National Geographic Traveler Magazine Selects Its 2013 Travelers of the Year

Oct 22, 2013, 13:55 ET from National Geographic Traveler magazine

Partnership with United Airlines to Create Sustainable Travel Leadership Award Is Announced

WASHINGTON, Oct. 22, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- National Geographic Traveler magazine today announces its 18 honorees for 2013 Travelers of the Year, including winners of the newly created United Airlines Sustainable Travel Leadership Award. The honorees are individuals who travel with passion and purpose, have an exceptional story to tell and represent a style of travel, motivation or method that can inspire us all. Voting for the first ever People's Choice Traveler of the Year runs through Friday, Oct. 25, and readers can vote daily at


The honorees include a pair of coastal conservationists who have hatched a plan to protect Costa Rican wildlife; an engaged couple, one of whom is a quadriplegic, who have embarked on a 10,000-mile handcycle/bicycle ride from Portland, Ore., to Patagonia; and a woman on a mission to save Thailand's elephants, one animal a time.

"We looked for extraordinary travelers doing inspiring things. People who embrace the world and all that's in it — and who have learned some valuable lessons along the way," said Keith Bellows, editor-in-chief of National Geographic Traveler. "We received some 1,500 nominations and heard travelers' tales that make you want to drop your iPad, grab your passport and go! This year's winners prove that travel can make a life-changing impact to individuals and, sometimes, to the places they visit."

As part of the Traveler of the Year program, National Geographic Traveler has partnered with United Airlines to create the first ever Sustainable Travel Leadership Award. The award recognizes individuals who exemplify the principles of ecotourism — environmental protection, conservation and education; local community enrichment and empowerment; and eco-conscious visitor behavior.

The Sustainable Travel Leadership Award winners Hilda and John Denham have spent two decades protecting Costa Rica's endangered leatherback turtles on the Pacific Ocean and green turtles on Caribbean coast. They established The Pacuare Nature Preserve, with a goal of protecting nearly four miles of turtle-nesting beach. Among other environmental efforts, the Denhams are preventing poachers from killing the turtles and robbing eggs from their nests. As part of their award, United will fly the Denhams to the sustainable destination of their choice.

"At United, we understand the importance of protecting the cultural, environmental, economic and aesthetic integrity of the destinations we serve," said United's Managing Director of Global Environmental Affairs and Sustainability Jimmy Samartzis. "The Sustainable Travel Leadership Award is an extension of United's efforts to encourage and promote environmental stewardship, and we are proud to partner with National Geographic to ensure those destinations remain attractive places to live, work and visit for generations."

The 2013 Travelers of the Year are:

  • Muyambi Muyambi and Molly Burke, whose Bicycles Against Poverty organization distributes bikes to low-income entrepreneurs in rural Uganda;
  • The Carroll Family (mother Kira, father Peter, and sons Xaver and Felix), who packed their lives into a truck for a yearlong drive through southern and eastern Africa;
  • Katherine Connor, who founded the nonprofit Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary that is committed to the rescue, recovery and retirement of abused Asian elephants;
  • John and Hilda Denham, who travel from London to Costa Rica to lobby for local support for sustainable policies and to engage local schools in educational missions;
  • Tracey Friley, who launched Passport Party Project, a grassroots initiative to provide underserved girls the tools they need to obtain their first passports;
  • Joan Halifax, who founded Nomads Clinic, an annual medical pilgrimage by volunteer clinicians to the Himalaya region;
  • Benny Lewis, who is on a mission to prove languages can be learned quickly, and has turned his discoveries into lessons, travel tips and a $97 online language crash course;
  • Shannon O'Donnell, who launched Grassroots Volunteering to provide reliable information on free and low-cost volunteering opportunities and sustainable tourism enterprises;
  • John Ellis and Laura Preston, who are crowdsourcing their American road-trip itinerary, voted on by the followers of their website, Democratic Travelers;
  • Seth McBride and Kelly Schwan, who are on a 10,000-mile handcycle/bicycle transcontinental tour to prove travel can be a transformative experience for everyone, regardless of physical ability. McBride plans to be the first person with quadriplegia to complete a Pan-American cycle tour;
  • Alison Wright, a photographer who, after surviving a deadly bus accident in Laos thanks to caring strangers, founded the Faces of Hope Fund to give back to the communities she photographs.

National Geographic Traveler editors and guest advisers — including Russell Mittermeier, president, Conservation International; Angelique Kidjo, Grammy-winning singer, Batonga Foundation founder, UNICEF goodwill ambassador, and Kumi Naidoo, international executive director, Greenpeace — selected these gung-ho globe-trotters who turned trips into opportunities to assist with conservation efforts, connect with local cultures, volunteer in surprising ways, challenge themselves, deepen familial and community bonds and engage meaningfully with the world.

To learn more about each Traveler of the Year through photos and interviews and to vote daily for the People's Choice Traveler of the Year, go to or check out the November 2013 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine, on newsstands now.

For more information on United Airlines' commitment to the environment, visit

SOURCE National Geographic Traveler magazine