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By Chere Di Boscio
Feeling stuck in a rut is a common complaint: wake up, work, sleep is the sad cycle that many of us fall into. Even on holiday, that barely changes – just replace ‘work’ with ‘eat’. No wonder life can look pretty grey at times.
Thankfully, two women – Siobhan Brewster and Alexa Firmenich – have joined forces to shake up a few lives – and shake them up good.
Atlas Unbound is an ethical travel company that aims to basically kick its clients out of their ‘comfort zones’ – and into a world of life changing adventure and expansive possibility. Atlas Unbound isn’t your typical travel company – they create immersive experiences focused on a series of journeys deep into nature and her hidden realms. Alexa and Siobhan curate and lead the groups themselves, as they appreciate how important the dynamics are in intimate groups of ten to fourteen people. These women encourage people to join as solo travellers or with friends, with the guarantee that they’ll be roaming wild lands with a group of likeminded, passionate individuals.
Here, we interviewed Siobhan and Alexa to get a sense of what intrepid ethical travellers can expect on one of their expeditions.
What makes Atlas Unbound different from other travel companies?
Unlike other companies, we don’t divulge a detailed itinerary before our journeys, and as such most of our experiences utilize the element of surprise – an opportunity to hand over control and stimulate the senses in a way many of us are unfamiliar with. Variety is also key – each night is spent under a different roof, ranging from eco-boutique hotels to rustic camping, glamping, and everything in between. The experiential piece of our journeys is complemented by professional facilitators and local change makers, contextualizing each destination, catalyzing conversations and stimulating fresh perspectives along the way.
How would you say Atlas Unbound is sustainable?
We believe in the power of experience to inspire awareness, compassion and change. The expanding realm of sustainable tourism offers consumers a conscious choice to support local communities and prioritize the environment through their decisions. Through every journey with Atlas Unbound, you’re spreading your dollars amongst grassroots communities and ecosystems through our use of local guides, hosts, services, and sustained community development initiatives.
Our core ethos is to integrate sustainable thinking into every step of our journeys and help our travelers understand the causes they are donating to. We also acknowledge that often due its very nature, travel can never be ‘perfectly’ sustainable and we therefore attempt to balance our journeys through carbon offset programs and partnerships with leading NGOs to ensure our actions generate a positive net impact.
What do you ultimately want guests to take away from their experiences?
We want people to leave feeling invigorated, inspired, and more connected to nature and their inner explorer. Each traveler will go home with a different experience – whether this may be a new group of friends and connections around the world, a renewed sense of consciousness about the environment and local communities, or simply a permanent smile and a desire to keep traveling.
Why have you chosen Guatemala and Mexico?
We’ve explored troves of hidden treasures across both countries and found their magic, mystery and fascinating cultural dynamics to be incredibly unique and perfect for the type of tales we’d like to weave with our journeys.
Who is the ideal Atlas Unbound traveller?
Atlas Unbound is for the ever curious and for those with a thirst for the unknown; for people who like to explore, adventurize and question their realities. Our experiences are based on the belief that variety is vital and that surprises stimulate the senses – we ask those travelling with us to impart their trust and immerse themselves in new experiences.
One of our aims is to bring together unique groups of individuals from diverse backgrounds to share ideas and cultivate thought-provoking discussions, and so an open mind and a mischievous sense of curiosity are always welcome. We’ve seen entrepreneurs, business owners, creatives and international travelers join our journeys seeking novel experiences and the true sense of camaraderie we create.
What’s the most wonderful thing you’ve seen working with AU?
One of our most surreal experiences was exploring an Empire State Building-sized cave.
As dawn spread across the morning sky, we watched thousands of birds fly out of the cave in a beautiful swirl of movement before later finding ourselves dangling on the end of a rope midway down said cave, the dark abyss below appearing to swallow us up. As I swung in circles and sang the Wizard of Oz to calm my jangling nerves, I had the pleasure of looking up to find my business partner staring down at me with a look of ecstatic terror – the beauty, the adrenaline and the sheer unexpectedness of that moment are what we seek to create with each Atlas Unbound journey.
How do you see the company growing?
Atlas Unbound is currently reveling in the mysteries of Mexico and Central America but over time we would like to explore other routes to make it easier for our European travelers to capture some of the magic without crossing the Atlantic. Watch this space…
Finally, what are your top travel tips for Central America?
Central America is all about its people and the awe-inspiring nature that they are custodians of. Take some time to learn a few words of Spanish and ask the locals for their advice; oftentimes unadulterated beauty is just around the corner and people are more than willing to show you around. Failing a mastery of Spanish, we’ve found smiles and sign language to be an accepted currency everywhere! Approaching people with an open heart and curious mind always reaps wonderful results.