Travelling Beyond Tourism

Marie-Louise Disant writes her penultimate post in her series on female travel.  You can find the rest here.  Thanks for reading!

“Will you remember me?”

Those four words hit me like a freight train.

No language barrier could confuse it; her eyes overflowed with hope in a brighter future, love for the One who would give her it and peace in the assurance of it all. “P” and I had met only a few minutes earlier. She was sowing together a beautiful formal top, to go with a matching skirt. Here we were, in her native country, hours from her hometown, yet hidden away. She was studying sowing in a fish-farm/sowing-school moonlighting as an educational facility for Christians who, in this country, were widely persecuted.

With her basic English and my even more basic knowledge of her mother tongue, we had managed to communicate to one another that I worked as a nurse and couldn’t sow half as well as she could, and that after her education here, she would go back to her village and hopefully earn a living to support herself and her family. She told me she was progressing well and nearing the end of her first and final trimester of training. “Will you remember me?” she asked, as our conversation neared it’s end. I looked back at her quizzically. She repeated her question, “will you remember me?”

In reality, it’s not just travel that changes us, but life, and the people we encounter throughout.


What catches your eye first; the signs for guided tours of a city, or the people of the city?
Here, what catches your eye first; what’s on the outside, the attractive, luscious greenery or what’s on the inside, the marks of a laborious but fruitful education?
South-East Asia, 2017 © Marie-Louise Disant

Rocking the boat

When we let the Lord into our lives, we see life and all that it encompasses, in a whole new light. In the eloquent, wise words of C.S. Lewis,

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else. 

If we allow those we meet on our travels to broaden our views, question our opinions and observe our traditions through a fresh lens of inquiry, we might just learn a thing or two. When we allow God to rock the boat, He makes the ordinary Extraordinary.

Those whom I’ve met on my travels, like “P”, or travelled with, like “M”, have shown me this in a very practical sense; sharing a beautiful meal with me when they had little to share themselves, or opening their home to me at a very unpractical time for them.


A glimpse into a South-East Asian fish farming setup…
What greater purpose can our small businesses and workplaces serve? How can we glorify the Lord and serve Him and His people in our respective, secular jobs?
This fish-farm trains persecuted pastors and their families to ensure that they might provide a continuous and stable living for themselves. 
Radical, by David Platt, really helped me work through this question.
South-East Asia, 2017 © Marie-Louise Disant

Travelling beyond tourism

Travel isn’t just about tourism. Travel, I believe, is more than just ticking the boxes on our bucket list or fulfilling our lifelong dreams and desires. It’s more than seeing the sights, tasting the local cuisine and wandering the walks.

Travelling beyond tourism, to the people, has taught me much about life, and most importantly, about my God. It has taught me about who He is (His identity), and where He is (everywhere, from the top of Ilha Grande in Brazil to the depths of the Shehy Mountain valley in Ireland) and what He is (His character). The Lord has taught me these things through His word, but also through His people, and those I meet that are not of Him.

In the beauty of His Creation, I see Him.

In the restoration of His fallen, broken people, I see Him.

In His unending grace, travelling mercies and offer of relationship with us, I see Him.

We will all experience travel to some degree, though some more than others. How we experience travel however, may well differ greatly from one person to the next. We will travel for different reasons and in different seasons, but at some point, especially in today’s world, either we will become travellers, or the travellers will come to us.

As others travel more and more, most of us will encounter different cultures and worldviews at some point, even on our very own doorstep.

Are we willing to look past the veneer of obvious but lacklustre tourist attractions, to the people, their worldview, their culture?

“P”, with only four words, had managed to turn me upside down and inside out. Suddenly filled with emotion, I found my entire view of travel challenged. Was I mostly going to remember the fish-farm, the cities and towns, the night markets; or “P”, those I had met in the underground churches and the missionaries that worked with them?

What will you remember from your travels?

Who will you remember?

How will you remember them?

Travel and Justice

St Patrick’s Day has me thinking two things.  Flee or hide!

With the crowds of tourists who flock in to the city on the weekend, all aspiring to have the authentic Irish experience, it’ll be buzzing.  Most of the search engines for accommodation in Dublin are saying there’s nothing for miles around, and I’m sure Cork is the same.  The festival atmosphere will be a joyful one, and if other years are to go by, largely a family one too.  So why flee or hide?


A dose of this on Friday might be what I need, with all the tourists in town! (found on Tuckey Street, Cork)

Well, flee, because I don’t actually think there’s much genuine about the weekend at all.  The crowds are largely tourists, the days have little or nothing to do with Saint Patrick, and the craic is generally alcohol soaked.  But before I get on to the many positives of such a weekend, let me draw some comparisons to other lands.

When looking around, we see that much of tourism is very similar.  People chasing authentic experiences, quite often with low budget or not much time to spare (annual leave is more generous on the European side of the water, but even then, 4 weeks a year soon passes quickly).

The troubles with this are many, and have to be balanced against the gains.  Some questions come to mind:

  • by travelling, you are benefitting an economy, but are you creating dependency on a western stream of tourists?  Like in Tunisia, after the terror attacks at the Bardo Museum in Tunis or on the beach front in Sfax, tourists stopped coming, as the government (British, American etc) declared it unsafe.  And the whole country’s economy took a massive blow as a result.
  • by travelling for short-term “mission” trips or volunteer projects, are you taking away work from locals that could have been done by them (painting orphanages, building houses etc)?  Are you partnering with locals to empower them?
  • by going to a country longer term, are you empowering locals to better work, as opposed to again being there, but just doing a job that they could do, and creating dependency on outside sources?  Are you there, in order to ultimately work yourself out of a job?

Unlike quite a one-sided conclusion on such questions that you would have found in this book, I think like everything, there’s a happy medium to be found.  I’ve seen all three done sustainably, beautifully and with marvelous results.  I’ve also been close to projects and travels where everything has gone belly-up.


Our “Uncover Cork” project looks to support local business, empower local people to critically think, and eventually to equip locals to be able to run high profile, public square events in the longer run.  

And so what about St Patrick’s Day?  Well, for once, partly because of this, I’ve decided to open up the church and welcome locals and tourists in to the building for tea, coffee, cake and chats, partly to provide positive space where people can go without drinking, and partly to help some tourists meet someone who’ll be more genuine with them and won’t just play to stereotypes.  I’m not sure it’ll be worth it, but we’ll see!  At the very least, it’ll get word out to some locals of other projects we’re running (ones like this one which have kept me quiet on the blog recently).

But in the meantime, may it provoke us to stop and think, before we automatically book our next summer volunteer team, our next holiday or decide we’ll save the world by living in a slum somewhere.  We’ll never find the perfect opening, but may we give it a shot!