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Sustainability Spotlight: Sustainable Travel Q&A with Authenteco Travel

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We recently got to chat with Shelby from Authenteco Travel about one of our favorite subjects: sustainable travel. But not just any sustainable travel: fully customized, eco-luxury travel for those who want to treat themselves, but do so responsibly. And that’s exactly what Authenteco specializes in. So buckle up, and let’s chat about what sustainable travel actually looks like, how to tell the difference between authentically sustainable experiences and greenwashing, and then, you know, how to call on Authenteco to treat yo’self when you’re ready for the experience of a lifetime.

Sustainable Travel: Q&A with Authenteco Travel

Terradrift: What is Authenteco Travel? What are you all about?

Authenteco Travel: Authenteco Travel is an eco-luxury travel concierge. We plan your perfect vacation. The only catch: we prioritize the environment and local community in your destination! We take care of your trip from start to finish and provide 24/7 concierge support before, during, and after your vacation.

We are not a travel agency (which makes bookings that you choose) and we also aren’t a travel advisor (which gives you expert knowledge for a fee). We are a concierge….meaning that we take care of absolutely everything on your trip, so you can take a vacation stress-free.

So, fully custom trips, huh? Sounds luxe. But they’re also responsible, right? How does that work?

Many years ago when I discovered sustainable travel and before I knew anything about the environment I was finding luxurious treetop villas in Vietnam, a boutique bamboo eco-resort in Bali, and repurposed beachfront Airstreams in Australia. How? I was literally googling “Secret, Boutique, luxury hotel.”

What I didn’t realize….this was the beginning of my sustainable travel journey. I unknowingly was staying in places that were changing the world for the better.

In my past life, I flew helicopters for the Navy and deployed on an aircraft carrier for many months of each year. 
When you’re living in a 8X12′ space with 5 other women, you learn to spoil yourself anytime you’re on dry land. That meant my vacations we’re extremely well researched, planned, and didn’t lack luxury. I always loved finding authentic, off the beaten track places, but admittedly it wasn’t because I cared about where my tourism dollars were spent or about the environment…yet.

Then one day on deployment, my mindset immediately shifted when my crew and I hovered over a floating refrigerator in the Pacific Ocean thousands of miles from any shoreline. I wondered, who is going to come clean this up? And then it sunk in…no one would. It hit me: Our actions as human beings are ruining the ecosystems of other living things.

That started my journey to ensure that when I was taking time off in Southeast Asia to travel, I was supporting eco-friendly places that prioritized the planet. So instead of googling “Secret, boutique, luxury hotel” I started googling “Secret, Boutique, eco-friendly hotel.” And you know what I discovered? 1. I had already stayed in some eco-friendly spots. 2. Those places were better!

The locally owned hotels who care about their home also tend to care about their guests more and go above and beyond to welcome you, help you learn the culture, and ensure you have an amazing stay. They are smaller–and your reviews keep their business alive–so the hospitality was better than any luxe chain hotel I’d ever been to!

We provide that same level of luxury with an eco-friendly twist. Maybe your shower is outdoors, but when you’re bathing outside in a bamboo shower with views of rice paddies in Bali…trust me, it’s far more luxurious and authentic than that Marriott tub. 

A lot of tour companies and travel bookers claim to be sustainable, so how can you tell if a company really is?

This is the hard part. Unfortunately, not everyone in the world, especially in the tourism industry cares about the planet. And for many countries, tourism is their primary source of income- so when your livelihood depends on the $$$ coming in from tourists, they do what it takes to make money and support their family.

That’s why it’s on us as the traveler to educate ourselves and take responsibility for where we spend our money. 
So how can you tell if they are truly sustainable? Well you have to do your research. 

It’s tough work to get the real answer. But here are a few tips/tricks I like to use: 

1. Go to their website and see what sustainable initiatives they are advertising or promising. 

2. Call the business, and ask the person who picks up the phone about that initiative. If it’s the real deal, they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about. If they had no idea that the hotel/tour operator is carbon-free, or plastic-free, or working with a local community, it’s greenwashing. A company that truly cares about sustainability talks to their employees about it. 

3. Read reviews, good and bad. You’ll find an “eco-warrior” who recently used that company and will either praise them for their initiatives or berate them for misleading people. 

Let’s talk about greenwashing, a subject I know you’re passionate about. What is it, exactly?

It’s when a business uses a marketing strategy to convince the consumer that they are environmentally friendly, and therefore a better option over other businesses, but the catch is that they don’t actually practice eco-friendly initiatives.

For example, if you go to the grocery store to pick out toilet paper and you see that one brand says their toilet paper is recycled and their branding even uses green colors. Naturally, studies have shown we will prefer that option over others because it makes us feel like we are doing something good.  

But then you go home and google the business and find that it’s owned by a mega conglomerate that has no environmental initiatives. Then you do more digging and realize your “eco-friendly” toilet paper brand is getting their toilet paper from the same place all the other companies are. 

That is greenwashing: using the terms “eco-friendly,” “for the planet,” “natural,” “recycled,” or using green branding to convince consumers to purchase that product or use that service instead of others because they are doing something good for the environment. But the reality is that it’s a marketing ploy. We want to buy things that make us feel good. So greenwashing is when the business uses that marketing knowledge to their advantage. It’s the difference between walking the talk, and well, just talking it. 

How can travelers tell when a company is truly sustainable and when it’s just talk?

I almost sent clients once on an eco-cruise in Maui sponsored by a non-profit whale foundation to hopefully catch a glimpse of them. But when their website had a campaign for a plastic-free Maui, yet showed pictures of them serving food on their “eco-cruise” with plastic cutlery, cups, and straws, something didn’t seem right. And it wasn’t. I called that non-profit and asked them to explain. They couldn’t. Come to find out, a year later, I met a local who knew of the foundation and said the entire thing was a scam. None of the profits were going to the whales, and the souvenir whale made of recycled plastic they promised for a $50 donation ended up being from a Hawaii Aquarium Gift Shop and was made in China…Mind blown.

Short answer: By educating yourself as the consumer. 

It’s tough to know when a company is truly sustainable or not. But many times a quick phone call or internet Google will point you in the right direction. You just need to take that extra step to do some research! 

It’s all about the research! But back to travel! Say someone reading this wants to create a custom itinerary with a truly sustainable travel company (like, say, Authenteco Travel). How do they go about it?

It’s easy! Just head over to our website, and fill out a trip request. After a few questions asking you where you want to go, why you’re traveling, and your must-have experiences, someone from the concierge team will be in touch within an hour.

Or to make it even easier, we created a 24/7 concierge number post COVID-19 that you can text at any time. So if you want to book a trip and are short on time, just text us at 720-549-9791. And yes, there are real humans on the other end. 🙂 

What’s your favorite tip (or tips) for traveling more sustainably?

This one is a tough question. There are a million ways for traveling more sustainably, and it can be so overwhelming. So what I’ll say is: take a deep breath and start somewhere. 

It’s exhausting once you dive into learning about sustainable travel, and the present you might get mad at the past you, but show yourself grace. My favorite tip would be to start educating yourself now and make a tiny adjustment each time you travel that you can control.  Just one small change. 

Maybe on your next trip you take a reusable water bottle and refuse to purchase/use a plastic one (even on the plane! Fill up your bottle before boarding). Then when you travel again, maybe sure you take a reusable water bottle, plus pack a bamboo cutlery set so you don’t have to use single-use cutlery when you get a takeout meal. And so on and so forth. Start with the small stuff that you’re packing and your own habits.

Once you’ve got that down, then we can talk about how to find responsible accommodations and tour operators!

Straight up. We always travel with reusable bottles and cutlery/straws! In fact, we rounded up a few of our favorite products below so you can get to traveling sustainably right away! And if you’re ready for a super luxurious and sustainable getaway, no stress involved, learn more at And if you book an Authenteco Experience, use code TERRA21 to save $5.

Great Products for Sustainable Travel

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