How to Travel Kindly

At the end of such condensed turmoil there is always change, sometimes profound, and often good.

Redwood Empire Food Bank
Redwood Empire Food Bank

“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen,” wrote Vladimir Lenin. At the end of such condensed turmoil there is always change, sometimes profound, and often good. 

Before our shared acceleration in the weeks of recent past, Jessica Blotter identified a trend towards awareness and mindfulness in travel. She founded Kind Traveler in 2016 as a Public Benefit Corporation, with the idea that travelers can make a difference as we move and explore. The concept is simple: Partner with hotels, lodges and resorts who agree to direct a small portion of a guest fee to a local cause, charity or philanthropy, and offer an accommodations discount to the guest as an added motivation. Give + Get. Save, and do good.

Jessica tapped a vein with the concept, but the flow was slow…. it’s hard to change entrenched consumer behavior. But then the interregnum happened, and travelers stayed home for months, witnessing not just the results of an unchecked planet blistering at its seams, but finding time to reconsider almost everything. Do we need movie theaters and city-sized ocean cruise ships? Do we need densely packed office spaces and apartment buildings? Do we need to rethink how we travel?

Jessica’s idea resonates more now than ever before. Travel is an innate human desire…we all want to see the rainbow around the next bend; to drink the cup of wonder; to seek understanding of the interconnectedness of all things.  But now we want the chance to travel in a way that helps, not hinders, the places through which we pass. 

Kind Traveler, the first socially-conscious hotel booking engine, now has over 120 hotels and 70 charities on its platform, empowering guests in 15 countries to do more than just dream when staying at a member inn or resort. It recently joined forces with Sonoma County Tourism to incent visitors to make a positive community impact when booking partner properties in the famous wine-country region of Northern California. Kind Hotels in Sonoma offer exclusive rates, plus perks, when guests make a $10 nightly donation to local Sonoma charities, such as Russian Riverkeeper, and the Sonoma Land Trust. It might seem a trifle, but a $10 donation can go a long way: it can help clean up 250 lbs. of trash in and along the Russian River with Russian Riverkeeper; or help maintain two miles of hiking trails with Sonoma Land Trust.

While attending a board meeting in the Bay Area I decided to give Kind Traveler a try, and booked a two-night stay at the Vintners Resort in the Russian River Valley, about an hour north of San Francisco. 

The crepuscular Italian-inspired oasis sits on 92 acres of working vineyards. The grounds have a compellingly oneiric quality, gardened with lavender, orchids and sprays of fauve-colored flowers, and filled with fantastical sculptures and fountains conjured by an artist’s imagination. A highlight is a 1.15 mile trail through the vineyards, edging past neighboring fields of cows, Baby Doll sheep, and eight goats who mow the grass around a water treatment pond. It is a meander I undertake twice. And there is an outdoor heated plunge pool and a Bocce ball court nestled between redwoods. My second-story room has a Tuscan balcony that overlooks the vineyards, wheeling hawks and yoga classes, an ideal spot to sip the half bottle of complimentary Ferrari-Carano Fumé Blanc and bask in a billow of bliss.

The earth-to-table eatery, John Ash & Co, was the first Sonoma County restaurant to introduce the concept of cooking with seasonal, locally sourced foods. The chef works with some 30 farmers and food producers within a 60-mile radius, as well as sourcing from the on-site fruit, vegetable and herb gardens. Honey comes from one of the three beehives on the property; olive oil from the one-acre olive garden, And, of course the meals are paired with varietals from the over 400 sustainable wineries in the region.

But it is the partnership with Kind Traveler that brought me here. Yes, Vintner’s Resort has the right checklist: waste minimization, reuse/recycling, energy efficiency, conservation and management, waste management, freshwater resource management, hazardous materials management, and environmentally and socially sensitive purchasing policies.

But, how can a guest make a difference? By booking the Vintners Resort through Kind Traveler I save $10 from the rack rate, but I also donate $10 per night to The Redwood Empire Food Bank, which, for that fee, provides 20 nutritious meals to in-need individuals from Sonoma County to the Oregon border

Founded in 1987, The Redwood Empire Food Bank is the largest hunger-relief organization serving north coastal California. They respond to the immediate needs of people seeking help through the provision of healthy food and nutrition education, and provide long-term solutions to food insecurity. 

In this unfinished madness that is the new abnormal, in which thousands have lost homes and livelihoods, a program such as this is a vivid narrative, more apposite, more meaningful, more vital than ever before.

It may seem a small act of kindness, but it is worth more than the grandest intention. Booking this way, making a contribution to such as The Redwood Empire Food Bank, really does make a difference, and the more visitors who partake, the more mouths are fed, and lives changed. There is an undeniable feeling of purpose and pertinency, of humility and eudemonia, by traveling this way.

As Amelia Earhart wrote before she disappeared into the sky off New Guinea, “No kind action ever stops with itself. One kind action leads to another. Good example is followed. A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees. The greatest work that kindness does to others is that it makes them kind themselves.”

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