Travelling overseas as a vegan is not always easy, and that’s before you even think about what you are going to eat. I’ll never forget the romantic weekend in Venice spent offering water to dehydrated and dying pigeons in Piazza San Marco, or the long-anticipated trip to the Pyramids where I spent so much of the day persuading tourists to get out of carts pulled by skinny, lame horses that I don’t think I took a single photo. And as for my travels in China, there were daily upsets, even though I avoided the markets where I knew the worst sights lay.
There are plenty of Brits who have seen similar suffering but, instead of coming home and writing a blog about it, they set up sanctuaries or treatment centres in the country they visited. Animal Care in Egypt, Greek Animal Rescue, Animal SOS Sri Lanka and many more were started because good people did not walk away when faced with suffering. These groups offer a lifeline for animals, but also a helping hand for those of us who visit their country. My advice to anyone travelling overseas is to find out which animal protection centres and services are available before you go, so you know who to call if you need to.
If you’re going to an area where stray animals are common, see if you can volunteer for a day or donate to the local sanctuary. And be prepared to buy a lot of bottled water and spend your days looking after the little ones who follow you around. You may be lucky enough to meet your best friend and, once microchipped, vaccinated against rabies and issued with the correct pet passport, she can come home with you. You wouldn’t be the first. My best friend, Alfie (left), happened to be born on the streets of Bucharest.
It is unlikely that vegans will ride on elephants, pose for photos with chained monkeys or visit a bullfight, but you may be confronted by these things all the same. Or you may find yourself in a region where birds in tiny cages are hung outside every door, innocently visit a tiger ‘sanctuary’, only to find the animals are chained and sedated, or unknowingly drink Kopi Luwak, the coffee produced by feeding coffee cherries to caged civets and waiting for those poor, tormented creatures to poop out the remains. Cynical as it might sound, it is safest to assume that, if animals are involved, they are being exploited, unless you know otherwise from your own research.
If there are sights you know you cannot bear, but about which you can do nothing, it is better to avoid them, either once you are in the country, or by boycotting the country altogether and letting their tourist board know why. If you see something you don’t like, speak up at the time, and tell the world later. There are animal protection groups working in all countries, so let them know what you saw. If you have photos, send them too. You can always write a letter to your local and the national newspapers once you’re home, urging people not to get involved in the kinds of events you saw. And then join the campaign group that works on that issue to ensure things change in the long-term. We are not helpless although we may feel it at times; the world changes when we work together to end suffering.
After reading this, you may decide to holiday at one of the many wonderful UK vegan B&Bs, and who could blame you? But you would not be immune. Where there are people, there are animals suffering. In all countries.
Research, be prepared, boycott the baddies and speak out. What else can we do?