It is embarrassing to admit that I was in my mid-20s when I was in Pompeii with a friend and we decided to go “Hollywood” and act as if the volcano was erupting, taking funny photos of each other. An Italian tour guide ran up to us, yelling angrily in English, “Girls, this isn’t Disneyland! This really happened and people died tragically here.” Oops, Ugly American moment, indeed. But, it taught me something I always carry with me: the concept of being a responsible and respectful traveller.While in Thailand, it was common to see elephants being used to carry tourists, and the tourists always seemed to be having the time of their lives.
But, with very little research required, you would discover that many tourist elephants are trained through brutal methods (such as sharp hooks and nails) and are chained for many hours when they are not working. Those showcased in cities are even worse off, as they are not even able to enjoy natural water or grass beneath their feet.
If you have the opportunity to travel abroad, make sure you take a few minutes to do research on which elephant park you wish to visit. Those promoting elephant rides or painting/dancing elephants should be an instant red flag. It may sound fun, but the reality is that these elephants are often mistreated. I promise you will still have a very memorable and fun experience visiting parks that allow elephants to have human contact but never force them into the exploitive entertainment industry.
Please don’t make the same mistake I did back in Italy: be a responsible tourist!
(Photo: I took this from a boat ride in Thailand)