Is it Ethical to Travel Now? With that Freedom Comes Responsibility

“Is it ethical to travel now?” The relationship between freedom and responsibility might provide you the answer.

Popular question these days. The temptation to answer “yes” or “no” misses the opportunity to separate the issues facing travelers, including that our freedom to travel carries with it a personal responsibility — just as it always has.

There’s nothing new there. It’s just that the din of the pre-COVID travel party and the freedom cocktail we all shared drowned out most of the conversation about personal responsibility in travel.

Then COVID-19 came along and pressed a gigantic pause button, including on our assumptions. It subjected us to some travel deprivation and served up some forced reflection. It also seems to have tricked us into thinking that some of the ethical considerations surrounding our travel decisions are new when they’re not.

As our own health and well-being have come into sharper focus, so has the health and well-being of others — something that probably should have been atop everyone’s radar all along.

Freedom, Responsibility and Meaning: The Travel Payoff

“Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness.”

—Victor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

When we go out into the world – whether across the globe or around the block – we exercise a freedom. That freedom is paired with a responsibility to ourselves and to others. We can choose to ignore that responsibility. If we do, we slowly — and usually imperceptibly — erode those freedoms. For example, at home we have a responsibility to pick up after ourselves. If we throw trash on our streets and everyone follows suit, we live in garbage together. If we walk down the sidewalk as if the sidewalk is ours alone, and others do the same, we collide.

When we travel, similar forces are at work, only the playing field is a bit larger.

The greater lesson in Frankl’s quote as it applies to travel: as we exercise our freedom, the care we take and the responsibility we choose to bear actually lends shape, meaning and value to our lived experience. As the frame of our travels expands from #whatismine to #whatisours, effort is required.

But that effort pays dividends. Do the right thing as you pursue pleasure and experience altered states of consciousness (yes, that’s what we’re doing when we travel) and your travels take on greater meaning because you have cared for others.

This plays out always – whether in the context of COVID-19, climate change awareness, or consciousness while walking the streets of a destination you’re visiting.

It’s tempting to quietly give up on something like responsibility, for it’s another burden atop all the others. Maybe we ought to realize it’s impossible to live an entirely ethical life. If that’s our goal, exhaustion is ours. Instead, maybe we abandon purity and perfection and do the best we can by being aware of the impacts of our actions on others.

We can begin by thinking, caring and respecting. We can spend a few cycles educating ourselves, performing research, practicing awareness, and acting on some of what we learn. As we consider our decisions and their impacts, we become more aware of the parameters and the forces at work.

We adjust, shaping a world that aligns with our values.

Should You Travel Now?

“Should I travel now?”

“Should I do ______ now?”

It’s a personal decision. That redirect is not just diplomatic avoidance. Instead, it implies that your answer ought to depend on the choices you make, how you intend to travel and whether and how you care about the well-being of others along the way.

It applies whether you journey just outside your front door or halfway around the world.

It has always applied.

And its truth remains with each of us until we take our last trip.

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