Travel Syllabus

Tips for Thoughtful Travel

Be a Positive Presence Abroad

1. First, Do No Harm

Tourists and the tourism industry, rather than the perspectives of receiving communities, are often the driving force for travel. Be thoughtful and intentional about personal decisions you make when travelling to avoid doing harm. Befriend and speak to locals where possible. The more you understand the local community, the more you can make decisions that don’t affect them negatively. Spend some time considering how the local community may view your presence or activities. Seek advice (from locals or local partner organizations) on how to carry out your activities to avoid causing disturbance.

2. Understand the Issues

Some consequences of tourism can include disturbing the distribution of power, or putting a stress on local organizations or institutions, for example, if visitors take more resources than they bring.

3. Consider Medical Resources Available

Whether you travel for a short or a longer period of time, it is recommended that you have acquired sufficient supply of prescription and over the counter medications and that you have already received all the necessary immunizations before traveling. While, you should always ask for medical help in an emergency, it is important to be proactive and have taken care of chronic medical and health needs before arriving at your destination. Even though many medications may be less expensive in other countries, we should avoid depleting the resources of the local population.

4. Collaborate with Local Communities

If you are working as a volunteer of some sort, be clear on how your work will be used and be able to inform people about this in a clear and concise way, without promising unrealistic results. Make sure to hand over any activities being carried out or findings, results, general knowledge, etc. to the local community, so that activities can be continued locally.

5. Support the Local Industry

When planning guided tours, transportation or accommodation, research options that support the local economy and bring much needed wealth to communities. Pack light – and buy from local entrepreneurs if necessary.

Recommended Reading

  • Learning Service has a series of videos on ethical travel and volunteerism, covering topics such as orphanage tourism, traveling through Southeast Asia, and more.
  • Tourism Concern is a UK-based charity that campaigns for better tourism. It outlines the impact of tourism on communities in different locations and has numerous resources on how to travel ethically. You can check out their interactive map for a better understanding of the impact of tourism on the locations you are visiting.
  • The Ethics of International Engagement and Service-Learning Project at the University of British Columbia offers a number of online resources for exploring the ethics of international service learning projects.
  • First, Do No Harm: A Qualitative Research Documentary by Alyson and Timothy Holland explores the ethics of global health clinical electives and volunteer projects in developing regions.
  • Why We Travel by Pico Iyer Journeys is an article that explores the many motivations for travel as well as its impact on the traveler.
  • The Field Guide to Service developed by the Princeton Pace Center for Civic Engagement is a resource that explores how to have a positive impact in the community when traveling.  Here is a short video on how to use the guide.