Ethical Travel Considerations

Unicorn Trails' Ethical Travel Charter


Ethical Travel Considerations

As a part of our commitment to responsible tourism, Unicorn Trails has produced, and adheres by, an ethical travel charter with guidelines on how to travel with minimal impact. In this article we examine this charter and discuss how to become better tourists by taking some simple steps.

Two worlds meet every time a person travels from one country to another. Traveler, tourist, explorer, we are all of these at various times on our travels but without a shadow of a doubt we are always a guest. The countries which we take so much pleasure in visiting are our hosts. All the enjoyment of a trip can rest on this often delicate relationship.

Horse Condition
The Basotho are proud horse people

There are many ways of travelling and taking in new environments, however, we inevitably leave tracks behind us as we go; warm, broadminded, discreet, dangerous and sometimes unchangeable tracks. We learn a little more on each new trip. Every region is different, yet we are often faced with the same questions, doubts and uncertainties.

With this three-part Ethical Travel Charter we have attempted to assemble what we believe to be the best forms of behaviour and attitudes to encourage. Learn to discover other cultures without judging them, to trust your good sense and keep a few bits of advice in mind – all this seems to us to be the best way of ensuring both a memorable trip and the sustainable development of our planet.

This document, coming from our experience as a global tour operator, is backed up by substantial research carried out by Sylvie Blangy, as part of the International Society for Ecotourism (TiES).

Respect – The Key to Ethical Travel

One of the attractions of any trip is the diversity of peoples and cultures encountered. However, each culture, religion and way of life is subject to its own rules and traditions. Ethical travel shows that it is invariably better to respect and understand these than to judge. A trip should not be envisaged without respect and humility towards the people, property, culture and way of life of the country visited. This respect is best expressed in a minute to minute open minded attitude.

Ethical Travel
Street Market in Ecuador – Each country lives according to its own pace. In certain cases, haste and impatience are not the best ways of endearing oneself to others and can be perceived as rude.

Each country lives according to its own pace. In certain cases, haste and impatience are not the best ways of endearing oneself to others and can be perceived as rude.

Ethical travel considers things like clothes which are too tight-fitting, revealing, ostentatious or informal may cause offence in some places. The same applies to physical contact such as stroking a child’s head, a man shaking a woman’s hand, sitting next to a woman, or kissing in public. etc.




A good photo is taken with one’s subject, not of them. The best advice for a photographer is to take time to establish a climate of trust, ask for permission to film or take photographs (asking the parents in the case of a child) and to accept with good grace any possible refusal.

Ethical Travel
Including yourself in the photo is always a good idea. (China)

It is preferable not to promise to send photos to people whom you have photographed unless you are sure you can honour the commitment (including cases where a quid pro quo or remuneration is asked for).

Now more than ever, ethical travel includes making sure you have had all the mandatory and recommended vaccinations before arrival to avoid introducing any diseases into a country visited.  as they may have little or no immunity to the diseases introduced or limited health facilities to combat outbreaks.

These countries may have little or no immunity to the diseases introduced or limited health facilities to combat outbreaks. It is important to observe the correct dosage recommended by the World Health Organization when using anti-malarial treatment: over or under-dosing risks increasing the resistance of strains, to the detriment of the local populations.

Sex tourism is an affront to human dignity and is forbidden by law and is an affront to the principles of ethical travel. It may not always look like prostitution at first sight. There are many examples of travellers who return from a country marvelling at the “fantastic sexual openness” of its inhabitants, without even realizing that this “openness” is only motivated by the poverty in which those people live.

The Differing Value of Money, Goods and Food Worldwide

Where a difference in the standard of living exists between the traveller and the local population, it can be the source of great misunderstandings and differences of opinion. Being received in a village or a family sometimes supposes a great sacrifice for the local populations. What is offered to the traveller, together with what is offered, must be measured in local value. Ethical travel helps us understand this.

Ethical Travel
The Shamalong Race Trek – China.

Contributions and gifts are not innocent gestures. They may often take on a connotation which is condescending, scornful or out of place (for example throwing coins or sweets to local children to get rid of them, etc.). Excessive gifts, contributions and tips, taking into account the general standard of living of the country visited, can destabilize the local economic balance.

Children who receive money for photos or from begging are no longer sent to school, and earn more money than their fathers: this can cause considerable distortions in family structures such as a lack of respect for the father and elderly people.

Certain gifts can be dangerous when they are handed out at random, particularly medicines. Hospitals and health centres, where they exist, are often no longer in a position to manage them. Similarly, sweets and confectionery have consequences such as tooth decay, long after our departure.

Ethical Travel
A local hacienda – Unicorn Trails’ Ecuador Wild Andes Expedition

Using local hotels rather than state or foreign hotel chains, local transport, and paid services of the local population (guides, cooks, mule drivers, porters, cleaners, etc.) is key in ethical travel and is often the best way of ensuring money from tourism benefits these people directly.

A camera or even a pair of shoes may be the equivalent of several months or years’ salary in the standards of the country visited. Showing them off or flaunting them may cause offence or be interpreted wrongly.

Bargaining is part of the sales culture in certain countries. Refusing to bargain is often interpreted wrongly and may contribute to an increase in the cost of living. On the other hand, it should not be forgotten that trifling sums for the visitor may be of considerable importance for the person receiving them.

As a general rule, travellers should be aware of the temptation for deprived populations to sell sacred or traditional objects, or objects which form part of the national heritage. In some cases, objects might be made specifically to be sold to tourists, which is clearly preferable.


Ethical Travel
A typical Indian market stall

Leave Only Your Footprints…

The natural surroundings and cultural sites are often the main tourist riches of a country and the principal reason why visitors travel there. As such, ethical travel instils a responsibility towards the environment of the host country.

Travellers should avoid leaving waste behind them, whatever it may be. Any way to limit the waste arising from tourism should be used (biodegradable packaging, etc.). Try not to include items with outer packaging in your baggage. It is preferable to remove all non-destroyable waste (plastic bags, batteries, etc.) from a country which does not have the infrastructure to dispose of such waste.

Certain waste (papers, toilet paper, etc.) can be easily burnt, although, in certain cultures, fire has a sacred role and it may be considered offensive to use it to destroy waste. Try to obtain information on local methods of waste management. In certain areas, jam jars, for example, can be left for the local population who recycle them into jewellery or saleable objects.

In certain regions, it is preferable to use gas or other means of combustion which consumes little or no wood to cook a meal. If there is no alternative to wood, it is better to use dead wood found on the ground. Charcoal is a great consumer of fresh and living trees.

Ethical travel is not only about communities. Certain fragile ecosystems require respect for specific safeguards: do not stray from paths or drive off-road, limit what you trample underfoot, do not use motorized vehicles etc.

The viewing of animals should not alter their natural behaviour or upset their daily routine. It is preferable to maintain a distance that the animals consider to be safe and to avoid making too much noise.

Ethical Tourism
Viewing game in their natural habitat. Unicorn Trails’ Masai Mara on Horseback holiday

Local teams which guide you when viewing animals are sometimes prepared to flout safety rules for money, tips, or even just to ingratiate themselves with your group. Consider that the viewing of an undisturbed animal is more interesting than that of an animal which is distressed by your presence e.g. an elephant provoked into a mock charge.

Feeding animals alters their diet and may be dangerous. Monkeys, for example, become aggressive and begin to steal.

The use of tape recorders or other devices to attract and view animals, not to mention touching them, is not recommended for their own health and for your own safety.

Avoid fishing in lakes or seas where the fish are rare, or where there are species at risk of extinction.

Ethical Travel
Leave only footprints

With ethical tourism, it is important to respect the rules in nature Reserves or Parks. Paying the entry or residence taxes is instrumental in the conservation and preservation of the sites. Requesting a receipt for these taxes ensures that the money does not go astray and is properly accounted for.

Certain “souvenirs” which form part of a host country’s natural heritage should not leave that country. Graffiti and other marks left behind are mutilations which are often impossible to remove.

Agreements on species protection (CITES) – which are aimed at protecting more than 2,500 animal species and 30,000 plant species which are under threat – forbid trade in skins, ivory, tortoise shells, coral, shells, and the importation of live exotic animals.

Drinking water is often a scarce resource which should be used sparingly and must not be polluted. Travellers should opt wherever possible to use washing powders/ liquids without phosphates, biodegradable soaps and detergents, and do their washing and ablutions upstream of settlements and away from drinking water points.


It is always better to ask for permission to use the village well or pump and not to wash near it, even if the inhabitants do so.

In Conclusion

Our presence can bring money, a useful element for economic development in certain areas of the world; but our naïveté and our clumsiness can also lead to irreparable damage. One of the essential keys to mitigate this is simple: be informed and practice ethical travel. We believe that there are no good or bad travellers, just people who are badly informed.

Ethical Travel
Using local guides and porters ensures that tourist money stays within the community. (Ethiopia)

Through their professional activities, Unicorn Trails has been involved in applying or making people aware of these ethical travel principles which constitute a philosophy for a long time. There are no hard and fast rules because each country requires a different approach. It is our wish to share these values with the largest number of travellers and professionals in the tourism industry.



We always welcome your input and invite you to share your observations and experiences with us, along with any suggestions and ideas you may have.

Wishing you all happy, responsible and ethical travels.



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