THE LONG ANSWER
To Boycott or Not to Boycott
The truth is, there are pros and cons to visiting countries with sketchy human rights records
If you do decide to go . . .
Get your dollars to the people: "Buy local, stay local, and hire local," says Malia Everette, director of Global Exchange's Reality Tours. Choose privately run B&Bs and inns over government-owned hotels and buy souvenirs at community markets.
Go independent: With most packages, tourists have little control over where their money is spent. Book with socially responsible companies that take travelers to meet activists and join programs beneficial to locals, such as Global Exchange's Reality Tours (globalexchange.org) and Culture Xplorers (culturexplorers.com). This fall, Reality Tours' two-week tour of Libya includes crafts demonstrations at Berber settlements and discussions with members of the Libyan American Friendship Association about efforts to improve relations with the U.S.
Make a connection: North Korea won't allow foreigners to meet and socialize with civilians because the government knows how powerful personal interaction can be. Ask questions, share stories, and express interest in people's lives and cultures; the benefits go far beyond satisfying curiosity. But never push yourself on anyone who appears uncomfortable. It may be dangerous for a local to be seen associating with a foreigner.
Spread the word: When you return home, host a night for friends and family to hear about your experiences, or offer to give a talk at your church, school, or community center. Raise donations for school supplies, over-the-counter medications, or other items most needed by the communities you visited. And let others know that the best travel guide is their own conscience.