We travel for many reasons. To explore, to restore, to renew. Sometimes to inspire and sometimes to just escape. Often an enjoyable combination. As conscious travellers, we look for ways to reduce the impact of our travel from an environmental perspective—beautiful retreats that are off the grid, places that serve bountiful local organic produce, or maybe we just offset our flights with carbon credits. The way in which we travel matters—to the environment, the communities and ourselves. 

For those looking to leave lighter, more respectful footprints, there are an increasing number of opportunities to stay, travel and explore in ecologically and socially minded ways. From a community-impact perspective, simply employing locally is a starting point but doesn’t necessarily translate into meaningful positivity for the community itself. Do these companies, for example, pay a living wage—as opposed to just minimum wage? Some restaurants have their waiters rely only on tips for income— not bad in busy season but hugely challenging in quiet seasons. Often, profits continue to be extracted to head offices and shareholders far removed from the community who work for the company, benefitting the economy of the land you are actually in. 

Partnering with local charities to invest profits back into the community and giving visitors the opportunity to visit these projects is a way companies can be more sustainable. Supporting a network of local businesses that help to stimulate the local economy is even better. The multiplier effects to the communities are increased, as money circulates in the local economy and benefits more local families. 

There are wonderful community-owned organisations to whom the benefits of your stay are distributed in the very communities who own, run and benefit from your visit. In Lynedoch Ecovillage in South Africa, our Drie Gewels Eco-Lodge (pictured below) is run by the Sustainability Institute (a non-profit trust), where all the staff share in the profit from the business and a share goes towards our children and youth educational programmes in the valley. 

Supporting local community initiatives—from where you stay to your meals to the experiences you enjoy—is a powerful means of using your travel for good. The benefit is always to the traveller too—experiences of authenticity, and integrity, unexpected adventures, sincere exchanges and even new friendships.

On your next trip, seek out new experiences—reach out and open yourself to something unexpected and entirely rewarding. 


Jess Schulschenk is director of the Sustainability Institute, Stellenbosch, South Africa.