How many of us have dreamed about taking extended leave from work, packing everything away and booking an around-the-world ticket to go and adventure for months and months on end? I know I have, and my beautiful contributor today Clare has done just that. Having recently backpacked throughout Europe, South America and Southeast Asia, I couldn’t help but ask Clare to share her thoughts on what it means to travel ‘ethically’. As an environmental scientist who has now volunteered internationally (and is always conscious of her impact on the environment) you really couldn’t find a better person to share their thoughts on this topic. Plus have I mentioned she is one of my favourite people ever? Anyhow, I digress. Here is Part 1 of the ethical travel series with Clare, enjoy!
Over the past seven months I embarked on the biggest adventure of my life, traveling from Perth, Australia to all over Europe, South America and Thailand. It was a trip I dreamed about and will hopefully do again in my lifetime. I learnt many things on the way, I didn’t ‘find myself’ if you are worried I might go along that soul-finding spiel, but I did learn a lot about the tourism industry and how the environment, the animals and local people are largely exploited within it. So here I go at trying to create a little list of ‘what not to do while traveling’.
1. Don’t succumb to temptations of a photo with an animal being used and harmed for tourism. E.g. tigers, elephants and gibbons in Thailand, macaws and jaguars in South America, monkeys in Mexico.
I have a few confessions to make… I am a little ‘snappy happy’ when it comes to traveling. Having embarked on my journey with my new ‘baby’, a beasty Canon, I moved swiftly from being overly embarrassed to just bring it out of my bag to overly confident at clicking away, getting all the angles trying to imagine myself as someone out of National Geographic. In reality I looked like every other tourist with a big camera, selfie sticks, GoPros (you name it) trying to capture that perfect moment we are all so excited to share on Facebook and Instagram (although I’m yet to get in the loop with Instagram). We love to have proof that our holiday was indeed as amazing as we have said and of course, have the photos to spark the fond (and not so fond) memories.
But, what separated me from the majority of the tourists I observed along the way was the subject/s I photographed. Other tourists would line up to get a snap holding an endangered gibbon that had been dressed in children’s clothes, or fill an album with photos riding elephants, perhaps even have a baby elephant at their Thailand wedding ceremony. I guess this was all to prove to everyone back home, that yes, they had actually ridden an elephant (no mentioning the chain around its leg), or maybe they drank beer with a monkey at a bar, cuddled a tiger, or touched a whale shark while snorkelling.
If you can admit to doing these things while on a holiday to any part of the world, perhaps South-east Asia, as so many Aussies have done, don’t for a second think you are a bad person. It’s just a matter of understanding and educating ourselves before we head to these foreign places where animal and environmental welfare and regulations aren’t so clear as ours. I believe that the photo opportunity is put there right in front of you and many people think, “what a cute animal to touch, photograph, perhaps support the owner who will spend the money on its food, shelter”… well it all comes down to education and knowing that these animals are the result of poaching, abuse and a growing illegal industry thriving because of unsuspecting or indifferent tourists. One thing we need to teach others is that animals are NOT entertainers.
I don’t understand how we have to have this physical experience rather than just look and appreciate from afar. I felt like I was looking at myself at age 3, chasing my cat and trying to pull her tail, picking bugs from trees and always trying to pat the wild ducks. I don’t know if it’s my education and interests since that have led me to be the way I am and disapprove of what’s going on, but I do. If you do too, the Animal Protection Society is trying to do something about it, as are many other organisations. So please, check them out and most importantly, be a conscious traveller and try help other tourists understand their impacts whilst within our precious planet.
Thanks again to Clare for sharing her thoughts and I can’t wait to share even more!!