To Travel or Not To Travel

10 06 2008

There are many considerations when selecting a travel destination. Personal preference, economics, safety, convenience, comfort, time and distance are but a few. But what about moral responsibility?

 

Is it morally acceptable to travel to a country that has a significant human rights problem? A country that is renowned for denying its people the basic rights of life? Is it acceptable to contribute money to their economy and ostensibly support their regime by visiting it?

 

This is a more complex question than you might imagine. Every year, many socially aware people make an intelligent and morally-sound choice to visit countries that have some of the worst human rights records on earth. In many cases, they have debated the pros and cons of such travel and have come to the conclusion that their visit will at the very least make no difference to the situation, and at best may possibly even help the plight of the beleaguered residents.

 

There is barely a country in the world for which someone is not offering travel at any given time. Iraq may be the current exception, but there is at least one company that has recently offered tours to Afghanistan and many very reputable firms that are regularly taking groups to Tibet, Burma and North Korea, amongst others.

 

When someone contemplates any trip, the first hurdle must be overcoming their own reservations. It is often argued that by visiting a country whose citizens are persecuted and isolated from the outside world, you can mix with the inhabitants and let them know that their plight is not forgotten and that the outside world is aware of their struggle. That is if you are permitted to mix with the average person and not kept from them by a posse of government guides and minders. Exposure to these problems may well result in the traveller returning home a changed person, someone eager to help.

 

Many responsible companies that offer such trips make every effort to reduce cooperation with the regime in question and to minimise financial contributions to government agencies. Wherever possible, they steer clear of government-owned or affiliated hotels and tour companies, and attempt to put as much money as possible in the pockets of local individuals.

 

However, this is not always possible. Many governments that restrict human rights, also restrict the freedom of visitors, carefully vet all visa applications and then diligently escort groups with minimal contact with ordinary citizens. Some may go so far as to make any fraternisation with outsiders a serious offence for their own populace.

 

One of the greatest benefits of travel is education. Travel can broaden the mind, break down barriers and eliminate negative stereotypes. It can help to develop understanding between travellers and hosts. It can bring the world closer together and, in an ideal situation, decrease the chance of conflict and lessen racism and xenophobia.

 

Be a responsible traveller. Weigh up all the pros and cons and consider the bigger picture and the greater ramifications of your actions. Research your travel partners to ensure that they are responsible and motivated for the right reason – not simply for finances. With proper consideration and research, travel can indeed be a positive force for change in the world.

 

Post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008

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