Our three safaris in Africa are hard to top as well. In Zambia you can walk from lodge to lodge through a national park, spotting wild zebra, giraffe, and much more along the way.
WHAT WOULD BE A GOOD TOUR FOR FAMILIES WITH SCHOOL-AGED CHILDREN?
Two of our self-guided tours that families should consider would be Ireland: Cork & Kerry and Nova Scotia: Cape Breton Island. [This company does not accommodate children in their fully guided tours.]
It's true! In recent years we have seen a considerable uptick in solo travelers. Not everyone has a travel partner at the exact time he or she takes a vacation. It can be a single person but also even married people whose spouses are just not available for whatever reason. I think stories in travel magazines and other media have really helped to encourage individuals, especially women, to overcome past stigmas and fears about solo travel. They can absolutely do it on their own. Of course a travel company like Country Walkers guarantees that you will meet other solo travelers during your trip as you share the trail or at dinner.
Both travel styles are wonderful, but they appeal to very different mindsets. Obviously with a self-guided tour you have the freedom to explore at your own pace, stop when you want to stop, and make discoveries on your own. It does help if you are comfortable reading maps and don't get flustered if you make a wrong turn or two. You can always step into a local shop or a cafe to ask directions - and that can be part of the fun! But others just feel more relaxed and assured when they have a guide to lead them, especially in a foreign country with a different language. Also our guides are very responsive to individual preferences and questions. All you have to do is show up and you will be taken care of from the tour start to finish.
While virtually everything is included in our guided tours, there are fewer inclusions in our self-guided tours. Since guests are going at their own pace, we let them arrange lunches on their own most nights and some dinners. Generally, over half of meals are included, but it is not the same all inclusive experience that guided tours are. So the difference really just comes down to the type of experience you would like to have.
This means we will provide opportunities for our guests to have interactions and cultural exchanges that they might not have otherwise or would have more difficulty creating on their own. These interactions can range from visits with local families in their homes, a truffle hunt with foragers, to a discussion with a farmer or a crafts person. In our view, an equally important element of authentic engagement happens largely behind the scenes -- we make it a practice of paying fair wages to all local guides, drivers, and operators wherever we travel.
We also pitch in to send supplies to local charitable organizations when our guides alert us to an urgent need. We have also funded several small but important projects such as drilling new water wells for villagers in rural regions. We believe in maintaining an ongoing relationship with the people whose lives we touch.
AN EXAMPLE OF AN ONGOING CHARITY YOU PARTNER WITH?
One is called Wine to Water. They do a great job in restoring and updating existing wells around the world and training local community members to keep these resources viable. I appreciate their long-term vision and dedication.
We have extensive contacts around the world and have done all the heavy lifting when it comes to finding the best local hotels, the best walking routes, and unique experiences along the way. Our local guides are simply unmatched, and they're quite accomplished in their own right. It's hard to beat exploring Ireland with a musicologist, or traveling through Peru with an archaeologist, or walking through Bryce Canyon with a geologist! It takes a lot of time and effort to research a trip itinerary on your own, and some people are just too busy for that. I would also like to mention that many of our local hotels and inns are not listed on typical English-language websites like hotels.com, or they are just very hard to book if you are an individual traveler.
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