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15 Types of Alternative Travel: Definitions on Various Tourism Trends


An inconclusive list of various alternative travel trends neologisms and jargon that have been coined and adopted by today’s travelers.

These days, the travel industry is booming.

Even in the midst of a bad economy, and in the aftermath of 9/11, people are still taking their time off to travel. Though conventional travel, such as a trip to visit relatives in another state, a romantic getaway to Aruba, or even a family sightseeing vacation to Paris, is still the standard form of travel, there is a fairly new breed of travel that is starting to gain traction around the world.

This alternative form of traveling can simply be referred to as alternative travel.

Clever, huh?

Alternative travel can mean different things to different people, as it is quite the troublesome term. Some think of Alt-travel as travel that focuses on a certain theme or experience, such as gay travel, religious pilgrimages, or touring only breweries in Brussels.

However, I think this is merely conventional travel with a priority, with a specific agenda. Just because it is still common for many to consider a gay lifestyle to be an alternative lifestyle does not mean that one’s sexual orientation should determine the travel term used.

A group of LGBT couples which organized a trip to Paris together to view the common sights are not, in my opinion, engaging in alternative travel; they are not alternative tourists. Likewise, fans of baseball who want to drive all over North America to check each professional ballpark off their lists are not traveling much differently than enthusiasts of New York City’s architecture.

I believe that alternative travel should be described as any journey where the person becomes a bit more involved with the destination, either physically or consciously (this is my interpretation of the term, and can be applied loosely), whereas conventional travel is centered more on the person(s) doing the traveling.

Although conventional travel is great and increases learning and understanding exponentially, I wanted to convey the various ethics of alternative travel, as these ethics are really at the center of the Dauntless Jaunter culture and ethos. Alternative travel is really more of a general term for what should be divided up into more specific ideas.

To add to the difficulty in assigning a universally accepted definition to Alternative Travel, these various ideas are often used interchangeably, as many are quite similar in meaning. So, to help clear up the mess, and until Merriam-Webster confirms each entry in the dictionary, I’ll do my best to give you my take on many of the concepts that make up alt-travel. 

Here is an inconclusive list of various alt-travel buzzwords that have been coined and adopted by today’s travelers:

Adventure Travel

Like its parent category (alternative travel), adventure travel means different things to different people. Dictionary.com says it best, “vacation or trip to a natural environment or remote location with the specific purpose of active physical participation and exploration of a new experience.”

Some examples can include going to Alaska with the purpose of scaling Denali, or perhaps a trip to Tennessee to raft the Chattanooga River.

Cultural Tourism

Cultural tourism is travel with regard to a region’s culture and history. It has been defined as ‘the movement of persons to cultural attractions away from their normal place of residence, with the intention to gather new information and experiences to satisfy their cultural needs’ (Richards, G.,1996, Cultural Tourism in Europe. CABI, Wallingford).

It can include trekking into urban areas, while checking out museums and other cultural institutions that tell the story of the native peoples; it can also be more focused, such as journeying into territories “off the grid” to see how an indigenous tribe may live.

Eco-Conscious / Eco-Friendly Travel

Though often interchangeable, being “eco-conscious” literally means that one is simply aware of their environmental impact, while being “eco-friendly” usually goes a step further by implying that the travel is aware and making decisions which do not hurt the environment.

These terms are used to describe two different segments of your journey; not only does it refer to how “green” you are to the environment at your destination, but it also implies that your mode of transportation both there and back were at least considered. People who take an eco-conscious trip, may start a week or more before the trip by cancelling magazines and newspaper subscriptions, to cut down on paper waste.

Some travelers pack quite a bit more lightly, as the heavier their luggage, the more fuel required by an aircraft, and thus more pollution. Most travel agencies have by now partnered with an organization to which you can pay a small fee to offset your carbon footprint (they plant trees to counter the damage done by the plane’s carbon emissions). At the destination, low-impact accommodations are a staple, while many often take public transportation to get around.


Ecotourism is tourism directed at exotic and/or endangered destinations while fostering an environmental understanding and conservation. Directed more towards nature, ecotourism often includes activities such as kayaking, bird watching, and hiking through rain-forests.

Sustainable Travel

Every aspect of the holiday process has some negative impact on the environment, from booking flights on the computer, to making three takeoffs and three landings each way due to two layovers.

Sustainable travel is travel where the impact on the environment is actually a net beneficial gain, or at least neutral. Basically, it is traveling somewhere and leaving it a better place than when one first arrived.

Responsible Travel

Responsible travel is tourism that extends beyond being merely environmentally responsible, to being culturally-conscious and economically-aware, locally. Travelers who want to do so “responsibly” make sure that their activities, decisions, accommodations, and transportation are the least damaging to the environment. These travelers are culturally-conscious by respecting local traditions and customs.

The economic awareness comes in when purchasing items or food from a local, responsible travelers pay a fair price for their products so as to lessen poverty, provide for the ethical treatment of these workers, and promote such environmentally sustainable practices, especially in developing regions(similar to Fair Trade).


According to National Geographic, geotourism is “tourism that sustains or enhances the distinctive geographical character of a place – its environment, heritage, aesthetics, culture, and the well-being of its residents.” Money is often spent discerningly, so that the proceeds return to someway support the attraction or destination for future travelers.


Also known as “volunteer vacations,” this movement is quickly gaining traction, especially among teens and young adults. Some define the two terms differently, as voluntourism is usually shorter (1-2 weeks), while volunteer vacations are usually months-long to more than a year. Volunteers usually coordinate with a service that puts them to work abroad in a developing region or a disaster area.

The volunteers are not paid, but actually usually pay a fee to offset the rooming and food costs. The vacation/tourism part comes in on their time off, such as on the weekends, where the traveler can tour the city or region more closely. A great way to meet the “real” local population and learn the native tongue, while living with locals and eating delicious local fare!

Accessible Tourism

Accessible tourism ensures that there is high availability in destinations, accommodations, attractions, products, and services to all people, especially those that are affected by physical limitations, mental disabilities, or age.

Disaster Tourism

Disaster tourism involves tourists who go to an area that may be or may have been affected by natural disasters, civil strife, or warfare. This is a voyeuristic approach that is often seen as unethical, as many people go to such disaster areas merely to satisfy their curiosity or seek thrills.

If not done out of curiosity, it can be termed more appropriately as “disaster learning”. Visitors arriving to assist sometimes can be referred as “voluntourists.”

Ethno Tourism

Focusing on exploration of indigenous populations and their respective culture and traditions. Ethno-tourists usually seek to learn more about native peoples and their livelihoods. Though authenticity is key, the more tourists that come to look for these things invariably and slowly factor out the authenticity.

As these indigenous peoples realize the financial opportunities to be gained from tourists, events and traditions may become more choreographed, while foods become “watered down”, in an attempt to satisfy the wealthy visitors.

Poverty Tourism

Also known as ghetto tourism, shanty tourism, or slum tourism, poverty tourism is not the ‘Bronx and Harlem Hip Hop Tour.’ Somewhat similar to disaster tourism, in the sense that tourists are visiting blighted areas. However, there is not so much of a negative connotation here, as most people do it to learn and become more socially and culturally aware. There is still some debate as to the ethical boundaries crossed, because mostly, the tourists are crossing both class and racial boundaries, though usually simply to learn and sympathize.


Poorism is a term coined with negative connotations referring to ghetto / shanty / slum / poverty tourism. Poorism is also used to negatively describe the tourism undertaken by people who go to these blighted places simply to learn and observe.

Dark Tourism

Also referred to as black tourism or grief tourism, dark tourism involves travel to places that have a grim history, such as past battlefields or prison camps. An instance of this would be the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia or the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum in Poland, on the site where over 1.1 million Jews lost their lives during Nazi Germany.

Doom Tourism

Doom tourism is travel to places that are potentially endangered, or “doomed” towards extinction, due to natural and / or manmade causes. Such sights may include the rapidly-disappearing coral of the Great Barrier Reef, or the melting glaciers of Patagonia.

There are so many other buzzwords that have been coined over the past few years, that you can simply put almost any noun in front of “tourism” and look it up, and it will probably exist.

These 15 words are by no means a complete list, but they are some of the more popular words in circulation. Hope you enjoyed these, there will be more jargon relating to another category of travel in a future post, or search the Glossary of Travel Terms.

Christian Eilers
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Christian Eilers
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