Ethical Travel

Pacific Discovery's Code of Travel Ethics

What is ‘Ethical Travel’?

It’s about providing and having a more rewarding and fulfilling travel experience; being culturally sensitive; minimizing negative impacts on the environment; getting involved with the local people to ensure that your visitor dollar benefits the community and that the local people are involved in decisions that affect their lives. It’s about helping to conserve the world’s wild places; sustainability; and creating as much as possible a mutual exchange.

We will help you ‘get beneath the skin’ of the countries you visit. You will meet the local people on their terms, learn about history and culture, and enjoy wilderness experiences that don’t damage the environment. By travelling ‘responsibly,’ you’ll be making a positive contribution to the host communities and environments you visit, ensuring that future travelers will enjoy the same privilege.

Ethical travel is key to our philosophy. We do our best to operate ethically (and welcome any feedback), but we need your help. Following are some suggestions on how to minimize your impact and to engage in away that brings shared understanding. By following these guidelines, we believe you’ll have a far richer  travel experience.

Before You Leave Home
The more you know about your destination before you leave, the more you will be able to appreciate and understand it once you’re there.

Try to read up on the history and culture. There is a recommended reading list provided in the student log-in section of the website.

Many developing countries don’t have very good waste collection services, so try to leave excess packaging at home and when you’re buying toiletries, we recommend bio-degradable products.

Consider the clothes you’re packing. Many countries have a modest dress code. See the packing list for recommended clothing. By dressing inappropriately you may be putting a barrier between yourself and the people you want to interact with. Loose clothing that covers limbs not only protects you from the sun and insects, but also will ensure you’re more readily accepted by local communities.

Similarly, leave expensive jewelry, sunglasses and clothing at home – not only can it attract unwanted attention, but it’s a tactless reminder of the differing standards of wealth between the ‘west’ and the developing world.

It’s often difficult to resist the pleadings of beggars, be it children calling for sweets or adults with terrible disabilities. We strongly recommend you do not give money or other ‘gifts’ (such as pens or candy) to beggars. Doing so can help create a begging fraternity that undermines traditional culture and social structures, and almost inevitably eliminates any chance for equitable interaction between locals and foreigners.

Bargaining is a fundamental part of the shopping experience in many countries. What many visitors don’t realize is that it’s not about securing the lowest possible price. It’s about fair trade and reaching a tactical agreement that suits both parties. The social interaction is as much a part of the process as the financial outcome. Keep this in mind, and perhaps consider that low prices often mean low wages. Please don’t be mean-spirited, instead approach bargaining with a ready smile and a willingness to have an interaction. Does haggling over that last dollar really make a difference to you, compared to the vendor?

Religious & Historic Sites
Ensure that you are appropriately dressed and aware of particular actions that may cause offence.

The countries we visit have a distinctive and exciting cuisine – local delicacies and shared meals with the local people are invariably the stuff of rich memories. We encourage you to support local restaurants by trying their food.

Gift Giving
Please do not give gifts indiscriminately. It is easy when travelling in the developing world, to be shocked by the seemingly primitive living conditions you encounter. Many travelers compare the locals’ resources with their own, and experience guilt or outrage at inequalities. In an attempt to relieve the guilt or inspire goodwill, many visitors distribute gifts of sweets, money and other items to local children and adults. However the lack of money, modern conveniences, or expensive playthings in developing countries does not necessarily indicate poverty. Most rural people have crops, animals and homes that provide sufficient food, clothing, and shelter. They work hard on the land and it, in turn, takes care of them. When the visitor hands out sweets or cigarettes, they contribute to dental and health problems that cannot be remedied locally; when they give money, they impose a culture of consumerism that might not ultimately be good for the community or the planet.

If you wish to be accepted by local people, you can perhaps share a conversation, teach a game from home, or share a photograph of your friends or family. If you wish to make a bigger difference, you can donate your time, money and supplies to organizations working to improve livelihoods.


People, Customs & Etiquette
Travel in a spirit of humility and with a genuine desire to learn about the people of your host country.

Meeting and interacting meaningfully with the local people and experiencing foreign cultures are often the greatest highlights of your travels. Your program will provide many opportunities for both. However, respect, consideration and an open mind are needed for these interactions to be mutually enjoyable. Don’t be surprised if local people – especially in remote areas – treat you with an equal measure of curiosity.

Put yourself in their shoes. It’s easy to judge another culture by our own standards and assumptions, but it’s worth keeping in mind that you are a guest in their community – please respect your hosts and behave as you’d expect a guest to behave in your home/country.

Other cultures have a different concept of ‘time’ – you’ll find it a lot less stressful if you go with the flow. Keep an open mind and don’t be too quick to judge; we do things differently back home, not better, just differently.

Don’t be too quick to generalize. One experience with a local culture is never going to accurately reflect the whole culture.

Please be respectful of local customs. Read up before you go, and ask your program instructor, or a local, if you’re unsure. Observe, listen, and take your cue from the community.

Please respect private property and sites where access may be limited, by asking permission. Please also abide by the laws of the country and community you’re visiting.

Cultivate the habit of listening and observing, not just hearing and seeing.

Support local traders by buying locally made goods.

Please ask before taking someone’s photo, and respect the persons wishes. Usually just lifting your camera with a questioning look will suffice as a request, although asking in the person’s own language is even better. A smile goes a long way.

We suggest that you don’t pay for taking photos of people – it becomes another form of begging, with similar consequences. Usually, if you take a little time to communicate with your subject, they will agree to be photographed – you end up with a more relaxed subject, and you each have a more enjoyable and memorable experience.

If you promise to send someone a photo, please follow though. We are more than happy to help out and can deliver prints next time we pass through.

Disposing of waste properly in the developing world is more complicated than back home. Most of the countries we visit don’t have ‘organised’ waste disposal systems. In many places, almost all the waste generated was biodegradable or recyclable until the recent introduction of plastics and other consumables. The local infrastructure cannot cope with this change.

Please dispose of your own trash thoughtfully. Consider carrying a reusable cloth bag with you for purchases and carry a plastic bag with you for trash you generate during the day

Washing & Water Pollution
Protecting water resources is vital. In many places shower and hand basin water drains unfiltered into rivers. We urge you to use biodegradable soaps, shampoos, and conditioners that don’t contain phosphates.

Ecosystems throughout the world are under enormous pressure from the unsustainable harvesting of resources. Please do not contribute to this by buying any souvenirs that have been made with wild animals or their parts, insects, shells and coral or tropical hardwoods.

Wild foods are popular in many countries. Economic pressures force people to disregard the complexity of eco-systems and how depredation of certain species can cause irreparable damage to entire environments. Please make sure that you do not contribute to this by eating wild food items in restaurants e.g. wild deer or shark-fin soup.

Save precious natural resources and energy. Don’t waste water; switch off lights and AC if you go out.

What Else Can I Do?

Many of our students return with a new perspective on life and a desire to be pro-active in ‘giving something back’. Please ask us about the grass roots social and environmental initiatives we support.

Adopt these guidelines for your future travels.

If you have any suggestions for existing causes you think worthy of our support, or if you have feedback on how we can reduce our impacts, please let us know.