Got the travel bug? Well, Jennifer Spatz knows it! Her wanderlust stems from living abroad with her family and immersing herself in many cultures as a child, due to her father’s career in the foreign service.
This upbringing had a huge impact on how she sees the world today. And how she helps others see the world. Spatz, now an anthropologist with a background in international development, creates experiences that help travelers form deep connections with the places they visit and the people they meet.
Spatz owns and operates Family trips around the world, a Seattle-based travel agency that specializes in tours with a big mission. Its vision is to unite humanity and inspire travelers to take responsibility for the challenges and opportunities facing our increasingly interconnected planet. The company was founded with a mission to provide authentic community travel experiences that help participants To learn, To serveand Immerse.
The goal, according to Spatz, is to foster cross-cultural understanding, destination stewardship and better global citizens.
“No matter where you go, there are opportunities to learn about the history, culture, food and people,” she says. “When you do this, you are able to step out of your comfort zone and put aside any preconceptions you may have had.”
Whether participants embark on a day-long Seattle-area community adventure, a personalized trip, or a small-group global adventure, each experience offers a unique blend of cultural and educational activities, as well as an element of community engagement to help make an impact on people’s lives and the natural habitats they visit.
As spring and summer travel to Seattle heats up, Global Family Travels is launching past and future waterfront tours for the season, plus other local and regional tour options for visitors and locals to experience something again. With the launch of the 2022 Alaska cruise season in Seattle this spring, Global Family Travels is contracting with American Cruise Lines (ACL) to offer shore excursions to passengers.
Learn, Serve, Immerse
Spatz started Global Family Travels in 2010 with an adventure in the Ladakh region of northern India, rooted in the To learn, To serveand Immerse model. Once an independent Buddhist kingdom at the crossroads of vital trade routes between China and the Middle East, Ladakh is often referred to as “Little Tibet”. The tour is still offered today and supports the Siddhartha School Project, a non-profit organization that supports quality education for local children, while honoring and showcasing local culture and traditions. This summer, the trip will be offered with a focus on culture and climate change issues related to the water crisis in the region.
Whether near or far, each Global Family Travels excursion benefits the local community by featuring a partnership with a local non-profit organization. When developing a new tour, Spatz begins by interviewing people and organizations that represent the community to learn more about its mission, challenges, and what it would be like to bring visitors. If organizations are well-matched, they collaborate on experiences that connect with local people, cultures and the natural beauty of the destination. The activities meet the needs of the inhabitants and preserve the cultural heritage and natural beauty.
Global Family Travels tours and activities often focus on United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, a common project of peace and prosperity for people and the planet, today and tomorrow. Goals include education, access to clean water, conservation, gender equality, and the preservation of diverse and indigenous cultures.
Regenerative travel and community tourism
Global Family Travels is entering a niche in the travel market that hasn’t really been filled until now.
“Post-pandemic, more and more people who travel now want to do so in a meaningful way and are looking for ways to do so,” she says. “They want to travel with a conscious mind and the intention to learn more about a destination.”
These regenerative experiences promote conscious thinking about how to give back to communities and economically support a destination’s small businesses and natural environment.
“At Global Family Travels, we seek to foster unity and cross-cultural understanding”, said Spatz. “For example, when you tour with Peruvian artisans or potato growers, you empower and edify them. But what about when the tour is over? Not everyone has the privilege or the means to travel. How will you tell the story of what you learned? Even after the trip, your travel experience remains in the photos and in your mind. You can amplify this and share some of the things you’ve learned.
Ensuring that travel experiences are designed to benefit diverse communities and intentionally improve social and environmental systems is part of the concept of regenerative tourism. It is an approach that goes beyond sustainable travel to reimagine the role of the tourism industry in the communities and ecosystems on which it depends and place the destination at the heart of the tourism experience.
In 2017, Spatz brought this concept of socially responsible travel to the Seattle area when she founded the Seattle Chapter of Impact Travel Alliance with a mission to educate travelers about sustainable and community-based tourism. In 2018, the group welcomed guests from peace boat, an international non-profit organization based in Japan that promotes peace, human rights and sustainability. When the ship called at Seattle, Spatz helped organize excursions and events that fit with the group’s mission.
Soon after, she began organizing tours in Seattle under Global Family Travels. After the pandemic hit in March 2020, she worked with students at Western Washington University to determine how to address the challenges of racial injustice and inequality exacerbated by COVID-19. Spatz has focused on creating one-day community tours in partnership with nonprofit partners, aimed at locals who were unable to travel during the pandemic. These new tours partner with Seattle-area nonprofits to address social issues and support local communities and businesses through unique stories and perspectives and engaging activities.
“We wanted to provide residents with meaningful adventures in their own backyard,” she says. “When we develop these experiences, we look at what is unique and how to tell the story of American culture in underrepresented communities.” This involves working with diverse communities who wish to share their cultural heritage, their collective memories, as well as the environmental and historical perspectives of the destination.
Rather than acting like a standard tour operator, Global Family Travels focuses on building relationships, creating experiences and telling stories to help people discover challenges through different perspectives.
Here is a sampling of Seattle-based tours:
Street Hues: Seattle Urban Art Tour
Created in partnership with 206 Zulu, Experience Education and Urbanists, this tour explores the various street arts in the Capital Hill neighborhood, from graffiti, tags and “sticker bombs” to elaborate spray paint, brush and stencils, while the guides tackle topics such as ownership, power and identity in public art. Learn more>
The power of community gardens with the Black Farmers Collective
This empowering community experience at YES Farm, located in a historic Seattle neighborhood near Yesler Terrace, offers a powerful way to learn how the Black Farmers Collective developed creative solutions to growing food and building community. Learn more>
Past and Future of the Waterfront: An Ever-Changing Coastline
This spring and summer, Spatz is looking forward to adding multi-day tours that combine the energy of Seattle with the beauty of surrounding areas, like the San Juan Islands or the Olympic Peninsula.
Olympic Peninsula: Learn, Serve and Immerse in Support of Salmon Habitat
An upcoming tour introduces participants to the beauty of the Olympic North Peninsula while learning about salmon habitat restoration and the cultural traditions of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, while staying at their beautiful hotel, 7 Cedars. Learn more>
Oregon: Regenerating forests and communities from wildfires
Lace up your boots and hike the trails of the Willamette National Forest in Oregon’s Cascade Mountain Range to learn about wildfire recovery and prevention and to help with trail construction projects. Learn more>