Good morning, Friend,
I hope this article finds you well!
I’m in a bit of a funny mood this morning, because I just realized that my previous “lifestyle” has been quite damaging to this planet (I’m currently on Earth), in a quite complicated way.
My lifestyle was backpacking, and Backpackers are awesome people.
You can’t argue with that.
Backpackers are people that travel to expand their horizons, go to exotic places, meet exotic people and eat exotic food that even the locals won’t touch. Unless they are playing truth or dare.
They come back home as changed individuals, and even better, they tell all their friends about their experiences in blogs, on Facebook, and if they are really unlucky, in person with lots of blurry photos. I’m guessing, that there is a few million minutes of GoPro footage from Koh Phangan alone on Youtube.
They do a massive contribution to the Vọ̈l·ker·ver·stän·di·gung
I started backpacking in the 1990ties. In Thailand. The good old days, when you could stay on the beach in an A-Frame hut for 1 U$ per night.
It was amazing, I “did my PADI” for under 100 U$, I ate for under a dollar a day, a bustrip was 20 cents, my fisherman pants were just a dollar, and the hospital bill for my girlfriend was just under 200 U$, when she had horrible complications from her Malaria medication. I couldn’t believe how cheap everything was, you see it was really important to find cheap things, because I had absolutely zero money on me.
I send a FAX to my parents on Christmas day, because I was out of money, and traveled to Bangkok on borrowed cash to find the Western Union were this money was waiting. They forgave me, for some reason. I guess it’s because they understood, how big of an idiot a travelling 19 year old has to be.
I’m 39 now, and I’m nearly the age now that my parents were, when I first started travelling. It changed my perspective quite a bit.
I’m slightly embarrassed.
As you might know, I currently write for a marine conservation organisation on Koh Phangan, in Thailand.
In the last 4 years, I have seen quite a few backpackers. If I did my math right, it were around 1.7 Million, just estimating from the number of Full Moon Party attendants.
Of these, I picked up 5 from the road, which were nearly dead, after a small motorbike mishap, which can happen to anyone who thinks that drunk driving without a helmet is not a big deal. Or if they are just extremely unlucky.
Just a few weeks ago, I broke somebodies rib, to stop it from puncturing his lung. I was slightly upset, because I ruined another shirt. I have no problem doing that, because I did exactly the same when I was 19.
That’s not really a big deal, I was a very proud, stupid Teenager.
But there is something more worrying, slightly complicated, but let me try to explain my very un-humble opinion:
Backpacking is an environmental disaster.
Well, at least some of it is.
How does this work? Most Backpackers I know are the green soul of the planet (ok, sometimes the soil too).
It’s the money they have in their pockets, that does the damage. Or more precisely, the lack of it.
It’s pretty undisputed these days, that this planet is a great playground for adventurists. If you come to Thailand, you can choose from a plethora of activities, on and off the beaten track. Green, sustainable, spearfishing or diving; opium trekking our sustainable farming trips, drugged-Tiger temples or Elephant sanctuaries.
It’s easy to choose the good ones, through the information on the internet. But one thing remains: there’s lot’s to do with little money.
It’s one of the standard “vicious circles”, it would be boring, if it wouldn’t be so sad.
Imagine somebody, a green soul, travelling to a poorish country. Very exciting, inspiring and at the same time slightly annoying. All the dirt, the plastic bags, the styrofoam containers, the untreated waste water, smokers and unsustainable shrimp farms.
At the same time, these green souls are fighting with tooth and nails against “being ripped off”. There’s regular screaming matches with long tail drivers in front of my office. It’s usually about less than a dollar.
I got ripped off quite a few times. Recently, one of these “criminals” apologized to me, he overcharged me by 20 Baht, which is ,like half a dollar.
He has five kids. You can buy a meal for 20 Baht. You can also buy sustainable or green packaging for 20 baht.
It’s much more expensive to be green, than to use a plastic bag, and then dump it in the sea.
Sometimes, it makes me a little bit nauseous to witness this, and then have them come into our center, because they want to be involved in saving the planet.
For free of course. It’s obviously enough to do your bit by diving for free, especially if you don’t have any usable skills. Complaining is not a usable skill.
So we send them off to different dive schools, which we know try to operate in a sustainable manner. Some of them report back, to tell us that they got ripped off. They dived with 4 people, a tired guide, the food was bad, there was waves, no whale sharks, and what not. We usually also know what happened from the other side. These valued backpacker customers whined for an hour for a discount, which leaves no money for a decent wage, green packaging, solar power, bribes to the god of the ocean, or what ever was required to make it a good trip.
As I said, a standard vicious circle, pretty boring, if it weren’t so sad.
It must be crystal clear to everyone, that cheap and sustainable tourism are impossible to combine.
Eco tourism easily costs quadruple the money of a standard trip. The prices on this island for diving or wakeboarding etc. have stayed unchanged for up to 10 years, while gasoline prices tripled.
How is this going to work? By complaining about being ripped off on Tripadvisor?
It’s really easy, the difference between a “green” and a “mean” backpacking trip is just a few hundred dollars.
That’s like a week of work in Europe or the US.
Cheap travel leads to exploitation of natural and human resources. There can’t be two opinions on that.
You can also just stay at home. And complain there.
Hektor is a 29 year old PhD student from Swartkopsmund, Namibia (that’s in Africa). Hektor studies marine ecology at a renowned University somewhere else. He has opinions, which he likes to write about, and that’s what an opinion piece is That’s currently all the information he’s currentlyprepared to share. And we’re like totally chill and understanding. As you are.
Percentage of People offended
People giving a rat's arse
- Change created 1% 1%
- Coffee drunk 99% 99%
- Synonyms mangled 66% 66%
- Bar counters overused 100% 100%
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