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Are We Making a Difference When We Travel?

I’d never really thought about whether we’re making a difference when we travel until I read this article on The Guardian website. For some reason or another, it struck a chord with me.

I had never really considered myself lucky in the fact that I have lived and travelled to many different countries.

I reasoned that this opportunity was open to virtually everyone. You just had to have the balls to grasp the opportunity.

After reading the aforementioned article I realised that I was wrong. That may be the case for somebody lucky enough to be born somewhere like England.

But for people born in war-torn places such as Iraq or Syria, that reality is very different

Are We Making a Difference When We Travel?


Until I read the article I mentioned above I’d never really given much thought to whether we are making a difference when we travel.

This thought had never occurred to me when I went travelling around Australia. I just wanted to do something that I had always dreamed about. It never really entered my mind whether I would be doing good or harm on my travels. I just wanted to go travelling!

I would have to say that during my time in Australia, I probably didn’t make a difference while I was travelling. My emphasis was on having fun and enjoying myself.

I never really thought about what impact my actions would have on the environment or on those around me.

Making a Difference

Broken buildings in Christchurch

I would say the first time that I truly made a difference while I was travelling was when I was on my New Zealand working holiday. I spent 10 of my 12 months in the country living and working in Christchurch.

The reason I travelled to Christchurch was due to the devastating earthquakes that hit the city in 2011. This meant that there was a lot of construction work in the city and that I would be a part of the rebuilding of the city.

This was the first made I was making a difference while travelling. I was part of an amazing project rebuilding a city from the ground up. As I was mainly replacing wastewater pipes, a lot of my contribution was not exactly visible.

However, it’s a nice feeling to know that I played a small part in helping the city get back on its feet. I’ll admit it wasn’t easy to live in Christchurch and it wasn’t the best job I’ve ever had. But, knowing that I made a difference to the city, however small, was a great feeling!


The moment that I realised how lucky I was to be able to travel was when I went travelling to the Philippines.  It was my first time in Southeast Asia, I had never travelled to what you might describe as a ‘poor country’ before. To say it was a culture shock was, to put it mildly!

Driving to my hostel from the airport, I was struck by the poverty that I saw all around me. I couldn’t believe it. Seeing it on TV is completely different from seeing it in real life when it’s all around you. It opened my eyes. As I started travelling around Manila, this became even more apparent.

Walking through slums, it was made painfully clear just how much poverty there was. It was a case of crossing the road from an affluent area to being in a slum. I struggled to reconcile this and it’s probably the clearest instance of travelling changing my perspective.

Further travels around the Philippines only confirmed to me just how lucky I was. It also confirmed how important making a difference when we travel is. I tried to eat street food as much as possible. Tip taxi drivers and hotel workers. Go to local areas and see different sites that are less well-known.

I realised that the tourist industry was a big employer in the Philippines. There were so many locals whose lives depended on the constant influx of tourism. It became clear that tourism can be a force for good if helps these people put food on the table for their families!


It’s terrible saying this, but I never really thought about how I could make a difference while I’m travelling until I read that Guardian article. I guess the saying out of sight, out of mind is true! Once I left the Philippines, the daily reminders of poverty and inequality were no longer in plain view.

Watching the news and seeing daily updates of refugees struggling to escape from Syria and struggling to find homes elsewhere really hit home. We’re truly blessed if we’re able to choose where we want to venture to.

Unfortunately, not everyone has that choice. Some are even castigated for fleeing carnage that countries such as mine (the UK) have contributed to. The hypocrisy is astounding.

Seeing life in Manila has made me more environmentally aware as well. I couldn’t believe the state of the waterways in Manila and Cebu in the Philippines. The pollution was something I’d never encountered before. It’s little wonder bottled water is so popular in the country.

This has led me to become economical and thoughtful when it comes to my impact on the planet. There’s no doubt we’re having a bad influence. From rising global temperatures to the insane amount of plastic in our oceans, we do more harm than good to the environment. These pictures illustrate that!

Now, just me recycling and moving towards a zero-waste lifestyle is only a drop in the ocean, but it’s a start. If we all made an effort to reduce our waste we could make a huge difference to the planet. We only have one Earth, it’s important to remember that. As beautiful as it is, it won’t be much longer unless we act!

How To Make a Difference When You Travel

There are many ways we can go about making a difference when we travel. We can choose to support Eco-travel companies, local businesses. If you’re in poorer countries such as Vietnam or Laos, you can buy street food, instead of going to a restaurant.

Below are a few ways I feel that we can improve the lives of those less fortunate and help the environment while we travel.

Boycott Big Brands

This might sound a little extreme, but hear me out:

When I say boycott I mean avoid buying from certain places such as McDonald’s or Burger King. I don’t mean standing in front of the shop demonstrating! Of course, you can do that if you want to!

The bottom line is that these multinational companies don’t put money back into the local economy. It gets taken out and paid to shareholders. There are times when we’re travelling and we just want to get something simple!

However, most places have great local eateries and shops. Buying from here, will put money into local hands and reduce the impact on the environment! This is a great way we can make a difference when we travel!

Buy From Local Merchants

Food market

This is an effective way to make a difference when you’re travelling. It’s all too easy to go to the nearest supermarket or fast-food restaurant and get something to eat. But, by doing this you’re putting money into the hands of corporations and not the people that live in the area.

I’m guilty of this myself, we all are to an extent. We often choose the most convenient route. However, by supporting local businesses, you’re helping people who will directly benefit from your money.

Street food vendors in Southeast Asia, for example, will be able to provide for their families, while local businesses selling travel gifts will also benefit if you go there instead of more well-known shops.

The benefit to this as well is that you will get an appreciation for local culture. Nothing gets you closer to the culture of a country than its food. So next time you’re hungry think twice before heading to a McDonalds or a supermarket and purchase from a local market or street food vendor instead!

This one is easier to do and you can do it no matter where you are! If you see a charity stand while you are travelling, you can simply give them some money to aid the cause!

This is a great way to make a difference while you’re travelling. Even if the amount is small, that money is still going towards a good cause and will make a difference to someone however small!

Sustainable Travel

I’ll admit, I’m not entirely sure what sustainable travel is. Thankfully, Green Global Travel has a great guide. It’s quite simple.

Here’s the bottom line:

Sustainable travel is all about decreasing your impact on the place you’re travelling to. The impact of mass tourism is felt in many places across the globe. If we can reduce this impact, we will make a massive difference to the globe!

It’s simple things such as taking a shower rather than having a bath. Having shorter showers is also great for the environment. This was something I did when travelling around South Australia, as it’s the driest state in the driest continent in the world!

Doing a tour with an Eco-Tour company is a great way we can be making a difference when travelling! Admittedly, this can be difficult in some countries, but search around and you can find some!

Being more considerate about what impact you’re having on a destination is what sustainable travel is all about!

Teach English Abroad

Be a better ESL teacher

I may have written a post about reasons not to teach English abroad, but it’s a great way to make a difference! I teach English in Spain, and I can’t claim to be making a difference in children’s lives here. However, if you’re teaching somewhere like Cambodia or Tanzania, then you are!

Teaching English to children in less developed countries is a great deed to do. English is the global language and for a lot of people, it represents the opportunity of a better life!

Teaching to those who are less fortunate than we are is great in itself. However, by teaching someone a new language you are opening their eyes to a new world. One that could improve the lives of their family and community!


If you want to volunteer abroad then this is a great way to make a difference in your travels! There are many different types of volunteering, such as environmental or community-based ones.

Whichever one you do is up to, but whatever you do you’ll make a difference during your travels! There are many great conservation projects around the world that you can participate in. As the global climate is precarious right now, any contribution is beneficial!

Similar to teaching abroad, volunteering can improve the lives of people in disadvantaged countries. Providing them with education and basic needs such as running water and homes is a great gift to give!

Write About Your Experience

Are we making a difference when we travel

An unconventional way to make a difference from travelling is to write about your experiences. If you’re a travel blogger this is quite simple. Just write a post about your experience and promote the hell out of it!

It’s surprising how widely read some of these posts can be! Also just getting the word out there is great because as you gradually reach a larger audience, more people become informed about the places you’ve visited!

If you’re not a travel blogger, then a post on your Facebook page is a good idea as well. Anything to get the word out there is a plus!

Presenting a real picture of a country instead of sugar-coated post results in more attention being paid to the realities of life in a destination!

Concluding Thoughts

I don’t want this post to come across as preachy, but it may come across that way. If you’re born in the Western Hemisphere it’s important to remember just how lucky you are.

Travelling to many of the most amazing places in the world is not a problem. Whereas, for someone from an impoverished or war-torn country, this freedom is just a dream.

Travelling to many of the most amazing places in the world is not a problem. Whereas, for someone from an impoverished or war-torn country, this freedom is just a dream.

That’s exactly what it is as well, freedom. Freedom to travel more or less whether you want. Freedom to come and go as you, please.

This freedom is something we take for granted, but we are extremely blessed to have it. Making a difference when we travel is the least we can do to repay our good fortune!

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Wednesday 8th of March 2017

I love this post! It is so heartfelt. Travel is definitely a privilege and I often forget that to the point where I don't consider how I could make a personal difference when travelling. I'm currently attempting to try sustainable travel but I hope to branch out more and this article has definitely motivated me.


Wednesday 8th of March 2017

Thanks Anshula, I realised I wasn't sure if I was making that much of a difference a while back when I was travelling. Now, I'm trying to make sure that I make a difference, no matter how little, wherever I go! I'm branching out myself, trying to cut out plastic as much as I can and go a bit more Eco as well, such as just washing my hair with water. Going quite well so far!

Michaela Terese Harrison

Wednesday 1st of February 2017

Great post,! That is a very thought provoking piece. You have given such great advice here and I love the links you have provided for extra reading


Wednesday 1st of February 2017

Thanks Michaela! Hopefully, more people feel the same way as you. This is an important issue for me and I'd like to see more people becoming more responsible when travelling!

Angie (FeetDoTravel)

Wednesday 4th of January 2017

You have given such great advice here and I love the links you have provided for extra reading - it's just what I need right now as I begin my life as a full-time traveller. I will be going to Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia etc so this is perfectly timed for me. I have pinned this and felt the need to share this information on Twitter. Thank you for taking the time to compile this excellent post to help remind us all of what we can do as travellers.


Wednesday 4th of January 2017

No worries Angie! I've been wrestling with the issue mself for a while now. Hopefully the ideas come in handy for you while you're travelling!


Monday 2nd of January 2017

Before I started blogging, I never thought about it as a way to make a difference but now I think it really does. Just putting your experiences out there can really be enlightening for others, no matter how small your audience is. Do you couchsurf? That is impactful too, as I have had many hosts tell me that hosting people allows the world to come to them, especially if they're not able to travel much themselves. Thanks for the insightful post!


Monday 2nd of January 2017

Me neither, but the more I thought about it really does! If one person benefits from reading our blogs then that's great! I don't couchsurf no, I'd like to give it a try though.

Bruce Schinkel

Friday 30th of December 2016

I really enjoyed this post Tom, thanks so much for your insights. I've been having the same thoughts recently regarding how to make a difference while travelling. I have a soft spot for animals and often seek out tourism activities that help with their conservation. The ideas you present are really great ... i've started looking at voluntourism as a way to give back while travelling, and it looks really promising.


Friday 30th of December 2016

That's a great way to make a difference. Especially if you travelled to places in Asia. Animals can get treated quite badly there! Volunteering is something I'd like to do at one point! Definitely a rewarding thing to do for you and the place you volunteer!

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