Ambassador of Adventure: Bruce Poon Tip

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Bruce Poon Tip knows how to do adventure travel right.

The Canadian entrepreneur started G Adventures in Toronto more than 25 years ago after a backpacking trip through Asia inspired him to take his grassroots approach to exploring the world to the world in the form of a unique brand of guided trips that emphasize cultural learning, service, and community building.

What started out as a “one-man show” now constitutes one of the most prolific tour operators on the planet, but that hasn’t changed Bruce’s commitment to the values he founded G Adventures upon—values National Geographic shares.

That’s why it should come as no surprise that the two companies have joined forces to offer an exciting new line up of trips in 2016. The new partnership, called National Geographic Journeys, is just the start of this beautiful friendship.

Here the authentic travel ambassador and best-selling author talks creepy souvenirs, the pros and cons of tourism, and thrills come and gone.

Looptail (Photograph courtesy G Adventures)
In “Looptail,” Poon Tip relates the story of how he built G Adventures into a socially responsible company.  (Photograph courtesy G Adventures)

Hannah Sheinberg: Why does travel matter?

Bruce Poon Tip: Travel is good for the soul. That’s number one. Understanding other cultures and other people gives you you a better appreciation of where you come from.

I always say travel is the fastest path to peace. It’s a vehicle to get rid of a lot of ignorance…[because] you realize how, ultimately, everyone’s connected by the same threads.

Do you think tourism is a force for good, or for evil? 

In general, tourism deserves a bad rap.

Ten percent of [travelers] took all-inclusive vacations 15 years ago; [that number’s] now at 75 percent. [This is a worrisome trend because it often means] money is being sucked out of the [host] country.

The [all-inclusive] resorts are consuming mass amounts of resources, too, where just outside their walls, people don’t have access to clean drinking water or medical services.

[That being said,] tourism can be a force for good. In the 40 poorest countries in the world, tourism is the largest [source] of revenue next to oil [extraction]. If done properly, [tourism] can aid in wealth distribution and really transform some of the world’s most in-need communities.

Can you remember a specific time in your travels that renewed your faith in humanity?

Just recently I was in Nicaragua with my family at one of [G Adventures’] home stays. A man in his 80s came out of nowhere, searching for me [in order to thank me]. Earlier, he had mentioned that his instrument had broken and, since he couldn’t afford a new one, he was just preparing to die because, without music, he couldn’t live.

Our tour leaders and travelers banded together and bought him a brand-new custom-made mandolin. He hadn’t played music in five years.

What’s the most thrilling experience you’ve had while traveling?

In 2011, I traveled down to the South Pole for the 100th anniversary of the Admundsen expedition.

I was born on the Equator, [in Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago], so living on ice for days on end was a personal challenge for me. It took me way out of my comfort zone, but it also reignited my passion for discovery.

Is there an adventurous activity you’re glad you tried, but wouldn’t want to do again?

I used to bungee jump all the time and not think about it, but then I had kids and kids give you a reason to live.

Prior to that, I had a “live today, for tomorrow we die” attitude. I used to throw myself off bridges, which is kind of ridiculous when I think about it now. I don’t recall a rush—I just recall screaming my guts out.

What’s the most memorable food experience you’ve had abroad?

Yak-butter tea in nomadic villages in Tibet. It tastes gross, like salty vomit. Each time I [visit that country], I prepare myself by lining my stomach with Pepto-Bismol.

Of all the places you’ve been to in your travels, which place has changed the most?

I’d have to say Vietnam. I went there in the early 1990s, when tourism hadn’t hit in a mass way yet. It was a magical place. All the coastlines were still locally owned there were no cruise ships coming in.

Nowadays, it’s really developed. It’s still beautiful, but it’s just not the same.

Is there anything you make sure to bring back from your travels?

I bring back masks from trips where cultures actually use masks. I have 100-year-old ones from Burkina Faso and Cameroon—they’re quite creepy, with real hair.

Hannah Sheinberg is the departments editor at National Geographic Traveler. Follow her on Twitter @h_sheinberg

Follow Bruce Poon Tip on Twitter @brucepoontip.

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