Although I try to live my life without regrets, I do have a few when it comes to travel.
“Why?” You ask. “How could someone possibly regret travel?”
Well that’s just it – I don’t regret travel itself, but there are a few travel experiences I’ve had which I now wish I hadn’t.
Let me explain:
The thing is, over the years I’ve been travelling, I feel I’ve learnt a few lessons.
Some of these pertain to the importance of responsible travel.
As a younger, and not-so-wise traveller, I ignorantly participated in activities that would NOT be considered responsible travel, and I wanted to share these stories with you to help you learn these lessons along with me.
Being a responsible traveller (and let’s face it, a responsible human being whether you’re on the road or at home) is so important, and that is why we must educate ourselves on the impacts a ‘fun activity’ in another country may have on other humans, animals, the environment, the local community, and world as a whole.
So without further ado, here are five travel experiences I regret:
1. Riding an elephant in Laos
A big no-no. At the time I thought it was a classic ‘South-East Asia traveller activity’, now I know differently.
As World Nomads have said:
The truth is, riding elephants shouldn’t be on anyone’s bucket list. In America, organisations such as the Humane Society of the US and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums have come out against riding elephants because of abuse the elephants undergo to learn how to accept riders, and safety concerns… A good rule to remember is that if a tourist outfit offers anything other than getting to spend time with elephants, it is not friendly to them. Any outfit that offers riding, circuses or paintings means they have undergone horrific abuse in order to get them to where they are. Remember, all of these elephants have suffered through the abusive and torturous crush. And while some are more friendly than others, and don’t employ the use of bullhooks, the sheer fact that the elephants are trekking means they are being harmed.
So seriously, skip on the idea of riding a poor fellow earth-dwelling being, and if you really want to get up close and personal with an elephant, find a sanctuary where you can volunteer, or observe the animals in their natural environment.
2. Visiting tigers in captivity in Thailand
Once again, another big no-no, but at the time that I was in Laos and Thailand, I was only on my second travel adventure, and at 22, wasn’t exactly the ‘eye-opened global citizen’ I am today (Or the ‘annoying vegan’ I am today either).
Even while others on my tour decided against the extra-curricular activity that some of the travellers I was with had asked to have organised, I still went along under the guise of ‘seeing it for myself’ – aka, was too self-centred to actually think harder about my actions beforehand.
All I wanted was to cuddle cute tigers. And I did. And I enjoyed it. And then, a couple of years later, I felt horrible regret at my actions.
As Edwin Wiek of Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand told the SBS (In regards to the Tiger Temple, which was not the place I visited, but I believe these comments are still relevant):
“Taking selfies with tigers does nothing to contribute to the conservation of wildlife.”
“The Tiger Temple illegally trades wildlife and breeds only for exploitation.”
“Eighty per cent of their tigers never get out of their tiny dark cages.”
3. Camel riding in India
Now, if you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may already know about this experience, which was more of an ‘instant regret’ more than a ‘years-down-the-track regret’, so my true feelings went into my original blog post here.
Basically, I decided not to follow my gut instincts after I was assured and reassured that this camel ride – the “only way to our beautiful dinner in the desert” – was ethical and safe.
I should have listened to my gut.
The experience ended with me, halfway through the ride after witnessing one of the guides repeatedly abusing the camels, screaming and yelling at him and demanding to be let down off the camel so I could walk.
It took a full half hour to convince the guides to let me down and I was a bit tearful by then.
All in all, not a good experience.
But at least the beautiful dinner in the desert was, in fact, beautiful, and lifted my spirits afterwards.
4. Taking photos with a llama on a leash in Peru
Some may not see this as such an awful thing, but I do feel bad about it.
A woman approached our tour group with this llama, named Esmerelda, on a lease and said we could take photos with Esmerelda for money.
And I feel bad about that now, because it was just another way I helped exploit an animal for human gain.
5. Taking a ride in a horse-drawn carriage in Mexico
Another item on this list that others may look at and feel that it is unnecessary to regret.
I don’t however.
I do regret it.
As explained in the video above, the horses that were leading these carriages were thin, malnourished, and did not seem happy about their job at all – which, really, can you blame them for?
This isn’t what horses are for.
Animals are not on this earth for our personal use.
My biggest piece of advice to you, reading this, is that if something doesn’t feel right to you, don’t do it.
And you can really take that piece of advice in many different ways.
But today I really urge you to think about responsible travel, particularly when relating to animals, and in the future make sure that any activity you undertake really does align with the ideals of responsible travel, or at the very least, your own morals.
And don’t back down. Don’t be afraid to speak up and stand up for what you feel is right.
I know that I wish I did, in some past situations.
I’m just glad I’ve learnt my lesson.