Ukraine is often underrepresented when it comes to responsible tourism opportunities. So when I had the chance to interview Anna Liebel, founder of TraToS – Travel to Share Ukraine, you can imagine I was quick to the scene.
In this interview, we discuss the mission of TraToS and ways that visitors can explore this mysterious country located on the border of Eastern Europe.
What was the inspiration behind the creation of TraToS – Travel to Share Ukraine?
Being a Ukrainian living abroad, I felt that my home country was very underrated among international tourists. Ukraine is the second-largest country in Europe. It has cities, rivers, seaside, mountains, rich history and culture, and delicious food. Yet most of my colleagues and friends totally ignored it when planning their vacations. Partly because of the lack of knowledge on what the country has to offer and partly because of diverse prejudice based on the limited information about Ukraine in the media. I wanted to change this picture and let Ukraine get the attention it deserves!
On the other hand, I want to see Ukraine reaching new levels of development. And I believe that one of the most effective ways to invest in the country’s bright future is empowering its youth for change – letting them learn more about the world and the richness of its diversity; best practices from other parts of the globe. Inspire them to seek more knowledge through education and travels, giving them tools to act in their own communities. That is why we visit several schools during each of our trips – I say that there, Ukraine and The World, meet through our travellers and pupils.
What is the main mission of TraToS?
Our mission is to put Ukraine on travellers’ maps and bucket lists and to empower local communities to thrive and develop.
What can a person expect on a TraToS tour?
Our travellers can be sure they will experience Ukraine as few tourists do, because of the language barrier and lack of information in the international guidebooks. They will see Ukraine as it is – with its beauty, weirdness, funky mix of older times, Soviet and modern Europe. We at TraToS don’t hide anything, but we are there to explain, discuss, teach and learn ourselves. We want each of our travellers to understand Ukraine, and find something about it to fall in love with. Because the country has something for everyone!
Instead of hopping all over the country (remember, Ukraine is huge), we pick 2-3 regions and take a deep dive into their culture, history, traditions. We explore their nature. We aim at spending less time on the road and more time learning about the places we visit. Our itineraries include many opportunities for the travellers to meet the locals – we visit diverse craftspeople, private collectors and community activists. And the group is always accompanied by an English-speaking guide and a tour leader eager to help you explore and discover.
As one of our travellers said, “On top of all that, it is such an opportunity to travel off the beaten path (I mean it literally, my whole body remembers), with someone who knows the culture and the language so that you never feel helpless.”
People should be ready to spend a bit of their time prior the tour preparing for the school visits – maybe think of stereotypes about their culture that exist, to talk about those; maybe prepare some pictures showing life in their home country and their own daily life, or photos from their travels.
How does TraToS promote responsible tourism?
We stay at locally owned hotels, hire local guides and drivers – everything to provide extra chances for travellers to learn about the places from people who live there, and to provide the locals with job opportunities.
Since we travel mostly in lesser-visited parts of the country, most of the food there is based on local produce. Every trip is climate-positive – we cooperate with the Norwegian organisation CHOOOSE, which works with climate compensation. We also support a Ukrainian NGO called PRO.SVIT, working with local schools to provide them with tools and techniques to implement changes and improve their quality of education in a sustainable way.
Why do you feel that it’s important to educate youth on the diversities of other countries?
Meeting people who are different than you yourself opens up the mind a lot, given that the meeting is done right – in a positive and safe environment, and in a respectful and fun way. Bringing together a diverse group of travellers, and giving them a chance to talk to kids about their home countries and other places they have been to shows to the kids the exciting parts of being different – it wakes up their curiosity a lot.
We talk about education and learning languages, about the choice of higher education and profession, and which skills are nowadays essential for aware citizens. It is fascinating to let the kids reflect on a deeper level about what they truly want. We also encourage them to try different things, make the education choice less dramatic. We explain that it is not one choice for the rest of their lives.
We try to trigger their critical thinking in those talks as well, and to provide them with examples of successful local initiatives from diverse communities – to empower them to be the change in their home communities as well. Some of the youth we’ve met during our previous trips have then connected with me over Facebook or email. They told me how they got inspired to learn English, and how they now see some actual reasons to know more languages (like interesting conversations with people from abroad). One girl got motivated to apply for university she did not believe she’d get in, and she did get in. Some of the kids have started posting on FB in English, just to practise. Each of these stories shows how little we need to make a difference in someone’s life.
What are 3 things about Ukraine that you love to share with travellers?
Its people’s hospitality, the beauty of its nature and cities, and the food!
Where can we find more information about the tours?
On our webpage – https://tratosukraine.com/.