Robin Anderson | 06.19.2017

Crooked Trails is a nonprofit, community-based travel organization based in Seattle and founded in 1998. The organization creates environmentally and culturally sensitive travel in areas where the negative impacts of tourism threaten the cultures and environments of popular tourist destinations and fragile regions.

Crooked Trails programs are true cultural exchanges that not only make positive contributions to the host communities but also have lasting effects on our travelers. Each Crooked Trails participant learns ways to incorporate lessons from these exchanges into their own lives and communities.
At home, Crooked Trails educates travelers and tour companies on how to travel responsibly and ways to minimize the environmental and cultural impacts of travel.

What is Community-based Tourism?

Ecotourism is defined by TIES (The International Ecotourism Society) as "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people."
Community based tourism takes this a step further by adding in a crucial element: It puts the power of choice in the hands of the community members so they have control over how tourism happens to them, rather than being passive recipients of a larger tourist industry.  

As a leader in community-based tourism, Crooked Trails believes in low-impact travel practices and the idea that travel is truly valuable when an opportunity to form relationships with communities exists. When observation from a tour bus is taken out of the equation and close-up, hands-on experiences are encouraged, tourism becomes intimate enough to impact long-term change in the hearts and minds of both the traveler and the communities visited.   

Crooked Trails endeavors to move away from classic tourism and the idea that cultures of less-developed regions are meant to be observed as moments in time, representing a part of history or culture as it was, rather than as it is. Instead, acknowledging these cultures as non-linear, fluid entities allows for the agency and advancement of community members.

In community-based tourism, community members are regarded as business partners and creators of different platforms such as conservation, social justice and human rights. Crooked Trails firmly believes this is an important role in the next evolution of responsible travel.  

It’s Not Voluntourism

Crooked Trails works on community development projects chosen by the people we visit and does not enter any community without an invitation. Crooked Trails does not offer traveling experiences based on the idea of voluntourism. As co-founder Chris Mackay notes, “Shoveling and hammering at 13,000 feet in Nepal or Peru is exhausting, and it will net about an hour of work a day from travelers. At the end of the day, communities need support for their own efforts to create a community-based project, rather than negligible skills that don’t end up empowering a community to be self-sufficient.”

That’s not to say that getting your hands dirty won’t be part of your experience with Crooked Trails. But getting involved with a community may look like many different things and many different activities, depending on what is going on when you land there. In essence, the experience will be allowed to unfold as it naturally does, without trying to curate an exact idea or experience.  

Where Crooked Trails Works

In cooperation with local non-governmental organizations, Crooked Trails operates travel programs in support of indigenous peoples in Kenya, Thailand, Nepal, India, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, and Bhutan.  
By working with our host communities on their own terms, Crooked Trails facilitates the development and administration of locally controlled cultural exchange programs that support the communities’ efforts to preserve and protect their environments and confront the challenges of their rapidly changing surroundings.

You can find out more about Crooked Trails by visiting their website.


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