TL;DR Creating intentional travel experiences for women, Christine Winebrenner Irick, founder of Lotus Sojourns, has found that understanding her values and carrying those into her business has allowed her to craft experiences women really resonate with, and allows her to combine her passions for responsible tourism and transformative travel into journeys that are as good for the soul as they are for the destination.
Beginning a Responsible Travel Journey
I have been dreaming of launching a travel company since I was 19 or 20, and my concept of what it would be has evolved with me over the years. Two years ago I decided that now is that “someday.” As I began diving into the work of creating what would eventually become Lotus Sojourns, there was one thing I knew would be non-negotiable; my company would embrace important values I had been introduced to during the 20 years I had been working in different areas of the tourism industry. I had strongly resonated with the fundamentals of responsible tourism and knew I would create a company that would be aligned with these fundamentals while creating an authentic connection between travelers and destinations.
What is Responsible Tourism?
When I start conversations around my passion for responsible tourism and try to explain what on earth my degree in Sustainable Destination Management could possibly be, I often find myself defining terms. My definition of responsible tourism is tourism that creates minimal negative impact environmentally or culturally. As I lead travelers on more intentional journeys, I’ve seen we are contributing to positive financial and environmental impacts.
How to Travel in Alignment With Your Values
Knowing my personal values and letting those shape my company values has helped me to set my intentions and guide my decisions. I encourage travelers to connect to their personal values and see how these relate to their travel experiences. There are many types of responsible travel but I focus on the areas of tourism that resonate with my values — adventure tourism, eco-tourism, educational tourism, volunteerism or philanthropic travel, transformational travel — and then look at them through the lens of intentionality.
People who travel with these focuses in mind are all being more intentional about the type of experience they want to have and therefore, they interact with people and place in a more impactful way. As someone who loves hiking and connecting with nature as well as learning from Indigenous cultures, it is easier for me to see the need to consider how my travel impacts a destination.
How to Create a Responsible Travel Experience
When I plan a travel experience, I start by collaborating with small, locally-based organizations to ensure we are supporting as many local hotels, tour guides, restaurants, and artisans as possible. This gives you, as a traveler, rich authentic engagement with the destination. You might find yourself slumbering in a seaside mansion converted into a boutique hotel, chatting fireside at a mountaintop lodge run by a local anthropologist, or sharing a meal with a woman who runs a community cooperative making fair trade jewelry. Responsible tourism not only supports local communities, but this type of experience is infinitely more powerful because this step away from a familiar chain hotel or restaurant is where your transformational journey really begins. It is in this space where you start to know yourself as someone who can be immersed in a new environment, navigate the unknown, and grow along the way.
When I am working with travelers preparing for a trip, we usually land on the topic of packing. When I give my packing guide we might find ourselves talking about things we need specific to this journey and begin a conversation about being conscious consumers and how to make purchases more responsibly. I always travel with a scarf; it is versatile and easy to pack and offers both warmth and protection from the sun or bugs, can be a quick fashionable accessory, or adapt my outfit to be more culturally appropriate by covering exposed skin. I love to choose items made by women in artisan groups I’ve visited or products I can purchase that support fair trade and women-owned businesses around the world.
The Impacts of Responsible Travel
When we are intentional about travel it can offer us the opportunity to examine all aspects of our experiences, from what we pack and where those items are sourced, to where we stay, what we eat, and the activities we participate in along the way. Each layer is a place where we can be intentional and create an impact. I know personally, it can be overwhelming to set out to travel with the intention of good, but when you break it down into these components of our experience I believe there are very simple changes that each of us can incorporate. I also ask my travelers to honor my commitment to eliminate single-use plastics during their trip and bring a reusable water bottle or water purifying bottle, cloth shopping bags, as well as reusable glass or metal straws or utensils.
It is incredibly exciting to see all of the companies that are values-based becoming more popular in the consumer market today and I am grateful for companies like Made Trade that actually encourage people to know their values and allow their customers to shop accordingly. Shopping this way is a great introduction to being more intentional in our daily lives. Developing these habits in this way makes them easier to carry into experiences like travel, which removes us from our routine, and instead of being an excuse to dismiss those values becomes an opportunity to engage more fully and take action in alignment with these values.
Earth-Friendly Travel Essentials
1. Ichcha Sunset Scarf — $65
Tie your hair or layer your go-to travel outfit with this hand-woven, airy scarf. Inspired by the silhouettes of Indian palace doorways during dazzling sunsets, artisans in India use the heritage craft of block printing to create these beautiful designs. Their fabrics consist of chemical-free cotton and exclusively feature natural dyes made from flowers, leaves, minerals, trees, and bark.
2. Thunderpants USA Plain Black Cami — $48
Made with 90% organically grown cotton and 10% spandex, this breathable cami is a versatile staple that can easily be dressed up or down for any occasion. Or can be the perfect lounging outfit when enjoying a relaxing stay-cation. Thunderpants USA makes all their garments locally in Portland, Oregon using fair trade certified organic cotton yarn from New Zealand.
3. Nisolo Luis Weekender in Forest Green — $250
A durable and reliable weekender, this waxed cotton canvas bag is designed to accompany you on little getaways for years to come. Featuring vegetable-tanned leather straps, a removable crossbody strap, and many interior zippers and stow pockets, you’ll have no problem carrying everything you could need. This bag is handcrafted in an ethical factory in Mexico by artisan makers who receive fair wages, healthcare, and a healthy working environment.
Enjoying some ethical fun in the sun at the beach or pool has never been easier with Saturday Swimwear’s recycled swimsuits. Each piece is made with ECONYL regenerated nylon and XTRA Life Lycra, a fabric made from discarded fishing nets, used carpets, and fabric scraps from landfills and the ocean.
5. Darzah Tatreez Flat in Gray — $209
Featuring beautiful and unique geometric patterns with traditional Palestinian motifs, these flats are comfortable, stylish, and perfect for exploring a new city. Each pair is hand-embroidered and handcrafted by refugee and low-income women in Palestine using locally sourced leather. Darzah’s shoes are all fair trade certified, meaning the makers receive fair wages and work in safe and healthy environments.
This Tencel Hachi Cardigan provides the coziness and ultrasoft texture of a sweater knit with the breathability of eucalyptus, resulting in an airy, lightweight piece perfect for layering. Ethically made in Los Angeles, LA Relaxed makes all their products in small batches and sources their fabrics from within 10 miles of their warehouse.
7. WVN Sita Dress — $148
Elegant and lightweight, this 100% organic cotton poplin dress features a comfortable smocked bodice and flowy skirt for those days you feel like dancing the night away. WVN makes all their clothes in Fair Trade Certified factories and exclusively uses GOTS-certified, sustainable materials, and non-toxic dyes.