This is a guest post by current gap year traveler Ella Clute. It forms part of our blog series “A New Age of Travel: How to Navigate Travel in a Changing Worldwhich supports our #TravelReset movement.

The ethics of travel are a long debated topic, even more so in the context of a worldwide pandemic. While traveling during and after the pandemic you might find yourself asking questions like, “Is it ethical to be traveling during a global pandemic?” “Am I using my privilege responsibly and not infecting at-risk communities?” “Is travel worth risking the health of others and myself?” “Should I put my global plans on hold until we figure out a way to travel responsibly in a post-pandemic world?” These questions and many more will most likely come up while preparing for your next trip.

In this new age of travel it’s important to continue discussing the ethics of what we’re doing as travelers. We need to examine our old practices and create new ones based on the changing atmosphere of the travel landscape. These challenging conversations will allow for us to figure out for ourselves how we can participate in ethical travel in a conscious and intentional way.

The short answer to the question “Is it ethical to be traveling during a global pandemic?” is no. In a completely-ethically minded world, we would remain in lockdown until the virus is 100% contained. This isn’t the reality though, so the people that have the privilege to travel during the pandemic need to be extremely conscious of their impact on the people around them as a result of the choices they have made.

When planning my gap year to Puerto Rico, ethics contributed heavily to my decisions. I decided to travel with one other person, live in locally owned Airbnbs, live and work on a farm after quarantining, and cook the majority of my meals at home. All of these choices reduce my impact on those around me, but don’t completely remove my impact. Thinking through these different aspects to your travel plans will lead to a more conscious experience:

  • Plan on traveling with just one or two other people rather than in groups. This will limit both your chances of exposure and the exposure to the people around you. Respect local laws and regulations in place to prevent the spread of corona.
  • Do larger grocery shops and cook food “at home” rather than going out to dinner every night reduces contact with others. It also reduces the plastic waste as a result of getting carry out and saves money too!
  • Research local customs for a more culturally ethical travel experience. Learning a few phrases of the language will show the locals that you are committed to learning. This will also break down communication barriers, creating deeper connections to the people you interact with.
  • Local options for accommodation such as home-stays, hostels, or WWOOFing have become less ethical in the context of a pandemic. Normally, living with a local would allow for a more in depth cultural experience, but this is now a huge risk due to the possibility of spreading corona. Hostels were once a way to meet many like-minded travelers, but now living with a lot of strangers can be dangerous for your health and the health of others. Due to these changes, use small hotels or rent locally-owned apartments where you can keep your distance from others. This also contributes to the stimulation of the local economy, which has been hit hard by a lack of tourism.
  • Traveling to remote communities during this time is extremely unethical, especially those areas with very limited resources. Due to this, traveling to areas with more well-developed infrastructure is the smarter thing to do.

Ethical dilemmas in travel have always existed, but the pandemic has brought them to a new light. Moving forward, we must all be open to learning as we explore the most ethical ways to travel. Individually, each of us need to be willing to adapt and change plans in the context of our post-pandemic world. It is our job to discuss these issues and offer potential solutions or ways to lessen the negative impacts of travel.

Ella Clute is from Boulder, Colorado. She is an aspiring travel writer who is currently on a gap year experience in Puerto Rico. She is passionate about ethical travel, outdoor adventure, and creative writing. She hopes to share her experiences through written word and inspire people to live a life of fulfillment and adventure.