Dealing With Poverty While Traveling

I love the "developing" world. Every country I have been to that is considered impoverished is beautiful, vibrant and full of colour. Here mother is the necessity of all invention and you see things that you would never even think of. Amazing as it is, the struggle to live is imminent and as a person who grew up in Canada, it is hard to sit back and watch without feeling brokenhearted some days Stepping outside the Western world is always interesting when it comes to poverty, because even our poorest people where I live still have access to basic human needs. Most countries cannot afford (or choose not to) to support a population with even the basics. Being a photographer while traveling is incredible. I love what I do and it has brought me nothing but joy most days. Nothing could ever match what I have seen. However its is not easy to turn a blind eye to the poverty that is so obvious in developing countries.

My last trip in 2011 was to South America which required many hours on the bus (around 200 in total). It was amazing, but some days were like a non stop motion picture of who couldn't even meet the basics.

It's not easy but the more I travel the more i am able to set out basic "ground-rules" for dealing with pverty while travelling and as a photographer.

1. DON'T GIVE ANYTHING BUT A SMILE. Even if you are taking a picture, do not give anything. I know, it's so hard when you have little hands held out in front of your face but handing out stuff encourages begging. Some days I break down, but instead of money I usually fill my camera bag up with non-perishable food. Handing it out is still not the most ethical thing, but in my head it's better then money.

2. Talk to people where you are staying. Staying in dorms is always like one giant sleepover so there is always some to talk to how you are feeling at the end of the day. Life gets a little harder when you return home. Where I am from people have no desire to listen to the sad things. Unless it's about sunshine and kittens most people stop listening after the words "It was so sad..." I talk when I can though and hope I can get a few people to see the bigger picture.

3. Write, go back and re-read, cry and re-write. Writing is important and no matter how you feel it's good to document the bad days as well as the good.

4. Be positive for despite the fact that there is poverty, it does not meant that everybody is suffering. In fact I have seen so much more joy on the road then I do in my city that it makes me wonder how much do we really need outside the basics? Even in the poorest areas, people still smiled and invited me in even if they had nothing. There is different kinds of poverty and none of the people I have met have lacked in spirit.

5. Bring Bubbles! This is one of the best ice-breakers when it comes to meeting people whether it be adults or kids. People always smile and you can blow them out of a bus window, on a boat, on the back of a moto and so on.

6. Even if you can't give, give back to the community whether it be 1 hour or 10 months. Wherever I go there are always organizations desperate for volunteers. What I usually do is contact someone ahead of time and offer to write a story on them and do some pictures to gain exposure for their organizations.

I also donate to Kiva. I wish I thought of this idea because it is amazing. My goal is to visit everyone I have donated money to and to listen on how these projects change lives.

This list is still in the works and I hope to make it bigger as I travel more because there is nothing hard and fast while on the road. You just have to roll with it and learn how to deal.

Your article must be written in English

July 11, 2011


with point number 6 you brought something up most people forget: be an example! loved reading this blog and love your pictures - many thanks for sharing

July 09, 2011


thanks for sharing.It always makes us appreciate what we do have.I live in the USA and traveled to Mexico a few times.I have seen homeless people here it breaks my heart.Great Blog

July 02, 2011


I find that there are very few hard and fast rules when dealing with poverty when travelling, I used to travel a great deal when I was younger and honestly thought that there were...

Now I spend a great deal of my time living in one of the poorest places I have ever been, it is in the heart of Europe and I live in a village where it is common that people have no running water or electricity in there home. Something I never thought possible in the "civilised" west! Life for these people is hard and they cannot understand why we choose to be here, however whether it is a gift of money, goods or even the offer of work it comes down to the recipient to define what happens not the giver...

What ever you do in the situation it is always about you and not about the person that you make the donation to!

July 01, 2011



June 27, 2011


This reminds me of my trip to a mountain town of Tunisia where the founding Bedoins people first came to settle in North Africa. While shooting at the summit a girl came along the mountain ledge with her little brother. I asked to allow me to take a couple of shots, to which she smiled and obliged. I gave them some chewing gum, and the smile got even bigger. Touched by her angelic unconditional attitude, I decided to give them a couple of dinars ,but realised I had spent that on a large bottle of mineral water. I gave that large 2 litre bottle of water to her. Coming back down to the tour bus, I told the guide what a shame it was that I only had a bottle of mineral water. to give the girl instead of cash.
The guide told me, "mineral water is luxury to them , needing to port rain or spring water daily from a distant community well. Moreover, for the Bedoins, water is life. You gave the gift symbolic of life".
I felt so much better then. The photos are till this day two of my favorite...

June 16, 2011


Thank you ! I spent many years travling..... back in the days of "film".
I still have trouble now photographing needy people close up, with out some sort of "thank you"......

June 14, 2011


THank you everyone. It has certainly taken many years and hours of thinking, and even still somedays you still feel extreme guilt. A big change though from my first trip to Africa back in 05. All I did was walk around and hand out money because it was so easy. I now live with the parable of giving a man to fish vs. teaching him how to fish. WE can make a difference as tourists but we need to think about it.
I refuse to hand out candy because most families can't afford dentists and I don't want to contribute to that problem. I own a polaroid printer which is a good toy, but it is slow and cumbersome to pack.
I will be working on a campaign to educate tourists the next few years on how we can deal with these issues even if we are here for such a short time.
THanks again everyone and happy travels : )


June 14, 2011


Great commments! It can be hard in such communities not to give money but I have been down that path and it can create big problems. I vary my involvement depending on where I am and my understanding of the situation/s from locals. I have given money (in limited situations), bought tools, helped with time and skills, taken photos and printed them for sick HIV suffers families who had none, taken insistent kids into shopping centers and bought good food, the most extreme was put a chunk of moey towards a house it has all depended on the circumstance. I would say that giving a someone money on the street can be bad - it can be for drugs, alcohol, problem addiction or just prevent them finding a feasible job. Lolies is bad for teeth, etc you need to think. I have struggled with this for the last 13yrs all over the world as I travel for work. It is a wonderful world but those of us who can afford a computer and camera are certainly blessed and should show global responsibility when traveling....

June 14, 2011


Great insights into a world not many people like to see and talk about. Thank you for sharing your experience, thoughts and showing how simple things can make a difference.

June 14, 2011


I've also found that Mardi Gras beads make good icebreakers. And being photographers, if you have a portable printer with you (unlikely) or can bring a Polaroid along, taking photos of them and then giving them prints can be a wonderful thing. Many of the parents do not even have pictures of their children and treasure them if you can provide them.

I've heard it said that America has the richest poor people in the world and if you've traveled to any third world countries, you know it's true. Our "poor" don't know the meaning of the word and going to those countries really makes you view things differently when you come back home.

June 14, 2011


Thank you so much for sharing - your words and pictures are inspirational!

June 14, 2011


Hello kindred spirit. Thank you for the lessons, the reminders, the beauty and your heart.

June 14, 2011


Hello kindred spirit. Thank you for the lessons, the reminders, the beauty and your heart.

June 14, 2011


Smile! The help of the spirit is more useful than all the material! Thanks for sharing! Good luck!

June 14, 2011


Very nice blog, thank you for sharing your experiences and remarks from this world

June 14, 2011


Nice blog, I like your humanity.

June 14, 2011


Very interesting blog!!!

June 14, 2011


Interesting blog...I liked your ideas...Thanks

June 13, 2011


Great blog, I carry candies to give to the children I see. Thanks for sharing.  Poverty  Tarahumara girl 

June 13, 2011


Yep, a smile makes a difference.
And also like that idea of giving food (fruits) than giving money. In some cases it was observed that that were organised rackets of making children beg (as seen in the Oscar winning movie Slumdog Millionaire)
Point No 4 is very true. Its really interesting to observe these kids enjoy life in the limited circumstances that they live in.

June 13, 2011


I like your blog. Very interesting. I agree with you. Thanks :).

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Photo credits: Angela Ostafichuk.