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Don’t do what I did… Travel Responsibly

One of the easiest things to do is to throw a blind eye to all the go-green initiatives, animal rights’ petitions and other sustainability campaigns. We shrug our shoulders, shake our heads and proclaim we had no idea. We ask for yet another plastic bag, leave recycling for next time and brainwash ourselves to think that that animal in a cage is happy and not abused.

That’s exactly what I did up until a few years ago. 

I’ve touched and interacted with an elephant and thought, “it’s okay, at least I’m not riding one”. I’ve touched a cheetah and listened to the conservation efforts through breeding and thought, “well, it’s a sanctuary right?”. I’ve visited a coffee farm in Bali where a civet was in a small cage, and he looked really unhappy, yet I did not speak up. I saw videos, shared by people fighting for everything from animals to plants to ocean creatures, and I scrolled through it because it was either “too sad” or “too much” to watch.

But then something changed.

I started reading blog posts and articles written by those fighting for everything from animals to plants to ocean creatures. I watched those awful videos and ugly cried when I saw how elephants are abused into submission, I realised the impact of one single plastic bag, one single straw, I got a rude awakening of cultural exploitation and learned the truth about petting lion cubs.

I was shocked by the things I saw and humbled by those doing everything in their power to stop it. I decided to open my eyes instead of throwing an easier blind eye, but the journey is never-ending.

My eyes are often still shut; I’m still learning, I’m still getting shocked.

Travel and tourism can often have a very negative impact on the environment due to human interference, lack of knowledge and the desire to follow in the footsteps of the travellers who came before us. But as travellers we have a responsibility resting on our shoulders and whether we are travelling around in South Africa or abroad we have a responsibility to respect, care and leave a positive impact on our environment. We have a responsibility to not shrug our shoulders and say next time, but to take action, stand up and speak out because if not now, when?

Travel with a Conscience: 9 Things to Keep in Mind

There are 9 simple things you can do to be a more responsible traveller in South Africa and abroad…

Do not waste water

Water is a precious resource which is not abundantly available and crystal clear in many parts of the world. Whether you are visiting a place with or without water restrictions and/or shortages, always close faucets, do not take your royal time in the bathroom and drink your glass of water at a restaurant because chances are that a glass half full will be emptied down the drain.

Say no to plastic

Every single piece of plastic that has ever been made still exists and even though this fact is shocking, more and more plastic is being produced every day and our oceans and marine life suffer the consequences. Before you use any plastic ask yourself if you really need it, because I can assure you that you are quite capable to drink without a straw. Use glass bottles (it is much healthier any way), have a shopping bag ready and remember to reduce, reuse and recycle.

Do not litter

Clean up after yourself and throw your trash in a trash can or better, a recycling bin. If you see someone else’s trash lying around, be a grown up, be responsible and pick it up. Ever heard about the initiative, Take 3 for the Sea? Making a difference is as easy as picking up three pieces of trash.

Keep your rhinos off social media

Rhinos on social media is a topic I feel very strongly about (read here), some might say even too strong. If you spot a rhino in the wild keep your rhino photos off social media, even if your geotag is off. Rhino poachers are unfortunately smarter than your smart phone.

Support local tourism initiatives

Shop and support local businesses as much as you can; eat local, travel local, buy local and explore with a local guide to discover more about the people, their culture and their traditions.

Do not go on trips that involve animal interactions or captive animals

To live in captivity is no way for any animal to live, no matter how small or how big. Animals in captivity are unhealthy, they get ripped away from their mothers at an early unstable age, they suffer through pain, neglect and abuse, they are bored, they don’t have any freedom and they are under severe stress.

Animals are not here to entertain us and it is of utmost importance to avoid and raise awareness around the following animal activities often offered to travellers:

  • Elephant riding – elephants are beaten and chained up for human entertainment. There is NO such thing as ethical elephant riding.
  • Swimming with dolphins in captivity – dolphins swim vast distances in the wild but in captivity they are confined to small pools with chemically treated water.
  • Petting cheetah, tiger or lion cubs (or grown felines). Please visit www.bloodlions.orgto understand the dangers behind cub petting and how something which might seem innocent to you will probably end in a canned lion hunting situation.
  • Walking with lions or cheetahs – a lion or cheetah is not a dog. Walk your dog. And again, visit Blood Lionsto understand why you should not interact with lions and cheetahs in such a way.
  • Circus performances or dolphin shows – A circus performance of an animal dressed in clothes and doing funny things is not a result of monkey see, monkey do but rather a result of monkey obeys or monkey gets beaten.

Do your research before you volunteer

Volunteering can be life-changing but unfortunately it can also have the complete opposite impact than what you have imagined. Do your research and do your research again to ensure that you will volunteer ethically and that your financial and physical support will have a positive impact on the people or animals you volunteer with.

Respect cultures, traditions, beliefs and other religions

Adhere to the customs of the place that you are visiting and respect their culture. One of the things you can do to show respect is to dress respectfully (especially at religious sites) and also to treat people with respect when it comes to photography – think before you click. Do your research before your visit; know what is considered taboo, know the meaning of hand signals and know what is perceived as respectful. Remember, “a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable” – Clifton Fadiman.

Teach, share and speak up but don’t attack

If something is obvious to you, don’t think it is obvious to someone else. When a friend, a family member or a travel buddy wants to participate in something and you know that the activity has a negative impact on the environment, on an animal or on a person, speak up but don’t attack. There is nothing as powerless as a condescending tone, a verbal or character attack and hurtful words when you are trying to inform someone of the dangers and impact of their actions.  I often struggle with keeping myself (and my words) together when I see shocking things…

We have a responsibility to not shrug our shoulders and say next time, but to take act, stand up and speak out because if not now, when?