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Deep Travel in Berlin: A New Project with Context Travel


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A few thoughts on the current state of global discourse, the power of individual interactions in the world of travel, and an update on a new project we’ve undertaken in Berlin with Context Travel.

Anyone else feeling dragged down by the current news cycle?

Particularly with so much of it being steeped in divisiveness, fear, and tribalism — a kind of “distrust of the other” juggernaut — it’s easy to feel helpless and winded, to forget or even dismiss the effect of our individual interactions and decisions against that grain.

I admit to occasionally feeling paralyzed, but when I step back I gain some perspective. Allow me to translate my feelings into a course of instructive action — a course that helps in some small way to redirect the flow of energy.

Don’t lose sight.

Don’t lose sight of the power of human connections to weave a resilient web of empathy. Don’t lose sight of how individual actions collectively seed an evolving understanding that cultivates change. Don't lose sight of each other.

Whoa, whoa. This is getting a little heavy. What does this have to do with travel?

Our actions matter, for and to each of us. When we align our values with our travel decisions we see the impact of our actions on three levels: on ourselves, on those we interact with, and on the planet.

To me, this approach to travel — and initiatives that embrace it — are perhaps more relevant than ever.

Deep Travel Ambassadors

We are excited to announce our new role as ambassadors for Context Travel and their Deep Travel program. In our role, we will work closely with their team to develop the program’s offering in Berlin, with an eye to features and best practices that can be carried to other Deep Travel projects around the globe.

Our objective is to help shape a program that creates a shared experience between travelers and a local community organization, and fosters empathy and engagement through two-way storytelling in action.

Context Deep Travel Program in Berlin
Faces of the world, a Berlin street art treat.

When we consider partnering with brands and organizations, we look for an alignment of values, and a shared vision regarding how travel can be used for positive change, to foster greater understanding and humanization of our planet.

We believe this program is a good fit with our ethos, and we look forward to sharing more with you in this role.

Who Is Context Travel?

Context TravelContext Travel offers walking tours. In my experience, they run more like walking seminars. Groups are intimate with a maximum of six people and are led by a docent, usually a PhD or expert in a field relevant to the destination.

For example, we once took a Context tour of Kreuzberg, a nearby neighborhood in Berlin we thought we thought we knew well. Our guide, a history professor, drew our attention to specific details of waves of urban migration, industrial architecture, and cultural evolution we simply hadn’t known or considered. We’ll never see those streets in the same light.

Contextual storytelling makes a difference in the world of travel experience by deepening and changing our relationship with the places we visit.

Context Tours in Berlin, Story of Berlin Tour
A quote to get us thinking, from The Story of Berlin tour.

This is Context’s approach, something they call Deep Travel.

What Is the Deep Travel Program?

The Deep Travel program takes this immersive travel approach a step or two further — by implementing it in the context of a local community development organization. The idea: to channel traveler curiosity in a non-traditional context to foster shared tolerance and two-way understanding.

The traveler gains an authentic (in the truest sense of the word) experience that affords her a deeper look at a destination through an alternative socioeconomic and cultural lens. In turn, the local organization and its participants are able to share their stories.

Finally, through a portion of tour fees and a partnership with the Context Foundation for Sustainable Travel, the local organization also benefits by having another source of income to expand its work in the community.

The intangible global impact is in the network effort. The more we connect with one another as fellow human beings, the more likely we are to overcome our differences. We listen, we go home, we tell others about our interactions. Broadly and in small strokes, we change the conversation and hopefully, the less we all fear “the other” — other places, other people, other cultures.

Thus far, Deep Travel projects have been implemented in Cartagena, Colombia and Florence, Italy. Berlin will be next (see below) with more projects envisioned in cities around the world where Context operates.

A telling of our experience in Cartagena probably demonstrates the concept best.

Cartagena: A Deep Travel Project in Action

During our trip to Colombia last year, we visited Context’s Deep Travel project in the barrio of San Francisco, Cartagena. Despite the beauty of old town Cartagena — or perhaps because of it — it’s possible for a traveler to emerge from a visit thinking the city’s polished colonial buildings and wealth represents the entire city, that it extends to everyone. The socioeconomic reality in Colombia, however, is one of systemic hierarchy and a gaping chasm between rich and poor.

Alex Rocha, a community leader in San Francisco, took us on an afternoon walk through what is considered one of Cartagena’s poorest barrios. The San Francisco neighborhood also happens to be the place where he grew up, where he lives and where he runs his community youth center. For him, learning English (he jokes that an obsession with Michael Jackson and breakdancing helped) and focusing on education helped him escape the barrio cycle of poverty. Here, gangsters are often the most appealing, if not the only, role models available for young kids. His youth center aims to provide alternatives focused on life skills education programs and foreign language acquisition.

Context Travel Deep Travel Program in Cartagena, Colombia
The Alex Rocha Youth Center in Cartagena, a Deep Travel project.

In San Francisco, there were no beautiful colonial buildings or churches or historic sites to be seen that afternoon. However, the experience left a deep impression as to a reality that needs to be seen, experienced and understood if we are to acknowledge rightly that, notwithstanding the beauty of so many destinations around the world, all is not perfect and we have work to do. This project helped expand our understanding of Colombia, in all its dimensions. Alex and other members of the youth center shared their stories – not tales of poverty and pity, but ones of resilience and the pursuit of respect.

Despite whatever odds, their effort and Alex’s leadership lend a chance. And Context Travel’s offering a window to travelers to witness and experience this firsthand is the stuff of shared transformation.

Going Forward: Deep Travel Berlin and How Can You Get Involved

In the coming months, we will work with Context Travel to develop a new Deep Travel project in cooperation with a Berlin-based organization that supports refugees. The intended outcome: an immersive, interactive experience for travelers which engages refugees in Berlin in a way that reinforces their strengths and abilities. The tours also provide an additional source of funding for the local organization.

That this project is in Berlin has special meaning for us. We look forward to employing our global storytelling skills in our adopted home. Connections will be created, personal stories brought to light, and texture provided to otherwise de-contextualized refugee statistics we often see in the news.

Whatever you do, know that you have an impact.


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About Audrey Scott
Audrey Scott is a writer, storyteller, speaker and tourism development consultant. She aims to help turn people's fears into curiosity and connection. She harbors an obsession for artichokes and can bake a devastating pan of brownies. You can keep up with her adventures on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And you can learn more about her on the About Page and on LinkedIn.

9 thoughts on “Deep Travel in Berlin: A New Project with Context Travel”

  1. Hi Audrey,
    I loved this- When we align our values with our travel decisions we see the impact of our actions-me, them, us!

    You mentioned Colombia and there are a couple of walking tours that I did before in Bogota and Medellin that talked a lot about social justices and connecting the real local life with a blend of tourism. A bit different than what you mentioned but it just reminded me a little bit of this.

    I’m happy to hear that you’re support refugees in Berlin. The news cycles are pretty nasty these days and it’s easy to see only the mainstream media side of things. You guys have always done well giving us a beautiful perspective of this world through your blogs!

    Thank you Audrey!

    -Mark

    Reply
  2. Hi Mark,
    So glad that this concept of aligning travel decisions with one’s values resonated. Often, we forget the aggregate impact that this can have — whether it’s choosing to eat and stay at local places and how that income goes back to support the family or taking tours/experiences that invest in the place.

    I’m happy to hear of the walking tours in Medellin and Bogota that also included some of the heft and reality of social justice and socio-economic issues in Colombia. For us, this was something I really appreciated during our street art tour in Bogota where our guide finished with the story of the “false positives,” all of the people who were killed as supposed guerrilla fighters to show “success” in the drug and FARC crackdown. So important to learn these stories as well.

    Thanks for your kind words about our blog and trying to give voice to other stories out there besides what we see on mainstream media!

    Reply
    • The false positives was crazy. The war on drugs and the metrics used were absurd. Yes, it was great insight to the country. What a lovely place! Thanks again!

      Reply
  3. Seems like a great project ! I had a look at the Context website which is very interesting. I currently live in Peru and there are several projects and agencies that also do walking tours in different “barrios” of the town, such like visit.org or alternativeperu.org.

    I absolutely agree with your idea that we have to keep our empathy in this world that seems to fall apart. We work actively with local communities and private people in the North of Peru to come up with an organised form of sustainable and social tourism that will help the Peruvians in the Andes to get a little supplement income and an opening to other people and cultures.

    Travelling is all about being open to other opinions, traditions and way of living without trying to “convert” people to a certain style. Everything that matters is that we are happy with what we are doing and passionnate about it.

    Thanks for your article, Audrey, I am sure I will have a look at your blog regularly.

    Greetings from the Amazonas region.
    Martina

    Reply
    • Hi Martina,
      Great to hear that there are projects and tours in Peru that are taking travelers into different barrios and rural communities to helping them better understand culture and socio-economic issues. It’s important for travelers to try and understand all dimensions of a place. And, as you said, to do so in a way that everyone involves benefits through sharing of knowledge and also supporting local businesses (and families).
      Thanks for stopping by!
      Audrey

      Reply
  4. Hi Dan and Audrey,
    I’m so pleased to hear that you are joining us with the #deeptravel program – I am one of the first group of bloggers they started with since I’d been hounding them for years to work together for the same reasons you much more eloquently state here. Although we’re very different types of bloggers, I’ve always appreciated their generally deep approach to content – in particular, here in Italy, this shows with the way they treat art history in their “walking seminars” that are truly as good as any university study abroad program. Context is the one brand I have consistently recommended over the years!
    best regards
    Alexandra

    Reply
    • Hi Alexandra,
      Great to hear that we’re joining such a fabulous team! Given your expertise and knowledge of art and art history, I can definitely see how Context is a great fit. We’re looking forward to working together with them in Berlin and creating a unique experience here as well.
      Cheers,
      Audrey

      Reply

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