When I first started traveling, way back in 2001, I had no idea what ethical travel meant, or even where to turn for advice or information. Things have changed a lot since then, and I’ve become passionate about ethical travel. I love to experience new cultures and wildlife, but the last thing I want to do is exploit or harm them. There are incredible resources that have done all the hard work and research and made it readily available.
What is ethical travel?
I define ethical travel as travel with a conscience, for the environment, the local people and their culture, as well as for the well-being of captive or wild animals. Traveling in this way can create a little more work up front, but the payoff is amazing. Not only do you get a more genuine experience, you also get a feeling of doing something for the greater good of a community.
When it comes to interacting with wildlife, Right Tourism has done all of the leg work for you in responsible wildlife tourism. Just select your country of interest, and read away. They even highlight specific issues a country faces, such as the poor treatment of tigers and elephants in Thailand, or the captive marine animals in Mexico and the US. What I love about these guys is they go one step further and tell you what can be done to avoid it, and often some good alternatives. There are other resources out there, but this one has quickly become my one-stop-shop.
Looking to volunteer on your next trip? GlobeDrop has you covered! Here’s how it works: you search for charities by location, find out what they need and organize a donation and that you can drop off yourself when you’re in that area. This helps you stay off the beaten path and volunteer for a place where you can truly help. They have medical centers, orphanages, animal shelters and schools they work with, so you can truly find what works for you.
4 simple steps to determine what’s ethical:
Sometimes you just haven’t done all the research in advance, or it simply isn’t readily available. So, here’s my way of determining if it is right to 3 simple steps:
- Would you do it at home? Don’t let the buzz of travel turn off your conscience.
- Have you done your research? Sometimes it’s best just to pass on something if you really aren’t sure. We chose to forgo the Kopi Luwak in Bali simply because I hadn’t done my research. Kopi Luwak, the infamous (and expensive) Balinese poop coffee, is made from coffee beans that have been eaten and pooped out by small nocturnal animals called civets. If you are wondering, the poor civets lead terrible lives – they are kept captive for this one purpose – don’t drink the coffee! Which brings me to #3.
- Does it feel right? Even without prior research, if something doesn’t sit right with you, it’s probably not. We chose not to go to Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai because it just seemed so unnatural. Seriously – a giant cat lets tourists climb all over it for snuggle time all day? Something is just not right about that.
- Does the activity involve touching the animals? In general, animals should never be touched by humans. We have oils in our fingers that can hurt them, we could scare them or make them too domesticated for their wild and natural activities. Any tourist activity that involves riding or touching them almost always does more harm than good.
Wait a minute – isn’t vacation and travel supposed to be fun? Yes, it most certainly is!
Here’s the most important part: None of this means you have to give up doing amazing things!
We’ve seen elephants healthy and happy in their natural habit at Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary. You know what? It was so much better and more intimate than being on an elephant’s back (for more information on why you shouldn’t ride an elephant, read this article or this one from Expert Vagabond).
I’ve witnessed tiny baby sea turtles waiting for release in a conservation hatchery that also nursed adult sea turtles back to health.
Swam with whale sharks who were wild and free in their natural habitat. Seaworld could never top that for me (for more information on why marine animals should not be kept in captivity, check out this article or this article). Never swim with captive dolphins (check out this post by fellow travel bloggers at JustinPlusLauren on the dark truth of swimming with captive dolphins).
And dove and snorkeled with sea turtles in their natural habit: the wide open ocean.
And passed out food and supplies to Mayan families in need.
At the end of the day, it’s up to us, as travelers, to change the tourism industry and prevent the exploitation of people and animals for our experiences. After all, wouldn’t you rather leave knowing you HELPED another person or animal? That you were directly involved (both monetarily and physically) with changing the life of that person or animal? Travel with a conscience.
Take only memories; leave only footprints. – Chief Seattle
Are you ready to take action in the move for Responsible Tourism? Take the Animal Friendly Tourist Pledge!