It may seem like common sense that our actions have implications. For someone, somewhere. One of Newton's laws is that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. That may actually be one of the only things a remember from high school biology! But for some reason, not everyone who travels seems to understand or take seriously that our decisions and the choices we make and activities we partake in while "on holidays" really does have an impact on the people, the communities and the culture of the country we are merely passing through. I certainly don't want to come across as condescending - in fact I am the first to admit I have made mistakes while travelling and with knowledge and maturity I would definitely make different decisions now in some situations that I may have found myself in during my late teens and early 20s. And in my early 30s I also don't suppose to be expert on anything! However, I also strongly believe ignorance is NOT bliss under any circumstance. That's actually not good enough!
As global citizens we have a responsibility to consider the impacts of our actions when we travel. It's not an excuse to simply think it's "legal" or "passable" to participate in any kind of activity, because you saw it on a travel brochure or were told about it by a drunken stranger in a bar. Unfortunately there is too much wrong with the world and our actions (whether intentional or unintentional) can have dire implications for individuals and communities. And I would be so bold as to say that if we aren't willing to accept that responsibility, then we don't deserve the right to visit other countries.
Here are just a few situations I would suggest avoiding in your travels. Not because I'm the fun police but because I strongly support ethical travel.
1. Don't ride elephants in Thailand (or maybe anywhere).
Yes there are a select few sanctuaries in Southeast Asia where animals are lovingly cared for and rescued as orphans etc. But let's be very clear. These are the exceptional cases. It was only earlier this year that a Scottish tourist was gored and trampled to death in Thailand during an elephant ride. While there was considerable debate around the "cause" of the elephant's attack (reports suggested the elephant had exhibited testosterone-fueled aggression associated with its mating cycle and had been forced to continue working while it was on heat) one thing is clear - the tourism industries in many developing countries are poorly regulated and the mistreatment of animals is rife. So before booking in for an elephant ride or to have your photo taken with a tiger in shackles, it wouldn't hurt to do a little bit of research before deciding whether you can participate and still feel 100% comfortable with how the animals are treated.
2. Don't use the services of a child for any tourist-related activity
On face value it may seem harmless - the poor kid is just trying to earn a few bucks and wants to guide you around the Vietnamese temples right? Wrong. Child exploitation is rife in tourism, in fact the International Labor Organization estimates between 13 and 19 million people under the age of 18 work in a tourism-related occupation. In countries where poverty is rife, tourism presents an often irresistible opportunity for income that sees children forced into the workforce. And even more shocking is the number of children who are being sexually abused by tourists. So don't engage the services of a child for any purpose while you're travelling. Even the best intentions can mean you are supporting child labour and even child slavery. Read some great tips on how to recognise modern day slavery here
3. Don't participate in any form of sex tourism
I feel like this should be an absolute no-brainer but for many tourists it's not. I can't even begin to count the lewd conversations I've either overheard or other travellers have proudly shared about their sexual exploits in foreign countries. People seem to be open about it because in the countries they are visiting sex is "on-tap". You only have to walk down the main street in Thailand's bustling Phuket to see the flashing signs advertising infamous "ping-pong" shows or in Bali the massages that offer more than simple relaxation, or the bars in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh where girls of questionable age stand in the doorways inviting you in. If it's out in the open it must be ok right? Again, of course, please, unequivocally NO! I really don't understand how with all the information we have about slavery and the exploitation of women and children today, so many people choose to participate in any form of sex tourism. Your actions are absolutely contributing to an industry that sees women and children trafficked and trapped in slavery. So just don't. And if you're tempted just don't get on a plane. You are actually screwing up the world and it makes me really mad.
I would love to hear your thoughts on situations you have seen or experienced that you would add to this list. Share you thoughts so we can all help each other to become ethical travellers and just plain better world citizens!
Happy and SAFE travels!