Photo Credit: Jim Hill

I connected with Ashley Blake, Founder of Traverse Journeys, which hosts culturally immersive experiences around the world. Her ethics are on point with how to be a smart and conscious traveler, and her trips take you to unique destinations in a small group setting, with on the ground local guidance. Read all about her work and business, Traverse Journeys:

To begin, let’s start with a little background on you, and how you have gotten to where you are today...

Traverse Journeys as a company was established a little under a year ago, but my entrepreneurial journey started over a decade ago. I got my BA and BS degree in International Studies and Print Media at Oregon State University and MA in Media Studies from University of Texas. I studied abroad in Costa Rica and Spain, volunteered in Panama and Ecuador, worked in music and concert production, then worked in tourism leading trips in Spain and Germany as well as the Beijing and Vancouver Olympics. During graduate school, I spent time in Brazil researching music for social change, specifically with community groups in the favelas where music is a powerful medium to get kids off the streets where they’re more vulnerable and involved in something positive. These experiences laid the groundwork for a social entrepreneurship approach to project management, language, and cultural communication.

Traverse Journeys focuses on small group travel, with 8-12 people per trip. The trips are not only about the sites and food, but also to engage locally and have a culturally immersive experience. Each trip includes an impact-focused activity with a nonprofit on the ground, and 5% of the sales go to that community partner. For instance in Nicaragua, we spend an afternoon at an education center for kids, where we have a Spanish-English exchange, which is great exposure for the kids as tourism - requiring English language skills - is a likely job path in the future. In Ecuador, we do a traditional cooking class in the Amazon jungle with the local women’s lodge, and in Italy, we visit a biodynamic farm.

As a traveler, we want you to come away with not only memories and photos, but also a wider view of different parts of the world.

Ashley Blake, founder of Traverse Journeys.

With a strong focus on responsible tourism, based on standards set by CREST, ATTA, and WTO, you aim not only to provide global experiences but also meaningful impact at the source. How is this packaged to your travelers?

I did a lot of qualitative research and talked to lots of travelers. I found that baking the community activities into the whole experience is a good way to open a door while not overwhelming anyone.

I like to highlight the ways our partners are involved in the local community. For example, in Nicaragua, Alex’s Surf Shop also sponsors local kids in competitions. In Quito, we stay at a B&B run by two sisters who use permaculture methodology on their farm.

Traverse Journeys takes an open approach to introducing different cultures and perspectives, and we think it’s exciting to learn about diversity.

Tell me about your partner, Laura, how did you two connect?

I met Laura about a year ago. She had her own company, Richer With Travel, with a focus on Italy, Ireland and New Zealand. We were supporting each other as business owners, especially with challenging aspects such marketing when you are running lean. So we decided to join forces and go forward together under Traverse in 2018.

What’s your a typical day for you like, in running Traverse Journeys?

As an entrepreneur, I wear many hats. So anything from admin, sales and finance to putting together a social media calendar and communicating with vendors in English or Spanish via email or WhatsApp. Not to mention planning new trips (my favorite part!). Then, there’s all the client correspondence, welcome packages, logistics, etc. I also do cultural consulting, which focuses more deeply on the competency in global business and social spaces and understanding the societal and philosophical drivers behind behaviours.

Laura and I host meetups in 19 cities in the US, where we have happy hours or dinner nights where travelers can come together to share and learn from each other. We have partnerships as well, such as Freestyle Language (offering online courses) and Wanderwell Insurance (who is also a BCorp and participates in 1% for the Planet).

That’s a packed schedule for sure. What has been the most rewarding and most challenging aspect to starting your company?

It’s not my first business, so I started Traverse Journeys fully aware of the challenges of entrepreneurship.

A challenge of being an entrepreneur is the instability that comes with that but if you’re passionate about what you’re doing, it can outweigh the fear.

For rewards, a client came back from Ecuador recently with amazing photos and great things to say, so the facilitation of creating a memory that will stay with someone for the rest of their life is pretty amazing

Making a traditional Amazon dish of fish, bamboo, yucca and plantains on the Rainforest Ecuador trip. For more information:

For other people, hesitant to move forward with business ideas, what advice would you give them?

The idea of entrepreneurship is sexy and glamorous, but many people who have been through it will tell you it’s not the case. It’s truly challenging and it’s not for everyone. Before diving in, consider the impact it would have on your friends, family, finances, consider if your business fails, how will it make you feel? Test the waters and arm yourself with good mentors.

For people who say they don’t have the time or budget to travel, what would you say?

It stems with desire and allocation with resources. If you want to travel, it can happen.

Reality is involved of course, but even if it means tucking money away each month or not eating out as much, it’s possible. spent at dinner could be 2 nights in Thailand at an awesome guesthouse. If you want it to happen, there are ways to make it happen, and there are a ton of online resources for budget travel.

What languages do you speak?

I speak Spanish fluently. I studied German & Portuguese as well, but those skills are rusty as I don’t use either regularly right now. Currently, I’m studying Arabic which is something I’ve wanted to do since finishing college.

What are your top 3 favorite places to spend time in?

That is such a difficult question! Right now, I would have to say Morocco. It is so steeped in culture, artisanship and history; their traditions are evident to the eye. I really love the depth of culture. When you’re there, all your senses are assaulted by the smells, spices, sights and sounds.

Latin America, and I have to say it generally, is another favorite because I’ve been to so many places there. It’s so diverse, and is an open, and warm culture where people love to live. I love the music, art, literature and the colors - and most of all, the people.

Asia, again in a general sense. I lived in South Korea, worked in China, and traveled in Southeast Asia. I appreciate the food, health and wellness. I’m interested in traditional medicines, herbs and natural health remedies. The entire perspective of the way the world is seen is so different than the Western view point. It’s very holistic and I think we can learn a lot from that.

What destinations are on your bucket list?

So many places: Istanbul, Greece, Crete, India, Nepal, Beirut, Tel Aviv, Ghana, Madagascar, Mozambique, and plenty more.

Laura with a group of Traverse Journey travelers in Blarney, Ireland.

In the next 5 years, where do you see yourself and your company?

5 years ago, I had just finished graduate school and was about to move to South Korea with my fiancé. We were in the planning stage for our Asian adventure, and I was doing all types of contract work: tutoring Spanish, nannying, small business project management, you name it!

5 years from now, I would hope Traverse Journeys is an established business, with a healthy number of trips to support a good size staff By then, my role would be more in development with a trip leadership team.

What are you favorite/go-to resources for inspiration: books, podcasts, etc.?

Anthony Bourdain’s new podcast called Roads and Kingdoms (and his shows, of course). I love travel memoirs, Paul Theroux, Tahir Shah and this list of inspirational reads. I go to the travel section of a bookstore and just peruse.

What are the upcoming Traverse Journeys trips to know about?

There’s the Nicaragua surf retreat in May at this beautiful villa in San Juan del Sur. We also have Ireland in May and Italy in June (still a few spots left!). Then this summer (with trips also in November & December) we’ll be cycling in Cambodia and Vietnam, and Laura’s leading a volunteer immersion trip in Costa Rica.

This fall, we have a yoga and art retreat in Morocco. We’ll explore the shuks of Marrakesh, see textiles and tile making. We’ll spend a night in the desert, and ride camels. There can be additional excursions to Fes, an ancient medieval city, and Chefchaouen, a beautiful seaside village farther north. The yoga instructor, Gigi, also hosts our retreats in Nicaragua, and it will be grounding and meditative.

We also just launched trips to Croatia and Portugal in October and will soon have New Zealand on the books. It’s a good year for travel!

Check out Traverse Journeys' upcoming trips on Instagram and Facebook!

Textiles being dyed in Fes, Morocco, using plant basis like saffron and indigo.