What are the best resources for ethical travelers?

Q: Besides your column and asking people who live where you are traveling, what is your favorite source of information about how to avoid travel dickishness?

Trying to Undermine This Blog From The Start

Seriously, TUTBFTS? Simultaneously sending my brand new readers away from me immediately and demonstrating my incompetence at inventing clever name acronyms? Yeesh. I promise I’ll get better at the acronyms. I was trying to come up with something clever, but I liked the sound of TUTBFTS (which I’m saying in my head as “Tutbuftees”), so I’m rolling with it.

Okay, that’s a fair question, Tutbuftees, and it’s a good one for me to start this column off with. A large part of the reason I’m writing Don’t be a Dick is because there isn’t a really solid one-stop shop for ethical travelers. There are a lot of really great resources and websites, but most of them focus on really specific niches, or are overly academic, or are insanely broad and cover millions of things other than ethical travel, or are just booking sites. So hopefully, the answer to your question will very shortly be, “ME. I’M THE BEST.”

But this is my first column, so this site isn’t really fleshed out yet, and as such, I have no problem giving you a few good resources in your quest against dickishness that will lead you away from me.

The best site

My favorite anti-dick travel website is Ethical Traveler. They are a small NGO based out of California that organizes small group tours and, on a yearly basis, releases the 10 most ethical destinations in the world. They calculate these locations by examining all of the world’s developing countries, and by ranking them in four categories: environmental protection, social welfare, human rights, and animal welfare. This report is designed to use the economic power of the tourism industry to encourage good behavior. Check it out. The other thing they offer that’s neat is this simple article, 13 tips for the accidental ambassador, which in a few hundred words renders my entire website moot. Read it before going anywhere.

The best of the rest

After that, I have either very little or far too much to offer… as it is, there are thousands of sites that sell or promote ethical, eco-friendly tours, and there are a few blogs like this one that sit abandoned on the internet like horrifying ghosts of website future.

Academic research on ethical and sustainable travel has (justifiably) focused more on governments, businesses, and systems than on the ethics of the individual traveler. This means it’s easy enough to find sites that book environmentally-friendly tours, or that target travel industry experts who want to encourage and promote more sustainable forms of travel. But, while there’s plenty of writing geared towards the ethical choices of the individual traveler, those articles tend to be spread out over publications, and aren’t necessarily to be found in a single place. That said, I’ll give two more sites that are worth looking at:

  1. The king of traveler-geared ethical travel sites is Ron Mader, who runs the genuinely old-school travel site Planeta. There’s a lot of really cool stuff there, but the site is literally old enough to drink, and it can be jarring for the modern web user to navigate.

  2. Much of the best ethical travel info is found on social media. My favorite is the Responsible Travel & Tourism Collective. They run a solid site, but the highlight of the project is their weekly Twitter chat (Wednesdays at 6 p.m. GMT using #RTTC), which takes on different issues facing the responsible travel community, and always features a pretty interesting conversation from pretty interesting people on how not to be a terrible dick while traveling.

The best method

Most ethical/responsible travel sites are geared towards environmentalism and ecotourism. Which is fair: this is the biggest issue facing the travel world (and, you know, humanity) today. But there are smaller questions of etiquette and cultural sensitivity that aren’t covered on these sites, and which you have to find by simply doing your research. Before going on a trip, just read up on the stuff you plan on doing.

For example: holding a baby tiger at a Thailand “Tiger Temple,” sounds insanely cute, right? Right. But also, the temples are absolutely terrible for the tigers. That’s literally the first article that comes up when you type “Tiger Temple Thailand” into Google. Point being, you can find the information if you take the time to look for it.

Of course, Tutbuftees, you also totally showed me up in my first column by suggesting what is literally the best option before I could suggest it myself: asking people who live where you are traveling. Damn you for undermining me. Communication is key, and the truth is, you’re not always going to know what’s going to be offensive when you enter a new culture. My advice is, when in doubt, ask, and when not in doubt, maybe consider giving doubt a try.

Simply and obviously put, just don’t be a dick. All you can do is be thoughtful, respectful, and curious. Sometimes you will accidentally do something that’s not cool*. What makes you a dick or not is if you get defensive, mean, shitty, or refuse to learn from your mistake. Travel is a learning process. Learning, by necessity, means failing from time to time.

Fortunately, there’s a world of information out there for the thoughtful traveler. I, your humble writer, plan on compiling the best of that information here on this site3. I hope that you’ll find it both engaging and entertaining. Becoming a better person is fun, and becoming a better person through travel is just the best.

Featured photo: JFXie

*Case in point: While in Iceland, I accidentally ate whale. This is not something that’s particularly okay, or that I’m particularly okay with. I didn’t know it was whale until after I ate it, I felt like a bit of an asshole, and then I decided to maybe ask for a translation of unfamiliar words next time, rather than just pointing at something that looked tasty and then unthinkingly sliding it down my dumb gullet while wondering why this steak tasted so fishy.