Well, I am back! we had a couple of weeks off and we did a bit of travelling. We visited Singapore and Phuket, Thailand. We had some time to relax, we disconnected from the daily routine, visited new interesting places and also learned a lot about these countries, their culture and history.
I think tourism is one of those experiences that actually enriches your life and open your mind. There are so many opportunities for growth and learning, not only about other people/places but about ourselves and how we feel when we are exposed to new experiences like food, conversations, landscapes, smells, traditions, religions and so much more.
However, not everything can be about us. I believe it is important to think about the impact our adventures have on the world that surrounds us. For that reason today I decided to write about few things we embraced in our trip trying to be more responsible tourists.
Steering clear of animal cruelty
In Thailand there are many touristy activities that involve animals, especially elephants, these animals are the “stars” and people are always keen to see them. There are shows and performances, you can swim with them and by far the most popular adventure: riding an elephant.
What people don’t understand is that buying tickets for those activities is supporting businesses that use very cruel practices to tame these poor animals.
The taming process is called Phajaan or Crushing. From young age they are beaten, chained, tortured and defeated in spirit so that they can do all these activities that are unnatural to them.
According to elephantsthailand.org:
“The Crush’ means “to divorce the baby elephant from its spirit” or to ”split the will” of a baby elephant. Phajaan or ‘Crushing’ is the traditional Asian torture of young elephants to break their spirit. It is done so that they are submissive to humans.”
We saw a baby elephant chained. It was so sad to see how it moved erratically to the sides without being able to walk that much – the chain was quite short. Elephants are also social creatures and he was there alone. He looked stressed and unsettled.
Before going to Thailand several people recommended us a famous show in Phuket, we had it in our list until we researched a bit and found out there were elephants in the show so we decided not to be part of that.
Instead I really wanted to visit an elephants sanctuary to support the cause, but the place was quite far from where we were staying and we couldn’t go. Visit ThailandElephants.org to get a list of ethical venues where you can see these animals in a safe and caring environment.
It is important to raise awareness about these issues because as long as tourists pay for these popular activities, these businesses will continue torturing and slaving these amazing creatures.
Taking 3 for the Sea
Take 3 is an Australian non-profit organisation that promotes a simple message to reduce plastic pollution around the world:
“Take 3 pieces of rubbish with you when you leave the beach, waterway or anywhere special”.
What does “Take 3 for the sea” movement have to do with travelling? Well, during holidays I like the concept of “Taking 3” because even when we are in holiday mood, we want to relax and maybe we don’t even have gloves or bags to carry rubbish while we pick it up (as we do it here when we go out for walks around the neighbourhood and other natural environments) still it is very easy and anyone can pick up and carry at least 3 pieces of rubbish!
A beach we went in Phuket had so much rubbish: plastic bottles, straws, soft plastic you name it. It was tragic! Even when we only went there to have a look and didn’t stay in the beach more than 30 minutes, we located the bins and did a quick clean up. To be honest visually it made little difference, but it felt good to do something about it.
Leaving a place a bit better than you found it is a good goal for responsible tourism.
Avoiding bottled water
While travelling as much as I wanted to disconnect, it was almost impossible to ignore certain behaviours. For instance, in all the places we visited almost everyone was drinking bottled water. I was very surprised especially in Singapore where tap water is safe to drink and there were water fountains around.
While staying there we just drank tap water and refilled our reusable bottles but in Thailand it was tricky as tap water is not safe to drink – therefore bottled water is automatically the default option for tourists.
The hotel provided small bottles of water everyday. First day when we arrived, we went to the reception and asked if they could provide filtered water. Our plan was to boil the filtered water in the kettle we had in our bedroom. However the girl said they didn’t have a filter. We insisted we wanted to refill our bottles and she was so confused. She kept saying the bottles of water were free for guests!
In the end, she agreed to refill our bottles from a water dispenser that they had for employees (still bottled water but at least it came from a big reusable container, the ones companies pick up and deliver). Later we discovered they had one of those at the gym and started refilling our bottles there while the small bottles of water kept accumulating in our bedroom as they kept providing them even when we never drank any.
In some countries, avoiding bottled water is sometimes tricky but there are small things we can do to avoid waste.
Packing reusables items
Aligned with the previous point, for us reusable items like a water bottle are as essential as packing our shoes. Unfortunately, judging by our own experience travelling several years ago and what I often see in people travelling, tourists are often unprepared.
Reusable items are key to reduce waste while travelling. For this last trip these are some of the items we packed:
- Water bottle: apart from the obvious, filling your water bottles before boarding the plane is a way to avoid drinking water from plastic bottles or disposable cups.
- Foldable and produce bags: usually we use it for shopping our groceries. Even if we stay in hotels we always end up buying some food. In Singapore we went to the supermarket and we were surprised to see that no one was using reusable shopping bags, they didn’t even sell them in the supermarket. Single-use plastic is so prevalent there. We managed to skip the plastic bags thanks to our tiny and light foldable and produce bags.
- Cutlery: Super useful in airports and food courts to avoid disposable cutlery.
- Napkins/serviettes: beyond the obvious we often use cloth serviettes to pack snacks and wrap dirty cutlery.
- Container/silicon bag: fruit is often our favourite snack while travelling and we always try to avoid as much as possible to send the scraps to landfill. So we store the skin/scraps in the bag or container while we find a place to put it. We didn’t find any compost facilities around, so in Thailand my husband decided to put the fruit scraps in the soil as there were many hidden green areas near the hotel.
This list depends a bit of the destination and type of holiday, but reusable items are always included in our travel packing checklist.
A reusable straw was my packing fail for this trip. I had my stainless steel straw ready to go and with all the busyness I forgot to pack it. I knew I was going to need my straw because I am big fan of coconut and in Thailand they serve the whole fruit. I ended up reusing a plastic straw as I couldn’t miss my chance to drink/eat fresh local coconut. It was so good and cheap, I miss it already!
Reusable items are usually small and light so they are easy to pack and carry around while you explore. There is no reason to leave them at home.
“Try to leave the Earth a better place than when you arrived” – Sidney Sheldon
Bottom line, with a bit of persistence, preparation and awareness there are ways to break with the status quo and be more responsible when we travel. Now, I want to hear from you, have you found ways to do things differently while you travel? Let me know in the comments below
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Thanks for reading,