What is a Reality Tour?

The idea that travel can be educational and positively influence international affairs motivated the first Reality Tour in 1988. Global Exchange's Reality Tours are not designed to provide immediate solutions or remedies to the world’s most intractable problems, nor are they simply a kind of voyeurism. Rather, Reality Tours are meant to educate people about how we, individually and collectively, contribute to global problems, and, then, to suggest ways in which we can contribute to positive change locally and internationally.

Reality Tours offer participants an opportunity to journey to other countries to examine a situation first-hand, to see beyond what is communicated by the mass media. By joining us on one of these delegations, participants have the chance to learn about unfamiliar cultures, meet with people from all walks of life, and establish meaningful relationships with people from other countries. 
 
For decades Reality Tours has promoted experiential education and alternative, sustainable and socially responsible travel as a way to empower our participants while promoting the local economy and wellbeing of our hosts. Relationship building is essential to this transformation. Every tour seeks to establish people-to-people ties through introducing participants to local individuals that most travelers would never meet on their own. These ties, we hope, will also prompt participants to examine their own societies and inspire learning, sharing and advocacy after the tour is over.
 
Reality Tours offers over 100 delegations a year to over 40 destinations that address contemporary political, economic, environmental, and cultural issues around the world.
 
You can begin your search for a tour by country, date, or issue

Important Update: US Treasury changes to travel to Cuba regulations. Get more information.

Global Exchange is a licensed Travel Service Provider (TSP) by the Office of Foreign Assets Control and can continue to arrange educational travel for parties traveling under the General License or a People-to-People license.
 
Global Exchange Reality Tours can also custom design a delegation for your school, place of worship, workplace, or professional association. If there's a country you want to visit or an issue you would like to explore and you can put together a group of 6 or more people, please contact Rebekah Olstad, at 800-497-1994 ext. 251 or rebekah@globalexchange.org.
 
Join us on an educational adventure that will change your life!
 
 
Why go on a Reality Tour?
 
Reality Tours promote peace and citizen diplomacy by making people to people connections. Our trips challenge you to “Meet the People, Learn the Facts, Make a Difference” and move beyond stereotypes.
 
As a human rights organization dedicated to promoting global justice, we know that travel can be used as an educational tool to build understanding across cultures and borders and can inspire you to challenge and change policies. 
 
Reality Tours is founded on the ethical principles of socially responsible tourism. Our tour groups stay in locally-owned lodgings, employ local program officers and guides, and always support the local host economies. 
 
We offer over 100 annual delegations to over 40 domestic and international destinations. We have a vibrant array of programs that investigate important contemporary political, economic, environmental, social and cultural issues around the world while illuminating the incredible struggles and successes of the individuals and organizations we meet.
 
Participants return home with an enlightened perspective, an expanded worldview, and a sense of how they each can advocate and communicate what they have learned to their family, friends, community, and nation.
 
How are Reality Tours related to Global Exchange?
 
Global Exchange is an international human rights organization dedicated to promoting social, economic and environmental justice around the world. Since our founding in 1988, we have increased the US public's awareness of global issues while building progressive, grassroots international partnerships.  Our Reality Tours program educates the public about domestic and international issues through socially responsible travel. 
 
What sort of trips do we sponsor?
 
We organize several types of small group tours that you will find on this website that are open for enrollment.  Occasionally we offer fact-finding, solidarity, election monitoring and activist delegations where we send invitations out to qualified individuals to participate. Lastly, over half of our departures a year now are customized tours for academic institutions, faith based groups, businesses, organizations, foundations, cultural groups, families as well as academic and professional membership associations.
 
Reality Tours offer participants an in-depth look at the reality of destination countries through direct observation of the host society. Participants learn about the country's history, politics, economy, religion, government, health care, agriculture, education, and environment, all while participating in exciting cultural activities and enjoying the natural beauty and ecosystems of the country we are visiting. We also arrange and cosponsor delegations focused on women's, youth, peace and conflict resolution, food sovereignty, human trafficking and other interest groups' issues, or focused on a particular event such as election activities and festivals.
 
Through educational, informal, and formal interactions, our participants come away with an informed and enriched understanding of the hopes, struggles, and accomplishments of people from diverse backgrounds. Our diverse itineraries typically include meetings and visits with community organizations, government officials, journalists, scientists, university professors, doctors, writers, artists, musicians, dancers, environmentalists, and representatives from religious and human rights groups. Each delegation has the unique opportunity to travel to various cities, towns and villages to speak with local individuals involved in contemporary issues. 
 
Who can participate?
 
Our standard, pre-designed educational seminars are open to anyone who has a genuine interest in learning about the destination country and who demonstrates adaptability and sensitivity toward different cultural realities. 
 
Our fact-finding, solidarity, and activist delegations are designed in the context of existing programs and are targeted to specific audiences with the qualifications and level of engagement that makes them eligible to work with our host communities.
 
We also offer customized tours, which are open only to the membership of the collaborating organization. The content and orientation of these trips are specifically designed for the participants. We tailor the program according to the ages and special requirements of the organizers.
 
Our general tours are intergenerational. A Reality Tour for example might  have students, retirees, professionals and educators from 18-80 years of age. If you’d like to know the specific dynamics on a tour please just call our Reality Tours staff.
 
Customized Reality Tours can be organized for minors with adult chaperones, and usually we recommend a 10-1 student to adult ratio. For these we create programs with more kinetic offerings each day and we require minors and their parents/legal guardians to sign a Youth Code of Conduct. 
 
What about travel to Cuba?
 
Although the US government maintains travel regulations to Cuba for US citizens, there are provisions in the law that enable US citizens to travel there. Global Exchange has taken over twenty thousand US citizens on educational, people to people, and professional development trips over the last twenty years and we were one of the first travel providers to pioneer Cuba tours. We have expertise in Cuba travel and deeply cultivated long term relationships throughout the island. Global Exchange is a licensed travel service provider. For more information on travel to Cuba, please visit our Cuba Program site
 
How do we prepare participants for their experience?
 
Before a tour departs, we encourage participants to educate themselves about the destination country and the issues that will be addressed on the trip. We send each participant a general information packet, a recommended reading list, and an educational outline. During the tour we not only arrange dialogues with the host organizations and individuals with whom we meet, but through formal meetings participants also have opportunities to share experiences and observations among themselves. 
 
What is the long-term impact?
 
Our participants return home with an enlightened perspective, an expanded worldview, and a sense of how they each can communicate what they have learned to their family, friends, community, and nation. 
 
When a tour returns, we send participants contact lists of the groups they met with, as well as additional information about other organizations or campaigns involved in issues addressed on the tour. Our alumni regularly: write articles, op-eds, and letters to the editors; make presentations to their friends, families, schools, unions, churches, and community groups; produce radio shows and videos; give financial aid to grassroots groups they have met with; volunteer with organizations they have visited or new ones they discover after the trip; invite people that they met abroad to the US; and create follow-up customized tours. 
 
Reality Tours staff maintains continual communication with the people we visit in destination countries.  We only meet with those individuals and groups that have invited us, and we return only if the experience is deemed mutually valuable. Additionally, because we attempt to minimize our impact on the local environment, our tours groups usually stay in locally owned lodgings, employ local guides, and keep as much revenue as possible in the host country. 
 
How are we funded?
 
Reality Tours charges people to participate in our study seminars, though we offer financial assistance to selected recipients. Any money we generate is used to grow, create future programs and add new destinations. Our Reality Tour fees generally include all transportation within the country, double room accommodation, trip guides, translation of all programs, admission fees, reading materials, two to three meals daily, visas, program fees, and an experienced trip leader. Trips range from $850 to $4,000 and last from 7 to 14 days. In the land-only case, participants must get themselves to the hotel in the host country and obtain a visa independently.
 
Reality Tours is proud that for decades we have run as a socially responsible travel provider and 70% or more of your tour package is actually spent in the host country.  Conventional travel packages usually only benefit the local or national economy with 10-30% of the total package- meaning that because of capital flight and the reality of the globalized tourism industry, very little of most tourism receipts stay to enhance the development and economy of the place you are visiting. If you care about what you purchase and where your money goes, you can be assured that Reality Tours does it ethically.
 
How can someone contact Reality Tours?
 
Global Exchange Reality Tours 
2017 Mission Street, 2nd Floor 
San Francisco, CA 94110 
Tel: 415-575-5524 
Fax: 415-255-7498 
 
 

We specialize in creating customized Reality Tours that are educational, fun, and positively influence international affairs. Learn more about our customized travel options.