Inspiring Positive Change through Educational Travel

Creating Lasting Change through Educational Travel: Transformation Beyond Impact Reports

Liz Tuck, Product and Sustainability Team Manager at World Challenge, a leading sustainable educational expeditions provider, shares her stories and lessons based on her personal and professional experiences in the educational travel sector, and her thoughts on creating lasting positive impacts through sustainable and mindful travel, including the transformation that happens long after the traveller returns home.
Liz Tuck
Liz Tuck

Product & Sustainability Team Manager at World Challenge

I’ve worked in travel since I graduated from university, initially in the volunteer travel sector, and now in educational travel. Though I found my passion for and focus on sustainability more recently, I’ve always been interested in the great potential travel has as a vehicle to create positive impact. This was a direct intention of the volunteer programmes I managed in Ghana and Cambodia, but over time I began to see that the real impact was less on the communities that we were intending to help, and more on the participants themselves.

This inspired my move to educational travel where I have worked for seven years in the Product Team, which I now manage, at World Challenge. My roles here have all, in various ways, centred around designing and delivering trips which promote learning and development for young people. One of my first projects was to implement a policy prohibiting orphanage tourism. In doing so, I collaborated with experts to design and deliver educational workshops to travellers about the rationale behind our decision to change.

This was an opportunity not simply to make a change which was beneficial to the welfare of children throughout our destinations, but also to raise awareness on an important global issue, amongst a young generation of aspiring travellers. By educating them at this stage, there was an opportunity to reduce the risk of them engaging in this potentially harmful activity in the future, creating a real, lasting impact.

This later evolved into a series of more broadly focused responsible tourism workshops, which is now a fully-fledged series of e-learning modules centred around the values of global citizenship and sustainability, that students complete prior to travel. Orphanage tourism is still a key topic in all of the material, which also covers responsible travel behaviours, climate change and animal welfare, to name a few pertinent topics.

Being able to provide such a wide-based range of learning resources is a huge achievement and provides a strong foundation of knowledge which can then be expanded on the trip. I firmly believe that the experiences our travellers have on the ground are the ones that lead to the most impactful learning and growth - inspiring them to adopt the values they foster, and adapt their behaviours once back at home.

For example, I heard from a group who had spent a few days at an eco-farm in Vietnam that they were trying to adopt one new sustainable habit each month after being so inspired on their trip – this included cutting plastic, recycling more, and composting! Over several months or even years the cumulative effect of these behavioural changes, across the volume of young people engaged, can add up to really wide-scale positive change.

World Challenge Impact Report (2022) highlights some of the key achievements of educational trips focused on community, conservation and biodiversity.

As an organisation we’ve made strong commitments to provide ethical community and conservation engagement experiences that focus on learning, with the intention to inspire behaviour change such as the example above. I’m really proud of the way we’ve been able to ensure our experiences are beneficial for both the travellers and the organisations and communities visited.

It’s been a huge evolution from roots in traditional voluntourism style experiences, to carefully designed programmes which engage our travellers with communities and allow for cultural exchange and learning around the sustainable development goals, whilst also offering financial and hands on support.

We’ve had to be honest with ourselves and question whether some of the types of activities we engaged with in the past, like visiting orphanages and teaching in community schools, are really appropriate for travellers, especially those who are still students themselves, and be ready to change as a result. In doing so, we have been able to offer hands-on programmes that allow students to make an impact, without disrupting or distracting from local priorities, and which uphold a standard of ethics that we believe to be the highest in our sector.

These experiences are central to the on-trip learning that takes place, and lead to all kinds of positive behaviour changes amongst our travellers, whether it’s as simple as a beach clean prompting a commitment to reduce plastic usage, or a community interaction inspiring a new career path, the cumulative impact is immense.

We couldn’t expect to promote sustainable behaviours amongst out travellers without demonstrating them ourselves though, and as we’ve been on this journey, we have committed to a host of sustainability initiatives across our operations – to measure, reduce, mitigate and offset our carbon footprint, which we transparently report each year, to eliminate single-use plastics from our operations, and by implementing robust animal and child welfare policies.

Organisations with strong sustainability commitments have a lot to celebrate, and I am proud of how far we have come in this space, and the achievements outlined above. I will however always be even more proud of the stories we don’t always hear, the changes we can’t measure, those which stay with our travellers long after they end their adventure of a lifetime with us. That’s the greatest impact and our biggest success story.


Born in the UK, Liz spent several years living and travelling across Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia before settling into her role as a Product Manager at World Challenge. Passionate about the potential for travel to create a positive impact, she enjoys working in the educational travel sector and, over the past few years, has enhanced the organisation’s sustainability commitments significantly. From emissions measurement, reduction, mitigation and reporting to child and animal welfare, and ethical community programmes, she builds sustainability into all of their trips, and focuses on promoting learning around the topic to maximise impact.