For me, travel is not just about splurging and indulging on the next big trip. It’s more about how can I leave my destination better than when I arrived?
My desire to be an ethical traveler stems from my Jewish faith. In Judaism, we are taught that one of our goals here on earth is to correct any wrongs and repair any damage via acts of kindness or social justice. It’s one of the reasons that you will find so many Jewish surnames associated with cultural, educational, or medical institutions – we are looking to do something (big or small) that will leave a positive lasting impact. This concept is called, in Hebrew, Tikkun Olam.
I try to live all of life according to this concept, and my travel decisions are no exception. For me, this means researching the places to which I travel, avoiding spending money in places with sketchy records on such things as human rights, or resorts or locations that have been documented to have negatively impacted the natural and cultural environment.
This is not always easy to do – the world is so vast and there are so many interesting places, and so few of them can boast little or no controversy, either now or in the past.
Travel meets conservation
A recent trip to the Galapagos Islands involved offsetting my impact by also performing a beach cleanup at one of the islands that receives pollution due to the ocean currents. My group and I spent several hours collecting many garbage bags filled with everything from plastic bottles to personal hygiene items, that had floated to the island via refuse from cruise ships or possibly even from some other country, where drain off and disposal standards are not strictly observed.
It was an emotional moment to see one of our Galapagos expedition naturalists – whose goal is to highlight the nature, without interfering with it – be compelled to get involved, to pull a plastic wrapper from the mouth of a large sea turtle, to save it from suffocating. There is an emotional impact being in one of the world’s most pristine natural preserves, and seeing it marred and scarred by our footprint.
The earth belongs to all creatures, not just humans. I want to see as much of it as I can in my lifetime. I also see it as our responsibility as humans, and mine as an ethical traveler, to tread lightly, travel with care, and spend my travel dollars consciously, knowing that regardless of where we are in the world, the transactions we make have an impact.
Interested in learning more about ethical travelers? Check out our Traveler Tribes 2030 report.