The Moral Ethics Of Traveling To See “Poor Travel”

Friday, August 3, 2012


When you pack your bag, what do you bring with you and what do you leave behind?

For example, someone can pack life into a suitcase: laptop, camera, a couple pairs of pants, two sweaters, two shirts, one blouse (for occasional encounters), a couple pair of shoes, an open-mind to explore and sensibility.

Recently, an article in The Sydney Morning Herald questioning the moral ethics of “traveling to see poor people” has gained quite a bit of traction (to date, it’s received 189 comments from travelers).

The piece began with a general query, with more personal questions to follow: “On the face of it, it’s not a bad question. Why would you? Why would you leave a place like Australia that’s perfectly safe and well-off for a country like India, where there’s poverty on a mass scale shoved in your face, sometimes literally?”

It makes me wonder, in general, why is it we travel at all? Curiosity, pushing our comfort zone, testing our fears, learning something new are all reasons that fall under this category. Most travelers have a motto to wander by and those that stay at home also have their epitaphs to wonder by. For some, discovering something new is enlightening, humbling and humanizing. For some, experiencing something that is the same — like coffee on a corner patio — but in another place is about relaxing, catching up and breathing.

As for the SMH article, the author wrote that he enjoys traveling to countries that are different than Australia. With the reality that the majority of the world’s population falls into the “poverty” category does not necessarily mean that he is being “voyeuristic” of socio-economic differences.

The increase of slum tourism is also called into question. Since its introduction and rapid gain in popularity, perhaps it’s only healthy that we question our motives or incentives to seeing people in, quite literally, marginalized societies — as some slums and favelas are on the outskirts of a city’s center.

Perhaps seeing “poverty” falls into the category of subjective experience. Each person travels for his or her own reasons and according to his or her level of comfort. I guess it depends what you would like to pack in your bag: suncreen, a sweater, an open-mind, the head on your shoulders. No matter what area you go into, it’s important to have a general idea of what you are getting yourself into, yet keeping it general enough so that you are open to new experiences.

By Brit Weaver

[Rio by Sarah Ahearn/Flickr]


About the Author

Toronto born and based, Brit is an avid leisurely cyclist, coffee drinker and under-a-tree park-ist. She often finds herself meandering foreign cities looking for street eats to nibble, trees to climb, a patch of grass to sit on, or a small bookstore to sift through. You can find her musing life on her personal blog

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