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Sustainable Spotlight: Alyssaya

Welcome to our Sustainable Spotlight series, where we explore the stories of remarkable travelers who have made conscious choices to minimize their environmental impact, support local communities, and contribute to a more sustainable and responsible way of experiencing the world. Each traveler brings a unique perspective, offering insights into their sustainable travel practices, and the positive changes they aim to inspire.

Sustainable Spotlight: Alyssaya

Inspiring Change through Ethical Fashion, Social Impact, and Slow Travel

Featuring Alyssa McGarry (Alyssaya)

With her master's degree from Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, Alyssa’s life mission is not just to explore the world but to profoundly reshape it. Her journey is one of genuine cultural connection, not just tourism; collaboration, not volunteerism.

Alyssa McGarry is a dynamic figure in the realms of ethical business, social impact, and slow travel. Her prestigious academic background and worldwide cross-cultural experiences empower her to make a tangible difference and inspire others to explore the world in a more thoughtful way.

“We all have the power to leave the world a better place than how we found it.”

Between the ages of 19 and 25, Alyssa solo traveled across the world to places like Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru, Jamaica, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Jordan, Oman, the Republic of Korea, and Thailand - many for slow stays over 6 weeks and some lasting months. Making an effort to understand local customs, Alyssa chose to build partnerships and collaborations with local organizations while traveling. She made extra efforts to find local guides, organizations and expats doing community-driven work. From supporting composting projects in Jamaica, conducting her Master’s research on the Galapagos Islands and writing her thesis in a research station in the most biodiverse area of the Amazon Rainforest to volunteering at the first-ever breast cancer awareness walk in Abu Dhabi, Alyssa engaged actively.

Alyssa’s expertise comes from real on-the-ground experiences that shape her view on this world and the people who live on it. In 2012, she launched her own ethical fashion brand, Hiptipico based out of rural Guatemala. And the next 10 years she spent living and working with indigenous artisans building one of the most fascinating ethical fashion brands. Alyssa built the platform Hiptipico as a sustainable avenue for quality artisan products to reach the global fashion marketplace and has been featured in TopShop, Asos, Urban Outfitters, Free People and many publications. During this time, Alyssa also hosted ethical retreats and inclusive seminars in Guatemala for photographers, videographers and travel creators.

Travel Philosophy

Alyssa's commitment to leaving the world better than she found, is evident in her approach to travel and entrepreneurship. Her travel philosophy is a blend of immersive experience, cultural sensitivity, and a relentless pursuit of positive social impact. She is an authentic storyteller, sharing stories from the perspective of locals.

Memorable Travel Experience

Alyssa told us: In 2019, I set out to explore Ethiopia. I landed in Addis Ababa, solo, with no concrete plans. I had put a few feelers out there with local guides and content creators who specialized in ethical tours in the Omo Valley. Well, one Ethiopian tour company got back to me and we met to discuss the itinerary and my goals as a storyteller. Turns out he was the same age as me, had been running his company for the same amount of time and was a professional photographer. He immediately invited me to an event at the Hyatt that evening where his best friend was being featured in the HAFW runaway event hosted by the Hub of Africa. The fashion show featured all local, sustainable and ethical Ethiopian designers! This was all before heading out for a few weeks to the Omo Valley to experience how the tourism industry approached visiting local indigenous tribes.

Top Eco-Friendly Accommodations:

  • Good Hotel London, United Kingdom
  • Hotel con Corazon, Granada, Nicaragua
  • Travellers Beach Resort Negril, Jamaica
  • La Fortuna Atitlan, Guatemala
  • Lloyd Hotel, Amsterdam
  • Paradise Lodge Arba Minch, Ethiopia

Sustainable Travel Practices:

Alyssa provides some tips on how to get the most out of your trips and blend the exciting exploration with cultural immersion.

  • Use location-specific Facebook groups to connect with people on the ground working in tourism.
  • There’s one way to fastrack local immersion, get up early and grab breakfast at the local market.
  • If you don’t speak the native language, spend the extra money to hire a bilingual guide to help you communicate and navigate through cultural experiences.
  • Avoid short-term volunteerism, but do approach local organizations for collaborations to see how you can help generate more long-term impact.

"Every time you spend money, you're casting a vote for the kind of world you want."

Sustainable Guide to Guatemala:

After living 10 years in Guatemala, Alyssa has some unique recommendations that might not be easy to find elsewhere:

  • When you arrive, go straight to Good Hotel Guatemala City and walk around Zone 4 to explore the city’s creative hub.
  • Next head to Antigua, stay at Good Hotel’s other location in the city center, take their tour of Niños de Guatemala local schools and then enjoy the marvels of this amazing colonial city!
  • From there, head to the coast and enjoy the black sand beaches at Swell Paredon and contact Hidden Wave for a local surf lesson.
  • Make your way to Lake Atitlan, and drive through San Lucas Toliman. Be sure to stop at Finca San Jeronimo Coffee Farm and the Parma Tienda next door for a bite to eat on the road.
  • Arrive at Lake Atitlan, stay at the Natural Reserve Hotel, visit Santa Catarina’s Cultural Center and take a pottery workshop in San Antonio.
  • Ride a boat over to San Juan la Laguna, do a homestay with LEMA and enjoy their artisanal natural dye and weaving lesson.
  • Head back to Antigua or the City to wrap up your Guatemalan adventure.

If You Are Starting Your Sustainable Travel Journey:

It all starts with the people. That is what makes a place so special. Even if there are museums, architecture or history, it all revolves around the humans who lived there and created these spaces. Be curious, not judgmental and be mindful of the balance between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation. Do not put your lens in a new place. Go with a clean slate and be open to learning from a local perspective.

Message to Future Slow Travelers:

Building relationships and learning about new cultures takes time. We often view travel as a way to escape, refresh, and enjoy—which it certainly is! But it's important to be mindful not to take more than we give. Being an international traveler is a privilege, and true exploration involves exchange and respect. We can all make an effort to slow down in order to ensure we positively impact the places we visit.

Inspirational Figures:

  • Valeria Hinojosa @Waterthruskin: A pioneering voice for slow-living and sustainability.
  • Mahlet Afework @Mahletafework: An Ethiopian founder and designer of MAFI MAFI fashion brand.

The impact of Alyssa's journey goes beyond fashion and entrepreneurship; it's a testament to the transformative power of recognizing and empowering global communities. Her story embodies the spirit of sustainable travel, where exploration leads to profound connections and, ultimately, positive change.

If you resonate with Alyssa’s purpose, you can follow @alyssaya and get in touch with her directly. If you have your own travel story or another one to suggest, we’d love you to submit it via [email protected].

Here’s to a more sustainable future! 🌿

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About the author

Palak Bothra

Palak Bothra

Palak studied Management and Entrepreneurship then continued to get her Master's Degree in Digital Marketing. A dedicated spirit to the start-up world, Palak has 4 years of experience in organic growth strategies.

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