I've been looking at the Featured Friday questions, and I wanted to ask this preemptively to avoid lengthy discussions after the fact.

It really depends how you define "controversial", but some things that quickly spring to mind:

  • Mild opiates, particularly cannabinoids, are allowed in certain European countries.
  • Prostitution is also legal, although highly regulated, in some countries.
  • Certain types of gambling (animal fights come to mind) are also not forbidden in a few places, but your local PETA organization will issue a call to arms if they find you participating in one.

So, should such questions be allowed, and if yes, under what circumstances?

For example, a hard-and-fast rule would be that "If activity X is illegal in country Y, such questions are not allowed." Another one would be asking in which countries activity X is allowed -- I don't think we should encourage such questions, if they are indeed allowed to exist on the site.

Another problem altogether is what constitutes "controversial" activity. Should only illegal practices be addressed, or also activities that are likely to displease the local population (for example, certain types of clothing in the Middle East)?

I personally think that we should allow questions of this type, but some clear guidelines are to be drawn to avoid back-and-forth between users and moderators when such questions appear.

I'm interested in hearing what others think about this, and especially what's the official Stack Exchange team stance on this.

4 Answers 4


If it is legal in the destination country, then it is a valid question for the site.

What is 'controversial' in one culture may not be so in another. So if someone asks about, to pick at random, whaling in Japan / Norway, it should be allowed. The examples listed in OP's question are also on-topic.

What shouldn't be allowed is anything clearly illegal. For instance: I've lost my passport. How can I blame someone else?

What we might need eventually need though is a legal disclaimer about the advice given on this site since travel advice by nature touches legal issues. This I think is unique to Travel.SE in the StackExchange network.

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    I don't think we have to forbid all questions that are illegal in the destination country. For example if someone asks if he can kiss his homosexual partner in public while going to Saudia Arabia. Why should we close this? Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 12:09
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    Then the 'right' answer would be one that tells you it's illegal. People may not know! If an answer does however go on to mention gay clubs, say, this is the kind of situation we may need a legal disclaimer. Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 12:12
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    Yes I agree, but I wouldn't forbid such questions. Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 12:15
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    We might need to. I don't know what the legal implications of allowing such a question are. Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 12:16

Sigh, I saw this question last night and figured 'can of worms'.

The site has an option for flagging or closing questions, comments and answers as 'not welcome in our community'.

The reasons cited are "This question/answer/comment contains content that a reasonable person would consider offensive, abusive, or hate speech."

A reasonable person would consider a question about a person asking where he can drink in a country that forbids it in public a relevant and potentially useful travel question.

A reasonable person would probably find a question about where he can go to kill someone on a tour too offensive for this site.

It'll come down to judgement calls, and of course, the votes of the community. It's self-deciding in some respect - if enough people vote to close something, it'll get closed. If it's flagged, we'll make a call.

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    "Kill someone on tour." Reminds me of a certain episode of "Gilligan's Island" from the 1970s. Gilligan was spared, but the "hunter" wasn't about to let them "off the island."
    – Tom Au
    Commented Aug 11, 2013 at 19:30

If you have a problem with a question, and are downvoting / closing / flagging it, it'd be courteous to mention that have a problem with the question itself, not just the quality of the question.

When the reasoning for closing something is mentioned, then the process is more transparent, and there's less suspicion that high-rep users get treated differently to low-rep users.

If it's a practice you disapprove of, and you can explain in a courteous way why you disapprove of it, that can be constructive. This comment discouraged the OP from doing a certain practice, but wasn't disruptive.


I guess my question is, Why would you want to? No, really - I think I read somewhere that this site frowns on recommending specific places of business, so what could be gained from these sorts of questions, and what would those questions be exactly? People asking whether X activity or Y substance is legal in Z country could just as easily find the answers on Google--including recommendations on neighborhoods where to score them. What could Stack-Exchange add to that discussion?

I think you have to consider your audience - I assume (but don't know this for a fact) that most of your visitors are Westerners where consumption of alcohol and homosexual are commonly tolerated. I think questions about the best bars in Moscow, tolerance of gays in Dubai, or if it's possible to drink beer in a Muslim country are perfectly acceptable, but topics like drug use, prostitution, or even whaling are still taboo in large parts of the Western world and are likely to generate more controversy than they are worth.

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    -1: First, this site is very much recommending places of business where you can do activity X. Second, regardless of your moral standing, there's no reason why you can't ask about X if X is specifically allowed in the country of question. Just because you and I are not interested in getting laid for money doesn't mean others aren't, and while you can condemn them all you like, you can't deny them the right to do what is allowed if they so choose. And third, your Western-centric attitude goes very much against the spirit of a site dedicated to travelling and experiencing other cultures. Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 17:28
  • Consider also gun possession -- legal and even a defended right in some states, if memory serves -- but very much taboo in e.g. Scandinavian countries. Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 17:30
  • I'd hardly compare gun ownership to prostitution or illegal substances. Even in Scandinavia, ownership of guns is legal under certain circumstances, as I have learned from recent events. It's only more tightly regulated.
    – Matthew
    Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 18:19
  • Also, what on Earth do illegal substances, prostitution, gun ownership, or whaling have to do with travel?
    – Matthew
    Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 18:30
  • Prostitution is perfectly legal in New Zealand. They even pay tax on their 'services'.
    – Mark Mayo
    Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 19:55
  • I think that's great. It should be legal and regulated everywhere. But what does it have to do with travel?
    – Matthew
    Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 20:27
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    You may believe it or not but I know a lot of people that are going for a "fun" weekend to Amsterdam to: 1) smoke some weed, 2) take some magic mushrooms, 3) get laid. Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 20:42
  • @Roflcoptr - but is that "travel"? I don't believe it is, and I get the feeling I am well in the minority on the point, so I'll drop it. Have fun, moderators, guiding "travelers" to the best hashish bars and brothels of Amsterdam!
    – Matthew
    Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 20:57
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    Why isn't it travel? To you know a definition of travel that explicitly excludes such things? I think this is a good definition of travel: "Travel is the movement of people or objects (such as airplanes, boats, trains and other conveyances) between relatively distant geographical locations" (from Wikipedia). Commented Nov 3, 2011 at 21:08
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    It's def travel. Why do people travel? Usually to go and see or do something. It might be running with the bulls in Spain, riding the trans-Siberian through Russia, or doing drugs in Amsterdam.
    – Mark Mayo
    Commented Nov 4, 2011 at 1:21

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