In the blossoming market of lady-centric, small group travel companies, Portland-based photographer Caitlin Murray and her longtime friend Jessica Scranton saw a niche: why not also aim to change the world?
As the "socially responsible," female-only tour group Purposeful Nomad, the duo spent 2016—their start-up year—taking six to 12 intrepid women into Montessori classrooms in the Dominican Republic, through dense Ecuadorian jungles and agro-forestry farms, and into the home kitchen of an Italian fisherman on the Cilento Coast. It’s sustainable tourism with a twist: far-flung adventure meets soul rejuvenation, community engagement, and sisterhood.
“We wanted to become a platform for women to jump off into the world in a safe, secure way,” says Scranton. The start-up aims to be accessible to women across a wide range of ages and athletic ability. And so far, the treks concentrate in mild shoulder season weather: late spring and and early fall. All part of that soft landing, the duo explains, for "amazing experiences that are impactful, inspiring, and will hopefully encourage the world to be a better place.”
To add that socially responsible punch, the company's voyages through Ecuador, Italy, and the Dominican Republic (with India just on the horizon) are complemented by a cast of activists who are, as Scranton says, “doing good for their communities the best way they know how.” That includes a crash course in bean-to-bar chocolate making, making a five-course meal alongside an Italian baroness, and learning about the reintroduction of alpacas into the Ecuadorian highlands. Before debuting one of Purposeful Nomad's signature trips, the duo spends two years or more rubbing elbows and following kismet to find experiences that diverge from the crowd-clogged sights you might see in the guidebooks.
“You might go to a tourist area and stay on the beach,” Murray says. “But if you turn around, across the street is a community, and that community has things they need to work on, or aren’t rich and need help. We want to make sure people aren’t just seeing the beach, but also the reality of the situation.”
Those realities can include paddle boarding past miles of mangroves, but also alpaca shearing and making buffalo mozzarella. Each guided trek is at least seven days; Ecuador, the most expansive trip currently on Purposeful Nomad's roster, unfolds over a full two weeks.
“This is not something you can just do in a week’s time.” Murray says. “We had to dig to find the people that we wanted to work with. And that’s what makes us really special. There is no way you could put this program together on your own.”
Though Purposeful Nomad’s community-driven approach might not be a perfect fit for every group of ladies, Murray and Scranton hope it appeals to women not afraid to get their hands dirty in the chocolate fields—and then rinse them off at a high-altitude spa deep in the Andes.
“We look for stuff that’s not typical tourism,” Murray says. “And people either get it or they don’t. But if they get it, it’s like magic.”