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Travel Ethics


Responsible Traveling

I have long been wondering about ethical guidelines for travelers, what I have penned down below is an attempt to formulate a few guidelines for traveling in developing countries. I do not think that this is complete in any way, but rather something to get people thinking about the impact they can have.

Child labor

Would you buy shoes in your home country if you knew they were made by children in a developing country? My guess is your answer will be "no". I have however been surprised how many tourists (including some of those politically correct backpackers) buy products from children in developing countries. Usually with the argument that it is such a nice child and they would like to give them something.

So why don't we want to buy shoes made by children in our home countries? The argument goes, that children should be in school, not out working. Well? Why does this argument suddenly not apply when you see the child in question with your own two eyes standing in front of you?

Whatever your answer to the above question is, the arguments against child labor are still as valid as ever, whether you are in your home country or in the country of the child laborer.

It is usually the parents or older boys that put these children to work (usually to sell stuff or to beg for them). When you give or buy something from such a child, you can be more than certain that the money goes to whoever is responsible for taking this child out of school and putting him or her on the street.

By buying from or giving money to children you are robbing them of their future! Not to mention the effect on other children who may also be put on the street because it is more rewarding to their parents.

If you really want to do something to help children in the developing world; donate books, paper, pens or food to a local school.

Animals and Wildlife

When you pay someone for a photo with a wild animal, that money does not go to the animal but to the criminal that is charging you for the photo. This person is thus rewarded for his behavior, and when the animal finally dies, which it will because it will not be well looked after, this person will go and get another wild animal from the forest.

Hence by rewarding this kind of behavior, you are contributing to the trade in (rare) animal species and the destruction of the eco system.

It is not always as bad as I depict here, you must use your better judgement, try to think where the animal could possibly have come from. Many places have domesticated birds, some are in total freedom and just hang around for food. But when you have to pay for a photo, alarm bells should ring, don't do it.

Secondly be very careful about what you buy, when buying animal products, make sure you are not eating or buying things made from endangered species. While browsing the Internet I once encountered photos from a guy who was proud to have eaten sea turtle eggs!!! This is simply unacceptable.

Only pay to see wild animals in the wild, with an accredited guide, preferably from a national park or an organization that exists to protect those animals. In other words, make sure that if anybody makes any money off you with wild animals it is for actually protecting them.


This is a tricky question, but you need to be wary, in many places begging seems to be organized. Often begging areas are zoned out between certain criminals, who force others (often children) to beg for them. The beggars then have to hand over their innings to these criminals.

A fellow traveler once pushed a child beggar away (because he was scared the little guy was trying to steal from him) only to see the child going to get help from the adult who was running the begging show, and they literally started to harass us!

So the big problem is, the bad guy is getting the money that you are giving out of pity. That is the last person you want to give it to, the guy that is directly responsible for keeping those kids on the street slaving for him!

I can't say if this is always the case, you must use your better judgement in every situation. A telltale sign should be; beggars who frown upon receiving food but only want to receive hard cash! If you do give food open the containers so that they cannot resell it (the usual scam is for them to sell it back to the shop where you bought it in the first place).

Again, the best alternative is to give the money to a local school or local charity.


Stay away from this as long as you can. Never initiate and try to go by the rules even if it takes much, much longer. The golden lining is that the more time they waste with you, the less bribes they can receive from others, which will test their patience.

If you have committed a misdemeanor, prefer to pay the official fine, with receipt, preferably at a police station. Do not reward corrupt policemen!

Of course, there may be situations, that are different. If you have been so careless as to actually be involved in a what the government considers to be a crime, such as those related to drugs, and you are faced with potentially long prison terms in a prison that would best be described as hell on earth, then who am I to tell you that you should not bribe your way out! But the best thing is never to get in such a situation in the first place, even indirectly.

For example, I was once in a car with a local who wanted to pass by a certain place to buy a substance that certain governments frown upon. I made it quite clear that I did not want to be anywhere near this deal! Because if something happened, even if I was just a bystander I was the foreigner, and guess who those policemen would turn to for some supplementary income?


A major irritant when traveling through many developing countries is the amount of trash. I personally hate it when I see people throw trash out of a bus window or from a boat into the water.

It is usually the locals themselves who do this. What the exact causes of this behavior are can be discussed at length, but it really boils down to lack of education in the matter.

Unfortunately as a traveler you are not going to change these societies, but you can show a good example. First of all, always take your own trash bag with you, especially on long bus journeys. Keep your own trash until you can dispose of it in a proper location (bus drivers will simply throw your trash on the street if you leave it in the bus).

You can go further by sometimes taking trash with you, that you encounter on a pristine beach or in forest for example. Especially if the trash in question seems potentially harmful for animals (marine mammals can get caught up in plastic trash for example).

Be Positive

Respect the people you meet, just because they are poor does not make them worse than you. Remember that most people have not been dealt the same cards you have. Many are doing their best given their circumstances. Try to make your presence a positive one for them.

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