Traditionally, there has always been two main reasons why people travel for short periods of time. It is very common to have to choose between ‘Business’ or ‘Leisure’ on a visa application. However, recently a third reason has become very popular and is starting to change the face of travel. Choosing your travel destination based on the social impact that your trip can deliver has become more popular and accessible. But all our good intentions are not always so good for the community that we are going to ‘impact’.

Why people travel: Leisure

Travelling for leisure is very good for you, as I will explain later in the article. It’s not always so easy to separate the desire to travel and the effect that travel has on you. The effect of travelling is very often the desire to travel more.

Most people want to explore, use the road less travelled, experience something that their own culture cannot offer. Even though we live in a digital world where you can see videos of the Eiffel Tower or the Taj Mahal, it is just not the same as actually being there. Eating that croissant under the tower with French accents all around you. Or taking your shoes off and walking on the cold marble floor. We are curious creatures and want to discover treasures around us, even if it is just a different way of drinking your coffee. Airtreks and LiveLearnEvolve both have excellent summaries of travelling for leisure.

Why people travel: Business

Business has changed considerably since the internet made its appearance, even more so since the launch of smartphones. Our clients are not only the people in our direct community anymore, we now have global reach thanks to the internet. Since we can initiate a transaction with someone on the other side of the world, we need to start understanding the cultural background of the person we are engaging with. Actually travelling to that country will completely alter the way we interact with them. We develop empathy and understanding, without which it is impossible to engage successfully with suppliers or clients. It will do your business good to travel.

Why people travel: Social Impact

More recently, opportunities have become easily accessible to have a social impact while you travel. Organisations like Travel to do Good, GOOD Travel and Travel+SocialGood are giving travellers the opportunity to explore the world while contributing to social good. It is a great opportunity to experience another culture while contributing to positive change in another society. I love the stories from this article on the Forbes website about travelling to do good. Bringing your kids on a social impact trip is one of the greatest gifts you can give them. In addition to showing them how other cultures live, you are teaching them that the world does not revolve around them. They will learn that they have the power to make a difference in this world.

I lived in Lesotho, Southern Africa, for a couple of years, and I have seen the need that exists in third world countries. But I’ve also seen the devastating effects of trying to help a community without careful consideration. Not considering the complexities of the culture and the long-term effects of your ‘assistance’ carefully, you might be causing more trouble than good. I will delve a bit deeper into this later.

Effects of travelling

Effects of travelling on you, Personally

I am an avid traveller (once a year is not enough!), below is a list of how travelling is changing me. Feel free to leave a comment below, I would love to hear from you how travelling has changed you.

My paradigms are challenged

You cannot go to a different country, come back and think the same way about finances, food, language, respect, fashion, inequality, wealth, poverty, justice, etc. In my own little world, I become used to what I see and assume that this is the way things should be. I travel so that I can challenge those assumptions and live with a grateful heart.

I become more empathetic and understanding

Culture is embedded deep inside each one of us. We are shaped from birth through the culture we are in. Therefore in order to understand anyone outside of our culture, we need to intentionally move out of it. One of the best ways to do this is by travelling.

I realize that I’m privileged

‘Privilege’ is one of the buzz words at the moment and I don’t want to go into the complexities of this issue here. What I do want to say though, is that I realize that privilege looks different in every country and I am privileged. I have a home, I don’t live in the slumps. My country is not currently battling the effects of war. Generally, my culture has an attitude of taking initiative. Travelling help me to see that and doing something about my privilege.

I become more interesting

That story of the Indian policeman hitting me while on my motorcycle in Kashmir is probably one of my favorites. I bet you want to hear more now. See? It made me interesting!

Why people travel Harley

I am not always right

Driving on the right side of the road is the right thing to do. Or is it driving on the left side? Or is it driving in a bundle? This is a very simple example, but it illustrates that ‘my way’ is not always the only way to do things. How you conduct yourself depends on the context you are in.

I make more diverse friends

My friendship circle consists of many different cultures. Some of it is because of people travelling to my country, and some of it is because I travelled to another country. I am richer because of the variety of people in my life.

I read more

I listed a number of books that I’ve read, many of them while travelling or because of travelling. There is something about a different country that motivates me to learn and read and grow. I love listening to audio books while walking the streets of a city as well, it’s almost like a live commentary as you explore.

Effects of travelling on Society

This is where things can become tricky. I write this blog, wanting to let people know that they can make a difference and give ideas on how to do that. In the same breath, I write a precaution to not be unwise. Maybe it is because I grew up in Africa and often see people from first world countries come to ‘save’ the locals. Maybe it is because I myself went on trips to African countries wanting to ‘save’ them. Don’t get me wrong, I think travelling for the purpose of having an impact in another country can be extremely valuable. However, it could be just as unhelpful to a community even if you go with the best of intentions.

Differences in culture can be very obvious and at the same time very subtle. Until you’ve travelled to a couple of countries, you will be unaware of these differences. The best way that you can really support anyone in another country is by firstly going in with complete humility and understanding the needs of the hosting culture. If you realize that you are a visitor in someone else’s world and you don’t have the answers, you are halfway there. Also realize that even if someone is not living the same way that you are, doesn’t mean they need your help. You could possibly learn a whole lot from them!

Travel for your heart to be broken

Now I come to the important part of why people travel for social impact. For their own hearts to be broken. So many times I went on an outreach trip to another country to help and I come back being changed more than changing anything. Sometimes we get it right and have an impact somewhere and sometimes we don’t have an impact. That’s perfectly fine, the important part is that you are changed because of the initiative you took. We learn and grow – every trip we take makes us more understanding, more mature, wiser, more prepared for our next trip.

Travel is incredibly good for you, so buy those tickets. Go on that trip. Volunteer anywhere you can – locally and internationally. Challenge yourself, and enjoy the journey of shattering your own paradigms.

If you don’t have any idea of where to volunteer, contact me and I can send you some information.


Mariette Conning

What am I about? I want to make an impact in the world. The only way I know how to do so is summed up in the words of Mother Teresa: ‘Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.’

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