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What Are The Elements Of Ethical Travel?

The concept of ethical travel is constantly evolving. It looks very different today in comparison to 20 years ago when most tourists thought it was ok to ride elephants or volunteer as an unqualified person. We've come a long way but, it doesn't mean that we have nothing left to learn.

Taking Photos With Consent

Before posting pictures, think about how they reflect local people. So many travellers snap selfies with children and post them because of how cute the kids are or how it makes them look charitable. However, the real question is, would you take pictures of a strangers child in your own country? Most likely not, since it would come across as strange or perverse. Not to mention that having parents consent is important before taking pictures of their children.

Sharing pictures that show stark stereotypes such as immense poverty can paint a very one-sided picture of a country. So many countries are viewed negatively because of the kind of imagery we're fed.

Animal Rights & The Environment

There are still many places that violate animal rights, from zoos to animal shows and even elephant camps where riding takes place. It's up to tourists to boycott these businesses and demand change. An instagrammble photo bathing an elephant might get a lot of likes, but it's harmful and unnecessary.

Tourism has been known to be toxic to the environment with Boracay beach closing for a cleanup, the Maldives disappearing and countless coral reefs dying. There are steps we can all make to ensure that all these beautiful sights are preferred.

  • Picking up litter when we see it.

  • Avoiding visiting places that are already damaged by mass tourism

  • Eating local produce instead of produce that's imported

  • Not doing excursions in locations where the environment has already suffered

  • Travelling overland instead of flying where possible

Respecting Local Communities & Cultures

One of the main things that have always been missing is how imperative it is to learn about and respect local cultures. It's not discussed enough within the travel sphere, and it's hardly ever noted in tour itineraries. By learning some of the history, customs and traditions before travelling to a country, it not only shows respect but it a way to deconstruct some of the privileges that come with being a traveller. After all, travellers are guests in lands, not explorers or discoverers.

It's also important to support local businesses instead of foreign owned chains and conglomerates.

Acknowledging Privileges

Some of us find it easier to travel then others, the strength of our passports determine if we can travel to countries visa-free. Most of the world's strongest passports belong to European countries while countries facing conflicts such as Afghanistan and Syria have the weakest. Having to jump through hoops to obtain a simple tourist visa keeps families apart.

By acknowledging our privileges when it comes to how easy it is to travel it will provide perspective on how travelling itself is a privilege. Maybe then we can start to deconstruct how we see the world.

Understanding Colonial Legacies

Some countries have dealt with colonisers for hundreds of years. With varying degrees of brutality, legacies remain which countries are still dealing with. To put it into perspective, certain countries only gained independence in the last 50-80 years. Countries that have been colonised for decades should not have to deal with travellers that behave as though they are superior. It's so important to learn about colonial history before heading to a country that was affected so that certain harmful behaviours and attitudes can be unlearned.

Diversity & Inclusion Matter

How can we talk about travel being ethical when historically it has been a leisurely activity for mainly White Westerners. Travel should be encouraged for all, including poc and people that belong to marginalised groups. It's time there is more representation across travel media, more consideration of poc that want to travel and more discussion around the challenges.

Overall ethical travel isn't a single thing or focus, it's a range of issues and concepts that need to be addressed. As travellers, it's up to us to ensure we travel responsibly. Travel isn't just about stunning photos and selfies, it's also about cultural exchange and seeing new sides to the world in a holistic way.


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