Follow along with the transcript below for episode: Learning to be a Kind Traveler With Jessica Blotter
[00:00:02] PF: Thank you for joining us for episode 375 of Live Happy Now. Now that we’re taking vacations again, have you thought about how to bring more kindness to your travels? I’m your host, Paula Felps, and this week, I’m talking with Jessica Blotter, a speaker and journalist who specializes in sustainable and regenerative tourism.
After witnessing extreme poverty on a vacation to Belize, Jessica launched a movement in 2016, called Kind Traveler, which allows travelers to positively impact the communities they visit, and enjoy incredible experiences as well. She’s here today to talk about why it’s so important to travel kindly, and how you can make every trip you take, make a difference.
[00:00:48] PF: Jessica, welcome to Live Happy Now.
[00:00:50] JB: Thank you so much for having me, Paula. It’s such a pleasure to be here.
[00:00:54] PF: It’s exciting to have you on the air. We’ve had you on our website. We had you when we had the magazine. And you have such an incredible mission, because you are all about sustainable tourism and giving back. So, before we dig into what you’re doing, let’s start by explaining what sustainable tourism even means.
[00:01:11] JB: Sure, happy to. So, sustainable tourism is really about asking the question, how one can maximize, their, perhaps, positive impact when they travel and minimize their negative impact when they travel. We’re really looking at the entire cycle of the traveler journeys. So, from how you get there, your transport, the type of lodging that you choose, the behavior and activities that you have on the ground, and throughout all of those, that travel cycle, looking at that question, and how can I maximize positive impact as a relates to communities and the environment, and the actual destination that you’re, in minimizing things like your carbon footprint, or preventing food waste, or things like in that nature. So, that’s the essence of what it is.
[00:02:09] PF: Why is it so important for us to not just continue those practices, but really to step it up when we’re going to go on vacation?
[00:02:15] JB: Right. Well, when you look at the volume of travelers taking international trips, especially if we look at pre COVID, you have 1.4 billion travelers traveling around the world, right, and then you have 1.8 or more billion projected by 2030. So, the power of the travel industry can actually be a force for good, or it can be a force for the negative. You see things on the negative side, such as over tourism. You also see things like communities adversely being affected. Whereas on the on the positive side, if travel dollars can be situated and manifested in such a way that it can actually do a lot of good, it can support communities, it can support the environment. So, it’s just really important to think about how one can vote with their dollar, and perhaps choose things that are good for the planet, because of its sheer impact that it can make on a global level. When you look at the amount of people that are traveling in today’s world.
[00:03:24] PF: It’s so interesting, because I know a lot of friends who travel, have come back and said, “Oh, man, it was horrible. Because to get to our resort, we had to go through this village.” And they would talk about the poverty that they saw on. I used to go to Cabo a lot and it was that same kind of thing where you’re staying in a very opulent place, and you’re surrounded by poverty. So, doing this, we don’t really think that we can make a difference in that community. Like it doesn’t even register with a lot of us. How do we make sure that that is happening and how do we become a part of that?
[00:03:57] JB: It’s great that you say, that because that’s actually how Kind Traveler began is that my co-founder and I, we were actually on a vacation and witnessed a lot of poverty. We saw a lot of emaciated dogs roaming the streets, families living in shacks next to polluted swamps. And we had a really hard time sort of turning away from those experiences and getting excited about the vacation itself. We had been and still are, animal rescue volunteers, and for us, it was virtually impossible for us to turn a blind eye to these rib protruding dogs begging for food. So, we decided to feed them, not knowing really what else to do. And we unintentionally inspired other travelers to get involved with this small act of giving back.
When we walked away from this experience, the mood had really shifted and see how the other travelers went from this feeling of sadness and despair and helplessness to one have a little bit of hope and joy and laughter. We just started to think about how perhaps we could create a way to make it easy for travelers to give back and make a positive impact in the destination that they visit, specifically through giving back. And we realized that there are so many wonderful nonprofits that are on the ground that are supporting animals, or supporting the environment. They’re helping lift local communities out of poverty. Not everybody wants to volunteer necessarily on their vacation. They might not have time. They don’t want to do it. And it’s also earned a bad reputation over the years, frankly, in some other countries.
That act of giving back and when you’re traveling, seemed like something that was very important to help create a sustainable future for the travel industry and utilizing the potential power of those 1.4 billion trips that happened, at least pre COVID. That was actually that story just described, was something I think a lot of people have experience. They’re often left with this feeling, something that’s called travelers guilt. And when it’s not easy to do something and they don’t know how to do something, it can be quite frustrating, and lead to someone perhaps not feeling quite satisfied or happy even on their vacation.
[00:06:23] PF: What you did was different, because a lot of people go through that. You have that travelers’ guilt, and you hear like, “I wish I could do something”, and then you go home and you get on with your life. That is not what you did.
[00:06:34] JB: No. No, we did not do that.
[00:06:38] PF: So, tell me how you went about this experience and how did that become a movement? I mean, I think that is so fascinating to me.
[00:06:46] JB: Yeah, thank you. Yeah, so when we had that experience, keep in mind, both Shawn and I, we were at this point in our careers in our lives, where we both were entrepreneurs and involved with other businesses in the past. And we’re kind of very comfortable in this space of entrepreneurialism, and we were very passionate about travel. We were both doing a lot of volunteering at that time. I was also a travel writer at that time. I was doing some freelancing with travel writing.
So, our hearts and our minds were really in this very special place when we had that experience. Our hearts were definitely in an open place where we were actively kind of looking to find certain gaps that that existed. We saw this gap. We started just asking ourselves like, “Wow, what if we could use our passion for travel, and for helping nonprofits? What if we could use that passion to create a pathway and make it easy for travelers to give back to the destinations that they visit?” That got us so excited. We came back, we started doing research after the trip and we realized, and there are research that a lot of travelers, in fact, at that time, it was 70% of travelers want their travel dollars to make a positive impact in the communities.
[00:08:10] PF: That’s so great to hear.
[00:08:11] JB: Yeah, but then we saw that the challenges were, that about half of travelers find this completely confusing and don’t know necessarily what that means or how to do it. So, we started talking to hotels as well and we decided that we wanted to build a platform that would essentially make it easy for travelers to give back to the communities that they visit and in turn, be rewarded for special offers from hotels that were also committed to the same values within the community and the environment. Because of that trip, Kind Traveler was born. We launched it in 2016 and it was the first and only, I should say, socially conscious give and get hotel booking platform that empowers travelers to give back and make a positive impact on the communities that they visit.
The way it works is really quite simple. It’s a $10 minimum donation to a locally vetted charity that is in the community that you’re going to, and that donation or more will unlock an exclusive offer that we’ve negotiated with our hotels, and they even offer whether it’s an exclusive rate or some special perks. Through that booking, we see a triple win happens because the traveler is winning, they get to have this amazing offer they give back, the charity is winning, and the hotel is winning. 100% of donations are given back to the charity through this model. And a couple other things that make it special is that we measure the impact across the entire site.
So, whether you’re giving back to a local wildlife group or an environmental organization, whatever it is, you’re going to learn about that charity, specifically. Why it’s important? What your $10 donation will do? And become very educated about your impact that you’re able to make.
[00:10:12] PF: That is so cool. And as you said, you started this in 2016. What have been some of the challenges to launch it and get it up and scale it, so that you can start really giving people these offers?
[00:10:27] JB: So, in 2016, I think that we are definitely ahead of the curve. Today, in 2022, a lot of folks are really starting to think about sustainable tourism. Regenitive tourism has become quite popular. But back then, we found ourselves doing a ton of educating to everybody about why this was so important. I feel like it was just starting to – sustainable tourism was really becoming slowly more popular over the years in terms of a topic that the media wanted to cover and such.
But we started out with 20 hotels on the platform, just based mostly in the US and the Caribbean. And today, we have 140 hotels in 22 countries around the world, and represent around 125 nonprofits around the world. All of the nonprofit goals are aligned with something called the United Nations Global Goals for Sustainable Development. And it just ensures that all of our impact goals are essentially working to either fight poverty, advance education, and communities, create equality in communities. And then on the environmental side, it’s largely about addressing the climate crisis and working with environmental groups that are protecting biodiversity and wildlife, or working to advance ocean conservation. So, that kind of gives us like a framework around that. But it’s been a really rewarding journey, and now that people are talking more about how to do this, I think that the timing of our platform really becomes more important.
[00:12:05] PF: Sure. And obviously, we went through a time of not traveling much in the last couple of years.
[00:12:11] JB: That’s true too, of course. That was a huge challenge.
[00:12:13] PF: Yeah, oh my gosh, I can’t even imagine what it looked like from your end. But do you see, as we come out of this a little bit, do you see a difference in the way people are approaching travel and, in their willingness to give?
[00:12:25] JB: Absolutely. I mean, we took that time during the pandemic, to actually launch a new platform. So, we launched a brand-new platform in January of this year of 2022, and we wanted to create some additional things that would make it even easier for travelers to use the platform and added several dozen new properties during that time as well. But I do think that yes, that the pandemic has indeed created a greater appreciation for travel, because we all stayed home, and we got to see what destinations look like when there aren’t any visitors, and there were lots of great stories around that time, around wildlife being regenerated, and communities that became better, in fact, because they weren’t dealing with the plagues of every day. Over tourism, even.
Since then, we’ve seen destinations come back and, and take measures to even prevent some of those things that were less desirable from happening, like certain places like Venice, cruise ships aren’t allowed anymore. And certain destinations, you have to now pay environmental fees to access. So, we’re seeing the destinations and governments really double down on sustainability, which I think raises the bar for everybody to start thinking about it more, and there’s an overall raising of consciousness that is happening around this topic. You have a climate crisis that was officially declared, The Cop 26 Summit. So, you have a lot of conversations going on right now in a time where our world is at a critical point, to embrace positive change if we want to create a sustainable future for it.
[00:14:21] PF: I think, as you mentioned, the climate crisis, it’s now we can’t deny it anymore. And how then does this affect how we raise our children to be sustainable travelers and how does having a way to give back change the travel experience that they grow into?
[00:14:38] JB: Absolutely. I mean, family travelers really see this as an educational opportunity to teach their children about the importance of giving back and even the feel-good associations that come with giving. Making that connection early on is so important, but there’s also so much insight out there about the younger audiences, like Gen Z, who, at the oldest right now is 25. But they’ve listed that one of their number one concerns is the climate crisis. And millennial audiences have also listed this as one of their top concerns as well.
So, you see these younger generations being very concerned about these topics and actively looking for ways to become more sustainable, responsible traveler, but also in their everyday lives. What you do in your everyday life should be no different than when you travel as well. There’s this movement taking place, and there’s a lot of interest with it with younger generations as well. The goal for brands like Kind Traveler is to make it easy, essentially, for these choices to be made that create a sustainable future that we can all thrive in and feel good about.
[00:16:00] PF: We’re going to take a break from the show right now and bring back Casey Johnson, our ecommerce marketing manager. Casey, how are you doing today?
[00:16:07] CJ: I’m great. How are you?
[00:16:10] PF: Fantastic. We’ve been talking about Organifi the past couple of weeks, and how we love being able to just take a scoop of it and add it to water and have a super healthy beverage during the day. And Organifi has this whole line of products that meets a variety of needs. One that we haven’t talked about that is great for wrapping up the day is Organifi Gold, because this has like all the things our bodies need to recover like turmeric, ginger, lemon balm, mushroom, and I personally like it mixing hot water, but you can also do it with more milk or ane alternative to hot chocolate. Casey, how about you? How are you enjoying the Organifi Gold?
[00:16:51] CJ: First of all, I just want to say the Gold is –
[00:16:53] PF: The bomb.
[00:16:56] CJ: Yeah, but seriously, I love it. And you know, contains nine superfoods. You mentioned a couple of them, and this specific juice is meant to promote rest and relaxation. Who doesn’t love that, right? I personally like to drink this with warm oat milk. I like the milk alternatives and it’s like a hug in a mug. Caress all day.
[00:17:16] PF: Oh, that’s awesome. But it really is. I love it. So, how can our listeners learn more about it and start enjoying the benefits of it?
[00:17:25] CJ: So, our listeners can go to organifi.com/livehappynow and they’ll save 20% off automatically at checkout. Or you can go to organific.com, and use code Live Happy Now to save 20% off.
[00:17:42] PF: That sounds awesome. I hope people check it out. And we’re going to go check out more of our Organifi Gold. Right now, we’re going to go back to the show.
[00:17:54] PF: Doing good and giving back does release endorphins, and people feel good about themselves and they just feel good. Can we talk about that? Like what it does when you give back to local communities as you travel? How does it help you as a traveler? And how does it increase the way that the satisfaction that you feel with that experience?
[00:18:15] JB: There are a few great studies out there that actually link trip satisfaction to giving back. And it’s because when you give a donation or you volunteer or you just help somebody, endorphins are released in the brain that allow you to feel happier, healthier, and even more connected. We feel that that really is the perfect storm for the traveler who’s looking to build purpose and meaningfulness in their vacation experience. That feeling when we’re trying to get the most of our vacation, if we think about how we can optimize our travel dollars in a way that gives back and makes a positive impact within communities in the environment, not only are we doing good for the world, but we’re also going to feel really good about our decisions and in fact, have a better vacation experience. I love just making that connection so clear for people and that opportunity that it exists for those that want to get the most out of their vacation.
[00:19:21] PF: And then how does that change how they look back at that experience?
[00:19:24] JB: There’s lots of evidence around how you’re giving back, how this also creates a more memorable experience. So, the way you look back and remember, your experience might even be more vivid. Also, on Kind Traveler, I want to mention that beyond just giving a donation, a lot of these charities actually offer really unique experiences. There’s a little section when you click on the charities on our website, it’s called How to Travel Kindly. If the charity offers unique experiences, which like I said, many of them do, you can also go and visit them and have a very memorable experience that also gives back and supports these nonprofits that are on the ground, doing the good work in destinations. So, that is a sure way to also create a memorable experience that gives back and creates a memory that will be very different than perhaps other trips.
[00:20:23] PF: What I love about this is children that are growing up this way and going and having these incredible experiences are more likely to then, as they become adults, not only will they continue doing that, but then they’re going to raise their next generation of children who see that as part of the travel experience.
[00:20:40] JB: Yeah, absolutely. It’s a cycle. So, it’s a great way to have fun with your family and teach them a very powerful, meaningful lesson of what it looks like to in fact, live a fulfilled life through giving back, and how that looks, perhaps, when you travel.
[00:21:00] PF: That’s terrific. You show so many different ways to do it. So, I think that’s what’s cool, too. People might even be inspired to do things on their own when they’re out there as they travel.
[00:21:10] JB: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we have a few examples I can share on the website. I mean, we do a lot of work here in California, where we’re based in, up in Northern California is Sonoma County, which is such a sustainable destination. 99% of their vineyard acreage is certified as sustainable. So, that in itself says so much about the destination. But we have a variety of hotels out there that you can visit, such as the farmhouse and vintners and so many others.
But we have at least six different charities out there that are so unique that you can give back to, but also that you can have experiences with. So, charities like farm to pantry, Charlie’s acres, the Russian River Keeper, the Sonoma Land Trust, just to name a few. And for an experience with a charity, one of the ones I love so much is with Charlie’s Acres Farm Animal Sanctuary, which is a nonprofit that’s dedicated to rescuing farm animals who were abused or destined for the dinner table. This organization offers unique ways to connect with these animals that are recovering from different situations, and they offer like sheep meditation.
[00:22:29] PF: Oh, wow.
[00:22:31] JB: Yeah, or even like goat yoga. It’s just a way to kind of slow things down a bit, enjoy the sounds of nature, and learn more about animals. So, that’s one experience that you can have that, is directly with a nonprofit that really goes back into supporting the community.
[00:22:49] PF: Oh, that is terrific. That sounds like so much fun.
[00:22:52] JB: Thank you. Yeah, I have another one. I’ll share with you if you’d like.
[00:22:55] PF: Yes, please.
[00:22:56] JB: Over in Florida, we do a lot of work with Fort Myers, and over there, we have a couple of hotels that we work with from the Western Cape Coral Resort, Diamondhead Resort and the Pink Shell Beach Resort. But our local nonprofit that we support is the Crow Clinic, The Center for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife. When you book on Kind Traveler, of course, and you support Crow Clinic, a $10 donation, and we measure this on the platform, but it can provide up to five days of care for an eagle with a broken wing as an example.
So, that’s the other thing that a lot of people ask, “Well, what can a $10 donation do?” Well, it can go a really long way and do a lot of really cool things. And we tell you, all of that on the website when you book. Another thing it can do is provide two weeks of antibiotics for a gopher tortoise that was hit by a car. So unfortunately, they have a lot of that happening there. But this organization is there, doing a lot of the wildlife rehab. And you can also go to the Crow Clinic as a visitor. They’re very child friendly. You can go and visit these rehabilitated animals, those that can be released in the wild or released those that cannot be, we’ll call it a sanctuary. But it is a great way to engage, learn and support a nonprofit that is really vital to the health and wellbeing of that destination. So, that is in fact, sustainable tourism right there.
[00:24:29] PF: This is terrific. I love the work that you’re doing and the way that it continues to spread. On our website, we’re going to tell people how they can find you, give them more information. We’ll share the previous stories we’ve run on you and just let them know how they can get in touch with you. But as we’re entering these final weeks of summers and families are trying to squeeze in those last-minute trips, what do you recommend? What can families do differently to make a difference as they get in their final travel of the summer?
[00:25:00] JB: Think about a couple of things. I say it’s easiest to look through a lens of kindness when you make your travel planning decisions. And the lens of kindness I look at is a quadrant of four pillars. So, it’s kindness to communities, to the environment, to animals, but also to oneself, to one’s looking at individual wellness.
So, when we kind of look through this lens of kindness, we can ask ourselves that question in the beginning, how may I maximize my positive impact and minimize my negative impact? So, with transportation, for example, because we know that both aviation is a – the aviation industry, for example, contributes to 8% of all carbon emissions. And the ground transport industry is responsible for 26% of all carbon emissions. So, we might want to look at how the word traveling. Can we look at slow travel? Can we travel perhaps by a train as a very slow way of traveling that reduces carbon emissions up to 55%?
So, looking at ways that we might be able to travel in such a way perhaps, it’s with an electric vehicle, or it’s with public transport, it’s by carpooling, perhaps. Looking at some of those ways that we can reduce our carbon footprint specifically, then, of course, choosing a hotel that is also abiding by not just environmental sustainability initiatives, but also community impact. And so, choosing the type of hotel that you would stay at, that would in fact, embrace all those values. And then, of course, the activities that you choose. Are there nonprofits that you can go visit and support such as little local sanctuaries or classes that you could take offered by different nonprofits? Doing your research, right? You have to spend a little bit of time asking these questions, doing your research, voting with your dollar, while looking through a lens of kindness.
[00:27:09] PF: Fantastic stuff. We have so much to learn from you. You are doing so much good in the world. It’s truly appreciated and you are making a difference. I appreciate you coming on the show and telling us about it. Again, just thank you for everything that you’re doing.
[00:27:25] JB: Paula, thank you so much. It was such a pleasure. I so enjoyed being here and talking with you. Thank you for the opportunity.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
[00:27:36] PF: That was Jessica Blotter, CEO and founder of Kind Traveler, talking about how to make a difference by changing the way we travel. If you’d like to learn more about Jessica’s work, check out Kind Traveler or follow Jessica on social media. Visit our website at live happy.com and click on the podcast app.
That is all we have time for today. We’ll meet you back here again next week for an all-new episode. And until then, this is Paul Felps, reminding you to make every day a happy one.