Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spending Money Abroad: The Ethical Quandaries

(photo by Donna Cleveland)
When a panhandler approaches you on the streets of a foreign country, what do you do?

Those and other sticky ethical questions are being thoughtfully handled in a New York Times column by Kevin Salwan entitled "Is there a right way to spend money when traveling?" The author gives a number of tips for how to handle the money issues that arise when you're on the streets of a poorer country. Among his suggestions:
  • Set a weekly or daily budget in advance for how much you can spend
  • If you're going to haggle, do so over the number of goods you're going to buy and not the price of the original item (the idea being that the vendor needs to make a minimal amount of money and if he's charging you too much, it may be less painful for both of you if you make up the difference in value with additional goods).
  • Buy street food and local crafts, let porters help you with your luggage. In short, help create work in the country where you are.
The advice is sage, but it only covers the issues one encounters once one is in the destination. In truth, moral conundrums start well before, during the booking process. And that's true whether you go to a Third World nation, or on a gleaming new cruise ship...staffed by Third World employees. The ability of people in the "First World" to travel affordably is inextricably linked with the fates of the people for whom low wages and long hours are commonplace, not just on cruise ships, but also in resorts, hotels and other travel facilities.

If I were to expand the original column to include booking I'd recommend:
  • Supporting local businesses, such as small guesthouses and family restaurants, rather than depending on the multi-national chains. These types of concerns help keep money within the community and make owners of locals (as opposed to just workers).
  • Avoiding all inclusive resorts. That was the suggestion of Pope John Paul II who was disturbed with how they took potential business away from local communities and kept tourist money firmly in the grip of large outside corporations.
  • Using local transportation rather than renting a car or getting into a tour bus. You travel more greenly this way.
Those are just a few suggestions on a topic I'm sure I'll revisit. If you have any, please post them below.

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