People First Tourism: Prioritizing Local People Creates Responsible, Authentic Travel Experiences

Nightborn Travel has provided information about ecotourism in the past, but today we have an exciting announcement! We are launching our new partnership with People-First Tourism – we’ll tell you a little more about their travel philosophy and look at why the experiences they offer are both unique and responsible.

What is People First Tourism?

(c) People First Tourism

People-First Tourism is a company with the goal of connecting local tourism entrepreneurs with the greater tourism market. They help supply authentic, sustainable experiences to travelers, while bringing better opportunities to local people around the world by giving control of tourism to the people that live in different destinations.

What is their philosophy and why should I support it?

(c) People First Tourism

People-First Tourism has an amazing manifesto that shows why traveling with them is a great idea if you are interested in being responsible and sustainable, but it also might inform your personal travel philosophy.

“All people have knowledge and experiences that they want to share with others.” This is at the heart of an authentic experience in any destination, learning the story that local people want to share with the rest of the world. Giving residents the ability to run their own tourism businesses, rather than massive, international companies, assists local people in telling their stories.

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“Communities are complex with constantly evolving factions that use their various capitals to compete, complement, and collaborate with each other.” There are people in every community that are more able than others to benefit from industries like tourism. People-First Tourism helps extend this opportunity to more people in the community.

“Immersive experiences into other ways of living bring perspective on what is important in life and fosters tolerance towards others.” We live in an increasingly connected world, but one that is still plagued by misunderstanding and sometimes hatred. Having authentic experiences that are beneficial for hosts and guests can help us build a better, more understanding world.

(c) People First Tourism

“Visitors are guests in their destination communities.” This means that we travelers should appreciate the hospitality of the people welcoming us into their community, without taking advantage.

“Travel writers must act as ambassadors for host communities.” Whether we’re travel bloggers, visitors, journalists, etc., it is our responsibility to help share the stories that local people in the places that we visit want to tell. In this way, we can help share the lessons we learn with the rest of the world, and encourage more people to help support small businesses around the world.

What experiences do they offer?

(c) People First Tourism

Right now People-First Tourism is offering experiences with hosts in North Carolina, Costa Rica, Portugal, and Guatemala. They include things like exploring natural sites, and learning more about local art and culture.

These host experiences would be great additions to any trip that you might be planning to take to these destinations. The complete People-First Tourism Manifesto is on their blog page.

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Trip Log: Around the World in Fourteen Days

This trip log gathers all of my live Facebook posts from my trip to the Society for Ecotourism Conference in South Korea, Stockholm, and through the Netherlands.

(c) ABR 2017

Day 1-3:

The past couple of days have been so busy! I flew from LAX to Seoul (13 hr flight- omg way too long). The next day I presented at the International Society for Ecotourism conference. And then today I spent the whole day touring the wetlands and ecotourism projects of Ansan, S. Korea.

One of the biggest tidal power plants in the world! Ansan, S. Korea (c) ABR 2017

Day 4:

Lots of times people tell me to “let go of my fears” and “stop worrying.” But today all that anxiety saved me. See, I was worried that Ansan was too far away from the airport, so the first night I was here, I booked another place two train stops away from the airport for my last night. That meant that today after lunch, it was time to get in a taxi and move to my new place. Only every taxi refused to take me! It was too far for them. It took me at least two hours by train to get over here. Thank God I didn’t need to do this tomorrow or I would have surely missed my flight.

 

Day 5:

No picture with this post, because you don’t even want to know what I look like right now. Hahaha. Anyway, I am in the middle of trying to get from Asia to Europe. I had a 5 hour flight from Seoul, a 12 hour (!!!) layover in Bangkok, and once that is over an 11 hr flight to Sweden. Thank goodness for transit hotels, that is all I am saying right now.

Day 6:

I finally made it to Sweden yesterday! We didn’t do too much (besides taking an accidentally long nap). Went close to downtown for some amazing vegetarian food, and stopped by the photography museum. It is beautiful but cold here!

Beautiful Stockholm (c) ABR 2017

Day 7:

We hiked through 9 verdant miles of forest in Tyresta National Park today and then rewarded ourselves with some delicious dinner in Stockholm. Now I’m falling asleep to the sound of rain on the windows.

(c) ABR 2017

Day 8:

Today we explored Stockholm. First, we stopped for some delicious chai before going to the open-air museum, Skansen. This place has lots of cultural exhibits, but due to how quiet it was, we hung out in the zoo section of the park. There were lots of active animals here, with great enclosures and lots of enrichment. Then we got lunch at the Spirits Museum where I tried some alcohol that “wrinkled my tongue” with its bitterness. Finally, because everyone said we should go, we went to the Vasa Museum to see the giant boat (it was worth it).

The famous Vasa (c) ABR 2017

Day 9:

We arrived in the Netherlands and in true Nightborn style we went straight to the Dunes of Loon and Drunen National Park. Really cool to see dunes in the middle of the forest.

(c) ABR 2017

Day 10:

I went to the high point of the Netherlands, visited downtown Tilburg, and saw the Van Gogh bike trail in one epic, mini-road trip. I’m ready to sleep in tomorrow!

(c) ABR 2017

Day 11:

Today we explored the “Little Venice” of the Netherlands (Giethoorn) in a little blue and white boat. We had to navigate through a reedy jungle of a national park, and survive boat jams in the town waterways. It was quite the adventure.

(c) ABR 2017

Day 13:

We’ve done a ton in the past two days. We walked through Amsterdam yesterday and stopped by the Van Gogh Museum. We attempted to see the Anne Frank Museum as well, but we weren’t able to go because we didn’t have reservations. Today we rode bikes through De Hoge Veluwe National Park (saw more Van Gogh), and went to the beach at Noorwijk. The Netherlands is an amazing place. There are still things I wish we had time to see, but tomorrow we begin the long journey home.

Free bikes come prepared for families! (c) ABR 2017

Day 14:

We drove the 1.5 hours to Eindhoven this morning, said farewell to our trusty car, Sasha, and hopped on the plane back to Stockholm. We enjoyed an evening walking around the city, and finally got the waffles we have been craving this whole trip at a beautiful cafe in the old city.

Our trusty car from the Netherlands, Sasha. ❤ (c) ABR 2017

A Quick Guide to Hiking Mt. Fuji

 

Summiting Mt. Fuji was at the top of my list of things to do on my last trip to Japan. There were a few things that made it seem a little difficult to plan for, and that’s what I want to talk about here, as well as some little tips that should be helpful if you want to make it to the summit yourself.

(1) Which trail should I choose?

Sign post on Mt. Fuji (c) ABR 2017

That depends on you! But you should know that this guide is for the Yoshida Trail. We picked this one because it is the easiest to access via public transit, and it had lots of mountain huts. Added bonus, it is real hard to get lost on this trail because there is great signage and lots of other people.

(2) When should I go?

The final station before the summit (c) ABR 2017

The season to hike Mt. Fuji is from early July to early September, and I would suggest that you go in the first week if at all possible. If not, aim for less busy weeks. There were already lines forming on the trail in the first week, when we went, and I would not want to be there when it was more busy.

Safety/Legal Note: You SHOULD NOT attempt Mt Fuji off-season. It is extremely dangerous.

(3) How the heck do I get to Mt. Fuji from Tokyo?

Torii gate on Mt. Fuji (c) ABR 2017

This seemed needlessly complicated when I was trying to figure out how to get there by train. What you really need, however, is a bus, specifically this one. This will take you from Shinjuku Station to the 5th Station on Mt Fuji, where most people start their hike. It is a liiiiitle hard finding the bus station if you come in from the subway, because Shinjuku Station is so big, but it is in a big, bus-sized parking structure across a major street. If you get your tickets early (which I would suggest, and which you can do from this website), there will be some directions there as well.

Pro-tip: Bring Dramamine if you get carsick because the road up the mountain is curvy.

(4) Do I really need to stay on the mountain overnight?

Sun set on Mt. Fuji (c) ABR 2017

I would suggest staying in one of the mountain huts for the night for two reasons.

  1. While Mt Fuji is definitely hikeable in a day if you get an early start and are an experienced hiker, this will give you a chance to break up your hike and enjoy yourself more.
  2. The mountain huts are not the most comfortable, but there are some seriously surreal views at night that made it worth sleeping shoulder to shoulder to people in a giant bunk bed.

We stayed at the highest hut on the trail (Goraikoukan, which was 8,500 yen a night with meals), and I think that this worked really well because we did most of the uphill hike the first day. Do try to get your reservation as soon as they open for the season, because Mt. Fuji is very busy. I will say, I found the website to be very confusing because parts of it are not in English, but if you spend some time looking through it, you can figure it out.

(5) What gear do I need?

Struggling up the steep trail with a crowd (c) ABR 2017

Again, this depends on you. What I would suggest that you bring or rent (gear is available for rent at the Fifth Station where you arrive via bus) are clothes for rainy weather, because conditions change rapidly on the mountain, and you NEED to have good hiking shoes that are properly sized and broken in. What is optional are hiking poles, which I think may be helpful on the way down, but a little dangerous on the way up due to the steep conditions. Some people also bring little oxygen canisters, which I really don’t think are necessary, because Mt. Fuji is not as tall as it looks, but again, this is up to you. There is food at the mountain huts if you don’t want to carry your own, but I do suggest bringing something to give you a little sugar rush when you need it on the way up.

(6) Some people say Mt. Fuji isn’t worth the effort? What should I expect?

Crowds at the last stretch of the trail (c) ABR 2017

Mt. Fuji can be very crowded, and if you are looking for a wooded hike, this isn’t the trail you are looking for, however, I loved Mt. Fuji and I think you will too if you go in knowing a few things.

  1. The trails up and down Mt. Fuji are very steep. Please train and prepare before coming. Build your muscles and endurance, and break those hiking shoes in! If you are afraid of heights, be aware that there is some scrambling on the way up. The way down consists of steep switchbacks that will most likely murder your knees.
  2. There will be queuing on the trails, and there will be LOTS of slow hikers. Be mentally prepared to take your time, and enjoy the views.
  3. There aren’t many trees above 5th Station. Mostly, you will be climbing up the cone of the mountain, which is fairly featureless. That being said, I love that desolate look of high mountains above the tree-line, and the views off of Mt. Fuji’s slopes are unbeatable.

(7) Anything I should know about being responsible while on the mountain?

The summit is sometimes awash in trash from visitors (c) ABR 2017

Mt. Fuji has had problems with litter in the past, and it is essential to avoid becoming part of that problem. There are no trash cans once you get started on the trail, so please be prepared to pack your trash out. I usually bring along some grocery bags to tie up any trash that I don’t want just sitting in my pack, and it is always good to keep a close eye on your wrappers, etc. when you are stopping to eat. It can get windy up in the mountains, and even accidental littering is detrimental for the environment.

As always, other hiking rules apply. Stay on the trail to preserve the environment and for your own safety, even if there is a line on the trail or an apparently easier way up the slope. Do not take anything from the mountain. There might look like an endless supply of volcanic pebbles, but if everyone takes some, it will be a really problem in the long-run.

Remember that you are a guest on the mountain, and enjoy yourself.

Explore, Grow, Thrive!

Happy Blogiversary to Me: Celebrating a Year with Nightborn Travel

In case you couldn’t tell, you know, from the title, it’s my first blogiversary with Nightborn Travel!

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From our trip to Bisbee. Is it a mine cart? Is it a toilet? NO – IT’S TOILET CART!

Instead of receiving gifts on this most special of occasions, I thought I would give a gift to YOU, dear readers, by sharing some of my learnings over the past year.

1) Open yourself up to traveling more.

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GIVE THE GRAND CANYON A HUG. (Safely.)

But you may say, Katie, I’m afraid of flying (well, I kind of am, too) or Katie, traveling costs too much money and even Katie, I don’t have anyone to travel with (I’ll address this in point number two).

Well, what you need to do, my friend, is broaden your definition of “travel”, I know I have. Traveling doesn’t always mean jet-setting across the globe, it doesn’t always have to be big. If you check out some of my other posts, you’ll see that most of them are about exploring my home state of Arizona and how I love every minute of it.

In fact, some of my favorite trips have been just a couple hours outside of my city.

Which brings me to my next nugget of wisdom.

2) Don’t feel weird about solo travel.

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When you travel solo, you can wear whatever hat you wanna wear.

 

I think we’re finally starting to shake off the stigma that doing activities by yourself like going out for a meal, seeing a movie and more recently, traveling, doesn’t make you a loner or anti-social, etc., etc.

Which is great, because it DOESN’T. Every person has a different idea of what makes them happy, especially when it comes to travel. And I don’t know about you, but as much as I enjoy company, I also enjoy me-time.

There are definitely benefits to solo travel too, like choosing what you want to do, when you want to do it. Super beneficial for someone like me who’s going to be stopping every five seconds to take a photo of something. Plus, it pushes you out of your comfort zone – I know I stop and chat with people a lot more when I’m traveling alone, something that I do less of when I’m with a group.

And guess what, solo travelers? People are doing it more, particularly millennial women, inspiring not only more women to travel but for travel-related businesses to think of safer ways for women to travel. A total win!

I mean, there’s still a lot of things that are hard to do alone, like an escape room or a three-legged race so keep those friends around because…

3) A good travel buddy makes any trip worth taking.

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Friends that cave together, stay together.

I’m gonna get sappy(ish), but you’ve already come this far so you might as well see it the whole way through.

I’ll spare you the whole “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey” cliche, but if you’re traveling somewhere with folks, isn’t half the fun the people you’re with? Like when I think back to some of my trips with my Nightborn Travel pal, Aireona, a lot of my favorite memories are the goofy things that happened or that we said or did.

And while we’re just going full speed down that sappy road, I’m going to have to thank Aireona for inviting me on this blogging adventure! Without her, I wouldn’t even HAVE  a blogiversary to celebrate. Plus, she is an endless supply of travel wisdom and inspiration and I am SO glad to to call her one of my travel buddies.

So thanks for sticking with me for a year, reader dears. I hope you stay stuck, because I have so much more to share!

Travelers gonna travel,
Katie

Backyard Discoveries: Travel Tips for a Jaunt in Jerome, AZ

Greetings, travelers! Knowing our love for ghost towns, it was just a matter of time before we made it to one of Arizona’s most popular historic mining towns, Jerome.

Even though mining in Jerome ended in 1953 (after 77 years!), the town is still a thriving tourist destination and artistic community with plenty of fun things to do and see.

Traveling Tips

The drive: The charming hillside spot is only about a two hour drive up north from Phoenix. There are spots to fuel up and stop along the way, but because the I-17 reduces to two lanes as you head toward Flagstaff (and unfortunately, as you head back) traffic can get kind of hairy, with REALLY long delays depending on what’s happening (holidays, ski/snowboarding season, etc.), so I would recommend filling up to a full tank of gas before you go.

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When to visit: Because it’s hopping tourist destination, Jerome stays pretty busy year-round. It helps that even during the hot summer months, it’s a few degrees cooler being farther up north. I know that we always stress getting somewhere in the early a.m., but it’s really true if you want to avoid the crowds and have the run of the town for yourself! Holidays are often the busiest, as well, but I think we lucked out because we got to Jerome just a bit after 10 a.m. – by the time we left around 2 p.m., the place was poppin’.

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If you like to hike: We recommend Dead Horse Ranch, a state park just 20 minutes away from Jerome. Don’t let the name throw you off, it’s a pleasant and expansive state park with a lot to offer. There are sites for campers, lagoons for fishing, areas for picnicking, and even a small river with a river walk. There are also, of course, hiking trails – I think we ended up hiking about 3 miles along their Lime Kiln trail. I would say this trail is easy to moderate, depending on your hiking experience – nothing too steep and no climbing required. Just always make sure that you a) have enough water (it doesn’t hurt to bring snacks for energy, either), b) know what trail you’re on and stay on it and c) know your limits.

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What to see: This is really traveler’s choice! We basically just walked around the town with no set agenda, but other travelers recommend the Douglas Mansion or Gold King Mine. Just remember that this is a hillside town, so you will be doing a LOT of walking upwards (and then blessedly, downwards).

Notable places we found on our stroll –

Jerome Grand Hotel

It wouldn’t be a ghost town without the ghosts. The Jerome Grand Hotel has a history of haunts – it was originally a hospital during the town’s mining days.

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Also fascinating, the hotel still has steam-powered heating and an OTIS elevator from 1926.

Holy Family Catholic Church

This church has been standing for more than 100 years. Visitors are welcome, and though it’s no longer an active parish, they do hold mass every third Saturday of the month.

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La Victoria Studio

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Even if you’re visiting and the studio isn’t open, it’s still housed in a very cool structure.

From what we could tell and from what I’d heard from a family member, this is a pottery and glassblowing studio. Open hours seem… flexible. If you do manage to catch them when they’re open to the public, apparently they do pottery and glassblowing demos.

Getting your grub on: We ate at the Haunted Hamburger, and no, the burgers aren’t haunted, but the building supposedly is. Also, their outside patio offers a great view of the town below. There are plenty of other food stops to choose from, but they fill up FAST once they open (another reason to get there earlier rather than later).

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Anyone who knows us would not be surprised that Rickeldoris Candy and Popcorn Company was our very first stop in Jerome. It’s just as much of a treat for the eyes with a colorful selection of candies in jars, bins, boxes and an old-fashioned feel.
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We followed the delicious smell of kettle corn. I bought too much taffy, but I regret nothing.

Certainly, there’s plenty more to explore, but hopefully this will be a good starter guide for you.

Y’all come back now, ya hear?

With much affection,
The Nightborn Travel Team

 

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Do’s and Don’ts for Travelers to Japan

How to Respectfully Experience Japanese Shrines and Temples

Nikko shrine (c) RDB 2017
  1. There are wells (purification fountains) on the way into shrines and temples, and if you rinse your hands, try to avoid touching the ladle anywhere but the handle, and pour used water into the gutter. You can also pour some water into your hand to rinse your mouth (don’t drink).
  2. If you want to worship at a Shinto shrine, when you get to the offering hall toss some coinage into the offering box. If there is a bell, ring it, bow two times, clap your hands twice, and then bow one more time.
  3. Don’t eat or drink anything other than water in the shrine or temple.
  4. Be quiet and respectful; these are holy places.

Being Polite In While Traveling by Train in Japan

The shinkansen (c) ABR 2015
  1. When waiting to get on the train, pay attention to the lines painted on the sidewalk, and be sure to stand in line.
  2. Don’t talk on your phone; if chatting with a pal, try to be quiet.
  3. If it gets crowded, take your bag off and hold it in front.
  4. If you have an assigned seat, make sure that is where you sit.
  5. Don’t be pushy, and make sure that you leave room for other people to get on and off the train.

How to Avoid Annoying Japanese People

Crowds in Japan (c) RDB 2017
  1. Read ALL the signs, especially when you are in a shrine or temple. Many will tell you where you can and cannot go, and what you need to do while in any area (e.g. take off your shoes, etc).
  2. Stand in line. This goes for lots of different places that you might not expect depending on where you are from. We even stood in line while hiking, and while that ad hoc happens in the US sometimes, it was not ok to move up in the line in Japan.
  3. Learn and use please (“sumimasen,” which really means excuse me) and thank you (“arigato”) in Japanese. When you are in a restaurant, it is not impolite to hail your waiter by saying “sumimasen.”
  4. Be quiet if you are in an Airbnb, because people live very close to one another, and the Japanese work day/week is very long.
  5. Be quiet and respectful in Onsens and follow all rules while bathing.
  6. Watch other people, and take note of their behavior. This can serve as your guide for how to act when you are uncertain.

Other Japanese Customs You Might Want to Know About (But Which Visitors Aren’t Expected to Understand)

Tokyo (c) RDB 2017
  1. Bowing. In Japan, there’s a complexity to bowing in which people of different standings bow to different depths. Bowing can also be casual or formal. Luckily, visitors aren’t expected to know how this all works.
  2. Gift-giving is another important but complicated aspect of Japanese culture. Generally speaking, people don’t open their gifts in front of the gift-giver, and whenever you receive a gift, you are supposed to return the favor. Again, however, travelers aren’t expected to do this all properly.

The National Parks of Japan Have It All

Map of Japan’s national parks from https://www.env.go.jp/en/nature/nps/park/

Japan has a total of 33 national parks, many of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Spread out across its major islands, they showcase the vast variety of ecosystems and unique landscapes that characterize the natural world of Japan. These parks are also home to many important historic and cultural attractions, making them the perfect places to experience the multifaceted wonders of Nippon. I’ve only seen a small fraction of these special places, but they deserve a post highlighting how amazing they are.

Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park

As you may be able to tell from the name of this park, Fuji-Hakone-Izu has three distinct sections, one of which is home to Mt. Fuji (the highest mountain in the country), one is for Hakone, and one for the Izu islands south of Tokyo. Of these, I have visited Hakone and Mt. Fuji.

That’s boiling hot water running down those steps in the geothermal area of Hakone (c) ABR 2017.

When I went to Hakone, it was my first time in Japan, and I wanted to have the chance to see Mt. Fuji, since we wouldn’t be able to actually visit the mountain. We heard that the journey through this part of the park would give us the best chance for a glimpse of the crown of Japan (although we didn’t actually get to see it that time due to cloud cover), so we bought a transportation value pass (for details click here). This takes you from Toyko via multiple different modes of transportation (train, funicular, cable car, boat, and bus) through the Hakone area. This includes a stop in a geothermal area where you can see some hot springs and buy special black eggs cooked in the searing hot waters of the mountain. You will also get to ride an oddly pirate-esque boat across Lake Ashinoko. Not included in the pass, but well worth the extra cost, is the Old Hakone Check Point, which was used during the Edo period to monitor people moving through Japan.

Old Hakone Checkpoint on a cloudy day (c) ABR 2017.

On our second trip to Japan, I did summit Mt. Fuji, which was a just-as-memorable-as-you-would-think two-day experience that I will devote an entire post to later this month. I will say that this mountain is busy, but makes up for the crowds with unimaginably beautiful views and a uniquely spiritual experience.

Torii gate near the summit of Mt Fuji (c) ABR 2017.

Nikko National Park

Nikko National Park includes a huge complex of shrines among a wildly beautiful, mountainous countryside. This is one of the most spiritual places that I have ever been in my life, but it is also very popular. So, the real moments of still and introspection are those that you can steal in a crowd, or find on a quiet trail among the trees. This National Park is also home to Mt. Nantai, Kegon Falls, and Lake Chuzenji. After Mt. Fuji, Mt Nantai is one of the best places for a visitor to get a challenging hike in, but you will need to plan ahead if you are going to make it up the steep trails of this mountain to the summit.

The crowds in Nikko make it hard to find that spiritual moment, but you will find it in this national park (c) ABR 2017.

Setonaikai National Park

I visited this park while staying on Miyajima island of Hiroshima Bay, which is home to the ocean-side Itsukushima-jinga and Mt. Misan, in the western side of the park. For anyone like me, that isn’t super fond of snorkeling, the island is your best destination for this part of the national park, because the rest of Setonaikai is marine, complete with finless porpoises and beautiful forests of ocean plant-life.

Man-made, anti-erosion waterfalls on Miyajima (c) ABR 2017.