Ethical Travels

A sort of uncanny coincidence pertaining to responsible/sustainable travel. Yesterday morning I was listening to a podcast from Travel with Rick Steves called "Ethical Travels on a Green Planet". If you've never caught this show on NPR, you should subscribe to his podcasts. You can access all the archives too. Rick StevesAlthough we've been known to take a poke at the Rick Steves approach to travel now and again, his radio show is good, and he interviews great talent. But I found something a little ironic about an episode dedicated to ethical travel that started out with Steves taking a call from a traveler who chronicled a rather unscrupulous incident in Egypt. And voicing his enthusiastic approval! Erica from St. Paul, Minnesota called in to relate several interesting events from the trip she took to Egypt with her husband and son. When Steves asked her if they had visited the pyramids at Giza, she bragged that her son had been permitted to climb one of the pyramids, an act typically prohibited for a variety of reasons the least of which isn't that tourists ascending these ancient wonders will inevitably hasten their destruction.
"The guide allowed our twelve year old to climb all the way to the top of one of the smaller [pyramids] ... He went all the way up with his camcorder filming the whole thing ... We weren't supposed to go up, but he [oour guide] said, 'If you go up this side, they aren't really watching. And we gave him a lot of baksheesh!"
Wildlife ExpeditionsIt's easy to see why they would have been tempted to take the guide up on his offer. But it was surprising to hear Steves voice his unabashed jealosy. He even laughed that he had once tried to climb up too but he'd been caught and told to get down. His encouragement of this sort of brazen disregard for the sort of rules that are intended to preserve and protect struck me as anything but ethical. So, I tripped off to work with that unsettling experience front and center of my mind, and was happily greeted by an email from a subscriber to another newsletter I write. Although she was contacting me to unsuscribe (that wasn't the happy part!), I discovered the organization she works for in the process. "Teton Science Schools' Wildlife Expeditions connect people to nature through responsible wildlife observation and natural history exploration." Sounds super. Sounds ethical! Here's a blurb from their website:
"Wildlife Expeditions has a well-earned reputation of locating wildlife in the Greater Yellowstone Geo-ecosystem and providing fascinating educational experiences in a safe, fun and relaxed environment. Not only do we teach you about local wildlife and their interactions with each other as well as other wildlife in various habitats, we encourage you to take time to observe, reflect and gain appreciation for wildlife and nature wherever you travel."
Discovering Wildlife Expeditions and Teton Science Schools was a nice balance to the confusing message in Rick Steves' broadcast. In fact, it helped me focus on the fact that everything else was pretty good, especially the interview with bestselling travel/science writer, Jeff Greenwald, Executive Director of Ethical Traveler which is a project of the Earth Island Institute. Jeff Greenwald' informed and well respected authority lead the requisite gravitas to Steve's show, and I want to pass along his recommendatiosn to a caller who asked about resources for volunteering on vacation:
  • Global Exchange (see also "Global Exchange: Reality Tours") - An international human rights organization dedicated to promoting social, economic and environmental justice around the world.
  • Green Earth Travel - A one stop travel service for Environmentally Friendly Travel, serving the needs of individuals who care about the environment, about animal rights and/or vegetarian diet/lifestyle.
  • ecoAfrica - Explore Africa's wildlife regions in the company of reliable, responsible hosts.
  • - An ezine and community offering information about travel destinations, and education about issues in tourism.
  • - A global journal of practical ecotourism.