Political considerations when traveling

Sep 16th, 2019, 06:52 PM
  #1  
kja
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Political considerations when traveling

For better or worse, I glimpsed an exchange earlier today about political considerations when traveling, and although I couldn't respond at the time, I found it thought-provoking. The exchange in question has since been moderated, but maybe the issues are worth discussing?

FWIW, I think it's perfectly reasonable to take political issues into consideration when making a decision about whether to travel somewhere or not. And I, personally, don't find mention of such issues offensive -- assuming, of course, they are done without the assumption that one must or should share one's political beliefs. I can even see (but am not yet willing to make) the argument that ALL decisions are fundamentally political, whether explicitly or implicitly, and so could see an argument that the problem would be in trying to artificially remove all consideration of politics from discussion of possible destinations.

I'm interesting in learning more about the various arguments for and against considering, or mentioning, political issues on a forum about travel. So please, share your thoughts!
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Sep 16th, 2019, 09:42 PM
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I saw that exchange too. But I saw it a little differently -- political conditions in a country or region can be really important - especially if there is unrest and/or strikes that might affect travel/safety.

But that discussion was totally different - someone simply asked for advice which two cities out of a list of three or four they should visit. Instead of answering re say expenses, or architecture or food or museums . . . it ended up a big fight about what some Fodorites feel personally about the politics and history in one of the cities. If someone wants to avoid a place for personal/moral/political/historical reasons - all well and good. But arguing about one's personal political or moral opinions of a city/country wasn't answering the OP's question.

I assume that is why the thread was edited.
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Sep 16th, 2019, 09:53 PM
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kja
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Oh, I'm not questioning the moderation of that thread! I just thought the issue was intriguing and wondered if anyone had thoughts about the broader issues.

I mentioned that thread because I didn't want to suggest that the idea came to me out of the blue. I thought that example intriguing in part because it raised (for me, at least) the question of how / when one can legitimately present explicitly political comments.

Last edited by kja; Sep 16th, 2019 at 09:57 PM.
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Sep 16th, 2019, 10:17 PM
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I don't know -- good question. Those types of discussions (OK -- arguments ) fit in the Lounge but many (most?) Fodorites don't have access there. And lots who DO have access don't post there.
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Sep 16th, 2019, 10:32 PM
  #5  
kja
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Originally Posted by janisj View Post
I don't know -- good question. Those types of discussions (OK -- arguments ) fit in the Lounge but many (most?) Fodorites don't have access there. And lots who DO have access don't post there.
I know there are political arguments in the lounge. In contrast, I was hoping to initiate a civil discussion of the parameters surrounding explicit discussion of how political considerations might affect travel planning. When, if ever, is it OK to raise a political concern? Is it possible to raise a political issue in a way that is constructive and productive? I think so ... in fact, I think I've seen and maybe even participated in such discussions (e.g., whether to visit the Valley of the Fallen in Spain or the DMZ in South Korea), but I guess that depends on how one defines "political."

And I suspect even fewer people read this forum than read the lounge, even with its restrictions on access.

Last edited by kja; Sep 16th, 2019 at 10:39 PM.
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Sep 16th, 2019, 10:44 PM
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An interesting topic. I think it largely depends on whether we are talking about politics (with a small p) i.e. the micro issues and decisions facing us in daily life or Politics, (with a capital P) i.e. the use or abuse of power, by governments and other large organisations, public or private. Often the two are inextricably linked.

Should they be discussed on a travel forum? Absolutely, does it achieve anything? Probably not.

There are several huge countries that I wouldn’t visit because of their Politic, the actions (or lack thereof) of their governments, human right violations, treatment of women, minorities etc. I may well put forward my views, I may not, it depends on the subject and how strongly I felt about the specific issue.

IME expressing one’s political views on this forum is rarely going to change anyone’s perspective, although to be fair, it has changed mine on occasion!
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Sep 17th, 2019, 07:55 AM
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The trouble with discussing politics on the internet, and especially on anonymous forums, is that it almost always generates more heat than light. The now-deleted "discussion" about Hungary was certainly in that category. I also wonder how much information is actually exchanged. How many posters on Fodors are really unaware of the problematic behavior of the PTB in Hungary, Israel, China, India, Myanmar etc.?

(BTW, did you know that "the powers that be" comes from the first direct translation of the Bible into English, by Tyndale in the early 1500s? He was burned at the stake for heresy before he finished it.)
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Sep 17th, 2019, 11:54 AM
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A distinction shall be made between political facts and political opinion.

Travelling is influenced a lot by political facts and their consequences for travellers. If a country is at war and you cannot travel there, if you need a visa to a country or not, if the visa or stamp of a certain country is a red flag when travelling to a third country and so. Political opinion on the other hand is irrelevant. It exists only in the mind of individuals. Traveller A has one opinion, while traveller B has a different opinion, but they're still influenced by the same political facts. It doesn't matter if you're a fan of the Iranian regime, if you're from the USA you must take a tour or have a personal guide, if you're say from Germany and you detest the Iranian regime(in private) you're still free to travel around Iran independently.

Another example:

Opinion no. 1. The Crimea was conquered by Russia, it was an agression against Ukraine and a violation of international law. Russia must give the Crimea back to Ukraine.

Opinion no. 2. The Crimea had been an integral part of Russia for 200 years, it was only given as a "present" to the Ukrainian SSR by Khruschev in the 50's. Most Crimeans are Russian speaking and they always considered themselves Russian, rather than Ukrainian. The Crimean voted overwhelmingly to re-join Russia, the Russian troops were needed only because Ukraine would have never accepted a vote on that.

Fact: The Crimea is de facto controlled by Russia, but this is not recognised by Ukraine and other countries.

The consequences of this for a traveller: You need a Russian visa to travel to the Crimea, just like if you were travelling to any other part of Russia. The border with Ukraine is closed and there are no international flights, which means the only way to travel there is via Russia. Since the Crimea is not recognised as a territory of Russia, your travel insurance is invalid there and your embassy can't give you any assistance if you have some problem.

Last edited by BDKR; Sep 17th, 2019 at 11:59 AM.
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Sep 17th, 2019, 12:14 PM
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I am still upset by the travel ban on Cuba. The cruise ships out of Fl were doing a good business. My husband's cousin has gone twice. I know many had bought tickets and now where do they go? I would not want to get a notice that we are now going to Nassau instead.
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Sep 17th, 2019, 12:48 PM
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That's a great example Macross, how political facts effect travellers.

Or the current fuel crisis in Cuba due to the US sanctions and the efforts to prevent tankers of fuel from Venezuela making their way to Cuba.

This is something that effects everyone in Cuba, locals and tourists alike and it makes no difference whether you're a fan of Che Guevara or only a fan of cheap cocktails.

On the other hand we could discuss things like freedom of press and political prisoners ad nauseam, but these have absolutely no relevance for a traveller.
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Sep 17th, 2019, 01:21 PM
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It's hard to reply since I don't know what the thread you are referring to was about.

People always ask about US politics in consideration of my regular visits to Mexico, but to me one has nothing to do with the other.
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Sep 17th, 2019, 01:23 PM
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Any chance you would link the post that inspired this?
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Sep 17th, 2019, 05:58 PM
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A post was deleted. It was a rehash of a previously deleted discussion and arguments
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Sep 17th, 2019, 06:31 PM
  #14  
kja
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I must admit that nothing I've read so far convinces me that this topic is one about which Fodorites can engage constructively. But I could be wrong!

@ crellston: I'm intrigued that comments about political views have, occasionally, prompted a change in your perspectives. I wonder if you could say something about the circumstances: Did someone provide information you hadn't known? Provide a perspective that led you to reassess information you already had? Raise an issue of safety or ethics or perception that you hadn't already considered? I'm not seeking details (unless you choose to provide them) -- just a better sense of what made the difference.

@ thursdaysd: I fear you are right about the heat. And BTW, I did not know that factoid about the PTB -- fascinating!

@ BDKR: I don't disagree that there is an important distinction to be made between fact and opinion -- but people have all sorts of opinions about things that matter to travel, opinions about things that affect travel decisions. And IME, most Fodorites respect those different opinions -- except, perhaps, when it comes to politics. For example, some people express an opinion that beach time is critical to a good vacation; others may agree or disagree, but they don't challenge the right of the OP to hold that opinion. Similarly, some people express an opinion that guided tours are absolutely necessary to understand a place; others may agree or disagree, but they don't tell the person to never ever express that opinion. As I see it, there are all sorts of political opinions (not to mention facts) that influence people's travel decisions, and in my ideal world, people would feel free to discuss those opinions and how they are impacting travel decisions on a travel forum without facing criticism for either having or expressing those opinions. JMO. And IMO, there are people for whom the freedom of the press or the holding of political prisoners or whatever is an important travel consideration, and I think it's to their credit that they weigh such factors in their decisions. Whether I agree or not simply isn't the point. IMO.

@ Macross. Great example of how political facts affect travel! And it reminds me of something that happened here on Fodor's when the travel ban on Cuba was first lifted. I remember reading a few very interesting discussions of the ethics of traveling to Cuba, once it became possible. And I also remember a brutally vicious attack by one or more Fodorite(s) on another, just because that attacker(s) disagreed with the other's opinion. IIRC, most of those later posts were deleted -- as was appropriate! I was deeply saddened by that attack. That difference between respectful discussion and personal attack was probably part of what made me take note of the recent (and deleted) discussion (which, thankfully, didn't reach the same level of rancor -- at least from what I saw).

@ suze: The original posts are irrelevant to my question. As already noted, I simply mentioned them to acknowledge the source of my curiosity. The fact is that there are people who make decisions about where to go, or perhaps particularly where NOT to go, based on opinions about political considerations. My question -- which it seems I did not word very clearly -- is more about whether those considerations can be aired in a constructive and respectful way on a travel forum -- and of course, I meant THIS forum.

Thanks one and all for sharing your reactions!
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Sep 17th, 2019, 10:32 PM
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"I'm intrigued that comments about political views have, occasionally, prompted a change in your perspectives. I wonder if you could say something about the circumstances: Did someone provide information you hadn't known?"

A couple of specific issues immediately spring to mind:

I had often considered making India the destination for one of our longer trips. I Was well aware of the social divisions in the country but was not aware of the appalling levels of oppression and the violence towards women endemic in Indian society. I think it was Thursdaysd that originally highlighted the issue in a number of threads. After delving more into the issue and watching the award winning BBC documentary "India’s Daughter" about the gang rape of a young Indian woman and observing the the reaction of Indian society and the authorities, esp. the judiciary, this changed my view completely and I decided I could not endorse such attitudes by visiting the country.

Burma was another country I always wanted visited, not least because of a family history in that part of Asia. I had long admired Aung Saan Su Kyi for her perseverance in trying to bring democracy to the country. On the Asia forum I read lots of arguments as to how visiting the country would aid the general population and not the despotic regime running the country and, after much deliberation, decided I didn’t buy those arguments on a number of levels. So, having considered such "facts" as I could obtain, I decided that I could not visit the country and risk supporting the regime that is perpetrating genocide against the Rohingya people.

Finally, I confess, a long time ago, I rode on the back of elephants. At the time I did not appreciate the suffering that elephant tourism causes until I read about it first on these forums. Haven’t done it since and ardently dissuade other from riding these animal.

Of all of those issues, somewhat surprisingly, it was the elephants that caused the most "heated" debate and exchange of opinions.

Interesting to read some of the comments about political fact and opinion. Having worked a lot with the press over the years and having known a lot of journalists, I do wonder how the general public is supposed to determine what is fact, opinion or, quite often, fiction or propaganda.

A final thought. Given the perilous geo-political and economic landscape the world faces, should we even worry too much about the Political actions of particular governments? Maybe tourism could be an influence for good if we all focused more on where we spent our tourist cash within these countries with a "political" bias. Get off the tourist trail, spend money with small business and individuals in country rather than in big multi national hotel chains and tour operators. Responsible and ethical travel are phrases much overused by the travel industry these days, but on a micro/individual level, can make a big difference.

Should we be discussing these issues on travel forums? I think we should. Will such discussion cause "more heat than light"? Almost certainly. Will it make make anyone change there minds or travel habits? In my case, yes? Will selfish interests override political opinions? Well, I may well yet visit India.....
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Sep 17th, 2019, 11:31 PM
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kja
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@ crellston: I can't thank you enough for your post -- you've provided the kind of comments that I had so hoped to generate with my question!

Your post illustrates, IMO, the fundamental principle that discussing the issues -- including the political issues -- can be informative and respectful and helpful. I'm not saying that I agree or disagree with any particular statement you make (whether I agree is irrelevant to my question with this thread, and I don't want to risk turning the specifics into the issue), but you are providing clear examples of the kinds of political issues that could be worth considering when planning a trip and the ways in which comments from fellow travelers can help inform one's travel decisions.

And thank you, too, for admitting your learning experience. I know it can be very hard, but I wish we were all willing to grow and to share the benefits of difficult lessons with others.

I think you've hit a nail on its head when pointing out the many shades of gray between fact and opinion. If only it weren't so difficult! I am grateful when someone provides compelling evidence to contradict what turns out to be a mistaken assertion of fact, but short of clear confirmation or disproof, it seems to me that "opinion" and "fact" are more difficult to distinguish than might, in an ideal world, be the case.

As you suggest with your comments about distributing our tourism dollars off-the-beaten trail, it's rarely clear (to me, at least) that there is a single "right" way to address fundamentally political issues, even if there is agreement about the issues (which there rarely is). IMO, these issues are worthy of discussion and debate in part because there are various ways -- various ethical ways -- to respond, so it becomes a matter of personal conscience to decide which "answer" best matches one's own individual sense of what is right or moral or ethical. For me, honest discussion of the varying political (and other) considerations (and their ramifications, and the various ways of responding) can be extraordinarily helpful as I weigh arguments in pursuit of a decision that works for me, recognizing that ethical people can and often do end up with different decisions because of even small differences in their individual hierarchies of guiding principles.

And like you, I reserve the right to decide, in the end, on self-interest -- but I like to do so with "eyes wide open" to the extent possible.
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Sep 18th, 2019, 01:30 PM
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"A final thought. Given the perilous geo-political and economic landscape the world faces, should we even worry too much about the Political actions of particular governments? Maybe tourism could be an influence for good if we all focused more on where we spent our tourist cash within these countries with a "political" bias. Get off the tourist trail, spend money with small business and individuals in country rather than in big multi national hotel chains and tour operators. Responsible and ethical travel are phrases much overused by the travel industry these days, but on a micro/individual level, can make a big difference."

Agree 100%


"I decided I could not endorse such attitudes by visiting the country."

I don't think that visiting a country means that you endorse its politics or its social/cultural norms. You're simply a visitor, a guest, an observer. You're not there to judge a country let alone changing it. It's up to the locals to change their country if they feel they need to do tha. The best we can do as travellers is to see the country with our own eyes and an open mind and after getting home to share our experiences.
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Sep 18th, 2019, 06:18 PM
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@ BDKR: I agree that visiting a country does not necessarily mean that one endorses its politics or its social/cultural norms. OTOH, I think one can legitimately make a choice to avoid visiting a country because one does not endorse its politics or its social/cultural norms -- IMO, that's a choice one can make to honor one's personal ethical sense, if one so chooses. To be clear, I'm not saying that the choice is obvious or simple -- in fact, I think that it's like many ethical dilemmas in that there are arguments on either side, with no answer that's right for all people or all times.
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Sep 19th, 2019, 01:19 PM
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If there is a country which you would like to see and the only/main reason you decide not to travel there is because you don't endorse its politics, your decision is going to hurt nobody but yourself and it's not helping anyone either.

Some people may say that Ithey're going to wait with travelling there until things change, but unfortunately sometimes it's changing for the worse.

I had a great time travelling around Syria for 2 weeks in 2003. The country was full of amazing historical sights, friendly people, it was very cheap, very safe and there were only few tourists. I was totally aware that it was(and still is) a dictatorship, like most countries in the Middle East. If you wanted to see Syria, but decided not to go there, because it's a dictatorship, now you're out of luck, becasue Syria will never be the same again even if peace is slowly returning and tourists may be coming again in a few years.
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Sep 19th, 2019, 04:07 PM
  #20  
kja
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Originally Posted by BDKR View Post
If there is a country which you would like to see and the only/main reason you decide not to travel there is because you don't endorse its politics, your decision is going to hurt nobody but yourself and it's not helping anyone either.
Maybe. Maybe not. That argument -- that opinion -- would seem to assume that choosing to visit despite one's opposition to a country's politics wouldn't hurt oneself -- and I would think that many people believe that acting in ways that contradict one's personal values is harmful to oneself. Obviously, not all personal beliefs are held dearly enough for the effect to be self-injury, but that's why it's tricky, isn't it? And maybe going despite one's own personal objections would be a good way to challenge oneself and further develop one's belief system -- perfectly legitimate reasons, IMO, but I can't imagine making that argument for all places, all beliefs, or all people. Too, for anyone who has limited time or money to travel, I would think there would be an opportunity cost -- the cost of NOT going somewhere else, with all the experiences and opportunities provided by that alternative location.

But I don't think you are addressing my question -- whether there a place for political opinion on a forum devoted to travel.
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