We all know that plastic sucks, but what do you do when you can’t avoid it? In a lot of Asian countries, the tap water isn’t safe to drink, so even though you wouldn’t normally buy bottled water at home, sometimes you’re forced to while travelling. Or are you? We sat down with Contiki’s Asia Operations Manager, Taryn Welsh, who travelled through Vietnam without using ANY plastic bottles!
Plastic pollution is a problem all over the world, but it’s extra bad in some Asian countries. Single use plastic is everywhere in Asia – it can be hard to avoid it no matter how much you try. Go to a convenience store, buy a bottle of water, it gets put in a plastic bag, along with a plastic straw that is encased in its own little plastic bag. Plastic is everywhere. Straws pop up in your iced coffee (it’s so hot, so of course I get iced) or coconuts (you can try, but you really struggle to drink it without a straw). Buying street food is tricky too, it’s so cheap and the best way for it often to be served, especially if takeaway, is in small plastic bags. It’s nearly impossible to avoid.
I remember the first time I travelled to India in 2017, and that was when I made a conscious decision to use as little plastic as possible while living my life. What upset me was travelling through a rural area in Southern India, that is not developed or dominated by industry, yet still somehow had plastic everywhere on the side of the road. These people still live a basic farming life and the plastic doesn’t actually play any role in their life – they don’t produce it, yet it clutters up the countryside. They didn’t make it, they don’t benefit from it, it’s not their fault – yet they have to deal with it and live amongst it.
Some countries are really trying to make a difference by saying no to importing plastics from other countries, but it’s also about educating citizens. As a traveller, I have a responsibility to do my best too, so I thought why not start with me on my next trip and plan ahead so I can avoid as much plastic as possible. I’m so good at home in Australia at avoiding plastic. Why couldn’t I continue my habits while overseas?
Take the challenge for yourself on Contiki's Vietnam Experience trip
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I’ve spent plenty of time in Asia previously and being unable to safely drink the tap water means that you really have no choice but to use (and inevitably throw away) many plastic water bottles each day. This was always such an internal struggle for me as I found it hard to change my habits, but also felt I couldn’t do anything about this thing I felt so strongly about. The answer? A drink bottle with a filter, and Contiki just so happens to make the perfect one.
I went on the Vietnam Experience trip, which is 12 days of hitting up all the hotspots in Vietnam like Hoi An, Halong Bay and the Mekong Delta. I didn’t want to use ANY plastic bottles during this time. The first thing I normally do when I arrive in Asia, is head to the nearest convenience store to buy a couple of 1L water bottles to keep at the hotel. This is the first time that I didn’t need do this. I filled up the Contiki filter bottle from the tap in my hotel room every day. It’s a 1L bottle, so you don’t have to refill it too much but as there are a number of internal flights to catch on the Vietnam Experience so I had to remember to empty the bottle before going through security, so I didn’t lose it!
I did have one small blip where I had to use plastic water bottles. In Halong Bay we stay on this amazing Junk Boat for the evening, but the only option is drinking boat water from the tank. It’s not really for drinking and since the Contiki drink bottle can’t filter salt water I had to use a single plastic bottle. So only here did I use the plastic water bottles that were provided. Contiki is working with our local suppliers to provide filtered water dispensers in places such as this so in the future people can choose to safely refill their drink bottles.
I will use the Contiki bottle with the filter whenever I travel to countries where you cannot drink the tap water from now on. It was actually the best. Plus, the bottle (when empty) rolls up and fits easily in any bag you’re travelling with. I used the filter the entire time and it worked perfectly – I didn’t get sick once! The filter once set up is easy to use and you don’t’ have to change anything until after 100 uses – so easily it’s suitable for a two-week trip without any issues. Anywhere else where you can safely drink the tap water, I just take out the filter part of the bottle so I don’t waste it.
Avoiding plastic isn’t always easy, but with a bit of planning and the right gear, you can make definitely it happen. Besides the Contiki filter bottle, we’re also doing our part to reduce plastic waste by working with a non-profit organization called M’Lop Tapang based in Cambodia, to create Contiki Tote Bags made from remnant fabrics that would otherwise be thrown away. These bags are sold by our Trip Manager’s (currently just on our South East Asia trips), so that everyone in this region can say NO to plastic bags.
We are also in conjunction with our Trip Managers (who know Asia the best), working on creating a list of eco-bars/cafes/restaurants that we can confidently send our passengers to. These are places that are already taking steps towards reducing their footprint – using bamboo straws, saying NO to single use plastic cups and the like. So, we want to support these places, and encourage other businesses to also get on board. Plastic doesn’t have to be part of travel, I truly believe that. This bottle is a pretty easy place to start.