Being a Conscientious Traveler
As travel continues to bring more and more tourists to developing countries, their tourism industry grows. As wonderful as it is to provide economic stimulation to a country, there are certainly some drawbacks to the flood of new businesses within them. Here’s how I like to be a “conscientious” traveler, someone aware of my footprint left in a country.
Water bottles are AWFUL for the environment, and while I understand that you need to drink filtered water, I am NOT an advocate of buying plastic water bottles. Instead, I like to filter my own water. My family has used our SteriPEN for years. It’s an incredibly useful little device and is well worth the money. Personally, however, the LifeStraw is my favorite filter. It’s easy to carry, use, and maintain, and you can literally drink from ANY water source (trust me, I’ve used it in some very sketchy puddles/places). I picked it up for my gap year, and it’s become a travel essential when traveling to a place where clean water is not guaranteed!
Also, for each LifeStraw purchased, the company gives safe drinking water to a child in a developing community for an entire school year!
Look into the Tours You Take
Some tours/opportunities sound like they’ll be the greatest experience of your life, but I urge everyone to closely look into the tours they’re taking, especially when they involve animals. As much as I’d love to, I will NEVER ride an elephant and I will NEVER hold a tiger (they’re completed drugged up and sedated) because I find those to be two big big BIG moral issues.
Elephant riding and circuses are big problems, as they train their elephants by prodding them with metal spikes and whips. An elephant died earlier this year in Cambodia because of the weight of the tourists it was carrying, along with the intensity of the heat it was in. What tourists don’t understand is that their “perfect photo op” or bucket list item is at the expense of an animal. Elephants are beautiful, friendly, wild creatures, and I firmly believe that they should not be trained in such violent manners. If you’d like to still see and interact with elephants, I’d recommend reserves dedicated to the rescue of elephants. The Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand, is a really good park. All of their elephants had been in the logging/circus/riding/ivory industry and rescued, and now receive tons of love and attention from tourists! Book up in advance, however, as they fill up fast!!! I had been when I was a lot younger and it was absolutely fabulous, but last time I was in Chiang Mai, they didn’t have space, so I went to the Elephant Jungle Paradise Park, and that was wonderful! Although I agree that elephants should be in the wild, the elephants who had previously been in those industries are unfit to live on their own, so I fully support the nature parks/reserves that help these animals out.
Eat Locally Sourced Food
Do this!!! You get to eat delicious delicacies of whatever country you’re in WHILE being green! Helping local farmers out not only helps THEM out, but also the Earth! There are a bunch of different reasons why you should eat locally sourced food, but I like to do this because it saves the earth from excess pollution (as there’s no need for lots of transport by jet/car) and it helps out the community in which you’re staying.
To find places that serve only locally sourced food, look out for signs that advertise this or eat at “hole in the wall”/”family cooking” kind of restaurants. Street food also counts, and I find that the best food I’ve ever eaten has come from a slightly dodgy cart!
Another thing to note: Please don’t eat endangered species, like some varieties of turtle or over-collected seafood. Shark Fin soup is a particularly awful food, as the sharks are usually taken from the sea, and after getting their fins chopped off, thrown back in to drown. If you’re really looking to eat the “food of the future,” give bugs a go. I promise you, they aren’t that bad!
Research Where You Volunteer
Volunteering is a really wonderful thing to do when it’s at the right place, but more often than not, volunteer programs are businesses. Look into that orphanage you’re thinking of staying at, as a lot of the time, orphanages pay parents for their children, who are taken away from their family and occasionally education. They’d be better off with family, either in school or learning a skill or trade that they can make a living off of in the future.
Teaching English isn’t always the best way to volunteer either, UNLESS you’re going to be volunteering for a long time. Just think about it. You’re going to be teaching the same children for a week or two, and they’ll learn their ABCs and a few basic phrases to get around. Then you leave, and someone else will come in and do the exact same thing. These kids aren’t truly learning English, as much as we’d all like to believe they are.
Obviously, there are billions more things you can do to be a “better” traveler, but even the smallest effort to be a little more aware is incredibly important! It may seem like nothing when you do these things, because you’re “just one person,” but every little effort helps!!! The Dalai Lama once said, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”