15+ Years of Experience

ZI was founded in 2017 by Lauren Zelek, a curious entrepreneur who was bit by the travel bug at a young age. In 2003, Lauren moved with her family to Tokyo and became enamored with the people, culture, landscape and language. Over the next decade, she traveled to and from Japan and the U.S., deepening her love for Japanese culture and all things Asia. With this came a natural blending of these travel experiences and memories into her life at home and on the road. For decades, our team has lived the Japan and Asia that our clients experience. The travel experiences that we love and expect for ourselves, families and friends underlie the services that we provide to our clients and travel community.


At the Summer Games in Rio, Lauren recognized an opportunity to serve U.S. athletes and their families for the next Summer Games in Tokyo. For the next few years the team interacted with hundreds of athletes and their families -- uniting the team’s love for travel and cross-cultural education with these stakeholders’ interest in consciously navigating a new culture, its people, and overall environment.


The novel COVID-19 pandemic paralyzed economies, devastated communities, and confined nearly half of humanity to their homes. Let's not also forget that it completely shut down the travel and tourism industry. During this time ZI pivoted to offer virtual travel experiences and and pre-travel planning services to its most discerning clients interested in traveling to Asia post-COVID. Now, we are proud to be a company focused on experiential, niche and sustainable tourism.

We love our community!

I spent four years in Japan, attending Sophia University and practicing the art of JUDO. Tokyo is the city for the 2020 Summer Games, and there is a worldwide interest in visiting for the Games and the country to gain a unique cultural experience, much like I experienced in 1964. If you are contemplating visiting Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics or just want to experience the real Japan, Terry and I would highly recommend that you work with Lauren and ZI to greatly enhance your travel experience, enjoyment of a wonderful city and a beautiful country.


Since the coronavirus crisis, ZI has deepened its focus on sustainable and responsible tourism as we believe the most critical challenges to travel today are climate change, overtourism, and lack of cultural sensitivity and consciousness.

Our Mission

To promote responsible travel policies and practices that enable our travelers to do good so that local economies we visit may thrive and steward their cultural, economic, and environmental resources.

Our Vision

To transform the way the world travels by delivering both virtual and in-person travel experiences that can make a massive impact on the traveler, local communities and the global economy.

Our Difference

What makes ZI the top choice for conscious travelers?


We keep each and every interaction, from our VTA sessions to guided tours, intimate, educational, and oriented around a well-defined community with its primary focus directed toward the concerns of the population in that community.


We believe that every traveler is a steward of the world and that being a good one means being sustainable, respectful and conscious in how we choose to travel and interact with the destinations and communities we visit.

See the Whole Picture

Our team recognizes that most travel by its nature does not just involve industry businesses, but the destination as a whole—its ecosystems, natural resources, cultural assets and traditions, economies, communities, and built infrastructure.

We also take health, hygiene and safety very, very seriously.

Meet Our AmaZIng Team

Founder & CEO

Lauren Zelek

Support Specialist

Sarah Schalkoff

Marketing Communications

Julia Mason

Our Guides

Our Local Guides are true experts in their fields (think chefs, models or kimono artists) who have a Zest for travel and offering insights into their unique worlds. Each one has a personal passion and knack for providing seamless, quality, reliable tours and travel experiences, as well as show our clients both popular and little-known places. Our freedom to curate various experiences with our Guides means you the benefits and amenities of a personal experienced prior to your trip!



Community Associations

ZI is an active member of the U.S.-Japan and travel sectors. We are proud members of the following organizations: