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What does it mean to travel sustainably?

Traveling sustainably is about respecting three basic pillars:
1. Preserving the natural environment & not causing harm to animals,
2. Promoting the local economy, and
3. Supporting the societies and authentic cultures at destinations.

We’ve written a more comprehensive answer in a blog post, so please click


to check it out!

What’s the difference between “sustainable tourism,” “responsible tourism,” and “ecotourism?”

They all sound similar – we know.

Sustainable Tourism “takes full account of its current and future economic, social and environmental impacts, addressing the needs of visitors, the industry, the environment and host communities” (

United Nations World Tourism Organization


Responsible Tourism creates “better places for people to live in and for people to visit” (

Cape Town Declaration on Responsible Tourism


Ecotourism is “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education” (

The International Ecotourism Society


We use “sustainable tourism” and “responsible tourism” interchangeably to indicate travel that respects the three pillars (environment, economy, societies) and works to leave places better than they were found.

How can tourism really be sustainable? Or can it?

The answer is, “it’s complicated.”

Of course, there are people out there who will say that travel can never be sustainable and that “sustainable travel” is an oxymoronic phrase.

We hear that. We also know, though, that wherever you go, whatever you do, there are more and less responsible ways of experiencing destinations. We want to help you reap the many rich rewards that traveling affords in the most sustainable way possible.

Read our humorous blog post,

A Cynic’s View of Sustainable Tourism: An Interview

to dive deeper into this important topic.

What makes a tour operator sustainable?

There are many things that tour operators can do to be sustainable.

Being “sustainable” means different things based on destination and activity. For example, a trekking trip in Nepal, a safari trip in Kenya, and a SCUBA diving trip in Australia won’t implement the exact same sustainability practices.

Our process of

evaluating partners

(tour operators) takes these nuances into consideration. We look for sustainable actions being taken across several categories (General, Environmental, Social, Economic).

If a tour operator meets enough criteria based on their location and activity, we consider them sustainable, even if they don’t have a particular certification.

How can you tell if a company is truly sustainable, or if it’s greenwashing?

Transparency is key!

Greenwashing (companies making consumers believe they are being environmentally friendly, when actually they are not) is a problem. We believe openness and communication are the best tools to combat this.

Companies acting sustainably should want to market this, and should not mind answering questions or being audited.

Regarding certifications, there are two things to keep in mind.
1. Just because a company is certified doesn’t mean they’re off the hook from answering questions about their practices.
2. Just because a company isn’t certified doesn’t mean they aren’t taking great actions towards sustainability.

Where can I learn more about sustainable travel?

– Visit our


page that has tips and tools for travelers and tour operators.

– See our

Climate Impact

page for how you can minimize your carbon footprint from traveling.

– Read our

Earthsider Blog

which will have posts covering everything from general information, to what makes a specific activity responsible, to sustainable country guides.

– Subscribe to our monthly Newsletter to receive a sustainable travel packing list for FREE.

– Join our interactive Facebook community,

Yūgen Earthsiders

, to ask specific questions about sustainable travel to a group of like-minded travelers.

What about COVID?

COVID is still causing a tremendous pause in the travel industry overall, but you will be able to travel again someday (hopefully soon)!

Here is how we hope to reassure our travelers:
– You will find specific COVID precautions detailed on each trip listing.
– The majority of our trips have a “Book with Confidence” cancellation policy where payments are fully, 100% refundable if you cancel within the necessary window before your planned departure date.
– Most of our trips are outdoors-focused where it is easy to stay socially distanced and in the fresh air.
– All of our trips are small-group trips with no more than 12 travelers.
– Many of our trips have privatization options where you can book the tour exclusively for you (solo or with a partner), your family, or even your “quaranteam”/pod.
– Many of our trips have flexible departure dates where you can book the trip for later in 2021 when it is safer and easier to travel.

Yūgen Earthside Trips

How do I book a trip?

The summary is below; but you can also visit our

Booking With Us


1. Contact us: Contact us from the trip listing page to let us know you’d like to secure your spot or ask a question. You won’t pay anything at this stage.

2. Talk to a human: We’ll work with you to understand your group size and preferred start date (if needed). We’ll also be able to answer any immediate questions, including about sustainability, and potentially be able to suggest similar trips in our pipeline but not yet added to our site.

3. Pay and book: Once you’re ready to book, we’ll personally connect you to the tour operator. You will securely pay the tour operator, who will later give us a commission. In the future, you’ll be able to pay us directly.

Why should I book with Yūgen Earthside?

1. All our trips are responsible. We remove the guesswork so you can focus on the experience.

2. Support boutique operators. Most companies we work with have 20 employees or less.

3. Make an impact. We’ll donate part of our profits to sustainable tourism development projects in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Are flights to destinations covered in the trip cost?

No, flights (or other modes of transportation) to arrive at your trip’s starting point are not covered in the trip price, unless specifically mentioned.

On a trip listing page, download the full list of price inclusions and exclusions to understand exactly what transportation is covered for your trip (“in-country” transportation, airport transfers, etc.).

How big are the groups we’ll be traveling with?

Group size is indicated on each trip listing page.

We focus on small-group travel (it’s more sustainable than large, mass-tourism group travel). All our trips will have less than 12 people. Some trips only require a minimum of 2+ travelers, and privatization is possible for many of our trips – just ask!

What happens if we don’t reserve all available slots?

If you reserve some, but not all, of the available slots on a trip, it is possible you will be traveling with other people.

If you only want to travel with people you know, consider booking a trip for your family (and maybe a friend’s family), your “Quaranteam”, or a group of friends.

For privatization requests, reach out to us and we’ll help you see what’s possible with the tour operator directly.

What happens if something goes wrong?

This is the worst nightmare for travelers and tour operators alike.

Firstly, all travelers should have

travel insurance

. (Our tour operators will also have general business liability insurance.) Secondly, before booking, be sure you’re clear on any cancellation or refund policies. These are mentioned in the “Other Info” section of each trip’s listing page, and varies by tour operator.

When will we load more trips? Why aren’t there trips in ________?

We know our trips are limited at the moment. We are constantly adding new trips to the site, and we’re always discovering more sustainable tour operators to invite to our platform.

You can help us in two ways:
1. Tell us where YOU want to go and we’ll focus our efforts there.
2. Tell us if you have a sustainable trip operator in mind and we’ll prioritize screening them for our platform.

For both of the above, let us know via our

Contact Us


Can I suggest a sustainable trip operator?

Yes, please! Please let us know via our

Contact Us


We’re a small team, so crowd-sourcing responsible leads is extremely helpful for us.

About Yūgen Earthside

What does “Yūgen” mean?

Yūgen, pronounced “you-genn”, is a Japanese word meaning “an awareness of the universe that triggers emotional responses too deep and powerful for words.”

We love this word because it captures the feeling of being so awestruck by our planet’s beauty that we can’t help but want to take care of it.

How can travelers trust Yūgen Earthside?

We try to be as transparent as possible to help build trust. This is why we explain our approach to

evaluating partners

(tour operators), and why we show the sustainable actions an operator is taking on each trip. It’s also why we invite travelers to complete a post-trip survey to tell us if they see these actions in practice.

We believe that this two-way channel of communication will inspire tour operators to take further sustainable actions, and be more vocal about the actions they’re already taking. We also believe that involving travelers in the feedback loop process will promote a better overall understanding and awareness of sustainable travel.

Read more

About Us

, or

Contact Us

with questions or concerns.

Does Yūgen Earthside carbon offset?

We don’t carbon offset directly as we are not the primary seller of the sustainable trips we list.

However, we do encourage travelers to reference our

Climate Impact

page to see how they can minimize their carbon footprint based on their destination and mode of transportation.

In addition, once we’re profitable we will donate to sustainable tourism

Impact Projects

, and these could include climate change initiatives.

How do we evaluate tour operators?

Please visit our page about

Evaluating Partners


In short, we ask tour operators to self-report which sustainable actions they take on a broad level (for example: Do they have a clear sustainable travel policy? Do they carbon offset their trips?). Then, we review their responses. If they meet our threshold for the quality of sustainable actions taken, we invite them to join the platform.

Do we “rank” or “certify” tour operators?


We’ve purposefully chosen not to rank tour operators because being sustainable is not a competition.

We are not a certification company nor do we strive to be. Creating a certification would require an enormous amount of policy work across a plethora of stakeholders. This is out of scope of our company’s mission.

Are the tour operators Yūgen Earthside works with certified?

Sometimes – and if they are, that’s great!

But, certifications are complicated because they vary based on location, activity, and area of impact (environmental, economic, social). Because of this lack of standardization, they are generally hard for travelers to easily recognize and understand.

This nebulous landscape also prevents many tour operators from becoming certified, even if they are sustainable. The main barriers for tour operators are:
1) Understanding the most relevant certifications
2) Perceiving the certifications as too expensive and arduous to obtain
3) Not being convinced customers care about them

As a result, we include both certified and non-certified tour operators’ trips. More importantly, we break down the actual sustainable actions being taken so that they are easily understood by travelers.

How do I contact Yūgen Earthside?

Don’t see your question listed? Have something specific you want to ask?

Simply fill out the form below. A real human will get back to you within a few business days.

Contact Us – we’re here to help!