Traveling the Crooked Trail


Ensuring that people traveling to certain destinations for service projects are equipped with the ability to constructively work with the communities there and appreciate their culture is often a daunting task. In this inaugural piece, Crooked Trails founder Chris Mackay explores how her personal experiences have impacted the creation of Crooked Trails and what her ultimate goals are for trip volunteers and participants.

Chris also co-facilitated our August #YearofConnection webinar about natural disasters’ impact on human connection. 

Chris Mackay has dedicated her life to working and volunteering in environmental education, outdoor recreation, community development and eco-tourism. Her love of international travel and her concern about the negative effects of tourism on culture and environment led her to co-found Crooked Trails – a non-profit community based travel organization – in 1998. At Crooked Trails, Chris helped found the TAP Campaign: to galvanize a global movement aimed at the near elimination of traveler’s dependence on disposable plastic water bottles.

As a kid, I always had a sense of what was fair and what was not.

That feeling of “but it’s not fair” lingered well into my college years when I began discovering the inspiring world of volunteer service. I felt that in some way, giving back and volunteering would allow me to make things ‘more fair’. It would level the playing field.

And so, I continued to volunteer and even create volunteer opportunities for youth, mentoring them in environmental service projects. When I finally got out in the world and asked myself, ‘What do I want to do?’, the answer was pretty easy. I loved to travel and I loved to volunteer. The two came together beautifully in volunteer travel and what my business partner and I called Community Based Tourism. By 1998, the year I co-founded Crooked Trails, I had already lived in India for 3 months, Paris for half a year, been backpacking solo around the world and spent a great deal of time with people who spoke a language I did not understand and who ate food I was often puzzled by.

I had realized first hand, that what I had to learn was so much greater than what I had to give, but that I learned this in the process of giving.

I figured others would feel the same. I believed that travelers, given the opportunity, would cherish another culture and land as I had. They would comprehend the lessons of reciprocity and less is more.

And so Crooked Trails was founded on the premise that it’s the connection between people that makes volunteering so grand. After the earthquake hit Nepal, one of my former clients who had gone to Nepal with me to build a school wrote and said, ‘Chris, this is the first time I have been able to put a face on a disaster. Crooked Trails helps people connect in meaningful ways’. When I read that, it struck me like a lightning bolt.

It’s all about the connection.


Wednesday Wisdom” is a weekly series curated by Everyday Ambassador Partnerships Manager Anjana Sreedhar. Every Wednesday, we will feature updates from our partners and reflections from the Everyday Ambassador community. To stay current with our latest posts, follow #wednesdaywisdom or #wordstoliveby on our other platforms, and check back regularly for updates.

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