Christine Mackay has dedicated her life to working and volunteering in environmental education, community development and eco-tourism. She spent 9 summers working as a wilderness guide in Colorado, 5 summers as a marine biology guide in the San Juan Islands and 5 years guiding her own outdoor adventure company out of Seattle called Bearfoot Backpacker. Mackay’s Native American background brings a unique perspective to her guiding and you will learn a great deal about Native perspectives, lore and ethno botany on one of her escapes. Lover of all things natural, her passion for the outdoors is palpable. Chris’s love of international travel and her concern about the negative effects of tourism on culture and environment, led her to co-found Crooked Trails in 1998. Crooked Trails is a non-profit community based tourism organization based in Seattle WA dedicated to offering clients a way to “travel with a purpose”. Christine holds an MA in Natural Science Education and a BA in Geography and Biology. Chris’s ability to engage and impassion her audience has led to speaking engagements at clubs, international conferences, bookstores, universities and schools.

Group of kids from a Crooked Trails program. ©Jay Waltumunson, all rights reserved
Crooked Trails is an educational non-profit organization
 helping people broaden their understanding of the impact of travel on the world’s cultures and ecosystems 
through educational outreach and sustainable travel programs. ©Jay Waltumunson, all rights reserved

How do the experiences you offer at Crooked Trails give guests a unique perspective on the history, people or culture of the regions where you operate?

We offer community based tours where travelers are living with the local people who share their unique perspectives on culture and history.

How have the experiences that you offer evolved since their inception?

Originally we just offered the community based section but as we grew we added on the volunteer aspects so that people can stay in some villages to help on a project determined by the community. Of course people add on the local sites and adventure aspects to their trips as well.

What is one detail of an experience you provide that may go unnoticed by guests, but which you feel is important?

Every trip is custom made. We work with each client to make the perfect trip tailored to their calendar, price range, accommodations requests and activities.

What do you wish every guest knew as they consider participating in Crooked Trails program?

That the richest part of any traveler’s experience is time in the community or meeting with the local population. And that even though a community homestay might seem a bit challenging, everyone can do it and it will change their lives.

Grinding by hand on a Crooked Trails program. ©Jay Waltumunson, all rights reserved
Crooked Trails was founded in 1998 on the premise that tourism does not have to threaten the cultures and environments of popular tourist destinations and fragile regions. ©Jay Waltumunson, all rights reserved

What is one unexpected piece of clothing or equipment guests should have to maximize their enjoyment of the experiences you offer?

For the gut I would say Grapefruit seed extract as it acts as a natural gut antibiotic. And for water, I recommend the SteriPEN (cleans using UV Light technology) to clean water so no one needs to buy plastic water bottles. Crooked Trails founded the campaign TAP Travelers against plastic. Travelers can pledge for free on the site and get more information, a TAP bottle and SteriPEN at: website.

What is one travel trend that really excites you?

Community based tourism which we started doing 18 years ago is catching on with many tour operators because people are looking for these kind of authentic experiences.

What is one insiders tip to getting the most out of an experiential travel vacation?

Leave your phone at home.

Beija with her new friends on a Crooked Trails program.
Crooked Trails offers immersive travel programs in support of indigenous peoples around the world. ©Jay Waltumunson, all rights reserved

What is one strategy that has helped your business to grow?

We rely on word of mouth and so ensuring that our travelers get the best trip we can offer is our best marketing tool because they talk.

What is one personal habit that has helped you to be successful?

Rely on the advice of my board members and my staff for ideas.

Please share one instance where a guest had a moving or emotional reaction to the experience you provided to them.

I just had a family of 3 return from Nepal and they said that the experiences they had in the village of Chandeni and Hil were beyond anything they dreamed they could have on an organized trip.They said they had travelled a lot and it was the most culturally immersive travel experience they had ever had. I loved that.

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TravelDew is a community based platform for leaders in experiential travel from around the world. Through our interviews we honor the variety of this industry while simultaneously creating the opportunity to learn from one anther.