When most people think of veganism, the first thing they think of is diet. Most people know that vegans don’t eat anything that comes from animals: no meat, eggs, or dairy. But many don’t know that there is more to veganism than just the diet. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a lifestyle that values the lives of all animals and is dedicated to living a life that is in harmony with them and the earth. This means that you’re against the use and exploitation of animals for unnecessary human gain. I am a relatively recent convert to veganism, but I have very much adopted it wholeheartedly into my lifestyle. My first trip abroad as a vegan was to Thailand. I was a bit nervous about the accessibility of vegan meal options, but I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t have any trouble finding good food. Given, I was quite limited with my options, but I certainly did not come anywhere close to starving. The hardest part, however, was finding animal centered activities that aligned with my ethics. The love that I have for animals is one of the main reasons I decided to be vegan. I try to interact with them whenever I can, and Thailand seemed like the optimal place to get up close and personal with exotic animals. While doing everything that I wanted to do and remaining ethical took a little more effort, it certainly was possible. Here’s some tips for you to maintain ethical standards (or even live vegan!) on your future travels:
- Research restaurants ahead of time. Before I left the U.S. I researched vegan restaurants in the areas that I was going to be in. I found a few that I was interested in and made note of their addresses so I could go check them out. I used Instagram to find a lot of interesting places. The use of hashtags and the location services made it easy to find great eating places.
- Be careful with the term “sanctuary.” Animal tourism is extremely popular. When I went to Thailand, I knew that I wanted to play with tigers and get up close with elephants, because that was a popular thing to do because of all of the sanctuaries there. Before I went, I did some research and I learned that sadly, not all places that have “sanctuary” in the name are actually nice places. I learned that many of the tiger sanctuaries drug their tigers and keep them on chains in order to be able to allow visitors to get close to them. The tigers spend most of their days sedated and drowsy all for the enjoyment of visitors. This is no proper life for them. Likewise, elephant riding tours are popular but unethical as well. In order to get the elephants trained to give rides, they have to go through unpleasant, and sometimes abusive measures to get “broken in.” If you do the proper research and ask other people that have traveled where you’re trying to go, you should be able to find ethical animal encounters. Luckily, I did get to interact with elephants and monkeys in their own habitats, but due to the widespread abuse at tiger “sanctuaries,” I opted to pass on a tiger encounter.
- Refuse to patronize animal exploitation in the name of tourism. If you’re an animal lover like me, you’ll definitely want to have some encounters with exotic animals during your travels, and that’s okay. You can do that by choosing to patronize facilities that exist to help animals such as endangered species and sanctuaries that save animals from lives of abuse. But if you want to have ethical encounters, refuse to patronize businesses that allow riding of animals or have animals doing unnatural tricks (i.e. elephants painting pictures). If you encounter a tour that allows riding of animals, don’t patronize it.
It takes a collective effort to stop animal cruelty. If tourists take a stance against it, it wont be as widespread. Have fun when you travel, but lets do our best to be responsible caretakers for our earth and animal friends.