They say travel changes you, and I have seen it within myself with each trip I take. Sometimes when I look back, I realize that there were ways that I experienced the world that I would never dream of doing today. Even though I don’t believe in regret because I know I have learned and grown from my experiences, if given a choice to do it all over again, my travel plans would have panned out much differently.
Often while traveling, I barely plan my trip. Instead I let the country I am in choose where I will go and what I will see. Because of this, I don’t always know the pros and cons of certain activities until afterwards. Sometimes it comes as an unsettling feeling during the experience, but other times, it comes afterwards when I think about it or research the subject further.
Everyone travels differently and views the world from a unique perspective, but the more I see and do, the more I realize that I want to make sure that my contribution to the planet is a positive one. Now, when I look into experiences, I make sure I am making a positive impact and working with companies that benefit the country I am visiting. Maybe without my past travel experiences, I wouldn’t realize just how important that is.
Looking back, there are five activities I wish I didn’t take part in while traveling, and in the future, I plan on being a more responsible traveler. My hope is that you’ll do the same.
Riding on Elephants
Of all the experiences I have had, this is the one I feel most upset about. Elephants have always been my favorite animal, and I had no idea the torture that went into training them to carry tourists around. Maybe I should have guessed or done research before riding them in both Thailand and Zimbabwe, but I just assumed I would be gaining a close connection to my favorite animal, not harming them.
In the future, I would look into places that have rescued these animals from poor conditions and volunteer to help them. I’ve also learned that not all programs that pledge to help animals actually do, so it’s important to do amble research before participating in any activity.
Posing with Tigers
I’m not entirely sure what compelled my friends and me to pay a visit to Tiger Kingdom in Chiang Mai, Thailand, but I think we were just looking for another unique experience. With a better reputation than the controversial Tiger Temple, we were more afraid of the tigers than the conditions they were in.
While the tigers didn’t seem drugged and the park was well-kept, the animals were still living their lives out in cages. It just seems to me that they could be living a better life somewhere else, where they don’t have to lie around and pose with tourists all day. After years of analyzing my decision to visit Tiger Kingdom, I’m just not sure I can recommend a trip there with confidence because I don’t believe it’s what is best for the tigers.
Walking with Lions
When I signed up to walk with the lions, I felt better about the experience than I did about posing for pictures with tigers. The company, ALERT, seemed promising in that they said they rescued and protected the lions, eventually setting them back out into the wild.
Stepping away from the experience, I questioned whether the company was doing more harm than good, especially after doing some research of my own. I did not understand how the animals were benefiting from spending time with humans to begin with. Maybe if I was volunteering at the center my time would have been more beneficial, but I am not sure I really made any impact by walking around with them.
Both of my experiences visiting tribal groups left me feeling uncomfortable. In both the Karen and Himba tribes, the women and children we were visiting did not choose this lifestyle, and it felt wrong to come into their lives to photograph how different they were than ours. Any tour that allows you to look at and take pictures of people whose lifestyle is different from yours just doesn’t sit well with me.
Rather than photographing what I saw, I chose instead to immerse myself with the young children of the tribe, sitting on the ground and playing with them. This wasn’t the purpose of our visit, but I easily connect with children and although our language was not the same, we played around and laughed for the rest of my time there. Still, in the future, I’d avoid visiting a group of people unless I was going in and making a positive and lasting impact on their lives.
Cage Diving with Great Whites
While I grew a greater appreciation for sharks during my cage diving experience, there has been some controversy over cage diving. The company I went with researches and studies the sharks that come up to the boat, which is why I felt better about choosing this experience.
However, there are concerns about chumming the water and attracting sharks to the area. There is also no solid evidence that it diving with Great Whites does anything for shark conservation, and there are probably better ways to spend money to protect sharks.
As I grow older and more traveled, I become more mindful of my impact on the world, including the products I’m using, companies I’m supporting, and the food I am eating. It’s important that my impact be a positive one, especially considering the way I feel about the world. Knowing my impact causes me to change my actions to make sure the beautiful places I have been to stay that way and that the planet is better due to my time on it, not worse. From these experiences, I have also changed my viewpoints on activities here at home, and I refuse to visit aquariums, zoos, and circuses.
Sometimes I look back on past pictures and posts and get upset over my decision to take part in activities that weren’t for the greater good of the place I was visiting, but I’m choosing to use my voice to recommend that my readers do not take part in these activities. While I can’t go back and change the past, I know that in the present and future, I am choosing responsible tourism and programs that help the animals, people, and places of the countries I hold so dearly.