Travel Features Syndicate, goingplacesfarandnear.com
We just returned home from two months living out of our Subaru while we traveled around the country. Without much pre-planning, our route took us 8,300 miles from upstate New York through Wisconsin, South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington, The San Juan Islands, Oregon, Utah, Colorado, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and back home to New York.
We outfitted our Subaru Forester with a platform bed and two drawers underneath to maximize storage, which we designed and built ourselves, and brought along enough creature comforts so that we didn’t miss a thing while we were on the road or wild camping (other than friends and family, of course!).
Here’s a round-up of some of the things we learned we can’t live without, in no particular order:
We keep the Jackery Power Bank on the floor behind our front seats, plugged into the 12V cigarette lighter in the rear of the car. The Jackery powers our car fridge, cell phones, laptop and fans. The 2.4A in the USB outlet charges our phones so much faster than the car USB does, we’ve actually been keeping it in the car even when not on a road trip. While driving any substantial distance, the Jackery stays at a healthy 99% and rarely drops below 50% even overnight when not drawing power from the car. We use the 60W solar panels to top off the Jackery on days we aren’t driving.
Our car fridge sits next to the Jackery on the floor behind the driver’s seat and stays plugged into the 12V plug on the Jackery at all times. We keep the fridge on “Eco” mode, which fluctuates between about 38 and 44 degrees. We opted for the C9 because that was as much space as we could dedicate in our Subaru and it worked well for us, but I definitely see the benefits of the larger C20 model with the raised lid if you have the extra room. Most days our Alpicool stored: 1L milk, 1 block of cheese, turkey, 4 or 5 string cheeses, jam, hot sauce, and 3 beers, with a little room to stuff random things on top if needed. This refrigerator is miraculously quiet. We almost never notice it while driving, and even when sleeping in the car, the compressor isn’t loud enough to be heard over our earplugs, even with it located just below our heads. The great thing about keeping the Alpicool behind the driver’s seat is that the passenger can easily access its contents with the lid on top. We love never having to deal with melted ice as we used to with our cooler, and find that this size fits enough for a week in the desert.
This is a cleverly designed, high quality solar “briefcase” that we use to top up our Jackery when not driving. The 20-25 watts we get with full sun keeps our Jackery from depleting even when powering our Alipicool fridge throughout the day and night. It’s easy to position it for optimal sun exposure on top of or beside the car, especially with the two kickstands attached to the back. It then folds up into a slim briefcase we can quickly slide into any free gaps in our car.
This 4-inch foam mattress is what kept us on the road for 7 weeks and has us wanting to go right back out. The tri-fold feature of this mattress allows us to keep it semi-folded when not in use, and easily move it between the car and our tent to make every night as comfortable as sleeping in our bed at home. The twin is 75 x 39” and perfect for two small adults. We purchased this for $89.99, but it does seem to fluctuate on Amazon so we recommend grabbing it whenever you see a good deal, even if you’re not car camping anytime soon! We plan to use this in place of an air mattress whenever we need an extra guest bed.
This is an integral part of our kitchen and bathroom setup. We cut a hole in our pull-out wood counter exactly the size of this sink, pop it in, and immediately have a basin for washing dishes, brushing teeth, doing laundry, and everything in between. It has a push drain to release water when ready, and collapses down to a perfect sized cutting board. At just over an inch collapsed, it’s easy to store anywhere. It does drip a bit with the drain plugged, but since we only use it outside that doesn’t really bother us. We now can’t imagine ever camping without this.
Did you think you can’t have running water in your car?? We bought a longer silicon tube for this pump, inserted it into our 7 gallon water container and have water on demand. We use this baby constantly–filling up our water bottles while driving or before hikes, making food, washing dishes, brushing teeth, etc., and we only had to charge it ONCE in our 7 weeks on the road. While these water pumps are generally made to be used on top of a water cooler jug, we fashioned a bottom for it with inspiration from a YouTube video by Todd Parker: cut a notch in a roll of electrical tape, stuff that inside the base, add adhesive neodymium rare earth magnets to the bottom, affix a metal plate to the surface you want to hold the pump, and you have a beautiful faucet with running water! We most often use this pump either from the front seat to fill up water bottles during long drives, or affixed to the metal plate next to our pop-in sink in the back of the car for cooking or washing up. We bought this 25-ft braided sleeve so we can move the long hose back and forth without the silicon tube collecting dust and grime, also a brilliant Todd Parker recommendation. (Note: we do not personally know Todd Parker.)
This is a simple product that lets us turn our car windows into screens. On the nights we opt to sleep in the car instead of setting up our tent, we put one of these window sleeves on each door, open the window, and voila, great airflow without the mosquitoes. We also leave one of these on the rear window above the refrigerator during the PNW heat wave to reduce the heat in the car, but we don’t recommend them on any other windows while driving since they also reduce visibility (an added plus for when you have to sleep in the Cracker Barrel parking lot).
Sun Shades are a must when leaving the car in the desert sun. We tried two different kinds and like these the best. It takes about 10 seconds to stuff these two rounded rectangular pieces into our windshield and just as long to collapse them back into a small circle that fits in the car door pocket. We use ours so frequently we just keep it in the slot between the seat and the door.
This tent is brilliant. Its color-coded poles and ingenious architecture enables us to pitch it in under 2 minutes. Usually one of us pitches the tent while the other starts the fire or preps food. The upper portion of the tent is full mesh, which allows for optimal air flow and viewing of the Milky Way. In the desert we tend to not need the fly, but for the few days of torrential downpours and strong winds we encounter in the Colorado mountains, when we are thrilled at the durability and protectiveness of the fly and footprint. We used to use the 2 Plus model, but the 3 Plus is extra luxurious and easily fits our 4” tri-fold foam mattress plus plenty of room to hang out on rainy nights (Note: the 2 Plus would also fit the twin 4” tri-fold). We also love the location and quantity of pockets and hanging loops for all our tent gear.
We use this blanket daily, whether it’s the rug by our tent (the 2P is the exact length of our REI Half-dome 3), or a blanket on a pebbly beach. The fabric side is extremely soft and delightful to lay on, while the under-side is waterproof and more durable. Though it is thick enough to keep us comfortable even on a lava rock ground in Craters of the Moon, it is light enough that I barely notice carrying it on a 2 mile hike to Third Beach in Olympic National Park. It even dried remarkably fast after 2 straight days of torrential downpours in Colorado. One of us remarks almost every day about how much we love this blanket.
This brand has nailed the compact solar light game. We highly recommend their Luci Solar String Lights and the Luci Lux Inflatable Lantern. Both give off warm light and offer 3 different brightness settings, as well as a battery level indicator. The string lights are long enough to provide light to our tent between a couple trees, and the Luci Lux (which flattens to less than an inch) is the only lantern we now use while camping. The attached strap lets us easily hang it from the opened hatch of our Subaru or the tent ceiling. The lowest setting, warm light, and frosted/matte finish also makes for a perfect pillow-side lamp.
The travel industry is often vilified as a contributor to global warming because of its reliance on transportation systems that emit carbon, like airplanes, buses, cars, cruiseships. Just the simple act of going anywhere, it is charged, leaves a carbon footprint –bottled water, toiletries and especially airplane travel. The most scathing attack on reputation comes from climate activist Greta Thunberg, who preferred to cross the Atlantic Ocean during a record season for storms by sailboat rather than fly to the Climate Conference which had been rerouted to Madrid, Spain.
But the calculations are wrong and unfair. A cost-benefit analysis would show that travelers provide the economic underpinnings that protect cultural heritage and fund environmental protection and conservation, and that the industry is among the most aggressive in not just curbing carbon emissions and developing the technology to transition clean, green, sustainable energy and economy, but modeling the techniques that travelers take back to their own homes, communities, and decision-makers. Travelers are not just ambassadors for peace and understanding among peoples, they also serve as ambassadors in the cause of climate action – sharing what they learn after seeing an offshore wind farm off Holland (so popular for its windmills), solar panels on farm houses in Germany, battery chargers for e-bikes in Slovenia, learning the story of energy innovation at the new Museum of Energy in Utica, New York.
In effect, travel industry companies such as The Travel Corporation, with its wide-ranging brands, Hurtigruten and Lindblad Expeditions are catalysts for climate action in wider society.
After all, the existential threat posed by climate change and global warming poses to the planet – the super storms, wild fires, flooding, drought, sea-level rise, pandemics, famine and conflict – pose an existential threat to the travel industry, too.
Whole segments of the travel industry (largest in the world, generating $9 trillion -10% -to the global economy and 20% of jobs) are dedicated to sustainable, responsible travel.
Hotels, like the Sand Pearl in Clearwater Beach, Florida, are being purpose-built with LEED standards, use low-flow plumbing, cold washing and drying for laundry, farm-to-table dining, and few or no plastics.
Smaller, expeditionary-style cruise ships are being designed with pioneering technology to eliminate carbon emissions.
Hurtigruten developed the world’s first hybrid battery-powered cruise ship, MS Roald Amundsen, which made its maiden voyage in 2019 through the Northwest Passage (ironically only navigable because of global warming); its sister ship MS Fridtjof Nansen was launched in 2020. Hurtigruten also pioneered battery-powered, no-emission snowmobiles for use in the Arctic, generating renewable energy from the Arctic winds and the midnight sun.(For Earth Day, Hurtigruten was offering up to 40% off per person on select expedition cruises to remote destinations such as Alaska, Norway, the British Isles and North America in 2021 and 2022, 844-991-1048, hurtigruten.com).
Another expeditionary cruise company, PONANT is launching the first electric luxury polar ship in 2021. It will operate with a mix of liquified natural gas (the cleanest fuel on the market) and electric battery (zero emission and can operate for up to eight hours at a time). Le Commandant-Charcot will be fitted with the latest technology for minimizing environmental impact, as well as a scientific laboratory for conducting operational oceanography missions and research, in which guests will be able to participate.
Indeed, the push to green technology and sustainable practices is throughout the cruise industry, even the mega-ships that are as big as a small city, in effect demonstrating solutions from waste recycling and desalinization to producing energy from food waste. “Green technologies are being incorporated into newly built ships and are sometimes retrofitted onto older ones — think solar panels, exhaust ‘scrubber’ systems that help minimize emissions, advances in hull design that let ships cut through the water more efficiently, cooking oil conversion systems and energy-efficient appliances. Some cruise lines also collaborate with nonprofit organizations and government agencies to collect data about the ocean’s health and climate changes,” writes CruiseCritic.com, in a report on the latest green practices of the major mainstream and luxury cruise lines.
Then again, you can literally go old-school on one of Maine Windjammer Association’s fleet of nine historic sailing ships (sailmainecoast.com).
One of the industry’s biggest enterprises, The Travel Corporation, which owns major travel brands, has gone whole-hog into sustainability, implementing a five-step Climate Action Plan to be carbon-neutral by 2030 and source 50 percent of electricity from renewable sources across the organization by 2025. This includes TTC’s 20+ offices, 18 Red Carnation Hotels, 13 Uniworld ships, six accommodations/facilities, 500+ vehicles and more than 1,500 itineraries operated worldwide by its 40 brands including Contiki, Trafalgar, Insight Vacations and Uniworld.
The goals also include: reduce food waste by 50% across all hotels and ships by 2025; increase the use of local and organic food products by our supply chain by 2025; reduce printed brochures by 50% by 2025; eliminate as many unnecessary single-use plastics from our operations and itineraries by 2022; include at least one MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experience on 50% of TTC itineraries by 2025; achieve a 20% increase of itineraries visiting developing regions for select specialist brands by 2025; increase employee and market sentiment regarding diversity and inclusion across brands; complete 30,000 volunteer hours by 2025; and ensure all wildlife experiences across TTC brands adhere to the Animal Welfare Policy by 2021.
Since launching its first sustainability strategy in 2015, TTC has invested in energy conservation and reducing its environmental impact across its portfolio of brands. Advancements to date include installing solar panels in 2020 at the Uniworld head office in Encino, California, implementing a 400kW Tesla plant supplying over 95% of Xigera Safari Lodge’s energy, which opened December 2020 as part of the Red Carnation Hotel Collection, and the recent shift to 100% renewable electricity by Contiki’s Chateau De Cruix and Haus Schöneck as well as Red Carnation Hotel’s Ashford Castle.
Looking forward, TTC has committed to carbon neutral offices and business travel beginning January 1, 2022, through its partnership with offset provider South Pole. Contiki is moving to become a completely carbon neutral business, meaning unavoidable emissions from all trips departing as of January 1, 2022 will be offset.
As part of its climate action plan, TTC’s philanthropy, TreadRight Foundation, is investing in two new developing, nature-based solutions for removing excess carbon from our atmosphere: Project Vesta‘s mission is to harness the natural power of the ocean to remove a trillion tons of excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and permanently store carbon in rock; and GreenWave is a regenerative ocean farming organization studying how kelp can be added to soil to increase its carbon storage potential while decreasing harmful nitrous oxide emissions on farms. (Learn more at Impact.TreadRight.org.)
Another pioneer in sustainable travel, Lindblad Expeditions offers its passengers an easy way to calculate the carbon footprint of your flights and choose a project to invest in to offset that footprint. “It costs less than you probably think, and it’s an easy and quick way to take climate action.” In addition, Lindblad supports three major National Geographic initiatives including the National Geographic Pristine Seas project (expeditions.com).
Off Season Adventures trips (they travel off season to minimize impact) allocates a portion of the tour price to its sister nonprofit, Second Look Worldwide organization, which supports infrastructure projects and improvements in the destinations it visited. The first initiative, Kakoi Water Project, brings a sustainable year-round solar-powered water source to the 15,000 people who live on the border of Tarangire National Park in Tanzania (offseasonadventures.com).
perfect day in Inle Lake, Myanmar, on Leg 3 of the Global Scavenger Hunt, a
23-day around-the-world mystery tour, begins the night before, on the JJ
Express bus that leaves the temple city of Bagan at 10 pm and arrives at the
bus stop (literally in the middle of the street in a small village) at 4:30 am.
It is complete darkness, not a sound or stirring besides ourselves as the bus
pulls away, leaving us there. For a moment, we feel stranded. Then, out of the
shadows, two tiny jitneys – like small tut-tut open-back vehicles – appear. The
drivers ask which hotels we are bound for so we divide up based on which side
of Inle Lake we are staying. We settle the fare (we are in a very limited
position to negotiate) and climb in.
jitney drops us at the Sanctum Inle Resort at 5:30 am, where the kindly hotel
clerk calls in housekeeping early so we could get into our rooms by 6 am (when
2 pm would have been normal check-in time). This five-star resort makes me feel
like I have been dropped into paradise.
am traveling on my own at this point, though at least one other of the 10 teams,
SLO Folks, on the Global Scavenger Hunt are here – my teammate went on to Mandalay with
another team who decided not to compete for points. SLO Folks (last year’s “World’s
Greatest Travelers” GSH champion) has been scrupulous about following rules of
the contest (no using computer or cell phone to make bookings or to get
information; the trip is designed to “trust strangers” and engage with local
people) so they arrive in Inle with no hotel, not even a decent map to start
planning how they will attack the scavenges (challenges) and accrue the most
points in the limited amount of time.
this challenge, Leg 3 of our trip, is to depart Yangon (the city formerly known
as Rangoon when the former British colony was known as Burma) and complete a
triangle of cities (Bagan, Mandalay, Inle Lake), allowing only two legs by air and
return to Yangon by 6 pm on Saturday, making our own arrangements for
transportation and hotel (we are reimbursed $200/night/team). I had planned to
go from Bagan to Mandalay with my teammate, but after hearing about Inle Lake
from another team (Lawyers Without Borders, a Houston team that has done the
Global Scavenger Hunt 12 times) who had been here before, I was enchanted to
see it; then, overhearing SLO Folks planning to take the overnight bus, I was
determined to see it for myself.
The description enchanted me: Located in the middle of Myanmar,
in the Shan State, Inle Lake is set in a valley
between two mountain ranges, with whole villages of wooden houses built on
stilts in the middle of the lake, floating gardens, boatmen who steer standing
up, wrapping one leg around a tall oar. There are 10 different Shan
ethnic groups living around the lake and the surrounding hills, home to many
different minorities who come down to sell their goods in the villages – like
the Long Neck Ladies. Inle Lake was designated a wetland wildlife sanctuary in
Inle Lake feels like a different world to the rest of Myanmar,
indeed, it seems like an enchanted Sangri-la.
Sanctum Hotel (Maing Thauk Village, Inle Lake, Nyaungshwe, Myanmar) is on the
list of suggested accommodations provided by the GSH “ringmaster” and Chief
Experience Officer, Bill Chalmers, and because I am not competing, have booked
on hotels.com ($101 for the night). I am delighted to find it is an absolutely
gorgeous five-star luxury resort (the infinity pool on the grounds with views
to the lake is breathtaking), and just being here fills me with a contented
peace. But that is only the beginning.
kindness of the hotel manager is immensely appreciated. For me, it means I am
able to take advantage of the hotel’s 8 am boat tour (that means a traditional
wooden boat with the modern convenience of a power motor as well as the
boatman’s long oar) because most of Inle Lake’s special attractions are
literally on the lake – whole villages, in fact, are built on stilts on the
lake; there are floating gardens which are really aquatic farms; floating
markets; the fishermen fish in a distinctive fashion with nets and the boatmen
paddle standing up, with their leg wrapped around the tall oar. The temples and
other major attractions – silversmiths, weavers, boatmakers – are all reached
by the boat.
full-day tour will take me to the Five Day Market, Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, Inn
Paw Khone Village, Ywa Ma Village, Nam Pan Village (where we visit workshops to
see crafts – silversmithing, weaving, boatmaking), Floating Gardens, Nge’ Phe’
Chaung Monastery and Indein Pagoda – essentially enabling me to see all Inle
Lake’s highlights in a one-day visit ($35), though there is so much to see,
Inle Lake is worth a two or three day stay.
Sanctum Inle Resort is situated on the bank of Inle lake – a shallow lake
that’s over 13.5 miles long and 7 miles wide – and to begin the tour I
have booked (because I’m not competing, I can book a hotel tour, while the
competing team cannot, so they go off to find where the boatmen keep their
boats), I am escorted down to the hotel’s dock where the boat and the boatman
is waiting. It turns out I am the only one, so this is essentially a private
tour. The boatman, a young fellow named Wei Mo, speaks only limited English –
enough to tell me where I am going – but it is sufficient, I just don’t expect
to get any commentary.
is an amazing experience – gliding across the lake, the fresh air and cool
breeze rushing over me, especially after the debilitating 108-degree heat of
Bagan. Inle Lake is notable for the Intha, lake dwellers who have a distinctive
way rowing their wooden boats by wrapping their leg around a tall oar. At
first, the mechanics make no sense. But I realize it is a way of standing and
using such a tall oar and keeping the weight balanced on the tiny boats.
the course of the boat tour, I encounter a young fellow fishing (though you
have to get out pretty much at sunrise to see the fishermen), boat people
harvesting from the lake, go through an entire village built on stilts, where
there are also numerous craftsmen and workshops we visit. One stop provides an
opportunity to visit with the Long-Neck Ladies (actually only one), who come
down from their secluded village to pose for photos with tourists for money. We
also visit important pagodas and temples on the lake.
is remarkable to see how the Inthar make the most out of the lake – even
creating farmland where none existed. They build floating gardens out of
lake-bottom weeds and water hyacinth and grow crops like squash and tomatoes,
anchoring them with bamboo poles. I learn that these
floating islands can be cut, dragged by boats and even sold like a plot of
land. Floating gardens can be found mostly in Kaylar, Inchan and Zayatgyi
I love visiting the various workshops in the various villages
– it seems each has a specialty. We visit a silversmith workshop where I watch
the intricate process before being led into (what else) an elaborate shop,
filled with stunning creations.
pulls up to Inn Paw Khone Village, famous for
its weaving workshops, but most notably, weaving silk from lotus. Silk
weaving in Inn Paw Khon began 100 years ago. At first, they wove from cotton
fiber and then changed to silk and finally lotus fiber. and I am told that the
technique of making silk from lotus was begun by a woman now more than a
century old. I get to watch how a woman
delicately pulls a strand from the lotus plant which is wound on a spindle into
the boatmakers, I learn how each one is designed differently for their purpose
– a family boat, a fishing boat (7.8 meters), a boat designed for the Long Neck
people. “A boat lasts 25 years. Only men make the boats, they need to be
strong. It takes 20 days to make a boat; they make lacquer from a tree to
paint, wood powder and cotton. It takes two people to cut the teakwood,” she
tells me. There are absolutely stunning wood carvings to purchase. But I must
stop in several of the region’s most important pagodas.
Indein Pagoda is the most impressive of the attractions visited. You walk up a
covered walkway lined with beautifully painted columns, up a hill, flanked by
an astonishing 1,600 Buddhist stupas, some of stone, some intricately carved,
some gilded. Many have been restored but you also see many crumbling with age
and being reclaimed by the jungle. (There
is a camera fee, 500 kyat, which works out to about 30 cents).
to atlasobscurba.com, “These structures date from the 14th to the 18th
centuries and are typical of Burmese zedi. Like others found
across the region, the stupas feature fantastical creatures like chinthe –
mythic lion-like beings that protect sacred spaces. These were (and remain)
sites for contemplation and meditation and many contain relics inside their
bases. The first stupas at Indein were likely commissioned during the reign
of King Narapatisithu, although according to legend, it was King Ashoka – the
Indian emperor responsible for spreading Buddhism across much of Asia – who
first designated this as a site of particular spiritual importance. Hundreds of
years later, that distinction is completely obvious. The sea of ornate spires
coupled with the view over the lake and surrounding calm lend this spot an
unquestionably mystic, reflective air.” (www.atlasobscura.com/places/shwe-indein-pagoda) It is
breathtaking to see. Inside, people are gathering for a communal feast.
come Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, one of the famous principal
shrines in Myanmar, just crammed with boats and worshippers. The pagoda houses
five small Buddha images which are much revered by the lake-dwellers. Once a
year, in late September-early October, there is a pagoda festival when four of
the five Buddha images are taken on an elaborately decorated barge towed
by several boats of leg-rowers, rowing in unison, and other accompanying boats,
making an impressive procession on the water.
Ngaphechaung Monastery is a
beautiful wooden monastery built on stilts over the lake at the end of the
1850s, the biggest and oldest monastery on the lake. The
monastery is known for a collection of old Myanmar’s Buddha images from
different eras. It is also notable because the monks have taught a few of
the many cats living with them to jump through hoops (that is the reputation,
but I don’t get to see any cats).
skip stopping for lunch so am able to condense the tour somewhat, which brings
me back to the hotel at 2:30 pm.
I indulge in Sanctum Inle Resort’s utterly stunning pool – I would rank one of the best resort pools in the world – an infinity pool of black and silver that shimmers as you swim, magnificently set with a view down to the lake, richly landscaped, a great size for actually swimming as well as playing around. It is also one of the most magnificent places just to lounge. I meet families from around the world.
am back in my room by 5 pm, to walk about a mile up the road from the resort
into the nearby village of Maing Thauk. I am bound for the Friendship Bridge
where one of the scavenges is to watch the sunset. I love to see the Burmese alphabet,
with its circles and curley-cues, on signs (few have English translation,
except for the Noble Aim PreSchool, my Rosetta Stone, and a traffic sign with a
drawing of a parent holding a child’s hand, indicating a school crossing). I
come upon a school holding a sports competition that has drawn a tremendous
audience. Even though hardly anyone speaks English, we manage to chat
(icebreaker: What is going on? Where is the bridge?). It’s a good thing I ask
the fellow if I was going the right way to get to the Friendship Bridge I am
looking for, because he directs me to turn left on the next corner (I would
have gone straight).
Bridge connects many structures and from which people can get onto the scores
of wooden boats that gather here, especially to offer sunset “cruises”, as well
as walk to several restaurants. The views and the evening activity are just
magnificent. It’s like watching the entire community walk by.
I’ve noticed during this incredibly brief visit is exactly what GSH’s organizer
Bill Chalmers had hoped when he dealt with a question of whether we should be
in a place that has earned worldwide condemnation for human rights abuses.
Travel is about seeing for yourself, but also gaining an understanding of one
another, disabusing stereotypes or caricatures, and most significantly, not
seeing others as “other”, which works both ways. In very real ways (and
especially now), travelers are ambassadors, no less than diplomats. Boycotting
destinations because of their governments, isolating people from one another,
cutting off the exchange of ideas and people-to-people engagements is not how
change happens – that only hardens points of view, and makes people susceptible
to fear-mongering and all the bad things that have happened throughout human
history as a result. “See for yourself,” Chalmers tells us.
I see in the people I’ve encountered is a kindness, a warmth of spirit, a
sweetness among the people here. I see it in how parents hold their children,
how the boatman, Wei Moi, shows such etiquette among the other boatmen, how
helpful people are. And how readily they
leg has been a Par 5 in difficulty (Par 6 being the most difficult during this,
the 15th Global Scavenger Hunt) – which has entailed us going out of
Yangon to Bagan, Mandalay and/or Inle Lake (many more rules on top of that,
including no more than 2 flights), taking overnight bus or hiring a taxi or
train, and so forth. But Chalmers devious design has worked – in just these
four days, we really do immerse ourselves in Myanmar, though our itinerary most
properly should be done in 11 days (there are several operators who offer such
challenge of the Global Scavenger Hunt is important to mention because Inle
Lake is worth at least a two or three day stay to be completely immersed in its
spell. There is a tremendous amount to do and experience.
can reach Inle Lake by air, bus (Joyous Journey Express, known as JJ Express,
provided excellent service; travel on the first-class bus geared to tourists,
www.jjexpress.net), or hire a driver to Inle Lake from various other major destinations
in Myanmar (Bagan, Mandalay, Yangon). The closest airport to Inle Lake is Heho
airport (HEH) which is 45 minutes away from the lake.
final challenge of this leg is to get back to our hotel, the Sule Shangri-la,
in Yangon by 6 pm, and for those competing to hand in their scorecards and
proof of completing the scavenges. That’s when we will learn where in the world
we will go next, and where we will all compare experiences.
is a growing concern and not just for residents of popular places being overrun
and rendered unaffordable and uninhabitable by onslaughts of tourists, possibly
assisted by the mad dashes to the next “hot” place, prompted by social media
“influencers” and “user generated” posts (‘Look at what a wonderful place I’m
in, you should come!”). Governments and municipalities who otherwise relish the
jobs created and economic benefits of tourism, are increasingly concerned about
the literal destruction of the very thing that so attracts travelers –
effectively killing the goose that lays the golden egg.
Some destinations are being mindful – Venice is even contemplating charging admission to day-trippers and there are now gates in place that can close off the city to anyone who isn’t a resident or hotel guest at night. Coral reefs are being killed off by snorkelers wearing popular sunscreens with oxybenzone (a travel company, Aqua-Aston Hospitality, won an HSMAI Adrian Award for Leadership in Corporate Social Responsibility for its “Reef Safe” Campaign raising awareness, including giving out 70,000 samples of appropriate sunscreen and ultimately got the state of Hawaii to ban the damaging chemical).
like the Galapagos and Macchu Picchu limit the number of people; the National
Park Service has a lottery system for permits rafting in the Grand Canyon and
people wait years for their number to come up.
can love a place to death, or just be so selfish and insensitive not to care –
look at what happened the Joshua Tree National Park during the government
shutdown, with vandals and marauders destroying trees that take 1000 years to
grow, and will take 200 to 300 years to restore the park.
a dual-edged sword, though: tourism, done right, helps sustain the very
environment, culture and heritage by providing economic sustenance, so
indigenous people can continue to live and work in their native lands, so there
is money for maintenance and upkeep of monuments, wildlife refuges and nature
preserves. Ironically, some game preserves justify selling hunting permits to
sustain the animals. And often, travelers are not in a position to know whether
the elephants or camels they ride are “gentle” because they have been
conditioned with cruel means.
“I’m shocked how people (Americans) don’t care – until problem is right on them,” an irate Mark Lakin, Co-Founder, Epic Road, said at the New York Times Travel Show panel, ”Sustainable and Socially Conscious Travel: Tips, Advice and Travel Experiences.”
“Think about what drew
you to a place – sustainability is defined as preservation of that asset –
whatever it is that you want to see, you want your kids to see, you are
choosing to make that asset live. I’m surprised more aren’t concerned about
“Travel is not a right,
travel is a privilege – if you are among those people privileged to travel, you
have obligation to preserve [what it is you are traveling to see],” said Bret Love, Co-Founder, Green Global Travel. “Are you going to exploit or empower? We practice
ecotourism – responsible travel to natural places – eco doesn’t stand for economy,
which is exploitive, it stands for ecology.
“Our purpose for being
is to teach people how to travel more responsibly, sustainably to preserve not
just the natural but the cultural – languages, music, dance – all the things
that make a cultural destination unique. If we are not preserving, they won’t
survive. The reason this is important is that if we don’t spend money
responsibly when we travel, we risk losing all the things that make the places
“There are two terms fairly loosely used: responsible travel and sustainable travel,” said James Currie,Wilderness Safaris Brand Ambassador. “Responsible travel has now become a word that you have to embrace sustainability to be responsible – yes can travel with a sustainable outfitter – someone who is taking care of the environment, who builds lodges in a sustainable way, but it is up to us travelers to act responsibly – to respect local cultures, communities, distances you go to see animals.
“I genuinely believe that responsible travel is a better form of travel, and once people experience it, you won’t want to travel any other way.”
New York Times travel and lifestyle writer, Shivani Vora,
who moderated the panel, Sustainable and Socially Conscious Travel: Tips,
Advice and Travel Experiences, at the New York times Travel Show, raised the issue that “so many
of us stay in hotels, what does it mean to choose a sustainable hotel?
“There is such a thing as greenwashing – towels, hire locals – that actually saves money,” said Currie. “True sustainability goes so much further. When considering a sustainable hotel in fragile environments (like safari lodges), consider: Is that hotel built in a sustainable manner? Where we operate in the wilderness areas of Africa, you can literally pick our lodges up and there will be little sign of ever having been– there is no concrete foundation, everything is on elevated boardwalks, canvas-style tents, yet you still don’t sacrifice luxury. What are those hotels on the ground doing to have sustainable effect – animals, conservation, local communities? What are you doing for local communities, how are they benefiting from the tourism dollars going to the hotel, what conservation projects are they supporting? We’ve been operating 35 years – 35 ears of “traveling with purpose” – we pioneered ecotourism in Africa before the word existed.
“We use life changing journeys to help preserve and restore the wild places of Africa. Wilderness safaris connect with nature, make a difference. We were the first with passion, courage to pioneer sustainable ecotourism as we know it today. We adopted the African schema as a logo, a symbol of pristine and fragile eco systems. We were the first to reintroduce previously extinct species (rhino), to do ground-breaking reforestation in Rwanda habitat for gorillas.
“For us, it’s not just
about big game on the savannah – thanks to 35 years of experience, we are able
to offer guests authentic, intimate wildlife encounters – 2 million hectares of
pristine wilderness areas in seven countries, 40 camps and lodges that
epitomize our ideal.
“Conservation is also
about people. “Our journeys change lives” not just those of guests, but of the
staff and thousands of people who live in these communities.”
Among the programs that Wilderness
Safaris offers is Youth of Africa, an eco-mentor program, where young people
access and can appreciate their heritage and become the conservation leaders of
the future. “We change lives now and into the future; our journeys change
lives. We make a political impact.”
“Don’t be afraid to ask the important
questions when you travel in Africa,” Currie said. “If they don’t have something tangible in writing,
a really good environmental policy, you are booking the wrong hotel or operator.
Bret Love, Co-Founder, Green Global Travel advised, “Certification programs to look for – some are more efficient than others – LEED building certification (if the hotel was built in sustainable fashion, but not if operated sustainable, or community initiatives). The epitome is the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (gstcouncil.org), which devises criteria by which tour operators and hotels are judged. But you have to pay to play and small mom and pop operators may not be able to afford certification. Another is Earthcheck (earthcheck.org) which has patented software and systems that have set a benchmark for sustainability reporting for the travel and tourism industry and is used 70 countries. Another is Green Globe and Rainforest Alliance.
it boils down to reviewing blogs, authoritative sites like New York Times, what
people say. Look for active engagements with the community.
“We work with international
expeditions, leading tours to Peruvian Amazon for years – go to local schools
in Iquitos where have conservation education program for kids, who train to become
guides and trackers; go to river villages to see water treatment plants they
created for villages, sidewalks so don’t have to watch for poisonous snakes –
use money from tourism for schools, infrastructure.”
In Kenya, Gamewatchers
Safaris & Camps have a connection to Masai. The company pioneered Masai
conservancies, just outside Masai Mara where there is more wildlife because the
animals are more protected. The local communities own the land which Gamewatchers
lease, 90% of the employees are from the Masai and the company pays out $500,000,
divided among 1000 local Masai families that own the property. So, look where
money goes to community.
“Why it should matter to you is not just benevolence,” said Lakin. “In the Maldives people love those romantic over-water bungalows built on coral reefs. But if you use heavy machinery to build them, you kill the reef. Why should you care? Because when you dive off from your bungalow to the reef, it’s dead.
“The person who comes
and serves breakfast. If the wilderness lodge has gone out of its way to build a
school to educate that waiter’s child, he will be happy to have the job, and it will be
reflected in how he treats the guest.
“Stop seeking ‘ecotourism’ for ecotourism. You are all curious nomads, seeking out the next great adventure.
If you want adventure to be great, think
about how every person, place and thing was treated and hopefully the label of ‘ecotourism’
will go away and it will just be about good business practice.”
Even hotels in urban
destinations can reflect sustainable practices and responsible tourism.
“Consider not just how the
building was built, but what extra things the hotel does for the local
community, visitor experience,” Love said. “Does it have its own rooftop garden
where they grow produce used in the restaurant? Does it have a rainwater catchment
system so they are not using public water, or a gray water recycling system to
irrigate, efficient lighting. Does it make the lowest impact it can make?”
The easiest telltale
says Lakin, “Do the plastic test: if you walk into the room and you only see
plastic; how many little bottles, pens, cups? “
“Whether a hotel is in Africa or a city, there are tangible examples of what a difference we can make, Currie says. “We had plastic bottles at our lodges until 2012, when we started a five-year plan to reduce plastic in lodges. In five years, we reduced plastic waste by 88%. We also put in reverse osmosis and recycle wastewater for vegetable gardens.
The amount of electricity
using solar can save is 5000 carbon tons, equivalent to 600 flights between
London and Johannesburg. Ask hotels what they are doing to reduce their carbon
“If you travel and see a
company not managing sustainably, speak up. As consumers, you have power,” says
Love. “We spoke up in the Amazon, where operators were using plastic water
bottles which they had to have shipped in and then deal with it afterward. We
said, Why not just put a water filter system on the boat, give guests a water
bottle with your logo that they can fill up, then you don’t have to deal with
shipping. You can make these changes.”
“Sustainability is a
ripple effect,” says Currie. “It starts with the traveler making a difference,
which makes a difference for the hotel, which has immense power with suppliers.
At Wilderness Safaris, we noticed that a lot of food that was coming in
cellophane-wrapped. We put pressure on suppliers to stop wrapping the food in
But even companies that
want to be sustainable, may not know all things they need to do – companies that
offer animal interactions, like elephant rides in Thailand, camel rides in
Egypt, posing with a tiger, swimming with dolphins or encountering sharks in a
Love points to companies
that offer a chance to ride an elephant. “We had to educate them that this is
not truly sustainable – if you want to use these words and avoid greenwashing –
dedicate yourself to educating yourself. Consumers should educate – at website,
stories about cases.
“I swam with dolphins
before the documentary, ‘The Cove’ came out. No one knew in 2007 about dolphins
in captivity – swimming with dolphins was considered ecotourism. The same with
riding an elephant and walking with lions. Elephants which are trained to pose
for photos or give rides, are put through an extremely brutal training process,
designed to break the animal’s spirit and make it a slave to human overseers. If
you wouldn’t want something done to a human why would you allow it to be done to
one of most precious and beautiful animals in the world?
about what is behind these things- people see Tiger Temple in Thailand where
you can pose with a tiger (which may be shut down). But it has been proven that
the tiger has been drugged, that’s why it’s so placid – but people don’t know.
If you are touching an animal, posing with selfie, riding an animal that’s not
meant to be ridden, probably there is some hurtful process to condition the
animal. People don’t know. But if what you are doing is changing the natural behavior of
the animal, don’t do it.
Even snorkelers can be
unwitting killers of the coral, by wearing sunscreen containing oxybenzone, which is toxic to the living
“If on safari, game rangers or guides too
close to wildlife that puts you at risk, but if something happens, the animal
would be shot,” Currie says. “Guides must respect a comfortable distance, and
keep park vehicles so they always have an escape route. If you see the guide
getting too close, say something. It’s
about your safety but the animal’s safety also. At Ngorongoro Crater there are
off road tracks all over because of irresponsible guides.
“The vast majority of
animal interactions are not acceptable,” says Lakin. “One of the quickest ways
to figure if interacting with captive animal is acceptable, is whether the
animal is being bred.
In contrast, you can
support organizations that rescue orphans and reintroduce them to the wild.
Lakin points to the David
Shelbrick Wildlife Trust, which rescues orphan elephants whose mothers have
been killed by poachers. They have developed a synthetic milk formula that
mimics elephant milk. They may spend 5-7 years rearing the baby elephant before
reintroducing them into a herd, but allows visitors, who make a donation, to
visit the baby elephants. Elephants have lived on earth for over 55 million
years, but in just the last 100, we have lost 92% of elephants to habitat loss
Epic Road supports the David
Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DWST) which rescues, rehabilitates and reintroduces
the orphaned elephants, providing travelers who symbolically “adopt” an
elephant with a $50 donation, an opportunity to have a private visit.
“The experience is just
better when it is responsible,” Lakin says.
“Wherever you go, try to
engage with local community, food, culture, history, art, dance, everything
that makes unique – don’t just be an observer but a participant – learn the language,
learn to cook a dish, sing a song. In the Peruvian Amazon, we taught kids to do
the hokey-pokey, in middle of Amazon! You will feel feelings you won’t get from
all-inclusive resort, or a cruise. Just engage and be part of the world,
embrace the world, that’s what makes travel real, connect across boundaries,
understand we are all more alike than dissimilar.
Overtourism – literally loving
cherished places to death – is another problem inadvertently raised by
ecotourists who believe they are supporting and sustaining environments and
cultures. But there are ways to mitigate the adverse impact: time the visit to
the off-season and less popular times when a destination is not being overrun.
Even better, seek out alternatives.
find joy in finding the 2, 3rd or 10th version
of that place and not being with so many people,” says Lakin. “That’s not
to say Taj Mahal or Victoria Falls are not
spectacular but there is something to be said for visiting less trafficked.”
“There is no problem
with going to Machu Picchu, which is doing things to limit tourists,” says
Love. “But traveler should research and go in off season or shoulder. Machu Picchu
is great but there is a whole sacred valley with amazing ancient ruins just as
cool. Don’t neglect to see other things – in Czech Republic, Prague was crazy,
way too many tourists, but every place outside Prague was great. You don’t want
to contribute to mass tourism, but that doesn’t mean you can’t visit, just
avoid peak times.”