conscious traveling, Covid-19, greta thunberg, tourism, vegan

From Greta to Covid-19: What Can We Learn as Travellers

Just a little intro of mine before I get to the point: while this post will be very honest, I am afraid that some readers might find it a bit negative or offensive. Please keep in mind that some parts of this post will be an honest outpouring of my thoughts and feelings and are no way meant to attack anyone or show any lack of appreciation, while other parts will be based on science and facts that no one can deny.  Now that we made it clear, without further ado, let’s get to it.

As some of you might already know, I was born and raised in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. Thankfully, I was privileged enough to get a decent education, which, unfortunately, happens to be one of the major struggles that my country is facing. I will not go in to detail what the Georgian approach is to some worldwide issues that we face every day, but to talk about my personal experience that matches the topic of today’s blog post, I will share one thing that bothers me the most – not taking climate change seriously. I was traveling quite a bit during my student years (not too long ago) with my friends. We would go on one week trips to Austria, Hungary, Spain, etc, but traveling for such a short period and with a group of friends never really led me to anywhere on a deeper level, meaning, getting to know the real, local culture outside the touristic centers. It was more of trying new delicious food and taking ten thousand pictures at Gran Via or Stephansplatz. Overall, traveling to any extent is a great experience, and you can have a lot of fun with your friends, it also helps you get to know them much better. But my real traveling, the one that started making some profound changes in my personality began in 2016 when I first went to Lisbon all alone to learn the beautiful language and culture of Portugal. At the university, it was the first time I had met so many people from different parts of the world at the same time. I learned how much we have in common, and how different we are in some matters. I realized how much I have to learn and evolve. It was also the very first time – since we never recycle in Georgia – that I started recycling. Not a big deal right? Most of Europe had been doing that for years already, but that was my very first experience in getting a bit closer to a conscious way of living. Then step by step I met new people, got new friends in Portugal, some of them were vegan or vegetarian and that was my very first contact with veganism. I got more involved with this eco-friendly style of living and finally, and not too long ago I turned into a vegetarian, strictly. But “cheese was still too good to quit” until the very beginning of 2020, when coincidentally with the COVID-19 outbreak, I happened to go fully vegan.

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Miradouro de Santa Luzia, Lisboa, Portugal

The turning point in my life was definitely Greta Thunberg’s TED Talk, where she was speaking about climate change and how we are running out of time to save our planet. Of course, just as a lot of people out there started questioning Greta just because she is young, and female, I did the same too in the beginning. Of course, my doubts were not coming from Greta’s age or gender, but from a completely different reason: NO ONE has ever mentioned a word throughout my school or college years in Georgia about climate change and how we treat our planet. So, after Greta’s speech, I did some research and came to the conclusion that the young Swedish lady is talking 100% truth. This was science that no one can argue with. It’s a fact.

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@thedailyshow with Trevor Noah

Another huge role played in my approach to living a more conscious life was me moving to Sweden in 2019, where I spent an amazing and evolving one year. Living in Gothenburg, the city that tops all the rankings in sustainability, turned me into a more eco-friendly traveler. Alongside fish or meat, I gave up on traveling too much by airplane and instead started traveling more by train or bus. I would take trains to anywhere in Sweden, even all the way up to the North, and to the neighboring countries like Denmark or Norway. On top of that, I stopped supporting the chain brands that have a horrible impact on our nature.

No one likes to take eight-hour bus or train ride all the way from Madrid to Barcelona, for example, but as one of my friends told me during one conversation, sometimes it feels like the more we rush through things, the faster we destroy our planet.

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Gothenburg, Sweden

I, of course, do not believe the world will go vegan in a minute. My point is that if we at least try to be nicer versions of ourselves, get more educated and don’t take our planet for granted, maybe the world would be a better place to live in. Also, I would like to highlight one fact, since it has been a huge deal of discussion with my friends and dearest family. Whenever I share something vegan, I kind of get attacked by non-vegans saying “What about the air pollution? Why do you only attack meat-eaters who are not the major problem of climate change?” With all due respect, I am never attacking anyone or judging even. All I am doing is trying to become a better person for the environment, and I do realize that I have yet a lot to learn and change, so WHO AM I to tutor you on how to live. However there are some things that we can all work on together. Veganism doesn’t only include giving up on meat and dairy for good. The whole idea of veganism is to live a conscious lifestyle, and to have the least negative impact possible on our planet. This includes leaving animal exploitation behind, decreasing the number of unnecessary travels by airplane (if possible), recycling, second-hand/vintage shopping, and using cruelty-free cosmetics, to name a few. We take bikes instead of cars or trains instead of airplanes whenever we can, and soy milk instead of cow milk because we are not baby cows 🙂 Of course, no one can avoid traveling by airplane, it’s 21-st century and we do travel a lot, but the whole idea is to find a balance between what’s urgent and what can be done differently. I think the time has come to finally change our approach to things.

Zoonotic diseases cause a lot of trouble to our planet, including HIV, H1N1, and the very recent COVID-19, which is not the first, nor the last coronavirus outbreak we are going to face. And this is not my personal opinion, this is science and you can easily get information by googling it, or click the link and watch a very informative TED TALK about why COVID-19 happened and how can we prepare for the next outbreak.
Do you remember when Greta told us she wanted us to panic? Well, she was right, because we are running out of time.
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As for some good news, I was reading a Georgian fashion blogger’s very recent blog post about the future of fashion, where Tako aka Takeau shared some promising news from the Fashion world. My favourite story comes from Copenhagen Fashion Week, through a recently-launched sustainability action plan that “presents how the event will transition to becoming more sustainable, for example by reducing its climate impact by 50% and rethinking waste systems in all aspects of event production, with zero waste as the goal by 2022. Importantly, the plan also focuses on the bigger picture by outlining how Copenhagen Fashion Week will implement sustainability requirements and set new standards for participation to push the industry toward necessary, comprehensive change.”

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the sad truth (credits to the owner)

While some big companies starting to re-think and re-shape the business world, we as individuals also have our own part of the responsibility. If we try not to consume too much of anything, be it meat or clothing, the business will also adapt according to the customer. The key point here is finding moderation in things we do, use, or eat.

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Poster from Canva

Now to finally get to the tourism part, I do believe what the COVID-19 should teach us is to be more eco-friendly and to support the brands or companies that have less of an environmental impact. I do understand that eating meat, drinking milk, taking an airplane and buying a Louis Vuitton bag is a personal choice, and we all want to live in an environment where free choice is supported, but we need to think twice about our personal choices if they end up destroying the planet. Our choices are causing deforestation, child labor, and creating too much waste, that has a horrible impact on Climate Change. We should not forget that all the harm we do to our planet will backfire in forms of new pandemic outbreaks and climate change. And it will soon be too late to react.

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Credits to UN.org

As we look at some business trying to adapt to the new reality that the pandemic left for all of us I was thinking how would the future of tourism be, what would be the most acceptable approach in my opinion that the tourism sector could take. Especially, coming from a very mountainous country of Georgia, I have always been interested in why mountain sustainability was not supported or promoted in my country. I believe it could solve so many problems of poverty, habitat destruction and will push our new-born tourism to another level. In my opinion, Georgia investing in a sustainable mountain development could solve a lot of problems that the country is facing nowadays financial-wise and would also have less of a negative environmental impact on a global level. I have thought of some examples that we all could learn from the parts of the world where sustainable mountain tourism is well supported already. We all know that mountains are an important source of water, energy, and biological diversity. The sad news are that mountain ecosystems are changing rapidly and struggling a lot, including soil erosion, loss of habitats, and widespread poverty among mountain inhabitants, just to name a few. As a result, most global mountain areas are experiencing environmental degradation, not to mention the current condition of Georgia. All of these added up to the recent problems of pandemics, climate change and a financial crisis that the world is facing now, I do believe that investing in sustainable mountain development is the right path to take.

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Kazbegi, Georgia

The very first inspiration about sustainable tourism I got was in Sweden when I visited a place called Roslagen, close to Stockholm. They describe it as a place where “the inner archipelago meets the outer one”. In this tiny part of Sweden, kayaking and canoeing are very developed and there are companies that have special excursions to different islands and archipelagos around Sweden.

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Stockholm, Sweden

There are already so many great examples to follow, including one of my favourite countries Austria, that have sustainable tourism as a priority. Even if you visit only Vienna, you will see that the consciousness of the country is really on another level, but the Austrians are also experimenting with long-term sustainable projects. For example in Vorarlberg construction of passive houses are being pioneered. “The concept is that passive houses are built from local, sustainably managed wood, which itself is a natural store of carbon and a weapon in the battle against climate change.” Austria is such a great example on so many other levels including the cities of Graz and Salzburg converting their public transports to bio-fuels. Even high up in the Austrian Alps you will find solar panels for heating, with low energy light-bulbs being used etc. Also, one more thing that I LOVED during my trip to Vienna in 2019 is that hotels and restaurants are supporting the local agriculture to the fullest. In most places, you will be served locally procured organic goods. This approach, of course, promotes and supports organic agriculture. Us, as travelers, can support sustainable mountain tourism and organic agriculture in two ways: directly by visiting the places itself, or non-directly by supporting the business that prioritizes a conscious and sustainable approach and helps the local agriculture to the fullest.

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Belvedere Palace, Vienna

My final note is that, whilst it is impossible to fully cut airplane travel or a meat-based diet (for most people), the main idea is to decrease the amount of non-ecological stuff we do on a daily basis. Trains instead of airplanes, plants instead of a diary, recycle, do not litter, go vintage shopping, support the local small business, go for the cruelty-free products (seriously it’s 2020, wearing dead animals on your skin is uncool and unethical) and step by step you will play your tiny but important role in changing the harmful environment that we all created and was born into throughout these years.

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TV Series @thepolitician on Netflix

As a P.S. I hope you are all staying safe during the pandemic. It has been challenging for all of us and I am really looking forward to sharing my new travel stories with all of you once the lockdown is over. Meanwhile, let’s let the scientists do their job, and we can do our job by becoming more environmentally friendly.

With love,
Ani

Useful links:
Earthling ED
Greta Thunberg
TED Talks – Climate Change

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