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HomeEthical travel4 ethical dilemmas you might face when travelling
4 ethical dilemmas you might face when travelling

4 ethical dilemmas you might face when travelling

One of the most amazing parts of travelling is seeing new places, getting up close with local wildlife and learning about how other people live, but it’s important that we think about the impact we have when we visit a new place.

Many travel destinations and tour operators help backpackers, travellers and tourists make the most of their time by offering activities, tours and attractions.

You might have the opportunity to ride elephants, swim with dolphins, visit an orphanage or do a slum tour for example. But how ethical are these activities and how should you approach them?

I’ve been looking at 5 of the key ethical dilemmas you might face while travelling:

 ‘Poverty tourism’

Depending on where you are in the world, you might come across people living in poverty while you’re travelling.

Visiting an orphanage is often part of the itinerary on tours in places like India and Cambodia, and you might also be offered a “slum tour”.

It’s important to think twice about whether or not you want to do these trips – does it really help you understand the country or is it ‘poverty voyeurism’?

It is important to learn about how other people live and make a difference where you can, but this should be a mutually beneficial experience.

If you can find an organisation that actively supports the local community with healthcare and resources and runs their tours sensitively it could be a valuable educational experience to visit a slum, but it’s important to ask yourself why you’re doing it and make sure it’s for the right reasons.

As for orphanage visits, 75% of children in Cambodian orphanages are not actually orphans, as they have at least one living parent. Orphanage tourism is big business but it’s often not in the best interests of the children.

Would you visit an orphanage and take photographs in your home country? Definitely not. Visiting them abroad contributes to a dangerous system which places significant risk on vulnerable children.

Animal experiences

When it comes to wildlife you need to be really careful.

In the UK we have strict rules governing the standard of care in zoos and for working animals, but this isn’t always the case in other countries.

Many tourists love animals but just aren’t aware of the cruelty that goes on behind the scenes.

The charity World Animal Protection has named elephant rides and swimming with dolphins as some of the cruellest holiday activities you can do.

Animals working at tourist attractions or as photo props are often kept in unsuitable conditions, subjected to long, exhausting working hours and sometimes even physically abused.

There are more ethical alternatives, and with a bit of research you can usually find some amazing sanctuaries, charities and rescue projects to visit or volunteer at.

Make sure they put their animal care first and do your research before you go to guarantee an amazing time for you and the animals you’re going to see. Read all about my experience with elephant rides to find out more.

Your carbon footprint

Climate change is having a devastating impact on people all around the world.

Many of the poorest countries are suffering the worst, and when you travel it reconnects you to the impact our day to day lives are having on the planet.

Aviation accounts for around 5 per cent of global carbon emissions, making it a significant contributor to global warming – but if you’ve got the travel bug you’re going to want to jump on a plane.

Many countries and communities depend heavily on tourism, but it’s not necessarily the most eco-friendly or sustainable activity.

If tourist numbers declined rapidly there would be a negative impact on the local people, but by flying to these countries we’re having a detrimental impact on the environment.

So how can we overcome this ethical dilemma?

As with most ethical issues, it’s not clear cut, but we can all do our bit by taking a responsible attitude.

We all try to take steps to reduce our carbon footprint at home, and there’s no reason to abandon that when we’re travelling. Even simple steps like re-using your towels in a hotel can make a big difference.

An estimate from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that laundry accounts for 16 per cent of hotels’ water usage. Try to recycle where you can, reuse water bottles and look for little chances to make a difference to your carbon footprint while you’re on the road.

Visiting endangered destinations

There are so many amazing sights to see when you’re travelling. Temples, geographic sites and other wonders of the world have been around for hundreds of thousands of years and travel companies are urging us to “see them before they’re gone”.

With millions of visitors every year, many of these incredible places are slowly being eroded. But nobody wants to miss out.

Make sure you follow the guidelines, stick to the marked paths and if you can, donate to the foundations dedicated to maintaining and restoring the sites you visit. Remember the golden rule – “leave only footprints, take only memories.”


What ethical dilemmas have you faced while you’ve been travelling?

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