Consider Taking an “Educational” Tour

After taking several trips with organizations offering “educational” or “reality” tours, I’ve learned that getting the most out of a trip to a complicated corner of our world is easier with a guide and in the care of an organization that’s well-connected locally. I traveled through Central America with, and have long recommended, Augsburg College’s Center for Global Education and Experience but it is now limited to college students.

The new edition of my Travel as a Political Act book will contain a list of organizations offering educational tour experiences to the broader traveling public. Please check out my list and let me know if you have any experience with these groups, or if there are others you’d recommend. Thank you!

Global Exchange Reality Tours

Global Exchange, an international human rights organization, believes that “meaningful, socially responsible travel can, and does, change the world.” Its five- to 16-day experiential education Reality Tours focus on person-to-person exchanges and give travelers a firsthand look at the effects of intractable global problems, as well as the possibilities for positive changes. Whether meeting with health organizations in Haiti, observing Cuban teachers and musicians at work, or visiting a farming co-op in North Korea, participants go beyond stereotypes to build real understanding.

New Community Project

A small organization determined “to change the world by changing the way we relate to the planet and its people,” New Community Project structures its one- to two-week Learning Tours as deep intercultural education voyages. The organization works with local partners to introduce tour members to people from all walks of life, from human trafficking survivors to indigenous shamans to farmers. Travelers confront questions of social justice, environmental sustainability, and how people remain hopeful in difficult situations.

Xperitas Community Partnership Programs

A nonprofit educational organization focused on promoting “global citizenship,” Xperitas offers one- to two-week immersive programs based on longstanding partnerships with local grassroots organizations in indigenous and marginalized communities. Travelers live in the partner communities, either in a homestay or communal lodging such as an ecolodge or guesthouse. They eat what the locals eat, help with community-led development projects, and get to know the community in ways a tourist cannot.

Friendship Force

Friendship Force International, a nonprofit organization, focuses on person-to-person exchanges, with locals welcoming travelers into their homes and introducing their visitors to their cultures. In each destination, a “Friendship Force” club led by volunteers offers homestays and social activities, giving visitors the chance to get intimately acquainted with their hosts. Each one- to three-week program includes cultural experiences, such as learning to make traditional lavash bread in Armenia, visiting historic Brazilian fishing villages, or tobogganing on sand hills in Australia’s Hunter Valley.


A part of AFS-USA, the well-known study abroad organization, AFSNext offers international volunteer and professional internship programs for travelers ages 18 and up. These programs, which range from one to 24 weeks, are geared for close engagement with local communities through volunteer work, and professional development through internship opportunities on global issues like wildlife conservation. AFS-USA offers a certification course to help participants more deeply explore and gain a credential in intercultural and experiential learning.