Intercultural Travel: Journeys International

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

"Ride a camel through the vast Gobi Desert. Canoe through a cave filled with ancient Mayan artifacts. Ride a pony to the famous Tiger's Nest Monastery. Overnight on a houseboat in the backwaters of Kerala. Explore jungle-side villages. Stay in a traditional longhouse. Get close to a bluefooted booby; snorkel with sea turtles, penguins, sea lions, and sharks!"

"For nearly 30 years we have been creating ecologically sensitive and culturally responsible travel to exotic destinations around the world. Specialty ecotrips include women's tours, Kilimanjaro climbs, exploration cruises, festival trips, student group trips and cross cultural and wildlife safaris." Journeys International


I am always on the lookout for new and interesting travel stories for our wandering educators. When I came across a unique and responsible tour company that highlights local guides, intercultural experiences, and cross-cultural learning, I had to learn more and share it! I was lucky enough to sit down and talk with Will Weber, Director, Journeys International, Inc.: Intimate Access to Other Worlds.


Here's what he had to say...



WE: Tell us a little bit about Journeys International - how did it start?

WW: JOURNEYS International began in 1978 while my wife, Joan, and I were graduate students at the University of Michigan. We had both spent time in Nepal. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer and Joan taught English as a second language at a women's center. We missed our days in Nepal and decided to organize a trip back to Nepal as a way to pay for our own airfare. The trip went very well and we decided to do it again the next year with a more conscious effort to promote cross-cultural interaction, involve our clients in supporting community projects and training local people to act as leaders, cooks and support staff for future trips. We have adapted this basic philosophy and model over 30 years and across 60 different destinations.

What sort of travel experiences do you provide?

WW: We think of all of our trips as active and adventurous, but not necessarily physically demanding or exhausting. Usually our groups are 12 persons or fewer. We always involve local people in significant ways and prefer high-quality, well-managed locally owned small lodges, guesthouses and hotels as our prefered accommodation. Trips focus more on wildlife and nature, such as our safaris in Africa, Madagascar, Brazil and India. We offer treks in the Himalayas along certain favorite routes. We have relationships with the owners of small nature and exploration cruise ships operating in the Arctic, Antarctic, Amazon, Galapagos, Egypt and West Africa. Each year we arrange special trips for high school and college educators and their students to visit our destinations.


WE: What locations do you travel to?

WW: We began in the Himalayas and now offer 55 destinations - mostly in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Pacific.


Are children welcome?

We have a separate division of the company devoted to designing and operating excellent family trips. The programs are described at


How do you accommodate people with disabilities?

Since many of our trips require physical activity in remote areas without special provisions for people with disabilities, we suggest people with special needs contact us about our ability to offer private arrangements. We have arranged private trips around many different special needs.


WE: What is your favorite journey to share with people?

WW: Personally, I always love to go back to the Himalayas of Ladakh, Bhutan and Nepal. The combination of Buddhist culture and tradition, spectacular scenic beauty, and natural environmental and biological diversity always provide the context for a great travel experience.


Can you please share a story about some of your journeys?

WW: I am always learning more about being a trip leader from the great local guides who bring their own cultural understanding to problem solving. On one of the first trips I led in Nepal, I was having a problem with one of our clients who seemed to have complaints about everything she was experiencing. i was taking her complaints personally and not finding the right responses to put her at ease with the circumstances everyone else was enjoying. I shared my frustration with the local leader, Pemba Sherpa, the co- founder and current director of our Himalayan program. "Let me take care of Nelly," he asserted. "She is difficult, but I learn the most about good leadership by trying to figure our how to make the most difficult customers happy."

This inspiration to learn the most from my most difficult customers has always stayed with me as a way to keep my own cool and try to turn adversity into a learning experience.


How do you work to make your journeys ecologically sensitive?

WW: When we started JOURNEYS we also created a non-profit organization, The Earth Preservation Fund, which serves to fund small projects in local communities with traveler contributions. We try to minimize our energy and resource use through our choice of accommodations and services. In some cases the lodges we patronize have been created by land owners who are attempting to justify habitat preservation through ecotourism. We also offer tree planting trips and other programs with environmental themes as well as partnering with other organizations focusing on environmental causes.


How do you find such fantastic in-country guides?

WW: We always have the goal of long-term relationships with our guides, operators and representatives. We pay very good local wages to attract and retain top people. Our clients tend to be intelligent, enthusiastic and generous people who appreciate a great guide. This makes our groups attractive to the best leaders and after a few trips we find we can usually request and receive the most praised and highly evaluated guides for our trips and our clients. Sometimes we find a local person who speaks excellent English and is just a natural leader, teacher or organizer, but not in the travel industry. With a little training and encouragement, such individuals often make great guides and usually they find the opportunities for personal connections with people from other countries a compelling reason to make a career in travel.

WE: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

WW: The longer we are involved in ecotravel and the more destinations we visit, the more opportunities we see for travelers as agents of peace, conservation, development and personal, one-to-one international diplomacy.


Thanks so much, Will! Your experiences are inspiring. I think it is fantastic, the journeys that you are leading, and your responsibility towards sustainable and interculturally sensitive travel.


For more information on Journeys International, please see:


All photos courtesy of and copyright Journeys International.


Journeys International