The New Ethics of Travel
The New Ethics of Travel
How have the events of 2020 shaped our considerations and sensibilities when it comes to travel?
We are living through a historic period right now. Future generations will learn about 2020 as a year that was scary and raw, but (I believe) also sparked a lot of positive change for the planet and all its inhabitants. This is the year when some of the huge issues of our time – racism, healthcare, climate change – have gained the momentum and recognition they deserved all along. Many of us previously accepted these problems as unsolvable, or managed to numb ourselves. But in 2020, the power we have to transform the world, as individuals and as a collective, feels undeniable.
I am not the same person I was six months ago. It’s safe to assume, neither are you. How will the hardships and the judgment, the reflection and the growth, we’ve all experienced this year impact the way we conduct ourselves as travelers? What new awareness will we carry with us across borders?
This week I spoke to fellow podcaster Adrien Behn, host of Strangers Abroad, about the new ethics of travel. As an avid solo traveler whose broadcasting work is heavily based on interviews with people she meets around the world, I wanted to get Adrien's take on how we can all be better global citizens.
Esme Benjamin: Once we do start to feel comfortable enough to begin traveling again, what do you think our considerations should be? For example, something that’s been on my mind is balancing the benefit of pumping money back into smaller places with the risk of inadvertently infecting those communities.
Adrien Behn: I think visiting local communities will be elemental to getting travel back up and running while building local economies. Plus, staying among smaller communities will give travelers a well-rounded view of the state or country. New York isn’t just Manhattan. There is so much beauty throughout the state from the Hudson Valley to the Adirondacks and the Finger Lakes.
On the other hand, until we find a vaccine, I would discourage people from traveling to smaller places if those locations don’t have the medical infrastructure to handle an outbreak. For those who do choose to travel, wearing masks, social distancing, and sanitizing their hands every time they even look at someone new is important.
EB: I agree. It’s a tricky predicament, but comes down to individual choices and being considerate about how you show up. How has the pandemic changed the way you think about your responsibilities as a traveler?
AB: Travel was the first thing to go when the pandemic hit. And although I am a huge supporter of the lockdown, I suddenly realized that travel was deemed “unessential.” I believe that travel is essential. It is what makes life memorable and worth living. Part of my responsibility as a traveler is to remind those around me how joyous travel is once we are able to explore again. I can imagine some people may still be hesitant, even when it is safe to do so.
I consider myself responsible for being a representative of a good human. To be kind and respectful towards the locals, and try to talk to them as much as possible. I will approach people with more gratitude and grace when I can hit the road again.
EB: Do you think sustainability will play a bigger role in our approach to travel moving forward?
AB: Our choices around travel are based on two factors: how much money is in our wallets and what our pre-existing values are. For those who don’t budget for ethical travel, that choice needs to be incentivized. I believe the travel industry can do a lot more to make ethical choices more accessible to all travelers.
I think we are also noticing the environmental impacts of not traveling. As much as I love flying over the Pacific Ocean – who doesn’t love watching an entire season of Mad Men in one sitting? – I am glad that scientists are examining the unexpected environmental benefits. Most of the time, traveling is not environmentally friendly, unless you decide to go on an epic bike ride from Newfoundland to Argentina or something. I think moving forward, we will all give more conscious thought to where we travel, how often we travel, and how we reach our destinations.
EB: In light of recent events, how do you think increased awareness around white privilege might impact the way you/we travel?
AB: As a storyteller, I believe that sharing and giving space to people’s stories are essential. It’s necessary to recognize that people of color have inherently different travel experiences, and a huge part of being an ally is not only speaking up but listening. I hope those with travel blogs, YouTube channels, Instagram pages, or podcasts will be intentional about giving a platform to a diverse range of voices.
As white tourists, we can support black-owned travel businesses, including hotels, tour companies, travel agents, and even nonprofits. When you are moving through countries, try to buy from the locals as much as possible.
If you are white and you travel with a friend of color, speak up when any unwarranted harassment happens to them. Racism should not be tolerated anywhere, and we need to work to make it safe for all people to travel.
EB: Do you have any specific suggestions for how we can all become more considerate and mindful travelers?
AB: I always suggest doing your research about the cultural nuances and history of where you are traveling to. It will help you connect with the locals and prevent any miscommunication. For example, the OK sign – forming a circle with your thumb and index finger – is the equivalent of giving the middle finger in Turkey.
Another suggestion is to talk to locals and support local economies. Even if you are staying at an all-inclusive resort, take a night to visit the local town to eat, drink, laugh, and celebrate local culture.
EB: What's the biggest lesson you've learned so far in 2020?
AB: Be grateful. Even though some days it’s hard, I am thankful for everything I have been able to do so far in this life and grateful that I have been able to be safe during this time. Nevertheless, I’m going to kiss the tarmac before I catch my next flight, whenever that might be.