Photography by Rita McNeill, Interview by Ellen Tirant with Ashley Blake.
Traverse Journeys run group trips all over the world, founded on the principles of ecotourism and the concept of purposeful travel. Through each trip Traverse Journeys offers, travellers will be exposed to local culture and surroundings in an educational, supportive and respectful way. Ensuring money goes directly back into the communities visited, Traverse Journeys create engaging, authentic trips packed full of experience and knowledge that are beneficial to both communities and visitors, whilst taking care of the natural environment.
In 2018, Traverse Journeys are teaming up with Social Cycles to facilitate a 300 mile cycling trip through Cambodia and Vietnam. The trip starts in Phnom Penh, heading into southern Cambodia, over into Vietnam and ending in Ho Chi Minh City. The groups will be stopping by Kampot and visiting us at Dorsu to learn about the garment industry here in Cambodia and to see first hand what we do and how we do it. Reflected in the trip's motto 'get educated, get fit and get inspired' - this journey is all about connection, experience and purpose and we are excited to be part of it!
We caught up with Ashley, founder of Traverse Journeys to hear more about their guided trips, the importance of travel and the impact they create through their everyday mission.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and what inspired the creation of Traverse Journeys?
I (Ashley) come from a varied career background, ranging from concert production in Oregon (US), sports and events-based tourism in Europe and China, and project management in the natural foods space. There has always been a spirit of autonomy, creativity and entrepreneurialism in each of the paths I’ve taken, and in 2016 I found myself in a place that allowed me to really think about what I wanted to do next. Traverse is a fusion of internal aspirations I had and external needs I saw; putting my experience with language, culture and travel to use in light of the moment we’re in with responsible & sustainable travel and the need for people from varying backgrounds and places to have opportunities to learn and share from each other. In my role as the founder, I wear many hats – from business & finance, to trip leading & social media marketing.
What impact is created on these trips? How does Traverse Journeys hope to spread this impact further in the future?
Traverse is rooted in impact – for the travellers, for the communities we visit, for the environment. Each venture involves a community partner – like Dorsu! – that geographically grounds the trip and provides a backdrop for the community we’re in and people we’re meeting. 5% of trip sales are contributed to our community partner, both to thank them for their time with us and help them increase their impact on their own community.
Describe a typical Traverse Journeys trip to us. What's involved, who attends, the places you see and the people you meet.
Each trip includes cultural education that we informally sprinkle in throughout – both small tips on etiquette and manners and larger discussions on underlying culture steeped in philosophy, religion, social norms and structure, etc.
For the clients, we provide all of the infrastructures, like boutique accommodations, fantastic local food, and transportation so that they don’t have to stress about details they don’t have the time or bandwidth to figure out. And each trip has a theme - like cycling through Cambodia, hiking the Inca Trail at Machu Picchu, eating your way through Italy, admiring the landscapes of Ireland, experiencing the Amazon in Ecuador or yoga & art in Morocco. The itineraries are balanced so that each day you have an activity or two, but also enough free time for explorations on your own.
What are the main values guiding Traverse Journeys?
Traverse is driven by the values of People, Planet, Purpose. We see both traveller and the communities as catalysts for change. A great example is our community partner in Nicaragua, Barrio Planta Project, where we spend an afternoon of Spanish/English exchange – fun and engaging for the travellers and real-world experience for the students, whose likely career path may include tourism and practice is a key to overcoming cultural and language barriers. A win-win! The trip donation for this partner support local kids’ enrolment costs.
We also work super hard to source local, culturally representative food - organic when possible. And we’re very selective about vendor partners, like Alex’s Surf Shop in Nicaragua who supports local kids in surf competitions. We really want to keep those tourism dollars in the local community.
What do you believe is the most important thing about travel and experiencing new places, people and culture?
I think that having an open mind is super important when travelling. You begin to realize that people and in different parts of the world have constructed their approaches to life in a wide variety of ways. Cultural values can even seem opposing, which can result in conflict. It’s when you start to put yourself in others’ shoes and look at life from a different perspective that you can appreciate these differences and realize that diversity really is our strength.
Traverse Journeys community partner Barrio Planta Project, Nicaragua. Photo courtesy of Jim Hill.
Where is your favourite place to visit and why?
That is such a hard question to answer, I love so much about so many places! I will say that I am super excited about returning to Southeast Asia and Cambodia. I love the energy and smiles, the food and approach to health and wellness, the traditions and respect for ancestors, and the endless positivity I see in that part of the world.
For anyone interested in joining a Traverse Journeys trip, do you have tips or insights on what they should expect on one of these adventures?
Expect the unexpected! Travel is transformative, and our trips are designed to expose you to new people and places in a way that is safe, educational and adventurous. You never know who you might meet or what you might encounter that will change and impact you forever.
Learn more about Traverse Journeys and all upcoming trips here.