It’s safe to say that travel has changed.  There’s a shift in perspective and in priorities on just about everything. Climate change, our environmental impact and our carbon footprint are issues we think about now more than ever before.   If you are planning on going abroad, you might be thinking about how best to support local communities.

Maybe you are thinking you can’t make much difference or don’t know how to but it’s easier than you think.  Look a little deeper and you’ll find there’s a lot you can do.

Connecting with the locals is an integral part of experiential travel where the focus is on an authentic connection with the country, town and city. It’s mindful rather than mindless travel and it’s a travel niche that’s growing quickly.

While there are endless ways to give back in a meaningful and positive way, here are 5 local community projects to support which won’t cost much for you but will make a world of difference to those on the receiving end.

Ayers Rock Australia

1. Walkatjara Art Centre, Ayers Rock, Australia

It’s lovely to bring something home as a reminder of the wonderful place you visited but do you know where those souvenirs are made? Trinkets, fridge magnets and t-shirts are often manufactured in Asia to reduce costs. So, whilst you might think you are spending money in the local community, you could unwittingly be spending money where the items are actually made in another country.

In the outback of Australia, a large barren but beautiful desert-like space in the middle of the country lies Ayers Rock (Uluru).   It is an iconic image used to promote Australian tourism around the world. As the first inhabitants of Australia, Aboriginals lay claim to much of this land.

One way they try to retain and promote their heritage and culture is through art. They are gifted painters and their depictions tell stories that help navigate landscapes and problems. In essence, they are the guidebooks of the past, a lonely planet for Aboriginals.local art at a fair in Darwin

Situated at Uluru in the heart of the Red Centre, Walkatjara Art is the Aboriginal-owned not-for-profit art centre belonging to Mutitjulu community. Well known for its vibrant desert colours, Walkatjara artwork is filled with the timeless Creation stories of Uluru as well as traditional aspects of desert life, helping to keep Anangu culture and knowledge strong into the future.



2. Ulap Siyam Surf School, The Philippines

ana mae alipayo surfing in the PhilippinesWhen you think of paradise islands such as those in The Philippines,  it’s easy to imagine that everyone is happy and carefree. Whilst for many the laid back lifestyle is bliss, but for some locals the reality is quite different.

There are endless activities and adventures you can experience while on holiday but wouldn’t it be great if you could engage in an activity that would help drive positive change? Wouldn’t it be rewarding to meet and learn from the person driving that change?

Well, in the Philippines, you can.  If surfing is your thrill of choice, you’ll be spoiled for choice. Beautiful beaches and turquoise blue waters, with some of the best surf conditions in the world.  There are many surfing schools where you can learn to surf over the course of a few hours or even a few days.

Surfing with a difference

But one surf instructor is doing something different.  Ana Mae Alipayo is a professional surfer and owner of Ulap Siyam surf school in Siargao. Her mission is to raise awareness of mental illness within the surfing community.  She set up the school to help support her brother’s treatment for depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, this kind of care is not complimentary in The Philippines, as is this case in many Western countries.

learning to surf in the PhilippinesAna is deeply passionate about surfing and about helping people in her community.  Her teaching style is unique.  She focuses on the art of surf science to educate and empower you to truly understand what it means to ‘catch a wave’.  She’ll take a video of you surfing and she’ll review it with you to give you an insight into your technique and form.  Read my personal experience of surfing for beginners with Ana.

What you get with Ana is so much more than just a few hours or a few days of surfing lessons.  You get a real understanding of just how important her work is and how her work supports some of the most vulnerable people in the region.

3. We House Sundays – Cape Town, South Africa

We House Sundays night club with people dancingBecome part of the community through music and dance.  In a nation divided by race for decades, homegrown music has been a real unifier in the last five to ten years especially in the deep house scene in places like Cape Town. Combining food, music and friends, We House Sundays (WHS) celebrates the true essence of house music by unifying diverse cultures, connecting artists, music lovers and dancers from across the globe.  They bring people of all colours, class and creed under one roof every last Sunday of the month for a party which celebrates the diversity of South Africa. The sounds here are unique, sometimes tribal and other times more melodic.

As well as hosting the dance event WHS  works closely with underprivileged communities to change perceptions of what they represent.  WHS partnered with others to raise funds for two community projects in the area of Langa, a township on the edge of the city.

Anyone can go to the WHS music events, so if you find yourself in Cape Town then why not spend your Sunday evening dancing the night away with the locals. You’ll be supporting the burgeoning music scene here and the communities that benefit from it.

4.  Choose An Ethical Travel Company

Two men chatting in a market in Dharavi IndiaMumbai’s largest slum, Dharavi, is a place of many contradictions. On the surface, profound levels of poverty are evident with ramshackle buildings sprawling endlessly.  Bags of rubbish pile up on every corner. But if you look deeper, there is a reason for this. Dharavi is the largest recycling centre in India’s most populous city. With the industry worth over £1 billion to the local economy, it’s a major driver of sustainability and has fostered a network of entrepreneurs who have set up businesses.

The reality is that residents are proud to live there. So much so, that thousands of workers from the rural countryside actually choose to live and work in the slum to earn a living to send back to their families. The Western notion that these kinds of environments are full of deprivation is wide off the mark but you need to see it for yourself to fully understand.

Choosing an ethical travel company such as Reality Tours, an NGO that ensures that  80% of their profits from the tour are reinvested into the community, primarily into a school they help run, is a responsible way of seeing Dharavi.

5. Shinta Mani Wild – Cambodia

anti-poachers in the jungle Cambodia2020 has been the year to bring the illegal wild animal trade and the resulting zoonotic diseases to the world’s attention.

Cambodia has been the epicentre of wildlife trade for years but thanks to the Shinta Mani Wild project, this may be dwindling. When the owners bought a piece of land of over 800 acres in an auction, they saved it from poachers and loggers. This action not only helped protect the lives of many animals but safeguarded the future of the 1000s of trees in the areas. Nothing was cut down or moved to build the hotel and staying here means getting involved as much as relaxing.

You can join the anti-poaching units on patrol and learn to set camera traps to monitor elephants, clouded leopards and the endangered sun bears.

Their partnership with the Wildlife Alliance means that they have trained would-be local poachers and loggers to become lodge naturalists and protectors of the fragile ecosystem. This is more than a travel experience and one more you can leave knowing you are supporting a game-changing project.tents in the forests of Cambodia

As for the accommodation, there are 15 private tents promising the utmost comfort and luxury with breathtaking views along the riverbank. Each location was meticulously planned over a seven-year period and have been designed to be an integral part of the river valley.


Book an experience-based holiday

Want to know how you can get support local communities while on holiday? Get in touch to find out how you can have an experiential trip of a lifeline.