How to survive traveling as a vegetarian

We all know it, travelling as a vegetarian comes with its own unique set of challenges.  These are the tricks I’ve learned along the way to make things easier.

We all know it, traveling comes with its own unique set of challenges.  Well, so does being a vegetarian.  When you combine the two, it can really go either way.  It all depends on how you prepare yourself.

I love eating and have quite a refined palette.  I’m a firm believer that food is a great way to learn about someone’s culture.  It’s also a way to share joy, pleasure and love.  There was no way I wasn’t going to take full advantage of the countries we were visiting, and try all their delicious dishes.  Luckily, I didn’t have to cheat on my vegetarian diet to do it!

Vegan burger and fries at Shaka Burger Bohol Philippines
Vegan burger and fries at Shaka Burger, Bohol Philippines

After a year on the road, I want to share some of the things I learned along the way, and help you avoid some of the mistakes I made traveling as a vegetarian.

Why I became a vegetarian

Short answer, for all the reasons.  Because of the way we treat animals, because of the environmental impacts of eating meat, because of health reasons.  All of the reasons.  But I won’t get into that here.  I’ve already shared my journey in another article.

Traveling as a vegetarian

I’m not going to lie.  Traveling as a vegetarian is not easy.  People will constantly question your motives and try to convince you that the animals were put on this earth for us to eat.  Some people may even laugh at you for it.

Just be respectful with the people you meet.  If they ask you questions, answer them as honestly and calmly as you can, but know that you will probably not change their minds with one conversation.  If they pressure you, understand that it comes from a place of love.

Mozarella di buffalo tomato and pesto brushetta in Athens Greece
Mozarella di buffalo tomato and pesto brushetta, Athens Greece

A lot of cultures are very meat-heavy and can’t imagine a meal without a dead animal on their plate.  To refuse more politely, you can tell them meat makes you sick.  After 3 years of not eating meat, I can tell you that my system can no longer digest it.  So I’m not even lying when I tell them that!

So here are some tips I learned while traveling as a vegetarian.  I don’t eat fish either, so it may be easier for those who do.

Stay positive

Don’t despair.  It’s true that some days will be tough.  You won’t find much to eat except rice and eggs.  People won’t understand your reasons.  They may even mock you.  Just stay positive and know there is a huge community of vegetarians worldwide.  In fact, there are over 375 million people in the world who are in our Veg crew.  So don’t let a few nay-sayers ruin the good thing we have going.

Do some research

If you’re a foodie like me, you probably want to eat everything in sight.  Do your research and see what the local delicacies are.  Find out if they can be made without animal meat.  See if any of the local dishes are actually vegetarian from the get-go.  In most countries we visited, we were able to find vegetarian versions of all their local meals… or at least the best ones!

Vegetarian Laska at Yun Shui Ge Vegetarian House, Penang Malaysia
Vegetarian Laska at Yun Shui Ge Vegetarian House, Penang, Malaysia

Ask a local

Once you get there, ask a local about their food customs.  They will be able to give you the inside scoop on what veggie options you can find fresh, in-season and locally without breaking your neck or your bank account.  They may even be able to teach you how to make those local dishes.  Double score!

Know that in most places ‘Vegetarian’ doesn’t mean much

Once, in Japan, I ordered gyoza (dumplings) with a mushroom filling.  I took one bite and knew the gyoza had meat in it.  When I asked the waiter, he said “No meat”.  Being with some locals, I asked them to inquire again, but to find out what the actual filling was.  The waiter then said “Mushroom and chicken.  No meat.

Surprisingly, not every culture categorizes meat the same way.  Some don’t consider fish or chicken to be meat.  Others think seafood is fine for vegetarians (and sometimes, some vegetarians think seafood is fine too).  So go beyond learning “I am vegetarian” in every language.  Instead, learn how to say what you can and cannot eat.  Or at least, bring a phrasebook with you so you can clearly translate what you are ordering.

Get a kitchen

This is something we do to save money, and to make it easier to eat vegetarian meals.  Often, we’ll book a room or Airbnb that has a kitchen or a kitchenette included.  This way, we can make our own meals with the fresh ingredients we find.  Curries are super easy to make and can be shared easily.  Because you know, sharing is caring.

Use Happy Cow

If you’re already a vegetarian or vegan, then you know about Happy Cow.  And you probably love it!  It’s the easiest and best way to find veg-friendly restaurants in town.

Fried sesame pau at Yun Shui Ge Vegetarian House, Penang Malaysia
Fried sesame pau @ Yun Shui Ge Vegetarian House, Penang Malaysia

And if all else fails, just find the closest Indian restaurant.  When we were in Korea and Japan, the least vegetarian-friendly countries we visited, we would stop by the Indian restaurant. They’re almost always delicious, cheap and have tons of vegetarian options.  SCORE!

When in doubt, order a bunch of starters

Sometimes, the restaurant you find only has meat dishes or things made with animal meats as mains.  It’s happened to us a few times, when we get caught eating very late, with only a few options available.  Or we’re with friends who want very specific things to eat.  If there are no main dishes that are meat-free, chances are, you will find starters or sides that do the trick.  So don’t despair, and don’t forget to share!

Make a request

Usually, if there is nothing meat-free on the menu, you can still make a request and see if the kitchen can accommodate you.  Chances are, they don’t want to lose the potential business and they will create a vegetarian dish just for you.  You can ask them to remove the meat, or substitute it for something else.  Just beware that this doesn’t always work.

2 Fruit bowls at Shaka Burger Bohol Philippines
Our favourite fruit bowls at Shaka Burger, Bohol Philippines

In the Philippines, we ordered nachos and asked that they remove the meat.  They said it was impossible to do.  But when we asked if they could remove the pork from the pancit, that was no problem.  Why?  We’re still not sure!

Pack snacks and stock up of fresh produce

If you’re traveling short-term, you can bring some snacks, protein powders or nutrition bars with you.  If you’re traveling long-term like us, we recommend stocking up on snacks when you find some that are protein-heavy or highly nutritious.

Fruit stand Langkawi, Malaysia
Our favourite fruit stand in Langkawi, Malaysia

There are many places where the only vegetarian options I found to eat were rice and eggs.  Those nights were less fun but I was happy to have bananas and apples with me.  In most countries, the produce is super fresh and local so fill up when you can.

Know your limits

Some people change their eating habits when they travel.  Vegans will become vegetarian when they travel.  Vegetarians will have fish once in a while from local vendors.  Know what you are ok “breaking the rules” for.

Kimchi at street market in South Korea
Kimchi at the street market, Busan, South Korea

If you are comfortable with eating something once, you shouldn’t feel bad about it.  For example, when we were in Cambodia, I chose to eat bugs.  Not sure what the rules are about vegetarians eating bugs, but I was quite ok with the idea.

Be flexible

Another time, in the Philippines, we had a meal at the home of a family friend.  She cooked the whole day for us.  But our friend forgot to mention I was a vegetarian.  So she cooked tons of shrimp, crab, chicken and rice.  I’m always happy when there’s rice.  I didn’t want to be difficult, so I had some shrimp.  I didn’t like it, but I didn’t want to insult this person who welcomed us into her home and fed us.  It was just not worth it for a few shrimps that were caught by her family a few hours earlier.

Traditional Morocan vegetable Tajine
A traditional vegetable tajine, Tangier, Morocco

In other countries, where soup was a main staple, I didn’t constantly question if the broth was made with beef or chicken stock.  I would have driven myself, the waiters and my husband crazy.  I just chose to have it and not make a fuss about it.

Know where to go and be prepared

It’s always good to know if the country or city you’re traveling to is vegetarian-friendly or not.  Make sure you look into their cuisine and available veg options.  The countries that I found were the least vegetarian friendly were Korea, Japan, and the Philippines.  Those are the places where I had the same veggie meal over and over again (every day, for weeks).  On the other hand, Australia, New Zealand, Greece and Armenia were great for vegetarians!

Vegetarian Rendang at Yun Shui Ge Vegetarian House, Penang Malaysia
Vegetarian Rendang @ Yun Shui Ge Vegetarian House, Penang Malaysia

These are the little things that I’ve learned to help me survive as a vegetarian.  Overall, just stay true to who you are, stick to your values, and keep an open, loving mind.

I’d love to hear what other tricks you’ve found too.  Has traveling as a vegetarian or vegan been easy for you?  Let me know in the comments.


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Why I became a vegetarian & can never turn back

Many become a vegetarian for environmental reasons, for health reasons, or for ethical reasons to advocate for the ethical treatment of animals.  These are the reasons why I chose to become a vegetarian.

There are tons of reasons people decide to become vegetarians.  In fact, worldwide, over 600 million people have chosen a vegetarian diet.  Everyone’s journey is unique, yet has so many similar and familiar aspects.  Many choose to cut meat for environmental reasons, for health reasons, or for ethical reasons to advocate for the ethical treatment of animals.  Whatever the reason, it’s a good one, because they are all the reasons why I chose to become a vegetarian.

My journey took some time, as most do, but now that I’ve been a vegetarian for 3 full years, I can’t see myself turning back.  I have cut meat, including fish, out of my life, and I feel great.  Although this was very hard for my family to understand at first, they have come to grips with it.  Being Armenian, we are a culture that relies heavily on meat.  They still do animal sacrifices for special occasions, after all!  But like most Armenians, when I have my eyes set on a goal, can’t nobody stop me!

Mozarella di buffalo tomato and pesto brushetta in Athens Greece
Delicious bruschetta with mozzarella di buffalo

Don’t get me wrong, I used to love meat, all types.  I was a serious foodie.  I would eat things that were questionably edible because, well… why not?  If you told me I was going to become a vegetarian back then, I would have laughed at you a little.  But on one random night, everything changed.

It all started with baby steps

I opened my eyes to the negative impact of eating meat quite randomly.  About 5 years ago, I fell down the rabbit hole watching Ted Talks when I stumbled upon one that spoke to me.  It was a simple and short video about the environmental impacts of eating meat.  After this, I decided to become a weekday vegetarian.  I loved the taste of meat way too much to give it up full time.

So I did with the next best thing – No meat on weekdays, but fish was ok.  On weekends, I had a choice as to what I ate (meat or not).  I thought I was doing my part, and that was good enough for me.  It was a good enough compromise – I could still eat meat when I wanted, but by reducing it drastically, I was doing my part to save the environment.

Traditional Morocan vegetable Tajine
Traditional Moroccan vegetarian tajine

My big change

Two years after that, I came home from a very well-fed honeymoon to Portugal.  Hello fish, seafood and pork diet!  The next day, I watched a documentary that changed my life, called Cowspiracy.

Fruit bowl at Shaka Burger Bohol Philippines
Smoothie bowl at Shaka Burger in Bohol, Philippines

That was it for me.

When I realized the environmental impacts of eating meat and fish, the health benefits of a plant-based diet, and the brutal way we treat our animals, I knew I had had enough.

For the love of animals

I love animals. We’re a foster family for our animal welfare organization back home.  I hate seeing animals hungry or mistreated when we travel (we have even saved a few when we could).  So I knew I could no longer eat the beings I love so much.  I felt like too much of a hypocrite.

Traditional Japanease food at a Ryokan
Traditional Japanese food at a Ryokan in Hakone, Japan

Back home, we’re so blind to the idea of animals being our food.  We go to the grocery store, buy the cut of meat we want, cook it, and eat it without ever wondering how it actually got on our plate.

When we were in the Philippines, we attended a traditional Filipino wedding.  There, they served pork as the main course.  In fact, they served 3 pigs.  But just a few hours before the wedding, those pigs were alive and kicking in the front yard of the home we were staying in.  At 7AM that morning, those pigs were killed by slitting their throats.  They squealed and cried, and we heard the whole thing.  I lay in bed crying, thinking about these pigs, who saw their pen pals being murdered in front of them.

Pastries at street market in South Korea
Pastries in the markets of Busan, South Korea

These pigs were actually pretty lucky compared to how most of our Canadian and American livestock are treated.  We all see the graphic videos that one zealous friend shares on our feed showing how animals are mistreated in farms and slaughterhouses.  We all have the same reason of turning away, scrolling quicker to skip the harsh reality we impose on these animals.

We forget that these animals were actually living in cages sometimes smaller than their bodies.  We turn a blind eye to the fact that they are injected with hormones and growth agents.  We ignore the fact that they aren’t fed properly so they resort to licking the metal cages or eating their own feces.  And somehow, we’re ok with eating this meat.

I didn’t want to be a part of this cruelty anymore.  So I figured that if I couldn’t kill the animal I was going to eat with my own hands, that I shouldn’t be eating it at all.  Because we’re so far removed from the process, we forget that these animals are actually sentient beings.  We rip their young from them, we feed them hormones so they’re bigger and juicier, we literally torture them for our own culinary pleasure.  We would be outraged if we actually saw what we were doing to them, but because we don’t, we let it go.

We’re killing the environment

From the emission of greenhouse gases, to the cutting of rainforests, to ocean deadzones – eating meat is literally killing our planet.  I couldn’t stand here, and be a good advocate for the environment, and continue killing it blindly.  When you see the facts, it’s a bit scary.

  • In the United Nations, animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all the cars and trucks in the world.  That’s pretty crazy!
  • Meat and dairy provide just 18% of calories and 37% of protein, yet they use the vast majority – 83% – of farmland and produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions.  It’s not really worth it when you look at it this way.
  • Animal Agriculture is responsible for 20%-33% of all fresh water consumption in the world today.  We could put that water to better use, for sure!

I care so much for the environment.  Since I was a kid, I was the loudest one in my family, pushing people to recycle.  Just ask my sister.  When she would litter and throw things out of the car (it was the 90’s, we all did), I would stop the car and make her go pick up her trash.  I was the first in my family to compost, and I’ve adopted a minimalist lifestyle.  We even try to be eco-travellers because we know the environmental impacts of travelling.

Oranges at street market in South Korea
Oranges and tomatoes in Busan, South Korea

So knowing what eating meat does to our planet, I knew I had to stop. Plus, because we just got our scuba diving certification, I’m even more motivated to continue.  We just discovered the beauty of the underwater world.  There’s no way I’m going to kill the very thing I admire exploring.

In fact, more and more studies show that the best way to reduce our impact on earth is to avoid eating meat and dairy.  So what are we all waiting for?

What the health?

Yeah, that’s the name of a documentary but it’s a damn good title too for what I want to talk about.  The impacts of eating meat on our health are staggering.  I’ve read through so many books and studies, and the results are eye-opening.

Like most people, I was convinced we needed meat in our diet to be healthy.  Where else are you going to get your proteins from after all?  But this is a big lie we’ve all been fed.  We get our protein the same place our food gets theirs, through plants, vegetables and grains.  And these things are damn delish!

snacks on xanemo sailboat Naxos Greece
Fruits and cookies provided by Xanemo Sailing in Naxos, Greece

There are so many sicknesses that result from eating meat.  In fact, studies have found that by cutting out meat, your body actually thrives and can cure itself of these ailments like cancer, diabetes, obesity, depression, and so many more.  So if not for the love of animals or the plant, why not just for your own health?

Why not become vegan?

I ask myself that all the time.  And I want to.  To be honest, the last year has been a little tough on me as a vegetarian.  Travelling full-time and on a budget is not always easy for vegans or vegetarians.  Many cultures rely heavily on meat and fish in their diets, and getting the nutrients you need with limited food is hard.  In a lot of countries we visited, eggs, cheese and rice were the only vegetarian things on the menu.  Yup, sometimes, even fruits and veggies are scarce, or super expensive.

Olives at the market in Eauze France
Olives in the Eauze Thursday market, France

When we stop travelling, I’ll be pushing for a mainly vegan diet.  I am keen on cutting out cheese, even though I love it so much. I still want to be responsible, healthy and stick  to my values.

Was it hard?

Nope.  Like I said, when I put my mind to something, you can’t stop me.  The trick I found that helps the most was to get good recipe books and find good food blogs.  I’ve built myself a monthly menu of 30-40 recipes that I can alternate between.  Even though Derek eats meat on occasion, we found ways to eat the same meal, but with the “protein” being vegetarian vs meaty.

 

In restaurants, I can almost always find nutritious vegetarian meals, or worse case, I can ask them to remove the meat.  Because let’s be honest, a house green salad isn’t going to keep me full for very long.

When I go to my family or friend’s home, I bring a meal that’s easy to share, delicious and nutritious.  Usually, they will have veggie-friendly dishes that are mainly sides.  But hey, I’m not complaining if it’s delicious!

Kimchi at street market in South Korea
No trip to South Korea is complete without a healthy dose of Kimchi!

And when we travel, well, you can read more about that soon!

So all in all, no, it wasn’t hard at all.  Vegetarian meals take more time to prepare than throwing a chunk of meat on the grill, but let me tell you, I have never felt lighter, healthier and better than I do today.  And with some prep, everything becomes easy.

What can you do?

If you’re not ready to take the plunge, there are tons of things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint and feel better about your choices, for ethical, environmental and health reasons.

Fruit bowl at Shaka Burger Bohol Philippines
Another smoothy bowl from Shaka Burger in Bohol, Philippines.  We could not get enough of these.

Try going vegetarian

It’s as simple as that.  Just try going vegetarian or vegan.  There are a tons of websites that can help you do it.  They offer 30-day meal plans, tips and tricks on how you can do it short-term, or even long term.  If you have a willingness to try it, we have faith that you will succeed.

Bread in Berlin Germany
Freshly bakes bread in Berlin, Germany

Reduce the amount of meat you eat

It’s that simple.  You can try to be a weekday vegetarian.  You can do meatless Mondays.  You can skip one meat meal a day.  Whatever you choose, it will be a big improvement on the current status quo.  So whenever you can, skip that meat and opt for a vegetarian or vegan meal.  And if you really want to eat a living creature, opt for bugs, they are much more delicious than you would think!

Try to eat organic or local meats

If you can’t skip out on meat (which you can, I know you can do it!), opt for organic meats, or get them straight from a farmer.  It can ensure you are supporting the right people (not huge heartless corporations), and it will encourage them to keep up their good work.  Usually smaller farms treat their animals more ethically, so that’s a win too.

2 Fruit bowls at Shaka Burger Bohol Philippines
Did we mention we sort of liked these smoothie bowls?

The smaller the better

The production of larger animals (beef & pork) and processed meats are a lot more harmful than smaller or locally produced meats.  So if you’re going to eat meat, go for a small organic chicken.

Traditional Japanease food at a Ryokan 3
Another dish from the Ryokan in Hakone, Japan

Try to reduce your environmental impact

If you don’t want to cut meat out just yet, try to reduce your footprint.  Pick up trash, compost your food scraps, grow your own veggies, adopt chickens or beehives in your backyard, don’t use single use plastic.  Whatever you do, it will help.  If you’re travelling, you can check out these ways of being an eco-traveller.

Dried fruits at the market in Eauze France
Some dried fruits at the local Eauze Market in France

Read and watch more

The more you know about the food system, the more educated choices you’ll be able to make.  You’ll also feel better about making these enlightened choices.  Here are some great books and websites that can help!

Websites

For great nutritional facts, without any opinions: nutritionfacts.org

For meal plans, facts and recipes: forksoverknives.com

For more meals, environmental and animal news: onegreenplanet.org

Am I trying to change your mind with this article?  Maybe a little.  But more than that, I’m trying to open your eyes to a different way of viewing your food.  We’re all responsible for the choices we make.  The more we know about where our food comes from, how it’s raised and how it makes its way to our plate, the more we can make better, more educated choices.  And slowly, together, we can try and save this beautiful planet of ours, and the creatures that live on it (yeah, that includes us as well)!


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All the reasons I chose to become a vegetarian 3 years ago. It's been one of the best choices I've made, and I don't want to turn back. Includes tips and tricks on how you can make the change too. www.wediditourway.com

23 ways to be an eco-traveler

23 tips and tricks to travel in an eco-friendly and environment-conscious way. 23 ways to reduce your footprint when travelling.

We’re all aware of it – traveling is not the most eco-friendly activity to take part in.  But hey, this planet is still too beautiful to not explore it.  However, the sad truth is that a lot of places are drowning in plastic, and are not as beautiful as they used to be.  If we keep going this way, this beautiful planet will not have unspoiled places left to offer us travelers.

In the “western” world, we have been told for years that we need to reuse, reduce and recycle.  We have started to compost in major cities, and overall, we’re fairly aware of the toxic effects of using single-use plastic, plastic in general, and the effects of consumerism.  Of course we aren’t perfect by any means, but we generally understand the consequences of our actions on the environment.  In developing countries, where such infrastructures don’t exist, and there are bigger concerns like daily survival, recycling and keeping our earth clean are just not priorities.

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A trash pick up event we helped with, organized by Babel Guesthouse in Siem Reap

When you travel, it’s easy to “take a break” from being the usual eco-friendly green being that you are at home.  But, the truth is, it’s a lot easier than you think to keep up the good habits.  So here are some simple tips and tricks you can use to stay green and keep the planet clean.  If we all chip in, we’ll make a far bigger impact together.

How you travel

So you want to head out and explore the world?  Cool, this is the first place to start thinking green!

1. Skip the plane… if you can

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Don’t forget that traveling has a big environmental impact

I know!  Easier said than done.  But this is the first place you can cut your carbon footprint.  The carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by a plane is incredibly damaging.  So if you can, take a bus, a boat, a train, a bike or your legs to go explore that crazy beautiful place you have in mind.  Whatever way you can to produce less greenhouse emissions is the best way.  This is probably not the easiest rule to put into practice, but if you can do it, please do!  Often, the alternate means of transportation will probably offer more scenic views too, so it’s a double win.

2. Join the daily commute

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We love to take the subway when and where we can.  This one is in Kuala Lumpur.

Once you make it to your destination, travel like a local.  Avoid taking cabs and Ubers.  Instead, take the local bus or subway, trains or ferries to get around.  The more people take public transportation,  the better it is.  Not only will there be less traffic on the road, governments will invest more into these infrastructures, offering better service and reducing the number of cars on the road.  Often, it’s also a cheaper way to get around than to cab it all the time.  Or better yet, pick a central hotel where you can walk to the main attractions.

If you have to take a cab, try to split the fare with others going to the same location.  Ask around your hotel/hostel.  It’s a cheaper, more eco-friendly and fun way of getting around anyway!

During your stay

Finding a place to stay isn’t always the easiest thing to do, but there are a ton of things you can do to make your stay eco-friendly

3. Pick the right type of hotel

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Babel Guesthouse in Siem Reap, Cambodia

This is a no-brainer. If you want to splurge and stay in a hotel, pick one that is eco-friendly.  Nowadays, a lot of places around the world are putting in efforts to be more green.  It can be small and simple things like being an eco-building, using recycled materials or not washing towels every day.  Or it can be a truly green place that doesn’t offer anything plastic, that does trash clean-ups, that practices sustainable activities in their community.  All you have to do is some research and you’ll see, these places are easier to find than you think!  Our favorites so far have been Babel Guesthouse in Siem Reap and Hotel Penaga in Penang.

Hotel Penaga.jpg
Another Eco option, Hotel Penaga in Penang, Malaysia

4. Stay with locals

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Great friends made while couchsurfing in Japan

Ok, so I can already hear some people thinking this is crazy but Couchsurfing is an awesome way to travel.  You get to stay with locals, exchange ideas, and connect with people on a whole new level.  We couchsurfed quite a few times when in Asia and we loved it.  We know we have made friends for life.  So obviously, staying with a local is a lot more eco-friendly than staying in a hotel, especially because you don’t take up much more energy in the powering  of the place.  If you’re not comfy with this idea (although we highly encourage you to try it at least once), you can always opt for a shared accommodation in an Airbnb.

5. Skip on the fresh towels every day

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By not having your towels changed daily, you will help save water

Let’s be honest here.  Back home, you don’t wash your towels after every use.  So why would you do it on the road?  Most hotels will offer to wash your towels and bring you new ones each day, but this creates a lot of wasted water.  Not to mention all the detergent that ends up in the waterways.  So just leave your used towel on the rack and usually, they know not to replace it.  If you’re unsure about their policy, just ask at the front desk or leave a note asking that your towel not be switched out.  Easy peasy!

6. Skip on room cleaning too

Here’s another no-brainer.  Again, do you clean your room every day back home?  Nope!  So avoid doing it when you travel… well, unless you’re a super messy person!  Usually, when they clean your room, they spray a whole bunch of chemicals in there, which is not good for your health or the environment.  Then, they give you new trash bags (plastic, of course) and all those tiny plastic bottles of soap and shampoo and lotion (damn, more plastic).  Once you realize that this cleaning is just creating more plastic waste, you’ll want to avoid it.  Many hotels will offer to clean your room only when you need it to, so go for this option.  If not, just hang the “do not disturb” sign on your door, and voilà!

7. Avoid the plastic bottles they offer

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Lifestraw, not only has it paid for itself, but we have saved the world from so many plastic water bottles

Most hotels in South East Asia will give you complimentary water bottles every day during your stay.  Avoid them!  How? Well that’s easy!  Either carry around a reusable water bottle that you can fill at refill stations (usually, your hotel will be able to do this) or get a Lifestraw Go like we have.  We can refill it with tap water anywhere in the world and make the water drinkable!  WIN!

Eating out

If you’re like us, you like to eat.  A LOT!  I mean, we eat insane amounts of food.  Derek is 6 foot 4, so that’s a lot of man to feed.  But when we do, we do these simple things to reduce the amount of waste we create

8. Markets are delicious but so trashy

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The local Ramadan market in Langkawi, Malaysia

We LOVE eating local food.  The best place to do this is at local markets.  Unfortunately, this is a place that creates huge amounts of waste.  They put your food in polystyrene containers.  Don’t get me started on polystyrene/styrofoam.  It’s a killer and should be banned everywhere.  It should not exist… damn, I got started!

Not only is this plastic bad for your health (chemicals steep into your food) but it’s terrible for the environment too.  It always ends up floating into our oceans and killing our marine life.  Avoiding it is easy.  Just bring your own containers to the market.  Mason jars, reusable containers, whatever you have that will help you take your hot food home to enjoy.

9. Ditch the plastic utensils

If you’re already bringing your own container, take it a little step further and bring your own cutlery too.  As travelers, we always have our cutlery with us – it’s perfect when you just feel like having an impromptu picnic or you feel like making yourself a snack with some local groceries.  If you don’t have your own set of travel cutlery, you can always take your meal back to the hotel and ask them for metal cutlery.  This will make you a total environmental champion (and we love champs like you!)

10. Avoid fast food restaurants

This may be another “easier said than done” solution, but if you can avoid it, please do.  We totally get that eating the same type of cuisine day-in and day-out is not the most thrilling part of traveling, and that sometimes, you just want some golden fries that taste like home.  Just know that massive fast food franchises tend to generate a lot of waste and pollution.  Just think about the transport of that frozen food, the tons of plastic and styrofoam used to wrap it all, the single-use plastic utensils… it all adds up.  And really, don’t you prefer eating a local dish to support a local family and economy?  Yes, yes you do!

11. Order your drink without a straw

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Are you a child?  No?  Then, you don’t need a straw!

This is probably the easiest thing you can do.  And it will go a long way as most straws, especially in beachside locations, end up in the ocean and kill our wildlife.  Call us selfish, but since we just started scuba diving, we want to keep the underwater world as clean as possible.  So next time you order a drink, make sure you specify you don’t want a straw.  If you absolutely need a straw for your smoothie, bring a reusable one with you made from bamboo or stainless steel.  See how easy that is?! Don’t you feel better for saving the planet? Yes, you do!

12. Avoid snacks with packaging

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We don’t get local fresh fruits like this in Montreal.  So when we can, we always raid them!  This is was our favorite fruit stand in Langkawi, Malaysia

Who doesn’t love a good snack?  We all need a little sugar pick-me-up once in a while, but instead of heading to the convenience store to get your favorite treat, why don’t you opt for something Mother Nature created for you?  One of the best things about traveling is getting to eat fruits and veggies that you don’t have access to at home.  So skip out on that heavily-packaged, sugar-filled fake-food, and go enjoy a local delicacy.

Set an example for locals

This is one of our favorite things to do, and we really urge others to do this as much as they can.  It can be as easy as refusing the plastic bag and showing that you can put it all in your backpack or it can get a little more complex.  Either way, education is key!

13. Pick up trash

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Doing our part to make Siem Reap a little but cleaner with the help of Babel Guesthouse

Yup!  It’s that easy.  If you see trash, pick it up.  It doesn’t matter that it’s not yours.  If it’s on the ground, chances are, it’s going to end up in waterways, in your food (because your food will eat it.  Unless you’re a vegetarian, in which case, we love you!) or it’s just going to make a super beautiful place look like a dump.  People may question what you’re doing, or say it’s useless, but if everyone picks up 3 pieces of trash each day, we’ll have one hell of a clean planet real quick!  This is another example of how every bit helps.  So regardless of where you are (traveling or not), please just pick it up and throw it out in the bin, or recycle it if you can.  Thank you!

14. Educate others

Sometimes, people don’t know any better.  And it’s not their fault.  Not all countries have access to this type of education.  I mean honestly, only a few years ago (ok, like 10-15 years ago), people were littering the streets back home and no one would flinch.  So it’s understandable that people with less means and less education don’t understand the impact of littering or single-use plastic.  So let them know, in a kind and friendly way.  No need to be berating or condescending.  But sometimes, just a quick line about how plastic is bad or useless is enough to get them thinking.  If you have a better relationship with the person, then you can get into the details of explaining why it’s bad.

15. Always BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag)

One of the best ways we’ve found of educating people is simply by bringing our own bag – to the market, to the grocery store, to the fruit stand, wherever.  These are places where they are always keen on giving you some toxic plastic bag you don’t need.  We always joke (but we’re not actually joking) and tell the cashier we’re out to save the world, and that we don’t need plastic.  It puts a smile on their face and they acknowledge that they don’t need to automatically offer it.  Often, the people behind us in line will end up refusing a bag too, and that’s one domino effect we love to see!

Shopping & Activities

One of the best things to do when you travel is to get gifts (for yourself or others) or live crazy once-in-a-lifetime experiences.  We won’t stop you from doing that, but before you do it, just think about this.

16. Shop local

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A local bead merchant in Siem Reap

This is something they tell us back home, and you should also try to do it when you’re traveling.  Shop local.  Get something from a local artist or artisan, handmade with love and craftsmanship. Whatever it is, try and support a local family and the local economy.  At least try to make sure the product is produced in the country, as tons of things are make in China but sold as being local.  And if you haggle the price, which is sometimes half the fun, make sure you are being fair.  If the vendor starts to get upset, you’ve gone too far – that dollar that you are saving may not be much to you, but it’s a fortune to the vendor.

17. Don’t shop at all

This is something that we can do as long-term travelers.  To be honest, we have not bought a single souvenir since we have started this year-long trip (sorry, not sorry friends and family!).  Why?  Well space and weight are big things, but it’s also because we don’t want things.  Before we left, we started living a more minimalist lifestyle, realizing that we prefer to live experiences over having things.  We’ve carried on with this mentality during the trip, and you can do it to.  Sure, people may think you’re selfish for not bringing back a gift, but instead, you can learn how to cook the local cuisine and invite them over for a traditional feast when you’re back.  Or you can make a donation to a local charity in their name.  There are tons of creative ways to offer “travel” gifts without buying things.

18. Animal Tourism

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We contemplated for a long time, but we decided to go support the Elephant Nature Park, in Chiang Mai, Thailand

So you’re half-way around the world and you have a chance to see some pretty awesome animals that you’ve never seen back home.  Yeah, freakin’ cool! But before you do, make sure you look into the company that is offering this.

Are they harming animals? Chances are that if a wild animal will do tricks for you or that you get to ride it, they are harming them.  We opted to go see elephants at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, because they were an ethical sanctuary for these gentle giants and we didn’t ride them.

Are you taking a picture with an animal that would usually bite your head off if you saw it in the wild? Yup, avoid this as well.  For example, in Thailand, we saw many offers to go hang out with tigers.  What people don’t know is that those tigers are drugged to keep them docile.

Is the activity ruining the natural ecosystem or instincts of the animal?  Then avoid that as well!  For example, in the Philippines, you can go swimming with whale sharks.  How awesome, except for the fact that this makes the whale sharks forget their natural hunting instincts and ruins the balance of the ecosystem they live in because they are being fed instead of “hunting”.  Instead, we got to see a whale shark in its natural habitat in Koh Tao, where it took us by surprise.  A much better experience overall for everyone!

19. Eco Tours are the way to go

Whatever tour you decide to do, try to find one that is eco-friendly.  In most places, tour operators now understand that if they don’t start taking care of the environment, they will not have a job in a few years.  So when you’re looking for a way to explore that cool place you’ve been dying to go to, find an operator that has higher environmental standards.  We found Visit.org which does great work offering eco-friendly tours and activities around the world that support the local community.

20. Use a sunscreen that won’t kill corals

Recently, there have been many studies showing that using certain types of sunscreen can kill the corals.  Again, we’re super selfish, and since we started scuba diving, we want to see the corals at their best.  This is why we’ve opted for wearing sunscreen that doesn’t contain any harmful chemicals like oxybenzone, butylparaben, octinoxate or 4-methylbenzylidene camphor.  Another way to avoid killing coral is to put your sunscreen on 30 minutes before heading into the water.  Or better yet, cover up with a rash guard or wetsuit if you’ll be in the water for a long time (aka snorkeling or scuba diving).

Health and beauty

This section may be more for women, but we thought it was important to include it. These steps can easily be done at home too, so it’s really a double win.

21. Avoid disposable makeup remover wipes

We all love the convenience of these wipes.  Makeup just magically disappears with one swipe. But the truth is, not only are they full of chemicals, they are often not biodegradable.  Instead of disposable wipes, opt for a reusable one like Face It by Cloth in a box.  Just use water to wipe the makeup off, then rise it and let it dry until you need it tomorrow.  Eco-friendly, and travel-friendly because you’ll never need to carry makeup remover with you.

22. Menstruate better

Ok, ladies, not sure about you, but there are a few days each month when I hate life.  You know what I’m talkin’ about: periods.  Cramps, pain, discomfort, and the only thing I want to do is crawl up and sleep for those 3 days.  Add to that the often uncomfortable and annoying pads or tampons, and you have a recipe for disaster.

I’m not just talking about disaster for our planet with all the plastic waste, but also for our health.  Tampons have harsh chemicals and bleaches, pads have glue and more chemicals, and they’re bulky AF.  So how do you avoid all this?

Meet Thinx.  This US-based company makes a range of comfy and stylish period underwear.  Yeah, you can actually look good as you bleed!  What I love most, is that they care about the environment, people and tell you like it is.  On most days, I can just walk around in their underwear, without any other protection, which is awesome in the hot, hot heat we’ve experienced.  They have been a saviour on this trip!  You can get your own here, with a discount.

23. Kick it old school with bars

We all grew up with soap bars, but one day, it all changed and now we’ve gotten used to cleaning up with liquid soaps and shampoos.  What we forget to consider is that liquids are actually a lot more expensive than bars, you get less washes out of them, and they come in plastic that ends up sticking around longer than we want it to.  Especially when traveling, these bottles are bulky and heavy to carry around.

So what’s the solution?

Going back to the good old days of bars.  They have come a long way themselves – more natural options are available, softer on sensitive skin and longer lasting.  And their packaging is easily biodegradable which is great considering many countries don’t recycle.  We’re loving this bar shampoo by Lush that can give you up to 80 washes, or replace 3 medium bottles of shampoo.

Have you found innovative or easy ways to be a more eco-friendly traveler? Let us know in the comments.  We’re always looking for new ways to be more green!


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Discover 20+ ways of traveling in an eco-friendly way. Tips and tricks on how to reduce your carbon footprint as you travel. www.wediditourway.com

An easy way to stop contributing to plastic pollution

Plastic pollution is a major issue we are struggling with globally.  It doesn’t just touch certain people, but really affects everyone!  Often, we use plastic without even realizing it.  And just like that, BAM, we’re contributing to the problem!  That in itself is a huge issue.  And it’s not just plastic.  It’s single-use ‘garbage’ as a whole.  That coffee cup we will discard, the container your cookies come in, the wrapping around a box of chocolates.  We just don’t realize how all this trash is taking over our lives and our planet.  Did you know that there are more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic are already floating in our oceans? That’s an insane amount!

When we set out to explore South East Asia, we were oblivious to the fact that pollution and plastic use was so inherent.  Litter is everywhere.  People throw out their trash on the streets without even flinching.  This was a real shock to us Canadians, who are so used to recycling and even composting.  We try to create as little waste as possible and littering is just unthinkable back home!

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The biggest issue here however, has to be the plastic bottles.  Most of the water in Asia is not potable.  So the ‘only’ way to stay hydrated is to buy bottles.  And when you’re out exploring in 40+ degrees (Celsius, of course or like 100 Fahrenheit), the amount of water you need is crazy.  Around the world, nearly a million plastic beverage bottles are sold every minute.  Think about that!  I’m speechless! Especially knowing that only about 10% of that will be recycled, another 10% will be incinerated, which leaves about 80% that end up in landfills or the environment.  Scary!

Not only is this just creating immense amounts of plastic pollution, but it’s also a huge waste of money.  Just some basic math shows us the problem – Your body needs at least 2 litres of water per day.  You will be spending a good $2-3 a day on bottles.  It may not seem like much when you’re on a 2-week vacation, but after a few months of traveling, that adds up to more than we care to count!

Luckily, we (ok, I) love to do research, and came upon many solutions that offer to clean your water to make it drinkable.  Some sterilize water, others just filter it.  But what we came about seemed to be the Holy Grail of water bottles.  The Lifestraw Go did it all.  It filters and sterilizes water so you can drink it from almost anywhere.  A river, a waterfall, a puddle, that gross-looking river… ok you could, but we didn’t try!

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Basically, this is a bottle that has a straw integrated in the cap.  When you drink the water, it gets pulled up the straw where it is filtered and becomes clean drinking water just like that! Magic!!  The bottle (or rather, the straw) will filter out 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria and 99.9% of waterborne protozoa.  Now that is impressive!

The best thing ever is seeing the looks we get from locals when we ask to fill up our Lifestraw bottle.  They always protest, saying the water is not potable.  But when we explain how our bottle is magic and cleans the water, they are always left in awe!  Now, if only we could tell them how a LifeStraw product can provide up to 8,000 water bottles worth of safe drinking water, that would blow their minds!  Just imagine how much plastic we could save from ending up in landfills and the oceans!  And think about the money we’re saving!  Sure, the bottle was $60CND, but that’s like 20 days of bottle buying.  And because the filter works for so long, we never have to think twice about drinking more water.

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And that’s not all (channeling my best Oprah here).  For every Lifestraw product sold, a school child receives safe water for an entire school year.  At the moment, they are at over 1 million students getting access to clean water thanks to this initiative.  LifeStraw even has a Give Back program to ensure sustainability through comprehensive planning, training, education and follow-up visits.  They take this very seriously!  And we love it!

So if it weren’t clear enough, here’s why we love this Lifestraw Go bottle:

  • You don’t have to buy water bottles ever again! This is a double win because you end up saving money AND, very simply NO MORE FREAKIN’ PLASTIC in the ocean or landfills.  Seriously, that shit will be there long after we’re gone!  How long?  We don’t even know but it’s estimated between 450 years and FOREVER!
  • You can always have drinking water.  Like anywhere, anytime there is water, you can turn it into drinking water. Ok, except ocean water, it doesn’t filter out salt!
  • It’s super easy to transport.  It’s not too big or too small, it’s compact and it has a carabiner so you can attach it to your bag.  Super convenient!

It may seem like we’re in love, and we kind of are, but there are a few drawbacks:

  • You can’t freeze the bottle, so the water is rarely cold.  On super hot days, we miss having ice cold water.  The trick we found is that we fill a different bottle up with water, and leave that in the fridge.  Then we fill our Lifestraw bottle up with that cold water.  So it’s not that bad of a negative point!
  • The next one is a silly one, but worth mentioning.  Sometimes, you just want to chug water.  Like a total savage!  You want to be able to take big gulps to really quench your thirst.  Well, you can’t with this bottle!  It’s always a straw, so you always have to suck.  And it’s always the same rhythm and flow.  So it’s only so much water at a time.  This may not seem like a big issue, but let me tell you, we miss chugging water!

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So there it is.  A simple, cost-effective way of saving our planet, reducing the use of plastic and staying hydrated at the same time.  If this isn’t cool, I don’t know what is.  Ok, to be honest, maybe I actually have no idea what’s cool anymore!

Note:  This is in no way a paid article or partnership with Lifestraw.  These are our honest opinions on a product we have been using for several months now. 

Another note: All the stats provided here were taken from National Geographic’s article on plastic pollution. 


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life

The most ethical place to see elephants in Thailand

If you want to see elephants in Thailand, Elephant Nature Park is the best place to do it. Learn everything you want to know about ethical animal tourism in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand.

Walk around anywhere in Thailand and you will surely see a ton of elephants.  Not necessarily the actual animals, but symbols of elephants are everywhere.  Elephant pants, elephant t-shirts and bowls, elephant statues sold as souvenirs and displayed in temples.  Basically elephant-on-elephant-on-elephant.  So it’s no surprise that elephant tourism is huge in Thailand.

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The elephant on the right was injured in the logging industry, but she is getting better!

Like most things that involve animals, it’s always best to do your research before going.  Animals are often not treated well, especially in developing countries like Thailand.  As majestic and colossal as these elephants are, they are no exception to this rule.

We debated long and hard about going to an elephant park. So many pretend to be sanctuaries who treat their animals ethically, but once the tourists are gone, it’s a different story.  That’s why we’re really happy a friend told us about the Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai.

Elephant tourism in Thailand and SE Asia

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Always hungry!  She even gets her watermelon peeled, must be nice!

All over Thailand, you will see tons of offers to see elephants and play with them.  It’s very important to know that if they offer you to ride an elephant, to watch it paint for you or to see it do tricks for you, you should know that these are unethical elephant practices and you should find a different place to visit.  Maybe even yell at them a little for being cruel animal-torturers.  We kid, but barely!  These are all places that abuse their elephants.  With roughly only 6,000 Asian elephants left in Thailand, we all have to do our part to help save these majestic creatures.

The best way to do this is for tourists to stop going to see these abused animals.  If they do, their caretakers (known in Thailand as mahouts) will have to find ethical ways of treating them.  If you see someone sign up for this type of activity, kindly and gently remind them what they are actually supporting.  Most of the time, people just don’t know how these animals are treated, and the cycle of mistreating elephants will repeat itself.

What was hard to see during our drive to the Elephant Nature Park, was that there were other parks lining the road on the way there where many tourists were riding elephants.  Had they chosen to go a few hundred meters further, they would have participated in a much more ethical form of tourism.

Our day at Elephant Nature Park

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Where they keep the male elephants (bulls) to control the population

Our day started much earlier than we’re used to.  At around 8AM, a mini van came to pick us and the rest of our group up from our respective hotels.  We all had a chance to bond a little during the ride and get some backstories.  We had the pleasure of visiting the Elephant Nature Park with couples from Spain, the US and Turkey.  One couple was on their honeymoon, another was eloping and getting married at the Elephant Nature Park!  We can’t blame them.  What a magical setting getting hitched surrounded by these gentle giants!

During our ride, we had a chance to watch a video that spoke about the Elephant Nature Park, the elephants there and their journey.  They also showed us what unethical elephant tourism practices are, such as having them perform tricks, riding them, seeing them beg for money in the streets of Bangkok.  Interesting information, but heart-breaking all at the same time.  More on that later.

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Being cat lovers, this was a nice unexpected treat! Cat Kingdom!

Our arrival at the Elephant Nature Park was amazing , we spotted the kittens right away, cuddled up in their Cat Kingdom.  Yes!  We’re in heaven.  After a few cuddles with some cats and dogs, we were taken to the main seating area, where our delicious vegetarian lunch would be served later on.  As we got there, another man brought out a huge basket of bananas and watermelons.  Like clockwork, an elephant approached us.  It was time to eat!

We were then told that this elephant was working in the logging industry until she was injured and could not work anymore.  She gladly accepted all the fruit we offered her… except the peels of watermelon.  She didn’t like those too much!  It was still impressive to see her shove a bunch of 10 bananas in her mouth all at once.  She was insatiable!  We learnt that all elephants are, they eat up to 10% of their weight in food every day!  That’s about 200kgs of corn, fruit and leaves (long live the vegetarian diet).  The Elephant Nature Park grows some crops, but has to purchase a ton more because of the sheer amount of food these mammoths consume.

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Feeding time again! This time on the menu, it’s corn

We then spent most of the day walking around the park, learning about their various elephants, feeding them along the way, and just showing them some love.  Something they had been lacking for most of their lives.  It was so good to see them walking around the park, free to enjoy the rest of their days living a carefree and peaceful life.

Some of the stories we heard about these elephants broke our hearts.  The pain and suffering they have been through is quite shocking.  It’s hard to believe that humans, who are usually empathetic and compassionate beings, can be capable of causing so much pain to animals.

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The spots are actually sunburn

We heard about elephants that were working in the logging industry and were forced to continue even after breaking a leg.  One elephant that was blind because her mahout stabbed her in the eye after she disobeyed.  Another who was hit by a car while begging in the streets of Bangkok.  It’s hard to imagine what these elephants have been through, but one thing for sure, they finally have a life they deserve.

We loved our time at Elephant Nature Park.  It was truly one of the most magical days we have spent on our trip so far.  Surrounded by these gentle giants, we watched them play together and bathe like they didn’t have a care in the world, fed them insane amounts of food and gently pet their mud-covered skin.  There can be nothing better!  We hope that one day, you will be able to experience this, because as much as we can try to describe it, nothing quite beats the feeling of being there and connecting with these spellbinding creatures.

About Elephant Nature Park

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Here a family is cooling off, and the children are misbehaving, as usual

The Elephant Nature Park was established in the 1990’s to provide a sanctuary and rescue centre for elephants.  The Elephant Nature Park is part of the Save the Elephants foundation.  It is located 60km from Chiang Mai, and is home to over 70 distressed elephants that were rescued from all over Thailand.  To rescue the elephants, the Park must buy them from their previous owners.  This can cost them anywhere between USD$4,000 to $125,000 or more depending on the elephant’s gender, age and health.

The Park is also home to water buffalo, dogs, cats, monkeys and pigs.  All these beautiful animals were rescued from difficult situations – strays that lost their homes due to flooding, saved from slaughterhouses or from abusive owners.  If you choose to go to the Elephant Nature Park, you can either go for a day tour or stay and volunteer for a few days.

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One of the may water buffaloes trying to keep cool

The elephants there were all rescued from a troublesome past.  Most were abused since they were calves, working either in the circus, part of night acts, working in the logging industry, abused for forced breeding or even begging in the streets.  The Park rescues one elephant at a time because 85% of the elephants they save get to the sanctuary with mental health problems caused by the abuse they have suffered.  By focusing on one rescue at a time, they allow them to recover and integrate into the herd naturally.  They usually end up herding around a female elephant.

The oldest elephant at the Park is 94 years-old.  Although she’s the leader of the pack, she’s actually a bitter old lady!  She just wants to sit in the river the whole day and hates socializing with others.  Sounds like my grandma!

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Grandma relaxing in the river by herself

The oldest male is nowhere near her age.  He’s actually only 18.  Him and his 2 other vigorous male friends have to all be locked away and separated from the herd.  They are far too fertile and want to get with all the ladies.  What players!  A fun story we heard was that one of them actually managed to get one of the ladies pregnant through his gate.  Talk about having game!  Because of the cost of running the Park, they have to control the population there.  Even with their efforts, the Park has seen 8 baby elephants born in captivity.  The love is strong!

The majority of the proceeds needed to feed and rehabilitate these elephants come from tourists visiting the park as well as a smaller portion coming from private donors and companies.  The ultimate goal of the park is to release the elephants into the wild once they have been properly nurtured back to health.  If you want to help support the Elephant Nature Park, you can do so!

About elephants

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The oldest male elephant, named Bad Boy!

Elephants are the largest land mammals and are highly intelligent.  Their brain weights 5kgs (or 11lbs), which is 4 times more than a human brain… our guess is that they are more intelligent than we are as well.  Seriously tough, it is often said that their intelligence is comparable to those of primates and cetaceans.  We have all heard the saying that someone has a memory like an elephant, and that is also true!  That’s why it takes so long for them to get over their abusive pasts.

They can communicate together through touch, sight, smell, and sound – they use infrasound, and seismic communication over long distances.  Plus, they appear to have self-awareness and show empathy for dying or dead individuals of their kind.

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These two are inseparable, looks like one of them just landed a killer joke!

While at the Elephant Nature Park, we were told of two elephants who had become friends and would hang out together all the time.  One day, the eldest of the two fell ill and passed away.  Her friend, heart-broken about the ordeal, would spend her days searching for the fallen elephant, crying out to her day-in and day-out… until she got over it one day and found herself a new friend!

Elephant abuse

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Another family with two children aged 2 and 6.

Elephant abuse is nothing new.  Often, many tourists just don’t know about how these gentle giants are treated to be able to put on a “good show” for tourists.  To get these wild animals to interact with humans, they must first undergo a cruel breaking process called “Phajaan”.  This will ultimately render the elephant submissive to their human trainers by breaking their spirit.

The Phajaan starts at a very young age – usually baby elephants are taken from the mothers between three to six years old.  They will keep the babies in small crates with their feet tied with ropes and their limbs stretched.  They will be repeatedly beaten with sharp metal hooks with hits to their head, slashing their skin and tugging their ears, constantly being yelled at, and they will be starved of food.  That’s why most elephants you will see in captivity have shredded or torn ears.

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Another way to stay cool is to throw dust on themselves, which after coming out of the water turns to mud.  This is elephant sunscreen!

Eventually, the ropes will be replaced with chains, but the abuse will not stop.  The Phajaan may last for weeks and these poor animals will have no rest from physical torture and mental domination.  The elephants must never be left alone because often, they will try to commit suicide by stepping on their trunk.  Gradually, their spirits break and their handlers achieve the control they seek.  The mahouts will not be the ones abusing the elephants, instead, they will come in and “save” them by offering them their first meal, and by taking them away from their crate and chains.  Just another form of manipulation.

We said it once, and we’ll say it again.  Research is imperative to be sure you are supporting the right type of organization.  Of the roughly 6,000 elephants left in Thailand, two thirds of those are in captivity, and as of 1986, have been considered to be endangered.

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Another way to stay cool is to hang out under these elephant umbrellas.  They get crowded during peak hours

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The best place to see and interact with elephants in Chiang Mai, Thailand. An ethical way to being with elephants. Learn more about these beautiful creatures. www.wediditourway.com

Why eating bugs is the future of food

Whenever people talk about going to Cambodia, one of the first things they bring up, other than the Angkor Wat Temples, is that you can eat bugs there.  If you know me at all, you know that I’m one curious foodie.  I will eat things that are questionably edible, because, well, what if they’re delicious!?  So when we got to Siem Reap, I knew I wanted to eat bugs.  This may sound strange to some, but to me, it’s not.

Was I grossed out? Yeah, at first, I was, I won’t lie.  But if Michelin-star chef Alex Atala in Brazil serves bugs on his menu, they can’t be that bad!  Especially considering that bugs feed about 2 billion people a day in places like Africa, Asia and Latin America.  Sometimes, they are even considered delicacies.  One quarter of the world’s population can’t be that wrong!

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Picking the biggest, juiciest bugs for me in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Why would I do it?  Well that’s easy!  To me, bugs are the future of food.  We’ve grown our food industry totally out of proportion.  When the meat you eat is pumped with hormones, and the fish you catch comes from polluted waters, going vegetarian was an easy choice for me.  Don’t even get me started on the health benefits and environmentally-conscious reasons for going with a plant-based diet!  So if you want a good source of protein, that is tasty, and that leaves a minimal footprint on our planet, well, BUGS!

So one faithful night in Siem Reap, after a few drinks with friends (yes, liquid courage was required), we set out to find the best bugs the night market had to offer.  Luckily, we were intercepted by a friendly local who took us out to find the best vendor.  If you set out to try some insects, know that a lot of the vendors on Pub Street don’t always use fresh produce.  How long do you think they keep those bugs on sticks when they don’t get sold that night?  Well not this vendor!  She only uses the freshest stuff.  So much so, that another night, when looking for her again, she was nowhere to be found because her farmers had not been able to find any insects that day.  Now that’s integrity!

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Me and my favourite bug lady, right off Pub Street in Siem Reap

As you can see from her smile, she is something special!  Small but feisty, she knows her bugs!  Her crickets are farmed, grown to become food.  Her scorpions are sourced from the jungle, as are her grass snakes.  And her tarantulas, well, they are foraged up from 40cm deep underground.  She runs a tight ship.  She knows when her products are good to eat.  And if you trust her, like I did, you’ll let her pick the bug you’re going to eat.  Yes, she will pick the biggest tarantula, it will have a huge body and hairy legs, but it will be delicious!  She will even suggest eating one that has a large belly full of eggs, those are even tastier!

Like all things food, it’s all about the prep!  She will roast your meal right in front of you to make sure they have the perfect texture.  She doesn’t just serve her bugs plain, that would be boring.  Her crickets are marinated and cooked with lemongrass, chilli and lime juice.  Crunchy with just the right amount of kick!

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Hairy, crispy, delicious turantulas

How did I do it?  Well, the drinks helped the first night, I won’t lie!  But like with any weird meal, you have to get over your conceived notions about them before you take a bite.  I just stopped thinking of the bugs as being gross things.  I trusted this woman and her integrity when it comes to her products.  They are sourced properly, they are prepared with care and they are cooked well.  Can you say that about the food you eat every day?  So when crickets stopped being bugs, when tarantulas stopped being insanely scary-looking spiders, they just became food.  And like I said, I like food (ok, I LOVE food).

How was it?  Well, it was delicious!  So much so that I went back for seconds.  I could have eaten a full bag of crickets. That’s how good they were!

What did it taste like?  That is hard to say!  She said the scorpion tastes like chicken and the spiders like bacon, but I haven’t had either in so long, that it’s hard to say for me.  The spiders’ legs were crispy, like those little bits of fries that are at the bottom of your plate.  The body had a nice texture to it, crunchy on the outside because it was seared on the BBQ, but tender on the inside.  The crickets, my favourite, were like eating the half-popped kernels of popcorn.

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Yummy crickets with some BBQ sauce

Would I have them again back home?  Yes, yes and yes.  Bugs are extremely nutritious.  For example, crickets are a great source of lean protein, vitamins and minerals, containing about 65% protein, omega 3, fatty acids, calcium and vitamin B12.  Other insects can contain up to 80% protein, and have huge amounts of iron (sometimes, more than beef).  Obviously, I would have to find the fresh produce to make sure they are as delicious as hers, but yes, I would not hesitate making bugs a regular part of our meals.  There are even chip companies that make their products with crickets.  This is becoming more and more mainstream, as evidenced by big wig investor Marc Cuban putting his money behind this brand.

If I could, I would have stayed with my bug lady in Siem Reap and helped her sell more bugs.  It’s crazy how people who saw me eating them would stop and stare.  When they saw how much I enjoyed them, going for seconds and thirds, they also joined in.  And without fail, they would all say how delicious they thought these creepy crawly critters were.

So get over your fears, and those preconceived notions about bugs and let’s all eat them together!  Bon appétit!


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Why eating bugs is the future of food

Babel Guesthouse – Paving the way for eco-tourism in Siem Reap

We always look for eco-friendly places to stay when we travel. We found the perfect place in Siem Reap. Babel Guesthouse cares for the environment, their staff, the community and the future. Read how they do it.

Life is all about choices.  We make choices every day without thinking about them.

“I can’t wait to have a nice burger for lunch.”

“It’s cold outside and I’m late, I think I’ll drive in to work”

“That pack of 24 water bottles is only $4.99?  I think I’ll grab a case.”

So many of these decisions have impacts that we don’t think about either.

Did you know that you need 460 gallons of water and over 13 pounds of feed to produce 1 quarter pound hamburger?

Taking your car instead of public transportation emits 65 more pounds of CO² per 100 passenger miles into the atmosphere.

Satisfying the annual global demand for bottled water consumes the energy equivalent of about 160 million barrels of oil.

Cambodia has a real problem with pollution, the lack of recycling, and education in general. They rank 146th out of 180 countries in the global Environmental Performance Index. So, when we decided to visit Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor Wat, we wanted to stay somewhere that shared our values in terms of responsible tourism.

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Welcome to Babel Guesthouse

That was our mindset when we stumbled across Babel guesthouse.  We informed ourselves on all the initiatives they are leading and contacted one of the owners, Katrine, right away.  We ended up staying a few nights at their guesthouse, which specializes in responsible tourism, and loved every minute of it.

From the get-go, they were quite accommodating. They offered to pick us up from the airport.  Dara, one of Babel’s many tuk tuk drivers, brought us to the guesthouse.  All their drivers work with Babel on a rotational basis, so that they all get an equal share of  rides.  This ensures that they are all able to better support their loved ones. Because sharing is caring, and Babel cares a lot!

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Babel’s beautiful garden

We won’t harp too long on the comfy beds, amazing shower, or beautiful garden they have where you can chill around, eat at the resto or chat with some of the other guests. We met such friendly and like-minded people in the garden, we would have never left if we had a choice. This was not why we chose to stay at Babel, but all these were extra pluses for us.

All of Babel’s great initiatives were the biggest contributing factors in our decision to stay here. They do so much, not only for the environment in Siem Reap, but also for their always-smiling, hard working staff.

Babel Guesthouse is constantly looking to ensure that they are a sustainable and environmental business.  Litter is a huge problem in Cambodia which is why Babel organizes garbage pick-ups, with the help of their staff, other local businesses and guests. This helps raise local awareness of the issue, helping solve the problem in the long run.  We took part in one of the clean-ups to give back to the community that took us in.  The most rewarding part of this was when a Cambodian mother and little daughter whizzed by on a scooter.  In perfect English, the little girl yelled an enthusiastic Thank You to us for helping make her home a cleaner place.  This put a big smile on our faces.

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Garbage picking in Siem Reap

Babel also pushes to reduce the amount of plastic being used.  They sell reusable water bottles and offer to refill them for free for anyone who participates in their program.  Coupled with the bamboo straws they use and sell at the guesthouse, they are helping reduce plastic waste overall.

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Reusable water bottle and bamboo straws for sale

Then, there is HUSK Cambodia who focuses on providing access to safe water, livelihood opportunities, health, education & environment to families in the Siem Reap area.  Babel works with Husk and delivers used plastic bottles filled with soft plastics that are used to make walls for houses.  They also donate used plastic bags that are repurposed into cushions for the chairs in Babel’s restaurant, as well as other artisanal goods.

From replacing all take-away containers and cutlery with biodegradable versions, to powering their generator with bio-diesel made from their used cooking oil, and selling locally-made jams from a social enterprise called Happytite, Babel has truly become a leader in Siem Reap when it comes to responsible eco-tourism.

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As we mentioned before, they do so much for the environment, but they also pride themselves on what they do for the people of Cambodia.  One of their proudest endeavours is their educational program that allows their staff and tuk tuk drivers to earn their Bachelor degrees at Build Bright University and the University of South East Asia.  Providing their staff with adequate training, good working conditions, fair salaries and flexible working hours enables them to further pursue their education. This is huge, especially knowing that a large portion of Cambodians don’t finish their primary education, due to the fact that families cannot afford it.

Another way that Babel ensures the personal and educational growth of their staff is by organizing their yearly staff trip.  They bring them to other provinces in Cambodia, to learn more about different regions of their country and what they have to offer.  This in itself is something that most Cambodians do not have the luxury to experience.  Traveling like tourists helps the staff understand the needs of their customers at Babel, which is probably why they are all awesome!  It is also a great team-building exercise for the staff and the management.

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This brings me to one of the things that struck me the most at Babel, that is the sense of family that the entire crew emits.  Katrine’s newborn baby, Lina, can often be found in the caring arms of one of the staff.  Likewise, Katrine knows intricate details about each one of her staff’s personal lives, down to babies’ birthdays. Rare is it to find an owner as dedicated to their team than you will find with Katrine and her husband, Simon.

We hope that we will continue to find places like Babel Guesthouse that combine great hospitality with responsible tourism practices.  A big thank you goes out to Katrine, Simon and her staff! We hope to see you again in our future travels!


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Discover the beauty of this eco-hotel in Siem Reap. Babel Guesthouse is doing everything it can to reduce its carbon footprint in the highly polluted city of Siem Reap. www.wediditourway.com