When planning our trips, we always look for the hotels and restaurants that provide a first hand glimpse into the country's culture and cuisine. And hotels that are owned and run locally, we very rarely use properties that belong to the big international chains. Most of our team members for a tour come from the area as well, multilingual and knowledgeable, they can open more doors for your experience then can a crew flown in from the outside.
At the start of every tour, we spend time educating our guests in the country's etiquette and culture, so you can travel politely. You will also find that this new understanding of the culture can open more doors along the way, allowing you to interact with and learn from the locals.
We limit our interaction with indigenous peoples, so as not to turn a traditional village into a tourist trap. When we travel through areas with ethnic minorities, we pick random villages for stops and provide suggestions for appropriate gifts (such as school materials for younger villagers or reading glasses for the elderly) or interactions (such as teaching an impromptu English class in the school yard). We try not to visit the same villages over and over, creating a dependence on tourists. When we are in a region where the local villages have already become tourist destinations, we try to select those that have been set up as coops run by the villagers, not those run by a "big boss" in the city or the government.
While traveling by bicycle is inherently low impact environmentally, the sagwagon support of a commercial tour negates this fact. Unfortunately the average bike tour group of 15 to 20 riders, supported by two vans towing trailers burns as much gas as a large motorcoach carrying 35 to 40 people. We strive to make the impact of our support vans as minimal as possible. Our sagwagons do not drive up and down the route burning gas, rather they leapfrog the group in small increments and then wait without the engines and a/c running. We try to keep the size of the sag wagon appropriate to the group size.
Our camp kitchens also follow an appropriate environmentally sensitive philosophy. All gray water and cooking waste water is collected in special containers and disposed of through a proper sewer system or RV dump station. No paper plates or disposable plastic cups are used, all dining is done with reusable, washable utensils and tableware. Recycling containers are always available in camp for cans and bottles. And whenever possible the recyclable items are donated to community organizations who can use them for fund raising.
Our support trailers are equipped with chest freezers for food storage, these units keep our food supplies fresh without the need to constantly buy bagged ice. Reusable freezer packs allow us to transfer this system's benefits to our lunch and drink coolers as well. Less wasted water, less plastic bags to be thrown away.