Do Human Rights Play A Role In My Travel Decisions?

Do Human Rights Play A Role In My Travel Decisions?

By |2016-07-01T15:33:28-04:00August 1st, 2013|Perspectives|54 Comments

Human Rights and Travel

If a country has a reputation for human rights abuses, would I travel there?

If a country has laws that suppress a certain segment of the population, will I go?

If a country is considered to be anti-gay, anti-minority, anti-anything-I-don’t-agree-with, will I still place it on my list of countries I wish to visit?

These are questions that I wrestled with often during the first few years of my travels, but eventually, my experiences around the world helped me to reach an actual conclusion, a conclusion that I’ve stuck with for the past several years now. And I still believe it to be the right decision for me.

So, how do I deal with human rights and travel? Will I visit countries that fit the above descriptions?

Yes, yes I will.

Here’s why…

First off, if I create a rule in which I avoid countries with a history of human rights and/or other abuses or troubling issues, I basically couldn’t travel at all. There’s almost not a single country without some kind of problem that I, and many people, would be disturbed by or object to. And this includes my own country, and probably most of your home countries, as well. So, not only would I be required to stop traveling, I wouldn’t be able to go home either.

Where would I draw the line?

As a traveler, I aim to see the world with my own eyes, to learn from the world through first-hand experiences and as a result, I prefer not to draw a line at all. I am comfortable with traveling anywhere and everywhere in order to meet people, learn from them and hopefully have them learn from me. If I refused to travel somewhere, I would be contradicting my very own belief in the importance of travel by allowing myself to reach conclusions based on second or third hand information.

Sure, there are indeed countries with a very clear lack of free speech, countries that treat women terribly and countries with large anti-gay movements. In fact, Ukraine, where I am right now, is known for being quite anti-gay itself. But that doesn’t mean that everyone in Ukraine is anti-gay. In fact, the other night at the guesthouse where I’m staying here in Lviv (a city in Western Ukraine), the very topic was discussed among a large group of both foreign travelers and locals. And not one of the Ukrainians in the room was anti-gay at all.

Again, I’m not denying that there are major, and unbelievably disturbing, human rights abuses taking place around the world, but I’m simply not going to hold such abuses, no matter what the situation, against an entire population. There are good, respectful people everywhere, in every single country, and they shouldn’t be isolated because of the actions of some others. In fact, they should be supported by visiting them and their communities, staying and eating at their establishments and using their services. I tend to believe that supporting those who believe in human rights for all is infinitely more powerful than distancing yourself from those who don’t.

Is it possible to visit a country and ensure that your money is only spent with such people? Of course not, but we can try as hard as possible to make it happen and even when we fail, I still think the benefits of travel outweigh an occasional negative.

By traveling to countries that are home to movements or policies that you don’t agree with, you also have a chance to create some open, healthy debate. Human interaction and the exchange of ideas leads people to re-evaluate their beliefs. After all, this is exactly how I’ve grown and changed as a person over the years myself. I’ve met people all over the world who think differently than I do and I’ve listened to their stories, tried to understand their points of view and then, I’ve examined my own belief system and often made adjustments as a result.

Avoiding a country altogether just seems like a far less effective ‘protest’ than bringing your own beliefs, aligning with the portion of the population who believes the same and hopefully engaging in conversations in which all ideas are shared and discussed.

(I’m sure some of you will disagree with this of course, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts below.)

And once again, as I stated above, I feel that it would be quite inconsistent of almost anyone to avoid traveling to countries for such reasons as human rights abuses and/or other problems given the fact that very few countries would be exempt from such a list. Whether it is a lack of any number of freedoms, the presence of torture, corruption, political intimidation, an anti-gay movement, racism, poor environmental policies, gender inequality or any one of thousands of other issues that the world currently faces, such issues are indeed present all over the world.

Do you make travel decisions based on the presence of such issues? Would you make such decisions?

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  1. […] heading off to Pyongyang, Earl wrote a detailed post explaining why he doesn’t let human rights concerns affect his travel decisions. When I asked him […]

  2. Bruce August 20, 2013 at 1:10 pm - Reply

    I think this is a very thought-provoking article. At what point do you say, “I can’t visit that place”?
    I think of my home country (Canada) as a very cosmopolitan place and very equality minded, yet even here there are many instances of racism, bigotry, etc.

    I’ve seen people write that they will not visit Canada because of seal hunting, yet that’s something that is done by a handful of people on the other side of the country, literally thousands of kilometers away from me. That’s just one example.

    You can find stories in the news almost every day about things like police brutality or animal abuse, and yet this is supposed to be one of the best places on Earth!

    I think if you say you will not visit a country because of some abuse there, you pretty much rule out every nation.

    • Wandering Earl August 23, 2013 at 1:01 am - Reply

      Hey Bruce – It sure would be difficult to find a country to visit in that case.

  3. Maia Dee August 13, 2013 at 12:10 pm - Reply

    As a lesbian, there are certainly countries I feel I would be unsafe in visiting. While we could pass for straight, we probably won’t pass as men. India, Pakistan, pretty much all of the Middle East, Russia…all of these are places I’d love to experience, but fear for my and my wife’s personal safety. I’m not sure if that is just paranoia, or a healthy fear of harm.

  4. William Suphan August 7, 2013 at 3:49 pm - Reply

    Agreed. While this is on a much smaller scale, I live in Arizona and a lot of the policies my state has adopted has caused tons of musicians to boycott my state and thereby end up depriving everyone here of some wonderful music. It would be better if they came here and then maybe said something during the show about it.

  5. Alana August 7, 2013 at 2:35 pm - Reply

    Question for you. I’m a new follower, so maybe you’ve said this before in posts past, but time and travel changes things anyway.

    What for you is unshakable? What belief or ideology do you hold that you know won’t change, regardless of where you go or what you experience? With your travel record you’ve mingled with many cultures, many peoples, many belief systems, that alter your own. What in you/about you remains the same? What is your foundation that cannot be changed?

    Hope that all makes sense.

    • Wandering Earl August 12, 2013 at 3:27 am - Reply

      Hey Alana – That definitely makes sense and I would say that I won’t change my belief that the overwhelming majority of human beings are good people who all want the same thing – a simple, happy life with enough money to provide for their families. They don’t want enemies and they don’t want to fight other people. They want to spend time with those they care about, meet new people along the way and just enjoy their time on the planet as much as possible.

  6. Andrew August 7, 2013 at 6:56 am - Reply

    Earl, this is a difficult topic and it’s great that you brought it up. I think I would have to agree with you, the government or anti-(minority group) stance is obviously not that of the whole population. It would be impossible to not go somewhere because it doesn’t treat a certain minority fairly, you would simply have to stay at sea. I think the only exception I would make would be if my life or that of my girlfriend was in danger in a particular country. This is obviously less of a risk for me than it is for women or for anyone who is gay.
    If people don’t go to these countries and discuss/challenge people’s ideas then these ideas/views will never change.

  7. Melissa August 7, 2013 at 5:26 am - Reply


  8. Jenny Truong August 6, 2013 at 10:26 am - Reply

    Only if my safety is at risk.

  9. Ashley August 6, 2013 at 8:04 am - Reply


    The U.S. is urging its citizens to leave Yemen…

    It’s kind of crazy how fast things can change…you were just there! What are your thoughts?

    • Wandering Earl August 8, 2013 at 8:40 am - Reply

      Hey Ashley – Actually, that warning was there when I was there as well. There has been that same travel warning for about 1.5 years for Yemen.

  10. Royce Fullerton August 6, 2013 at 1:50 am - Reply

    I’m with you Earl. I have experienced that most people’s opinions are not tied to their active government and policies at all and it’s worth getting on the ground and meeting people to find that out for yourself while being aware of the government’s laws and potential problems.
    Iran comes to mind. Although I haven’t actually been there, I have met a few people who I consider friends who were Iranian and were fantastic with no animosity towards the US and I could tell didn’t like what was going on with their government and how the people were portrayed.

    I am always very interested as to how life really is in these countries and don’t take sensationalised stories from the media as a representation of the everyday people in a country. People are people, some are shitheads but most just want a good life and to be happy, it’s usually pretty easy to pick the former out with a bit of experience. But yeah…if I feel uncomfortable and someone asks where I am from I won’t hesitate to say Germany or Canada to avoid any further questions (and Germans aren’t expected to tip well).

    Enjoy the rest of the Romanian summer. Pa!

  11. Jeff August 5, 2013 at 3:54 pm - Reply

    I have often wondered what it would be like to live in another country or in the past where I would (and sometimes still feel like today) the only voice of reason. Imagine the solitude felt, knowing you’re on the side of justice and history, but you’re ideas are suppressed and threatened by the masses, religion, ignorance, or tyranny. I think to avoid those countries just because they preach negativity, fear, and intolerance, you in turn shut off those individuals hoping and praying for a voice of reason. Instead, you’ve decided to travel to those countries and spread positivity and let those that are oppressed know that people like you are out there. And if there is a risk involved, then so what of it? I think to do what is right and to spread what you know to be true far outweighs the risk of harm, since after all, it could be any one of us born into such dire circumstances, hoping and praying that some smidgen of humanity and sensibility exist in the world, and it seems the greatest injustice that we should turn our backs on them.
    Keep up the good work Earl.

  12. Forest Parks August 5, 2013 at 11:10 am - Reply

    I went through a short period of saying that I would not travel to a certain country based on it’s actions towards a neighbour. I have had friends who have been seriously affected by the actions of said country.

    One day I was talking / debating with someone from that country. I said how much I loved what I had heard of their culture but how until policy changed I would be unlikely to visit. He of sat there and listed issues with the country we were in, then talked about USA, UK, even Canada. Not to back up the actions of his own country (he disagreed with them too) but to try and stop my stupid argument.

    I have no idea why I allowed myself to think like that. You literally could not visit anywhere if you put these moral boundaries on. Almost no government (maybe none at all) can be said to be a perfect gov when it comes to human rights.

    Safety is of course important. I won’t be going anywhere that’s in civil war but I don’t think a travel warning alone would be enough to stop me.

    Travel changes each and every one of us for the better if you open yourself up to meeting and spending time with others no matter how polar your lives seem.

  13. ron wesner August 2, 2013 at 4:10 pm - Reply

    I have written once about this issue and agree with Earl’s stance. I have heard many references about gay travelers and wish to weigh in on this issue. I am an old gay man. 74 years old! First- being gay is an excellent gift to the traveller because in gay- friendly countries (and there are many) there is an immediate community of like minded people who have a remarkable gift in common. We seem to have an easier time talking about emotions, feelings, etc, than many straight people (always exceptions on both sides). BUT when we are in homophobic countries we need have no problems at all- we just act appropriate to the ethos of those countries. If we are a same sex couple we do not need to ask for a common bed nor do we need to let anyone know we are gay……. that’s our issue and just gets in the way of interacting with people who are afraid of our orientation. We have learned to hide it when necessary. If that remains too hard, then we should just avoid those countries. I have never avoided any homophobic country, and have been able to meet gay people easily in those countries by using my smarts and acting discretely. Being gay is an amazing gift, and being smart is also an amazing gift. Just as dressing modestly in many cultures we are also able to act modestly and not fear discrimination.

    Interested to hear your reactions
    Ron Wesner

  14. Gigi August 2, 2013 at 1:59 pm - Reply

    You took the words right out of my mouth, Talon. I don’t disagree with Earl’s stance, per say, but I do think that being a white straight male means that you can make decisions simply based on your beliefs…whereas being female, gay, etc. creates actual risk factors in addition to belief-based decisions.

  15. Shelley August 2, 2013 at 9:37 am - Reply

    Then I guess this makes the choice easy for me. Thanks for the info Charlotte. I don’t want to go to a country that doesn’t want me either. (Saudi Arabia). And I would go with my husband perhaps some day but the fact that I NEED my husband with me to travel is enough to turn me off of the place. That is my stubborn, independent girl power side of me speaking 😉

  16. Graeme Voigt August 2, 2013 at 9:05 am - Reply

    Couldn’t agree more mate.
    Every country has their own parts of their reputation and history that aren’t so pretty, can’t do much about it at times!

  17. […] Do Human Rights Play a Role in my Travel Decisions? via Wandering Earl […]

  18. Barry August 1, 2013 at 8:43 pm - Reply

    Most representatives of the government one deals with as a tourist (customs, embassies and consulates, immigration), don’t appear to be very pleased and excited with ones visit in the first place. So not visiting a country for such a reason, would hardly send a message out to those governments.
    What is important is that you are aware of what you contribute to a region while there. Do your actions support poaching, corruption, animal abuse, exploitation of children, minorities or the environment? Or can you contribute in fighting those injustices by supporting the ones who do good and rejecting (maybe even naming and shaming in reviews and such) the ones who do bad?

    You being a professional traveller I’d like to know if you would go ’embedded’ though? Would you take an invitation from a corrupted government to visit a place for a good review or a propaganda campaign? Would you take a free trip in exchange for good publicity from a tycoon who runs a hotel chain, but also makes himself guilty of displacing indigenous peoples, illegal logging, and scrupulous natural exploitation and destruction in a different branch of his empire? Quoted so obvious as this, the answer is likely no. However, I recently read a blog from a journalist who was struggling to accept an invitation from the Chinese government to visit Tibet. His conclusion in the end was to go, he could always visit Tibet independently later and his article would not be subjected to censorship.
    In the other case, you might not even be aware of that the hotel chain (or whatever company that invites you) belongs to a bigger corporation that has a very bad record on human rights, animal welfare or environmental responsibility. I am curious if you ever had to deal with those issues?

  19. Chris August 1, 2013 at 5:39 pm - Reply

    My girlfriend went to Burma several years ago, despite the brutal regime and the local people were so thrilled to see any tourists.

    Paying money to the government was unavoidable to the need for a Visa, but beyond that, they endeavored to eat in local restaurants, stay in local lodgings and travel on local vehicles (thus avoiding the government run establishments and filling their coffers).

    As another reader said, isolation will not help the people and only encourage the regime.

  20. nicole August 1, 2013 at 4:43 pm - Reply

    I’m white. I blend in everywhere. I look like pretty much anything in the middle of the world. Travel is easy for me. My husband is asian. He has been spat towards. As in a guy in France saw him, said “bleh,” and spat — not at him — but in the vicinity of. But, haters gonna hate, yo. And he’ll be damned if a jerk like that is going to stop him from travel.

  21. Katie August 1, 2013 at 2:14 pm - Reply

    I appreciate that you would post something that people might argue on a little more. Personally I enjoy reading opinions, because that is more informative at times than just the simple “safe” posts and articles out there.
    But I do have a question. You travel to middle eastern countries a lot because, as I have heard you say, you want to show the world that there is more to those places than what the media spins out. And I do really like that cause, I believe it is a good one too. But there are some times that I think that maybe it is easier for you because honestly, as a tan male with jewish heritage (at least I think I read somewhere that you were) that you blend in a little better than say, a pale white and blonde woman like me. I had heard a story from you on a podcast about an encounter with some people, and I can’t remember who exactly, that asked you to come with them, and they absolutely HATED americans. But because you didnt have your passport on you, you were able to get away with not letting them know you were american, and then you smoked with them and laughed with them and were able get along just fine. All I can think of is that if that happened to me, they would have killed me, maimed me, or imprisoned me… maybe first because I was a woman, but they also might have profiled me because I am so white and assumed I was american anyways. (Not that there aren’t other white people out there in other nations, but well, its likely especially with an american accent)
    I have even heard a story from one of my teachers a few years back mentioning a vacation in some middle eastern country with her husband, and when going to purchase something, the man who was selling wouldn’t even acknowledged her. Instead he addressed her husband, and told him he needs to do the transaction with him.
    So… that being said, I am open do the idea that my perceptions of visiting a middle eastern country are wrong, seeing as how they are only perceptions and not personal experiences. So my question is this, do you know of any women (and even better, a white, blonde woman) who has traveled to those countries by herself, safely and with positive experiences? And do they have a blog? I have found a few female bloggers, but so far I haven’t found many posts about visits to the middle east.

    • Shane August 1, 2013 at 3:17 pm - Reply

      Hi Katie,

      I’m a particular fan of travelling the Middle East and want to present the region in a positive light but as a man I do accept my experiences might be a little different to those of a blonde woman. I would point you towards Giulia and Sabina’s respective blogs at and as both are advocates of solo travel in the Middle East, with Egypt seeming to be their particular favourite.

    • Shelley August 1, 2013 at 3:42 pm - Reply

      This is the reason I won’t go to Saudi Arabia. Other middle Eastern Countries I probably would go to, I think it’s the Sharia Law that scares me. Dubai follows Sharia, but they are also so diverse and multicultural as long as you follow most cultural rules, you’ll be fine. But Saudi seems to be EXTREME.
      It’s not the Human Rights stuff that turns me away, it’s the treatment towards women that makes me hesitant. I would love to hear from a woman (women) who have traveled solo in Saudi Arabia that can shed some light for me. Maybe I am wrong? Though I think a woman traveling solo is actually forbidden…

    • Charlotte August 1, 2013 at 10:46 pm - Reply

      As a young female who has traveled alone internationally, I agree with Katie. I wouldn’t boycott a country just because it had human rights issues, because as Earl says in this post, the government’s actions don’t reflect the local people. However, I’m not going to go somewhere where there’s a high chance of me getting raped, beaten, etc. Shelley, you are right, it is illegal for women to travel alone in Saudi Arabia.

      I’ve never been to the Middle East, but in Malaysia, I accidentally nearly wandered into a mosque with no head scarf, a shirt that hugged my curves, and tight yoga pants exposing half my leg. Someone politely told me I could not enter unless I put on a hijab and burqa, which were provided. A female janitor who was cleaning the bathroom (where the hijabs and burqas were) actually helped me put them on. These two people were extremely welcoming – certainly a contrast the news articles I had read about religious freedom issues in Malaysia. So yes, we certainly shouldn’t stereotype. However, I’m not sure how this would have played out in the Middle East, and while I certainly wouldn’t generalize all Middle Easterners, my personal safety comes first.

  22. lien pham August 1, 2013 at 2:02 pm - Reply

    Thanks Earl for sharing this excellent post. I also like the comments so thank you all 🙂
    I live in the US and originally came from Viet Nam and i have come back there several times. I don’t agree with the way the communist government runs the country, human right is being ignored but i could not let those factors deter me from visiting because just like you said, there are good people there whom i love to connect with and help whenever i could. And i also agree that by visiting i can make a difference in the way people think about the world, and i learn too. I have several friends who hesitate to go visit other countries because they heard from others about the negative aspects and i always tell them that the best way is to go and have direct experience. I appreciate the commenters for bringing up the issue of one being a potential target. Namaste.

  23. Devlin @ Marginal Boundaries August 1, 2013 at 1:09 pm - Reply

    The same idea can & should be applied to outside perceptions of a country that can be blown out of proportion by attention grabbing headline focused media outlets.

    Take Mexico for instance – while the cartel violence is definitely a reality – it’s not as widespread as some would like to have you believe. Stay away from border states and for the most part you’re safe, as safe as one can be in this world.

    I wonder if The U.S. looks as dangerous from the outside looking in. Pretty sure we’re still in the top 10 for murders – count not rate – internationally.

  24. Missy H August 1, 2013 at 12:57 pm - Reply

    Totally agree with you. Have only avoided countries because of the harassment factor for a single woman traveling alone. And there are very few of those I won’t go to.

  25. Leo August 1, 2013 at 12:46 pm - Reply

    Travel for Gay & Lesbians is on a whole different level, usually we’ll assess the risk of traelling to a certain country, generally speaking most countrys have a gay community but it can be very underground in non western countrys. A friend when checking into a hotel in Malaysia with his boyfriend got given a room with two single beds opposed to a double that they booked. What’s happening in Russia at the moment is quite disturbing but I believe exposure to foreigners and different cultures helps makes one more open minded.

  26. Owen Lipsett August 1, 2013 at 12:35 pm - Reply

    Earl, I’m so glad you raised this topic (and lively discussion) in your typically thoughtful way as I’ve been wondering about this very issue! Your point that the views of individuals around the world don’t necessarily align with those of their governments is really one of the most important lessons travel has provided me. I’ll never forget the way when I expressed regret about the “Secret War” to a Lao friend of mine, he thoughtfully said I shouldn’t feel sorry since I had no personal responsibility for the actions of my country’s government.

    I would like to ask a follow-up question, which is whether you (and commentators) think that it makes a difference if a country with a government known for human rights abuses collects a significant visa fee (which it uses to fund itself). You mention minimizing contributions to such governments, but I’d be interested to hear whether it might change the calculus if such mandatory payments run into triple digits.

  27. Steve C August 1, 2013 at 12:09 pm - Reply

    I completely agree with your opinion, especially the part about not being able to go home to my own country! But, like everything, everyone has their limits. I’ve drawn the line for the present time about doing any traveling in Mali, more specifically, Timbuktu. Maybe that decision doesn’t count as it’s more of a “life and death” line.

    There was a time when I drew the same line for Cambodia. Years later, you’d never know what happened unless you’re a history buff or actually talked to a Cambodian while there. Travel educates.

  28. Shelley August 1, 2013 at 11:32 am - Reply

    This is a tough one, and it’s tough because I pride myself on being open minded and interested in exploring every culture good and bad. But there is one country- for me- that I am not sure I could go to and that is Saudi Arabia. Do I really want to go to a place that considers me practically a non-person? That if I travel by myself I could get arrested for solicitation because I am not with a male relative companion? I am not a raging feminist, but this country just scares me with their archaic ideas and laws. And I feel like I can say this because my husband is a Muslim (from India). Some of his family members live there, and the stories they tell me are just scary.
    My husband would love for me to one day go to Mecca with him to do his pilgrimage, but i just don’t know if I could go. There is that explorer part of me that wants to go to see for myself exactly what it is like, but there is the humanist/feminist side of me that just can’t bring myself to put any money into a place that treats women like second class citizens.
    This country is really the only place I might ever consider not going to…

  29. Sarah Somewhere August 1, 2013 at 11:20 am - Reply

    Great post! Couldn’t agree more! I met someone once who refused to travel to China because of their treatment of the Tibetans. This got me thinking about what a crazy, magnificent country they missed out on, filled with some of the friendliest people I have ever met, all because of the actions of a government. Straight away I thought, well it’s pretty hypocritical of that person to travel to the US or Australia then!!! To me it’s crazy to avoid a country in protest of their government. It just adds to the ‘separation’ which creates such problems in the first place. If there is one thing traveling the world through Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, the US, Europe, India, Mexico, China and SE Asia has taught me – we are one! It is only our small, human minds that build ‘walls’ of fear around ourselves, our countries and our political views in order to keep others out.

  30. Tyrhone August 1, 2013 at 11:05 am - Reply

    It is ridiculous to boycott a country because of a bad government or even because of the views of a large portion of its populace. The only way these places will change their views is by having people from around the world mingling with their denizens and by doing so showing them different ways of thinking. Also you cannot hold an entire populace responsible for the views of some. I was in China last year and the people were amazing, not the tibetan haters they are ALL made out to be.
    Sure if you will be in danger maybe dont go, but I still think it is ridiculous and even reverse discrimination to boycott a nation for the views of a few. If I go to the middle east and kiss my girlfriend in the street I could be arrested just as easily as someone who is gay.

    You travel because it is different, so why would you expect everyone to be the same?

  31. Christina Gmyr August 1, 2013 at 11:04 am - Reply

    We’re on the same page for the most part! Except I think I might be too much of a scaredy cat to go to Yemen…kudos to you! 🙂

  32. Chris August 1, 2013 at 11:03 am - Reply

    This is such an interesting post, and a most complicated subject – brave of you to take it on publicly. On related issues of horrendous animal abuse and degradation of earth’s finite resources, all countries are sadly participating. Far easier to rail in fury than pausing to notice/support any animal/earth/human kindness witnessed directly or from afar. And recognition/reinforcement of positive, encouraging action anywhere in the world is so desperately needed. These days, I ascribe to Aesop’s wonderful fable about a contest between the wind and sun. It wasn’t the wind blowing fierce who convinced a man to shed his coat; it was the sun, gently and persistently shining down upon him.

  33. Verena August 1, 2013 at 10:16 am - Reply

    I completely agree with you.
    Not even a year ago I would’ve never travelled to Israel, because didn’t want to support the government in any way. But because of the very reasons you listed above, I decided to go there now.
    I think the best thing you can do as a traveller is to go everywhere and see things with your own eyes, so that you don’t have to rely on other people’s statements, that may or may not be the full truth. Especially when you tend to expect bad things (which you shouldn’t, but anyway), the good experiences get even better.
    And what changes bad situations in a country, if not discussions about it? 🙂

  34. Janet Wehrer August 1, 2013 at 10:13 am - Reply

    I gain more respect for you Earl with each article.

  35. Linda August 1, 2013 at 10:12 am - Reply

    I simply don’t think you can generalize.

  36. ron wesner August 1, 2013 at 10:06 am - Reply

    AMEN, Earl

    I faced this years ago vis a vis BURMA. I went. Everyone I met- monks at pagodas, park bench sharers outside the notorious prison in Rangoon, restarauteurs in Mandalay- all were deeply grateful for my visit. These people need not be punished by their ass-hole government and were very appeciative of the chance to chat with an outsider- often the chats were whispered. So- YES to visiting, and then vote at home for anything which will put pressure on those governments. But we don’t need to punish the citizens, Ron

  37. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures August 1, 2013 at 9:36 am - Reply

    I have the same philosophy as you! Every country in the world has been bad in the past or present in some way…

  38. Shane August 1, 2013 at 9:35 am - Reply

    We take much the same stance as you in that we wouldn’t have to look too hard to find something objectionable in almost every country we have been to, or would wish to visit. We couldn’t even return to our home in Turkey, or visit our families in the UK as some people are not too keen on Britain’s near past policy of sticking flags on every piece of land we found and saying ‘this is ours now, thankee very much.’

    The only country we considered not travelling to was Burma, ten years ago. We have since been there as the opposition has lifted its objections to tourist visitors but at the time felt that the situation was a little different to any other country we might have moral objections to in that some of the tourist infrastructure itself was being built using forced labour.

  39. Alex August 1, 2013 at 9:31 am - Reply

    I think this article is 100 percent true and you nailed it I believe your traveling plans shouldn’t be effected on how a country is with their viewpoints if anything I believe it should make you want to travel there in order to see their reasoning behind it great article

  40. [email protected] August 1, 2013 at 9:06 am - Reply

    A very timely (and most thoughtful) post Earl, given that I’m presently planning to (hopefully) make it into Tibet this month.

    Indeed, “isolation” imho is the worst thing we travelers can do when it comes to countries that (presently) don’t meet a minimal standard of human rights, political freedom, etc. (and btw, you’re also oh so right about “Where do we draw the line?”) I say “presently” for – as you so aptly eluded to in your post – even the U.S. long held slavery as a perfectly natural national standard (shudder!)

    Sadly, places like North Korea are utterly isolated. But if/when the government allows foreigners to visit, I’ll be the first in line – and NOT for my own travel “experience” but rather, simply to in some small way provide hope to those that have been isolated for so long.

    No small subject, Earl. And one that I can’t begin to address in this little comment box. 😉

    But many thanks for bringing up the issue. For I agree with your conclusion that A. no country is lily-white in such matters, and B. isolation is NOT the answer.

  41. Nicole Melancon August 1, 2013 at 9:04 am - Reply

    I agree as we even abuse human rights to some extent here in the US. Some of the places I’ve traveled where human rights are highly abused such as China and India have been the most eye-opening places I’ve ever been. Also, as a social good advocate/activist plus traveler these experiences help me change the world! 🙂 Great post.

  42. Wayne P August 1, 2013 at 8:53 am - Reply

    Hi Earl, I love getting your emails. I think you made a lot of great points with this question. I never thought of it from the point of Talon with respect to getting arrested for something that is not illegal in the USA. Still isolation is not bliss, and I think engagement with other people is a means to open access to new ideas on both sides. I love talking to “locals” when I travel. Do I think all people want the same thing? No. But we can respect other cultures while disagreeing with them. Dialogue beats ignorance anytime. Thanks.

  43. Jaunting Jen August 1, 2013 at 8:14 am - Reply

    Hi Earl. I totally agree with you about seeing the world through your own eyes. I was nervous about going to China in 2001 because of all I had read but it was one of the best experiences of my life and I would do it all over again!

  44. Jenna August 1, 2013 at 8:00 am - Reply

    I’m with you completely on this one and was just reiterating this mentality on another blog that posted on the travel ethics debate. In countries known for extreme human rights abuses (particularly Burma), I really tried to support small local restaurants and vendors to avoid my money landing in the hands of the military regime. But, inevitably some of it did and I’ve come to terms with it. I wouldn’t give up that experience for anything.

  45. Tim Moon August 1, 2013 at 7:58 am - Reply

    It’s easy to say no, I won’t travel there. But you make some good points about why that’s not a realistic approach. I’m looking forward to traveling to China but I don’t agree with all kinds of things they do. I plan to visit Saudi Arabia but I don’t generally agree with lashing or beheading people. Change doesn’t happen through isolation.

  46. Talon August 1, 2013 at 7:58 am - Reply

    I think it’s easier to take that stance when you’re not the one in danger of being arrested. If I go to Uganda. and possibly Zimbabwe, I’m in danger of being executed for being gay. If I go to Russia, I am breaking the law simply by being present with my son and can be jailed and deported.

    • Wandering Earl August 1, 2013 at 9:22 am - Reply

      Hey Talon – Absolutely, I definitely wasn’t try to state that everyone should just go everywhere and disregard any rules. Of course, each traveler needs to assess the situation and determine what makes sense for them and what might be flat out dangerous. Everyone will have their own reasons to travel to or avoid certain countries and this was just a simple write up about why I would personally travel to any country.

      • Alaina Mabaso August 1, 2013 at 9:48 am - Reply

        I think this is a good post, but I’m also glad Talon spoke up.

        As Earl so aptly says, if you want to find racism, homophobia or sexism widespread in society and even enshrined in law, look no farther than the good ol’ U.S. of A.

        But what would have made this post even better would be for Earl to acknowledge, as Talon hints, that it’s a lot easier to speculate on this as a straight white male. When you think about traveling in countries that jail or behead people for being gay, or stone women to death for having sex or jail them for being raped, or throw bananas at a black politician, it’s gotta be a lot easier to consider visiting if you know you’re not the target of that prejudice. Safety isn’t an issue for you in this case, so it’s easy to say you’d visit to seek out the good people who live in every country. But I read the stories about the Norwegian woman who was jailed for months in Dubai after she went to the police to report her rape, and I think, as a woman, you can bet I want to steer clear of that place for my own safety.

        That being said, I understand that this is written from a personal perspective and it can’t encompass all risks or viewpoints. Safe travels, Earl!

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