Responsible Travel

IVS & Our Core Values

Our programs are grounded in the principles of responsible and ethical travel. To be successful and have a long-term positive impact, it requires a commitment of all participants to uphold these principles. Before departure, we will cover general guidelines and expectations, as well as the responsibilities we carry as global travelers. Our goal is to develop an ethic of care, where our decisions as travelers are made with the welfare of the local community and the integrity of the environment we visit at its core.

We believe that responsible travel is an ongoing learning process and encourage program participants to share their questions, perspectives, and insights throughout the trip. Through this collaborative learning process, we aspire as a group to improve upon the practices of our programs.


Building Partnerships through International Development

A cornerstone of our philosophy is based on developing cultural competence, and understanding the goals and needs of communities based on their own lifestyle and values. One of the most overlooked aspects of international development is the importance of building relationships and friendships with local partners before implementing projects. This is why we focus on developing our partnerships over a long period of time, and strive to learn from and empower community members as experts. To be successful in achieving this part of our mission it is crucial to avoid preconceived ideas and realize good intentions will not always improve the situation.  As a result, the advocacy, research, and fundraising we undertake is a reflection of the objectives set by our community partners.

Our relationships are based on the invitation of local communities, which is integral for our partnerships to flourish. Therefore, everyone involved in our programs are expected to act in accordance with these values by exhibiting humility, a passion for learning from local knowledge, and a willingness to maintain partnerships based on reciprocity and building mutual trust with our local community partners.


Cross-Cultural Education Programs

These values are reflected in our educational programs. We strive to provide our students with the knowledge and experience to expand their worldview and build the necessary skills to become leaders in their own communities. Our curriculum requires students to integrate into local communities by reflecting upon their own values—  and to understand their role as global citizens in an international context. We urge students to think critically and exhibit the flexibility to reframe their assumptions about cultural practices, international development, and social and environmental justice.


Principles of Responsible Travel

Cultural Sensitivity

Responsible travel starts from a place of respect for cultural differences and a healthy dose of humility. While we do not believe we need to leave our values behind, we do think one of the greatest joys of travel is learning about the many different ways of being human. During our programs, we provide background on the history, religion, and cultures of the places we visit, including guidance on culturally appropriate behavior. Often when traveling, there is the inevitable tension between personal desires and needs versus sensitive behavior, such as wearing long-sleeves in 100-degree heat or eating rice and dal for the 10th meal in a row. Our view is that these are small sacrifices for the privilege and opportunity of connecting with different cultures around the world.

Learning from and Valuing Indigenous Knowledge

We believe there are many insights are to be gained from cultures that have existed for centuries or millennia. Whether it is on the role of community or cultural and environmental adaptation, we have much to learn from their unique perspectives and knowledge. We aim to form genuine reciprocal relationships with the communities we visit, and through the exchange of ideas and practices, both sides can gain more profound knowledge and wisdom.

Leaving a Small Footprint

We are conscious of the resources we use in other communities, particularly in areas where they are limited. We also try to limit our waste from consumption, specifically from plastic bottles. In many locations we travel there is no waste management system or recycling and much of the trash we create will end up polluting the environment. We advise all of our trip participants to reduce consumption of non-biodegradable products, as well as bring their own water bottles and purification systems.  We also advise participants to unpackage items that are wrapped in plastic at home, so we do not bring unnecessary trash along.

Developing Long-Term Relationships

We travel to communities with the goal of building long-term relationships based on mutual trust and friendship. Rather than pursue one-off visits, we prefer to cultivate connections over time by continuing to return to the same communities. We also do not lead trips to new communities, unless we have already begun to develop a relationship and are invited to visit with a larger group.

Participating Rather than Observing

While we emphasize culturally appropriate behavior, we have found this can sometimes paralyze travelers from participating out of fear of making mistakes. Most local communities do not expect Westerners to know all of the nuances of their culture and are very accepting when we inevitably screw up. As long as it comes from a place of respect and willingness to learn, get out and get involved – this is the space where genuine cross-cultural connections are made.

Mindful Photography

One of the pleasures of travel is capturing the memories and stories in photographs. With this, however, comes a responsibility to the people and places that are the subjects of the pictures. We ask our trip participants to be mindful of the barrier created by a lens, as well as the wishes and feelings of the people who are on the other side of the photo. At the very least permission should always be given, and when possible being able to share prints of the pictures with people from the local community is an excellent form of reciprocity.

Supporting Local Economies

We want to ensure that the resources we spend on our trips go towards enhancing the incomes and livelihoods of the local communities we visit rather than being transferred out to businesses in the big cities or abroad. To the extent that is possible, we try to support locally-owned guesthouses and restaurants. Don't be afraid to ask your homestay family or local staff to direct you to shops and markets where local artisans sell their products.

Supporting Community Projects

An integral part of our programs is working with local communities on development projects. Our philosophy is that projects are most successful when they are initiated and led by local communities or grassroots organizations. They are the experts. We simply ask in what ways we can be a resource.

Civic Engagement

Our hope is that travel leads to more conscious and engaged global citizens. Spending time abroad can often be a profoundly transformative experience. To build upon this experience, we highly encourage all travelers to maintain connections with the people or projects from the trip, or to get involved with existing organizations in your home communities. We have found that meaningful engagement upon returning home helps cement the insights we gained abroad, rather than become a fading memory.