The Great Blue Hole + Swimming With Sharks: My First Scuba Dive (+Videos!)

Scuba Diving With Sharks + The Great Blue Hole In Belize #travel #explore #belize

As I’ve mentioned, Ambergris Caye is a majestical oceanic paradise. There’s also an eerie natural phenomenon that we simply couldn’t resist… The UNESCO Heritage Site, Belize’s Great Blue Hole! Maybe you’ve heard of it, or seen pictures, but basically it’s a sinkhole in the ocean that goes down about 400 feet. In order to get to the caverns, where a variety of spindling stalactites trap air, divers have to descend 135 feet. Our trip was led by the phenomenal Amigos Del Mar, whom I highly recommend. Not only did we have the chance to see the Great Blue Hole, but we also had two additional dives that day—including swimming with an 8-foot shark. 

Diving With Sharks In Belize #travel #explore #adventure #scuba

 

Most trips leave quite early in the morning, before 6 am, in order to hit all three dive spots during daytime. The spectacularly smooth and stunning boat ride out to the Great Blue Hole is a few hours.  Amigos Del Mar, our diveshop, had tons of fresh pineapple, coffee, and pastries. If you plan to dive the Great Blue Hole, be sure to get sufficiently hydrated and nourished prior to getting in the water. Nitrogen narcosis is a serious threat, especially when diving down so dangerously deep. To put it in perspective, PADI Open Water Diver allows you to dive up to 60 ft. With additional training, you can get your Advanced Open Water, which allows you to dive 100 ft. PADI states the limit for recreational scuba diving is 130 ft—we reached 141 ft. 

Boating in Belize is particularly delightful, thanks to the abundance of sea life. Botttlenose dolphins (aka the cutest!) make their homes in these warm waters. With how pristine and preserved the area is, and the exuberance of fish, I’d probably make Belize my home as well, if I were a dolphin. But anyways, the point being a playful pod of these gorgeous creatures followed our boat for about half an hour. Tell me this isn’t one of the most adorable dolphin dances you’ve ever seen?!

 

Although the dolphins were my favorite part of the boat ride, I know I can’t get away without sharing this majestic treat of nature. We knew we would have good luck upon seeing this lovely double rainbow. My friend was wishing for sharks, and I was just hoping to make it out alive. 

Scuba Diving the Great Blue Hole in Belize || Double Rainbow #travel #belize #beautiful

 

Why?

As I’m drifting down, feeling the temperature drop by the second, I had a guilty flashback of signing an agreement on my PADI certification that I would only dive down a maximum of 60 feet. In my defense, the group I went with was extremely experienced, and my diving buddy was one of my best pals. Nothing could go wrong…

Scuba Diving the Great Blue Hole in Belize || #travel #belize #beautiful #scuba

 

And it didn’t.

Scuba Diving With Sharks + The Great Blue Hole In Belize #travel #explore #belize

Floating down to the seemingly bottomless pit of the blue hole is definitely a surreal experience. Peering into the drop sent chills down my spine, but the good way. Like…A haunted house. Or s&m. Anyways, having a flashlight would be very helpful, especially if the sun is hiding. If you’re uncomfortable diving to the 130 ft to reach the caverns, you can still scuba around the hole and try to find sharks. But I must say, the caverns were pretty cool! You can actually swim through the massive stalactites and feel dry air bubbles on the cavern ceiling. Due to the ridiculous depth, our air ran out quickly, and the first dive was pretty short.

Scuba Diving the Great Blue Hole in Belize || #travel #belize #beautiful

 

The only downside of scuba diving the Great Blue Hole as opposed to say, flying over it, is the lack of view! If you aren’t scuba certified, I highly recommend taking the Maya Air or  Tropic Air flight, which is an hour and costs $200.  Then send me photos please, because it looks absolutely beautiful!

Scuba Diving the Great Blue Hole in Belize || #travel #belize #beautiful

Trying to get a decent photo for y’all at the top on the boat…

 

The next dive proved to be a little more stressful for me. Having pretty much no experience, I was getting really freaked out by the 2-foot barracudas. Don’t know much about barracudas? They’re squirrely as hell with razor-sharp teeth and a bad attitude. Like the newbie I am, I was swimming between the underwater caves, trying to get to the fishies, when I notice the barracuda that had previously been swimming 30 feet away was now floating in front me, staring me down. Part of me is thinking, “Oh, it’s going down,” while the other part was hoping he was interested in my blinking, shiny GoPro. I wiggle my stick a few feet away from me, and to my deepest dismay, the little fucker starts swimming towards me FAST.

I duck my head down, start scuttling as fast as possible, and go… nowhere. My scuba gear had gotten caught on a crevice. After panicking for a few seconds, I finally caught up to Michelle and desperately tried to get my shit together before they made me turn back. I refuse to be the weakest link in group activities, especially when my dear, brave friend is my diving buddy.

So, there is basically no communication underwater because you can’t speak.  I knew I couldn’t explain my freakout with the barracuda, so I just kept pointing to my mouth as I tried to do the deepest yoga breaths I could possibly manage. She promptly took my hand signal of, “I’m just trying to catch my breath” as “I vomited in my regulator.” Which I guess happens often. We had a good laugh on the boat about that one.

Scuba Diving the Great Blue Hole in Belize || #travel #belize #beautiful

Plenty of fish were interested in our scuba group, drawn to the bubbles and noises of our equipment. A sweet, plump little grouper was following us around, trying to be our pet. I’m not even kidding, one person would give it a little belly rub, then the grouper would move along to the next person in the group and hover around until he got what he wanted. Which was a belly rub.

We unfortunately caught the attention of a baby black-tip shark. You might be thinking, “Stop being a lil bitch, baby sharks ain’t nothing.” But with every baby shark, comes a momma shark. And this one was circling us.

 

 

Okay, I’m being ever-so slightly dramatic on this one. As the least experienced diver, and a Florida girl, I’m still a little frightened of all sharks except nursing, whale, and leopard sharks. Basically, I like the sharks that are known for being docile. Can you blame me? They did get pretty close to us though…

We took a pit stop on the gorgeous Half Moon Caye for lunch, hermit crab chasing, and red-footed boobies! Seriously, the palm tree lined island is home to hundreds of these adorable little flatbill birds. The feet turn bright red in adulthood, so it’s easy to tell which birds are still young. Walking along the path to where the boobies live are thousands of hermit crabs, with colors from deep purple to tangerine orange to sky blue. Have to admit I was SO tempted to bring one of these little hermits home, but it wouldn’t be very ecofriendly of me, would it? And I certainly wasn’t drinking, so I had no excuse. You’ll just have to go see these creatures by yourself!

Half Moon Caye + Scuba Diving In Belize || #travel #explore #belize

Six hours after we started,  I was struggling to keep up with the rest of the group. If the crew hadn’t been so patient and reassuring, I might’ve had to tap out for a nap on the last diveI’m SO glad I didn’t! Have you ever wanted something, even though it was kinda scary and could be potentially dangerous? That’s exactly how I felt on my last dive, hoping for more sharks. And we got em! Using the reef on the left side to keep eyes on the sharks, we watched as the massive black tips became interested in a lion fish that had been speared by another group’s divemaster.

Once the feeding frenzy was over, I started to panic. The sharks seemed to believe we had more food, and continuously circled us. Unfortunately, being so inexperienced, my buoyancy was askew and I kept floating above the group and sharks. Since sharks enjoy attacking from the bottom, I was rightly terrified and starting to flail around to stay level with the group. Shell grabbed my hand to hold me still and calm me down because she’s the best. At one point, we had our backs against the reef (sorry mother nature) as an 8-footer rushed us—I totally thought he was going to take my flipper! Everyone else was calm as a sea cucumber, and here I am, sucking my air so hard that I had to use the dive master’s spare regulator on every.single.dive. You can see it in the video above.

This is one of the reasons I’m against chumming—the practice of using dead fish to attract larger aquatic species. But that’s another rant for another time. Although I highly recommending joining the wild world of scuba diving, Ambergris Caye provides nature adventures for every level of traveler. You can even swim with sharks at the worlds second largest reef.

 

 

What do you think? Is the Great Blue Hole on your bucket-list? What’s the craziest UNESCO Heritage Site that you have visited?

Oops! How I Ended Up Bringing a Puppy Home From Belize

How I Ended Up Bringing a Puppy Home From Belize #travel #explore #adventure

As I mentioned in my last post, my trip to Belize was mainly about service and education, mixed with a healthy dose of sun, sea, and silver tequila. But I did happen to bring home the best souvenir yet—a puppy!

How I Brought A Puppy Home From Belize #travel #explore #tips #adventure

The Important Stuff:

Saga Humane Society has been on Ambergris Caye for 16 years and remains the only humane society on the island. The organization provides low-cost or free procedures, like spay and neuter, as well as medicine to local animals. Why is this important? Without the free spay and neuter, wild dogs pose a major threat to both domesticated dogs and humans. Children are especially at risk for being bitten by a dog. And then everyone is scared of the animals, it’s just a vicious cycle. But that is why the humane society is there! Just like most humane societies in the U.S., the majority of animals serviced are cats and dogs of all ages. This means playing with adorable puppies. Located right behind the airport on the Tropic Air side (there are only two terminals) in San Pedro Town, the organization houses a ton of crawling kittens, friendly cats, sweet puppies, and big ole dogs. They love having volunteers stop by to walk the friendly dogs!

How I Brought a Puppy Home From Belize #travel #explore #Belize #adventure

Between Shell doing surgeries and me playing with puppies, we got to spend a ton of time with the big dogs! As in, taking the dogs for romantic walks on the beach. As much as I love animals, there are always some sacrifices, like being covered in mud constantly. Unfortunately, one particularly large labrador decided to rush the water without warning. I would have been slightly more keen if I had the time to remove my shoes. RIP Nikes.

But there was one particular little guy who caught my eye.  He was what they call a ‘pot-licker’ or a street dog. The humane society picked him up very thirsty, very frail, and very tiny. But, with lots of love, Saga helped him put on a little weight, and he absolutely loved people for it.   Every morning, we would walk in and greet the dogs, give pets and treats, the usually puppy love stuff. And I would always pick up the puppies because they need attention just like little babies.

So this little guy…

…literally the smallest one out of six, would always try to jump up to be picked up, but kept getting knocked down by the other dogs. One by one the pups would get picked up, held for a little, then squirm down. But when it was this little Pepito’s turn to be held, he would be so content in my arms. I could carry him for hours and he would just stare at me with those little brown eyes. So needless to say when the time for me to leave the island came about, he was coming with me. 

How I Brought A Puppy Home From Belize #travel #explore #tips #adventure

You might be thinking, “This cray bitch seriously brought a puppy from another country home! You can’t just toss it when it grows up!” etc. etc. etc. This ain’t my first rodeo, y’all. My first rescue puppy, Smokey Bear, just turned five in August. He was only six weeks old when I adopted him. Pepe was sixteen weeks old. Bringing home a pup from San Pedro wasn’t 100% spontaneous. Smokey is has been due for a little sibling for a few months. Dogs are pack animals, and the more often I travel, the more distressed Smokey becomes. I owed it to him, really… Plus my love and I already discussed it.

Flying an adopted pet from Belize to the U.S. is relatively easy.

  • Before anything, you must ensure a puppy is at least 4 months old
  • All vaccinations must be up to date
  • The last rabies shot must be 30 days prior to flying the pet home
  • Reserve spot for pet on flight home (some airlines won’t fly pets!)
  • Get a printed copy of certificate of health completed by a vet

 

How I Brought A Puppy Home From Belize #travel #explore #tips #adventure

So, he officially became Pepe/Pepito!

The lovely help at Saga Humane Society got him all washed up, and even gave him a little bandana. His cage said, “Yay! I’ve been adopted.”

 

Since I was staying at an Airbnb, I had to leave Pepe at Saga overnight until it was time to fly back. The night before departure, I SERIOUSLY couldn’t sleep! Would YOU be able to rest, knowing you were bringing back this little peanut?! The morning I was set to return to the U.S., Shell and I sped over to Saga to pick up little guy.

How I Brought a Puppy Home From Belize #travel #explore #Belize #adventure

Shell came with to make sure everything was sorted for flight number one from Ambergris to Belize City. No worries at all! He could even sit on my lap and peek his little head out.  But this was only the very beginning on the adventure. We had two more flights and a five hour layover, and I wasn’t sure how much longer he would sleep.

How I Brought a Puppy Home From Belize #travel #explore #Belize #adventure

American Airlines was such a delight from Belize City to Miami, and I lucked out and sat next to a mechanic, who encouraged me to have the puppy out the whole two hours of my first flight. We were stopped to have Pepe’s papers checked four times– not sure if it was because immigration is strict, or because the security wanted to check out the puppy. Pepe was SUCH a angel in the airport! Even for a five hour layover, he played it cool while I ate sushi and drank sake.  On our last flight home, I had a whole row to myself, so we both slept like babies. It was pepeperfect.

After almost 12 hours of travel, Pepe arrived at his new home! Pepe has been loving life in America, especially having a big brother. They play together a little too well…

How I Brought a Puppy Home From Belize #travel #explore #Belize #adventure

What’s the craziest souvenir you’ve ever brought home? Would you adopt a puppy abroad?

11 Things I Wish I Had Known Before My First Trip To Ghana

11 Things I Wish I had Known Before Visiting Ghana || #explore #ghana #africa

After 18 days in Ghana, I can happily say I’d love to make a trip back! The weather was heavenly, the people were beyond kind, and it was so affordable. BUT it would have gone a lot smoother if I had known these now-obvious tips. Every single issue I had was 100% preventable and now you can be sure the avoid the same mistakes I made. Overall, Ghana is way easier than the majority of places I have traveled to.

 

1. You must get your yellow fever vaccination at least 10 days prior to travel.

Get Your Yellowfever Shot- 11 Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Ghana #africa #explore

As I mentioned previously, I was unaware of this until after I had waited too long to get my vaccination. Luckily, the CDC or WHO states that the vaccination will be effective seven days prior to departure. So I went ahead to Ghana with a premature vaccination and got stopped at border patrol. I’ll go into detail a little later on the post, but just know that Ghana is quite known for “corruption” in the form of bribery. Unfortunately, I only had a $20 bill on me when I probably could have given a $5 bill and been completely safe.

2. Bribing happens everywhere.

Bribes Everywhere in Ghana - 11 Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Ghana #africa #explore

Ah yes. My first encounter with Ghana was literally bribing to get through the vaccination check. Police will try to get a bribe from cab drivers who do not keep their inspection stickers present. Even the president has been accused of (and struggles to deny) bribery during power. The only benefit to this applies to the airport, even though it’s probably wrong. The line for the ticketing counter was atrocious, but plenty of people popped over to the side with 10 or so cedis and skipped the whole line. To each his own.

3. There is no WIFI at the airport.

No Wifi in Airport - 11 Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Ghana #africa #explore

Make all of your accommodation plans ahead of time! When my ride got my flight time and local address wrong (oh yeah, it was reallll bad- after about 26 hours of traveling from California to Africa my ride showed almost two hours late!) I was held by border patrol until she showed up… An hour and a half after my flight had landed. There wasn’t wifi for me to simply look up hotel to provide another address to write down.

4. … Or really anywhere.

There isn't much wifi in Ghana #travel

Unlike Europe and other tourist friendly areas, Ghana has very limited public wifi. From my understanding, data is a little costly and most people use those little personal wifi boxes. After nearly three weeks I was ecstatic and baffled upon finding a café that provided free wifi. Of course, it didn’t actually work. Consider bringing an unlocked smart phone (check with your provider as to not break any contracts), buy a cheap smart phone upon arrival, or download one of these amazing map apps that work without service.

5. Expect to get told the “Obroni Rate” or as I call it, “Tourist Tax.”

Pay The Tourist Tax- 11 Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Ghana #africa #explore

Obroni, sounds like “oh-bro-knee”, is the word for foreigner and in particular, white person. Ah yes, the ole haggle with the cabbie task. There are a million and one taxis in Ghana, and Accra specifically. Of these, 9/10 will offer you an outrageous price on the first try. Before this can happen, ask a friend (or anyone standing near you, people are SO helpful) how much the price of the cab should be from point A to point B. No clue? Simply offer half of what the taxi offers and gage their reaction. Even if it’s a fair price, some will still pressure you to pay more. Just step back, say no thank you, and wait for another cab. If they drive away, you know you offered too little. If they wave you over, you now know your pricing. Note: Not to tell you what to do buuuut, consider what an extra 5 cedis is to compared to a taxi driver in Ghana. Let them know it’s not cool to price gauge, but throw in a tip.

 

 

6. Food is available 24/7 on nearly every road. 


People hawk for the majority of the day, everything from towels to USBs to puppies. After two weeks of crepes and eggs I got pretty invested in the street hawkers. Have to mention that some of them are children, and usually are hawking until they get enough to pay for their school fees. Call me a sinner but I’ll usually just through them a cedi or two and not take what they are selling. Generally I’ve been warned a million times to not give to child beggars and have heard horror stories of people “renting” babies and children to illicit sympathy only to keep the majority of the money for themselves and pennies for the parent (who may or may not use that to the child’s benefit). The best bet for that is to keep a pack of grapes, plantain chips, or other semi-healthy snack to give to the children.

 

 

7. The people are extremely friendly.


It took me a minute to understand that when someone gives me directions, they don’t want a tip. Generally while traveling, I have to constantly swipe away handsy men who think they will get some cash if they carry my suitcase a few blocks. The only time we had a situation like that was in Cape Coast where a guy basically just tried to ride around the cab with us giving us “advice” even though we knew where we were going. And we tried to tell him that. He didn’t even really ask for anything but I could tell he was hoping for it. Besides strangers, all our neighbors were chatty and one lovely lady would pop by the house to visit with us.

8. Using your left hand is considered rude. 

Use Your Right Hand In Ghana- 11 Things I Wish I Knew Before Visiting Ghana #africa #exploreEven though this applies to a large portion of the world, I still forgot until I messed up and someone corrected me. When greeting, there is this little handshake thing that involves snapping your fingers. Don’t make the mistake of trying to do it with your left! You’ll most likely get a tt-tt-tt noise and a disapproving headshake. This also includes when you’re exchanging money for goods. Sort of a pain in the ass, but when in Rome…

 

 

9. The food is spicy and CHEAP.


As someone who enjoys rice for breakfast and spices, I was in heaven for a few weeks. Usually a road-side stand would give me pork or chicken and yam chips (fries) for around 8-12 cedis or $2-$6. Expect grilled tilapia, chunks or pork, and seasoned grilled chicken. My favorite dish was the Goat Lite soup, which was sooo salty and usually a little spicy. No matter how much I loved watching the little goats jump around town, I didn’t think twice about ordering goat lite soup. Sorry kids 😉 (get it? Baby goats are called…)

10. Public transportation is extremely affordable (tro-tro!) but cramped and slow.


For under 1 cedi you can pretty much get anywhere in Accra. The photo was taken on one of my many tro-tro rides- notice the bagged water? You can get it pretty much anywhere. Circle is the rightfully named circular area where you can catch tro-tros around the city. Honestly don’t think there is an actual schedule or a way to figure out your path. Ask anyone in your path, and you can be certain you are headed in the right direction. It can be a little overwhelming for some people, so if you don’t want to be touched or talked to, just walk around with bitch-face and no one will mess with you.

 

 

10. Accra is a happenin’ town.


Like many capital cities, Accra has plenty to do. Being there less than a month still provided me with a huge book fair, arts + music festival, and the Homowu Festival. There is SO much to do! One of my favorite spots that I stumbled upon pretty briefly was the +233 Jazz Bar. When I popped by, a beautiful woman was singing so beautifully I almost teared up. And people were dancing everywhere! My kinda place 😉 We also made it out to Tea Bar, a really  hip little spot with phenomenal food. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had the BEST salad in the city. Best part? They have TIPSY tea. Oh yeah. Get the peach + rum.

 

 

11. You have to exchange to another currency if you have more than 500 Cedi upon departure. (That’s about $130.00)


As briefly mentioned, corruption is rampant in Ghana. The only thing that will happen to you is getting your money confiscated. Since it is a small amount of cash in the grand scheme of things, it can be easy to show up at the airport with too many cedis only to have them snatched. Don’t let it ruin your trip at the very end!

Have you ever been to Ghana? What’s the most surprising thing that’s happened to you on a trip?

Laughing to Keep From Crying: Kakum National Park in Ghana

Visiting Kakum National Park #travel #explore #africa

 

Okay, I’m being slightly hyperbolic here. I was totally fine swinging 100 feet up in the air. Not to mention, we were slipping all over the place thanks to the rain that had been steadily drizzling for a few hours. I peaked down to the distant land below and gulped. Kakum National Park was a first-time thrill for me. The bridge starts swaying. I clutched my go-pro arm and attempted to twist my head just enough to see the group behind me.  But there was no turning back… How did I get myself into this predicament?

 

Visiting Kakum National Park in Ghana #travel #explore #africa

We arrived at Kakum National Park by hopping on a tro-tro in Accra, and driving a little under two hours to Cape Coast! Then, we hopped on another tro-tro and headed straight for Kakum National Park. The streets were lined with goats of all sizes, as we quickly turned from semi-paved roads to full on swerving-left-and-right-and-more-left to avoid the massive potholes in the roads. Nevermind, our driver chuckled, and picked the speed up to 100 km/hr. As the person sitting next to the massive open window, I had to laugh to keep from thinking of popping out of the window and rolling down the hills. But don’t worry. I’m typing you today, so clearly, I’ve survived.

We came screeching along with a couple other dozen, maybe fifty people trickled up the entrance. Be warned, foreigners have a little bigger of a fee. Personally, I think that’s how it should be in every country- your right to your own national parks. But I did overhear other visitors complaining, so you’ve been forewarned. The park itself cost a mere 2 cedis to enter, but what you want is the canopy walk! It’s only an additional 50 cedis (little over 10 USD) for an exhilarating adventure.

Visiting Kakum National Park in Ghana #travel #explore #africa

Most of us hadn’t eaten all day, other than some amazing road-side plantains, and by the time we arrived it was nearing 3:00 in the afternoon. At the same time, it was starting to drizzle. Probably not safe to do the canopy walk while it’s wet and on an empty stomach. Simply unsafe, to me. *Rubs empty belly* Just to our luck, there was a perfect little open-air restaurant INSIDE of the national park. And they sold CLUB BEER. I sat my happy little ass down and order my favorite Ghanian dish- Goat Lite Soup and rice. Disclaimer- do not order the pizza! All my pals tried to get pizza and it was quite similar to the elementary public school plastic excuse for dining. Save yourself and order something local!

If you can manage, you should try to get there early to avoid the last minute rush. To make it easier, I let the pushers push up ahead, and our group hung out by the back. That way, we didn’t have to feel rushed. Once you get going, you can’t really turn back. This proved to be a little intense for some people, children and grown-ass men included. There were tears. Prayers. Cries and whimpers.

Visiting Kakum National Park in Ghana #travel #explore #africa

But it was absolutely beautiful!

The air was refreshing, the trees were a million shades of emerald and green. Birds fluttered about, singing to each other. Did you know there are over 250 species of bird in Kakum? I didn’t either until I visited. Honestly, the rain made it a little more surreal. The canopy was just long enough to enjoy it, without feeling like you need to do it again.

 

Visiting Kakum National Park in Ghana #travel #explore #africa

 

After the canopy, you can walk through the park and explore the different species. Most animals will be hiding by noon, so get in early if you want to see any elephants!

There is even an option to SPEND THE NIGHT on the canopy walk! Bring a mosquito net and proper shoes though, you have to be there early for this option.

Visiting Kakum National Park in Ghana #travel #explore #africa

Overall, Kakum National Park was a great day trip and I highly recommend it. Nothing is better than fresh air and friends! Have you ever heard of the park or been on a canopy walk?

Why Sustainable Travel is So Much More Than Being Green (Caution: Trigger Warning!)

Why Sustainable Tourism is So Much More Than Being Green #explore #ecotourism #wanderlust || a tipsy gypsy life

Did you know that over 27% of the earth’s reefs are gone— and not coming back? I haven’t even made it to the Great Barrier Reef! Being green while traveling is of the upmost importance, but, like a late-night infomercial, WAIT THERE’S MORE.

Travel is the one thing you buy that makes you richer, gives you insurmountable joy, becomes your anti-drug. If we think we’re going to keep having these surreal adventures, we’re going to have to take sustainable travel seriously. To be sustainable, we have to be able to explore without damaging the local culture, altering livelihoods, fueling inhumane markets, or destroying natural beauty.

There’s been a lot of negative comments regarding the state of Bali, a popular tourist destination. It is true that trash lines the beaches. It is true that no one seems to pick up after themselves.

 

 

 

But is it really fair to get every single thing you can out of a destination, and then claim it’s “not worth visiting”? I think not. 

 

 

 

Would it be so terrible to do a beach clean-up in Bali? My home-town (St. Petersburg, FL) holds them all the time- it’s the only way it would stay clean. There is something inherently wrong with exploiting something then abandoning it, especially a priceless community. 

But even more urgent than cleaning up our messes, we have to be more cautious of the demands we make. There is no way around it, tourism has led to an influx of fake orphanages and more orphans. If travelers hadn’t consistently requested orphanages to “help” (but mostly gawk) at impoverished children in foreign lands, they would not be on the rise. 

*TRIGGER WARNING*

I’ve mentioned once or twice that I’m a certified Green Globe Auditor. With U.N. beginnings, Green Globe has been providing sustainable travel certifications for complying tourism companies and their suppliers for 15 years. When a company desires a way to showcase their contribution to the community, we have to go in and evaluate on a 180 point scale. Starting with how the property was obtained, the amount of local employees, and women or minorities in management positions, the evaluation begins tame enough. However, if they continue passing inspection points, I have to ensure the property is sustainable economically, ecologically, and ethically.

One of the things we are to investigate is the likelihood of human trafficking (sex slaves) at the property.

 

Are there any young girls hanging around? Who stays more than a few nights? What is the relationship between that teen and the group of men she’s with? It never hurts to visit to local police station for information. What do I do if I have a hunch? What happens if I stumble upon something illegal that could put me in danger with local gangs? It’s part of the job. 

That’s why active consumerism matters.

Especially places like Thailand, Amsterdam, or Brazil, it really is a matter of life and death for the most vulnerable populations. When I say vulnerable, please do not confuse with “weak.” These communities were thriving prior to Western intervention and can utilize the global market today, just as fully-developed countries do. The very act of financially supporting hotels who turn a blind eye to child raping and kidnapping helps these criminals continue their activities. 

Last year, in Chiang Mai, I was eating tom yom across the street from a massage parlor. Two girls, probably between 15 and 25 years old, were sitting on the porch. We watched each other for a few minutes, until a white man, at least 60 years old, walks up and sits down with them. I see the girls tense up, and then put on their game faces. I knew I shouldn’t have, but I kept staring. One girl started writing on a piece of paper and handed it to the man. He shook his head, wrote something, and passed it back. While this was going on, my travel buddy suggested that they might just be deciding on a massage price. But all the prices were already posted outside for all to see. It just didn’t seem right. They passed the paper maybe three more times and then went upstairs. The girl who was left behind stared at me with a hollow look in her eyes that I will never forget. 

This is heavy shit, but it’s real life. We can’t use a vacation or holiday as an excuse to ignore human rights atrocities.

One way we can add to the active consumer process is through bringing business to locally-owned accommodation, which can provide 3 times as much income for the local economy as a chain company

This is essential in locations like Haiti, where over 70% of the country lives in poverty. AirBnB is generally an excellent, simple choice for attempting to stay locally. VRBO, Homeaway, and Tripping are alternative booking options when AirBnB is overbooked. You can also try house sitting or WOOFing, depending on how much outdoor activity you enjoy.

 

 

Remember the whole human trafficking thing? You can actually help support hotels that fight it by booking through TripAdvisors Green Leaders program or find one through Green Globe here.

 

 

Another reason why actively researching your accommodation matters- many properties are obtained unethically and illegally, and then block off ocean access for locals. One of the rights of humans is access to the sea for navigation and food. However, private property signs are popping up in places like Hawaii and Jamaica, where the people still live off of the land when possible. Jamaicans fought for 5 years to regain access to the popular local spot, Winnifrid Beach.  I wonder how many other voiceless communities have lost their rights to foreign hotel developers. 

Overall, being aware is the most important step to becoming an ethical traveler.

This isn’t a prescription, this is an active conversation that EVERYONE can add to.  There are probably some wonderful things you already do without even realizing it, like packing your own shampoo or bringing a reusable water bottle. Every little bit truly helps. Let’s continue staying locally, learning from other’s mistakes, and being active in our consumerism. We got the power.

Have you ever done something unethical while traveling, without realizing it? What’s the hardest part about being an active consumer while traveling?