It’s taken a while to publish this post because I’ve been busy preserving and storing food from the vegetable garden and fruit trees, settling back into school and sport routines, giving presentations, and putting our wellbeing first, but, our two-week holiday in Phuket, combined with a digital detox, went really well!
Digital Detox Update
If you read my last blog you’ll know that we combined our holiday with a digital detox. Basically, we didn’t want to be contacted by anyone or distracted by social media or have screens dividing us. We wanted to make the most of our holiday by ensuring we were connecting with each other and our local environment. The only thing that came with us was my phone to take photos, tell the time, and have some security in case of an emergency. I turned off all the necessary phone settings so we couldn’t be contacted or contact others, and left it that way until we arrived back in Melbourne.
We didn’t miss our devices over the two weeks but we did watch movies on our flights. Initially we thought we wouldn’t need on-flight entertainment, but once on the plane, the prospect of nine hours sitting still and the opportunity to see some interesting movies was too tempting. Besides that transgression, the kids only asked to use my phone once during some down-time, to watch YouTube or play a game, but I said no and they didn’t bring it up again. Instead, we really got into playing UNO and other family games. My eldest declared how much he loved us all playing together, which made me happy because that was the goal, but also a little sad because we don’t do it as much at home.
One thing that stood out to me during our digital detox was not being able to Google answers to our questions or look up information, but that just made us talk to the locals more and speculate amongst ourselves.
The other thing I noticed – that we all noticed – was the selfie-obsessed travellers all around us!! I think it was a culture shock for us. We’d never seen this sort of behaviour going on in our simple country life. So much vanity, and not even taking the time to enjoy the location. Repeatedly we witnessed people arrive at a location, spend the entire time trying to capture a satisfactory photo of themselves and then leave. Once we got over our disgust, we amused ourselves endlessly by attempting to photo bomb every selfie we saw. Immature? Yes probably, but it became one of those hilarious family in-jokes that brought us closer together. We still laugh about it! And I still can’t get over the things I saw people doing to get that perfect image, presumably for social media.
Now let’s look at the ways we reduced our environmental impact, especially waste during the trip.
Flying obviously has a large environmental impact but we did some things to reduce this impact:
- We chose direct flights rather than ones with stop overs to reduce fuel use from the overall distance travelled and take offs.
- We packed lightly, only taking one bag of luggage weighing 12kg for all four of us – every gram of luggage adds to the flight’s fuel burn and emissions, so the less luggage, the less emissions we are responsible for.
- We flew with Jetstar so we were able to offset our flights to be carbon neutral. The cost was about $65 for the four of us. Choice says to make sure you purchase verified carbon offsets from the airline or through an accredited agency, and that offsets that avoid emissions through energy efficiency, or replace fossil fuel based energy with renewable energy are the most effective. Forestry projects rank last.
- By choosing Jetstar we had the option to not have a meal, so we didn’t book one to avoid all the packaging. This was easy for our flight home as it was overnight and the kids slept most of the time (Shannon and I weren’t so lucky). But our first flight was scheduled for dinner time so we ate an early dinner at one of the restaurants before boarding, then ate some snacks I had packed in our own containers. Keep in mind that solid foods like whole fruit are okay but you can’t pack liquid or gel like foods on international flights.
- We filled our water bottles before boarding, but this was an issue on the flight home from Phuket. No drinks at all were allowed to be carried onto the plane which meant I had to empty our water onto some pot plants in the boarding lounge. Once on the plane the flight attendants were happy to fill our reusable cup instead of using a plastic one.
- I’m not going to pretend that anything other than Economy class was possible for us but it is worth noting that by flying Business Class you triple your carbon footprint and by flying First Class you increase it by nine times according to a World Bank Study.
Because our decision to go on this holiday was fairly last minute, we didn’t have a lot of choice when booking our accommodation, but one of the things that helped me make a decision was to investigate the sustainability credentials of each hotel.
Novotel Phuket came up the winner for us and we weren’t disappointed with our stay there. We loved it actually. Novotel is part of the Accor Hotels group which has committed to the Planet 21 Programme. It consists of 21 objectives focused on local sourcing, diversity and water, energy and waste management. You can read a little more about the focus areas in this Green Hotelier article and how Novotel is taking action here (there is a 2 minute video in the link that is worth watching).
Some things that I particularly like are:
- Redistribution of used soap to those in need.
- Major focus on reducing food waste and avoiding threatened species.
- Rooms include sustainably sourced and recycled furniture and materials.
- They will not automatically change bedding or towels. You must indicate if you want this done.
- Fair trade products are used.
- Major focus on energy and water savings.
- Focused on reducing waste and recycling. The room bins were not even lined with plastic bags!
Additionally, we made sure to do all the things we would normally do at home like switch off lights and the air conditioner when we left the room and not use too much water.
We brought soap (for body and hair), toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, hair brush, and a razor with us, leaving the sustainable, fair trade products supplied in plastic packaging untouched.
I hand washed our dirty clothing in the bathroom sink using soap and hung them out on our balcony to dry. I only did this twice in two weeks.
Avoiding disposable plastic bottles of water was easy.
I didn’t need to buy any fancy water purifying bottles or tablets, I just took our regular drink bottles because I knew I would have access to a kettle in our room which meant I could boil the tap water.
Heating water to a rolling boil (heat disinfection), which most kettles will do, is a foolproof method effective against all waterborne pathogens. Always. After the water has reached a rolling boil, leave it to cool naturally, without the addition of ice, and protected from recontamination (World Health Organisation Technical Brief: Boil Water). To be absolutely sure, you can make sure the water boils for one minute (or 3 at high elevations).
I boiled water each night in the kettle so that it was ready to use the next day.
It’s also now commonplace for hotels in places like Phuket to supply a certain amount of free drinking water each day. Our hotel supplied two litres each day as four 500ml glass bottles, so perhaps they allocated one to each of us. The glass bottles stay in the room so that hotel staff can send them back to be cleaned and refilled.
We didn’t require any other methods off obtaining drinking water, although we noticed the large white plastic water containers being used at eateries and by our tour guides. These bottles are cleaned and reused in Thailand too.
In addition we drank soft drink from glass bottles at a number of places (without straws). Again these glass bottles are sent back to the producer to be cleaned and refilled. It’s like a container deposit scheme, so you have to consume the soft drink where you are so the retailer can return the bottle and get their deposit back.
Our meals were very waste free because we were always sitting in to enjoy a meal together and were always given ‘reusables’ to use or something made from paper. I had packed some reusable bags, straws, cutlery, and a small tub but we didn’t need to use them!
We found that because we were eating big meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and going to bed earlier and getting up later, that we really didn’t need snacks. And when we were out doing activities, we were served lots of fresh watermelon and pineapple.
I thought this was going well until the last week when the kids flipped out, saying that they couldn’t wait until the next meal and wouldn’t eat what was on offer plastic or package free, so we gave in and went to the nearest convenience store a couple of times. I’m not upset about this because I know we are doing what we can.
We did lots of stuff, and to the best of our ability (without the internet to help) we tried to make good decisions that supported sustainable tourism operators. Of course, tourism itself can be seen as negative but I think many positives can come from tourism and it can help protect the environment. For example, if a forest can be seen to have an economic value it might not be cut down.
We decided to visit an elephant retirement park where we fed and bathed some elephants. We deliberately chose not to ride elephants but we thought supporting this place was a good idea because it looks after rescued elephants. As lovely as it was to see elephants up close, Shannon and I still feel conflicted about the impact of these tourist activities on the elephants and wonder if we should have supported it. It’s a complicated situation though, because there is no where to release rescued elephants and the people that look after them need to be able to afford 200kg of food per day per elephant. They can’t afford it so they find a way, like this park, to make some money. We had some interesting family conversations following this.
When we weren’t participating in an organised activity, we explored on foot – which the kids grizzled about on really hot days but we were always close to the beach to cool off.
Overall it was a fuss free holiday which we enjoyed and which I feel brought us closer together.