This week’s Wander Woman is Annika from The Midnight Blue Elephant. She’s a caring and thoughtful soul, being a good citizen and remembering to think about how her footprints are affecting sustainable tourism whilst travelling throughout the land! Read on to find out what sustainable tourism actually is and how Annika does her part for it below!
1.Who are you, what do you do and what is your awesome blog about?
Guten Tag (spoken with a slight Yankee accent), my name is Annika. I am a photo producer by day and travel blogger by night. My sustainable tourism blog is The Midnight Blue Elephant and I share funny travel stories (my friend’s words not mine) as well as guides and insider tips to my favorite destinations. Sustainable Tourism and authenticity are really important to me. While I love to travel luxuriously as well, I constantly think (and write) about the impact our travels have on the planet and other people and how it changes ourselves and the world around us. With that in mind, I constantly seek ways to travel ‘right’ or, at least, better. Ever since I started diving, I am obsessed with Nemo & Co so you will find quite a few scuba related posts on my blog too!
2.What is Sustainable Tourism?
Sustainable Tourism is about being a really lovely tourist and making the least negative impact you can on the environment around you, the society you’re immersing yourself in and the economy you’re putting your money into. Some places have this figured out more than others. In Palawan in the Philippines for example, locals have four very thoughtful commandments that they repeat to visitors when they arrive but over in Malaysia, the environment in the Cameron Highlands is going downhill due to land owners being greedy, chopping down the ecosystem and stealing the natural resources.
As a tourist, the planet will be grateful to you if you mindfully consider what impact your movements are making in all areas. This can be from what transport you take, what food you eat, what activities you choose to partake in and what things you buy and from where. For example, if you’ve been reading Thailand blogs recently, the topic of why riding elephants is not a good idea is becoming hotter and hotter and swimming with whale sharks in the Philippines may not be the best idea you’ve ever had either.
3.How long have you been travelling? Where have you been and what are your future travel plans?
I was 13 when I went on my first trip without my parents. They sent me to Malta to improve my bad English. I was to take classes with my best friend to get better marks, but what was meant as a punishment of sorts became, in fact, a sun, fun and beach filled girls holiday. I went to college in New York and after graduation traveled from there quite a bit for work. Later I moved to Cape Town where I lived for almost seven years. This is when the travel bug really caught me. I have been to quite a few African countries, but my heart definitely beats for Asia. For this year, I look forward to exploring Indonesia and hopefully diving in Bali and Raja Ampat. I am also planning another trip with my dad to La Reunion, one of our favorite destinations ever!
4.Travelling solo can have some amazing benefits: what are they for you?
Solo travel allows me to be really egoistic. That sounds, well, egoistic, but is actually quite amazing. I can just ask myself – what do I really want to do? Where do I really want to go whilst following Sustainable Tourism? Without having to take others into consideration whilst still considering the planet, you can actually discover quite a bit about what you really want and need.
I also think it makes connections to locals easier. Traveling as a solo woman, you are actually seen as less of a threat or nuisance (whether you are or you aren’t is irrelevant, it is all about perception) and that will open many more doors than traveling as a guy or in a group.
5.What countries do you recommend for female travelers just starting out?
I guess Thailand or Scandinavian countries would be the classic answer. For my first proper solo trip, I went to the Seychelles and I loved it. There’s not even poisonous snakes or spiders there so I felt incredibly safe! However, one must be immune to romance, otherwise, you might feel a bit lonely. In general, I would feel more at ease in a country where a good amount of people spoke English and I could ask for advice and help more easily.
I personally love Morocco for its hospitality, but it does get quite overwhelming for newcomers. So if you do go, I recommend being in a group or sticking to the more rural areas as well as beautiful little Essaouira on the Atlantic coast.
6.How do you stay safe on the road? Do you have any tips for happy travels?
I did many of my first solo trips actually with a group. So I guess, it is not technically a solo trip, but I went all on my own and had to integrate into a group of people, which can be daunting enough. So that is something I would definitely recommend for someone who is shying away to go alone in general or go to certain places on their own.
I also make sure that my transport is safe i.e. if I arrive somewhere at night I will ask my accommodation to organize my pick-up even if it is more expensive. In some countries, public transport is seriously dodgy and while I like a cheap bus ticket as much as the next girl, I try to upgrade to vehicles that don’t look like they belong in the 1920s. Same goes for flying with local airlines.
In general, trust your gut when it comes to walking the line of ‘never trust a stranger’ and being too gullible. Also, read up on local customs before you go and act accordingly. When in doubt, seek out local women and ask for their advice or just copy what they do and wear.
7.What is the one thing in your backpack that every girl needs whilst travelling?
Face spritz. Seriously, I don’t go anywhere without it! It makes me feel instantly refreshed and prettier. Not sure if it is especially useful, but then again I never went like ‘Geez, I wish I would have brought gaffa tape or that traveling washline’ either. However, I have missed my face spritz dearly after it got confiscated at security once for being too big and since gotten some in various sizes.
8.Has there ever been a time where you thought ‘”#%*!”? What happened and what did you do about it?
I guess I have been lucky so far, I haven’t really gotten in seriously dodgy situations yet (knock on wood very loudly!). However, I was in Borneo last year and went diving in Sipadan, one of the premier dive destinations in the world. I had booked a live-aboard trip without knowing that Sipadan is really more appropriate for experienced divers. Upon my first dive, I got into the water with my first ever backroll entrance when someone in our group spotted a turtle. Eager to see it too, I stuck my head in and instead of the turtle I saw a triggerfish racing towards me. Now, triggerfish are small, but will bite you viciously when you get into the territory of their nest. Luckily I had an awesome instructor back in Thailand who taught me all about them, so I managed to get away. Unfortunately, my fin didn’t – the right one still has bite marks to show for it. Needless to say, I was super nervous getting into the water afterwards. As they are everywhere I took to hiding behind little reef sharks whenever I saw a triggerfish.
While I definitely thought ‘”#%*!” when I saw that thing coming closer, I recently heard the tale of a girl being bitten by a triggerfish in her vagina (never swim up when one is chasing you!!). Now that is really a horror travel story I don’t care to relive.
9.Is there anywhere you want to travel solo as a woman but feel you can’t?
I would love to go to Afghanistan and, in general, see more places in the Middle East. For right now though I don’t’ think that is a good idea. I am not so much concerned my own safety there, but I think it would make my parents incredibly worried. My mum even gets nervous when I take the subway in Hamburg at night, so I don’t think she would like me going there very much. My parents’ support is really important to me and I dare say they have to put up with a lot already, so I don’t think I would go anytime soon out of consideration to them.
10.What travel experience are you most proud of?
I spent a week with Greenpop in Zambia planting a few thousand trees. Zambia is one of the most deforested countries in the world due to charcoal burning. Greenpop, a South African based organization for re-greening Subsaharan Africa, has been planting in the area around Livingstone for the past years. They have also been introducing educational projects about the value of trees at schools as well as finding new, sustainable alternatives for charcoal burners.
I am not a very outdoorsy girl and at this time the idea to spend a week in a tent with someone I didn’t know terrified me. Especially when you are advised not to use the loo at night due to the roaming hippo population. On top of it, it was hard work – the soil was usually really hard and digging holes for the tree saplings was quite backbreaking. However, it was also one of the most rewarding trips I have ever done. I not only quite literally got down and dirty to make the world a better place but also learned how to overcome my own limitations. As we were working with the locals in the area, it was also a real eye-opener on how people in Zambia live. It taught me a lot about how even I sometimes still walk around with an air of condescension, of thinking I know better when I travel to a new place. Meeting some incredible people there, this trip really taught me to be more humble, to listen more than speak and to never just assume before I haven’t walked in someone else’s shoes.
11.What one piece of golden advice would you give to a solo female traveler?
Just do it (no, this is not a sponsored post!). Seriously, just go. It might be intimidating, scary, lonely, but nothing will ever be more exciting. And it gets easier on the way, the first solo step is really the hardest one. Also, never underestimate what it means to be a woman in this world. Being a woman doesn’t have to be a disadvantage so don’t underestimate your own potential and your value. I do believe that women secretly rule the world, so never let the fact that you are one hold you back.
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