Why we won’t be going to India

The original post was written quickly to warn fellow backpackers not to head to Bangkok to apply for an Indian visa. Foreigners travelling on a tourist visa (backpackers) are no longer  allowed to apply for an India visa in Malaysia, Indonesia or Singapore. Many, ourselves included were redirected  to Bangkok.  An inconvenience as we had just come from there but still. After a long train journey and a lot of form filling we got to the Bangkok visa office to find the rules had been changed again and  that non thai nationals on a tourist visa, (i.e. foreign backpackers), cannot  apply for a 3 – 6 month Indian visa in Thailand, (if you have a Thai residency the rules are different).

Since then I have updated it to take into account additional information such as why, if you are on a long trip,  you cannot apply for an Indian visa in your own country, discuss the  online Indian E visa option and explain how I think it  fails the tourist, the environment, the travel experience, small towns and local business. And Nepal.

It is possible by the time you read this the situation may have changed again.

Our story ….

We are currently backpacking and our time in Malaysia was coming to an end. The gloomy weather was closing in and the monsoon storms becoming more frequent. Time to plan our next leg of the journey. There were cheap flights from Malaysia to India (Easy Jet) and you don’t even have to stay in the more difficult KL to get them. You can get a bus to the airport from Mallaka which is a far nicer town.

The fly in the ointment?

Getting an Indian visa. It seems the Indians are doing their best to prevent visitors from visiting.

Problems With The Indian Visa

Why I Couldn’t Apply In the U.K.

We wanted a 6 month multiple entry Indian visa. Such visas begin the day they are issued and not the day you arrive in India. You cannot ask for the visa to start on later date. By the time we get to India we will have been traveling for 4 months already.  So getting the visa in the UK was not practicable.

Especially as there is no guarantee you will get what you ask for. Last time we applied for a visa, in the U.K., we asked for 6 months and were given 3. Because we traveling overland this meant we could only spend 6 weeks instead of the 3 months we planned to in India. Add to of that  we had to get there more quickly. We had to replan our trip and cut short other places.

If you don’t get what you ask for, your visa fees are not returned. From the website “Fee once received are non refundable even if the visa application is withdrawn, the visa is not granted, or if visa issued is of shorter duration of period than applied for or otherwise issued or returned at a time or on terms and conditions that may vary from those sought by the applicant.”

At 6 weeks for £82.00 this visa was expensive too.

Getting A Visa Abroad….. Or Not

However it is, or at least it was, possible to apply for an 6 month Indian visa in the country you are currently visiting. So we decided to wait until we got to Malaysia before we applied for our visa. So we got to Georgetown and went to the Indian Consulate to double check procedure only to be told  that UK passport holders (and others) can no longer apply for a 6 month Indian visa in

  • Malaysia
  • Indonesia
  • Singapore

But, we were assured, by the consulate,  this could be done in Bangkok. We sighed because we had just come from there but could see nothing for it but to get back on the train. Of course we double checked the information.

Massive Misinformation & A Long & Pointless Journey

Travel fish say “Getting a visa to India in Bangkok takes a little longer and is a bit more complicated than for most other Asian countries, but it’s not rocket science if you know where to look…..The updated embassy site now provides reliable information and working links to the India Visa Thailand page run by IVS Global.” Not blaming them as this was the case and to keep up with the vagaries of the Indian visa system is difficult.

IVS Global Indian Visa website says ”

Tourist Visa is granted to a Thai National / Foreigner who does not have a residence or Occupation in India and whose sole objective of visiting India is recreation, sight-seeing, casual visit to meet friends and relatives. No other activity is permissible on a Tourist Visa. The Tourist Visa is non – extendable and non-convertible.

They also clearly state that because the Indian Government is collecting biometric data you need to submit your application in person. You need to take your printed out forms to their office in Bangkok.

And on the Indian Embassy Website for Bangkok
Non-Thai Nationals Documents Required:
Completed Visa Application Form, 2 recent colour photographs – 2 inches X 2 inches, 2 photocopies of passport, to include current Thai visa page and the filled out reference form.
A copy of return flight ticket and a copy of hotel booking
For Non-Thai nationals visa is issued on the 6th working day.

So while it sounded stringent and a lot of bother,  it seemed that visas were  definitely being offered to non Thai nationals. So we decided to go for it. We

  • got the train from Malaysia to Bangkok
  • made a hotel reservation in India(refundable)
  •  filled out an e form on line,
  • took the photos
  • then downloaded the files from the website
  • found a printer shop and printed the application forms stuck the photos on got the required photocopies, to take to IVS visa application centre,

Then you get to the purchasing flights. This is another nasty twist in the application process. It is already stressful paying for a flight before you have permission to visit a country. Even more so if they have already refused you the length of stay time you asked for. It is nerve wracking, costly and ultimately pointless booking a  flight 6 months in advance when you may only be given a 3 month visa.

Besides which we don’t  want to fly out of India but go over land to Nepal.

So we decided to visit the visa office first. It was a long journey across the city followed by a long wait in the que. Just so you know, you are not allowed to read your Kindle while waiting in the que as it is an electronic device.

Got to the desk only to find that UK passport holders visiting Thailand cannot apply for an Indian visa in Bangkok

This important change in policy is obviously not mentioned on their websites.

The Online E Visa

But they said we can  get a one month E visa on arrival. I am not sure I believe them. But even if I do trust them to implement such a system efficiently, it is not  what we want.

FYI this is  how it works;

  • Citizens of 113 countries are eligible to apply for the India e-Tourist visa. The e-Visa is for international travelers whose purpose of visiting India is tourism, recreation, sight-seeing, a casual visit to meet friends or relatives, etc.
  • Applications must be made online at this website, no less than five days and no more than 30 days before the date of travel.
  • You can only fly into India and only into the following 16 airports: Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Bangalore, Chennai, Cochin, Delhi, Gaya, Goa, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Kolkata, Lucknow, Mumbai, Tiruchirapalli, Trivandrum and Varanasi.
  • International Travellers should have return ticket or onward journey ticket,with sufficient money to spend during his/her stay in India. (I take this  to mean a plane ticket as it is impossible to get any other kind of onward ticket before you arrive in India. I certainly would not advise anyone to turn up without an onward ticket and I would class them very brave if they tried to talk their way in clutching only a bus ticket as proof of onward travel.)
  • The India ETA allows one single entry for a stay of up to 30 days in India.
  • you cannot extend. an E Visa
  • A maximum of two ETA visas can be issued within one year.(No indication of how long you need to wait before re-applying – if indeed you do)
  • Biometric data, including fingerprinting, will be collected on arrival at the border.
  • There is no list of fees on the website that I can find. Rather you have to fill out the E Visa application form on line. And I quote “at the end of the process the basic fee shall be displayed.” but according to the Telegraph  Newspaper it costs $60 (£39), for UK citizens.


2012 22.5 To Kunnar (22)resized

Neither visa works for the overland traveller.  In my case 

  • I had rather hoped to explore the newly opened land crossing from Myanmar
  • After India I want to visit Nepal and travel there overland

The month long visa is not an option as

  •  I have an itinary planned for India that took way longer than a month
  • India is a long way to go just for a month, it is very big and there is a lot to see
  • I want a double entry visa so I can visit Sri Lanka

I am prepared to compromise on some things but this is pushing it. I don’t like that the Indian authorities  do not  care  that folks might like to travel by train or, heaven forbid, bus. Or about global warming come to that. Rather than enrich a few big airline businesses, I  prefer to support an on-land transport infrastructure that benefits the wider community. That and global warming are among the reasons I choose to travel overland. To be prevented from doing so annoys me.

They don’t seem to want long term visitors either.  Just to submit an application for a 6 month visa we had to travel to Bangkok. Then browse the internet booking hotels and researching flights. Hotels I may not sleep in and flights I can’t catch if they don’t give me a visa. The Indian Visa Service is asking for a lot of money just to look at the application. Money they get to keep if they give me a different, shorter visa that because of the time constraints, may be of limited use. If you don’t want me to visit for 6 months I understand but don’t offer the visa.  This too is annoying.

Finally is it too much to ask that prospective applicants are kept informed about  changes in  policy. I doubt the Indian Government decided  this morning to refuse to take visa applications from  U.K. passport holders on a Thai tourist visa. I would suggest they knew about this before today. In which case they and Indian visa service could have posted the information on their website and saved us a wasted journey. We have travelled not just across town but across countries to visit this office. This is is beyond annoying.

Please note all the above information was copied from websites when I was writing this post, that is after we had been to the office and our application refused. Meaning they are still saying that foreign nationals  can apply for visas in Bangkok.

A Visa The Visitor Wants

Given all of the above I don’t feel welcome and I certainly don’t feel like a respected or even wished for guest.

You might ask why should I be welcomed or respected? Because I am a customer and the industry is worth a lot of money. Total contribution by travel and tourism sector to India’s GDP is expected to increase from US$ 136.3 billion in 2015 to US$ 275.2 billion in 2025. Travel and tourism is the third largest foreign exchange earner for India. In 2014, the country managed foreign exchange earnings of USD 19.7 billion from tourism. 

A business worth so much should be nurtured and the customers valued. Surely it would make sense to ensure the country is easily accesable for the very simpe reason that if I can’t get there at the time I want, for the length of time I need then I simply won’t come. Which means my money will go elsewhere. Places that are far easier and cheaper to get into. And will let you stay longer.

I can stay in Malaysia  for free for 3 months and Thailand for a month. I can visit any other number of South East Asian Countries for a few dollars. For all of these places I can get a visa on a land border just by turning up, (when it suits me), and filling out a simple, short form. I do not need proof of onward travel. I do not have to commit to flying and I can support the local transport infrastructure by using buses and trains.

Australia will only charge me £10.00 to apply online for a free 3 month Australian visa which is valid for a year. And doesn’t want proof of onward travel.

The E Visa System – Made to Benefit Big Business & Top End Tourism ?

at the expense of the environment, experience, overlanders and the local economy.

Yes I am annoyed because this inconveniences me but there are other far worse consequences. I really cant help but feel that this e visa/ flight combo will only benefit the big boys in the tourist industry and focus visitors on a fewer places and sites. For instance I originally planned to fly from Colombo to Madurai. The flight is a good price and I would love to visit Madurai and it’s wonderful temples. Except of course with an E Visa I can’t fly to Madurai. I would have to fly to a horrid sea side resort I don’t want to see and travel from there. But with only 1 month I wont have time. So Madurai gets dropped in favour of the already popular Varanasi.

And of course with only a month of travel time  places with airports will become even more popular. India is a huge country and train tickets are not always available when you need them. With a little more time it is possible to use public transport and home stays keeping much appreciated currency in the local economy. With reduced time its big hotels, booked on line and lots of flights.

Traveling overland is slower and you get to see so much more of the country and the people. It also means the advantages of tourism can be more widely distributed. And the disadvantages reduced. Rather than have a few cities2009 12 02 Street life 4 swamped with tourists who end up destroying that which they came to admire, the crowds and the cash could be spread. When I travel through slowly my money gets spent on local buses and in small cafes along the way

Pushing flights over other forms of transport  means more investment in a  infrastructure that only benefits the richer traveler. It means less investment in the land based infrastructure that benefits the poorer. At a time when local transport should be encouraged, in a country where many people depend on local transport this is a retrograde step and not one I wish to endorse.

In terms of the traveling experience it also has a negative impact. Traveling over land is more romantic, more authentic and often what attracts tourist in the first instance. One airport terminal looks very like another but Mumbai train station is unique. A tourist river cruise is never as satisfying as local river taxi. Yet as air travel increases many stunning train journeys are being cut and ferries are almost non existent.

I like travelling overland. When I leave India I want to go to Nepal. To meet the Indian visa requirements I have to buy an onward fight from Varanasi to Katmandu (if I can even get one). Yet there is a perfectly easy over land route from Varanasi to Khatmadu. It’s not always pretty but it is the “real India” and a memorable journey.

And yes crossing land borders can be a robust experience. I have had as many tussles with border tuk tuk sharks as the next lamb to the slaughter. Even so I would still prefer to see my rupees being snatched from me by small local business then have them taken as I am herded through the boarding gates of a huge multinational.

And I cant help feel sorry for Nepal. If we don’t go to India we don’t go to Nepal. I refuse to fly such a short distance so if we can’t go over land we won’t visit Nepal. If we don’t get a dual entry visa we don’t visit Nepal because we need fly home from India. So I guess we will not be visiting Nepal. At a time when Nepal is desperate for business.

But mostly I want to make my own choices based on what I feel is important.  The choice to travel overland, to limit my air mile, cross the landscape slowly, to rumble along in the local bus, to support local smaller businesses  and  to spread my tourist pounds.

It is with great regret that we will not be visiting India.





This Changes Everything

by Naomi Klein

“The most important book yet from the author of the international bestseller The Shock Doctrine, a brilliant explanation of why the climate crisis challenges us to abandon the core “free market” ideology of our time, restructure the global economy, and remake our political systems.

In short, either we embrace radical change ourselves or radical changes will be visited upon our physical world. The status quo is no longer an option.”

Q&A for the sustainable book club

1. What effect did reading the book have on you e.g. did you feel motivated to do something about climate change or did think there is no hope?

I think there is always hope and I believe the world is improving. If you think I am being too Pollyanna and feel really depressed about the human condition, I recommend “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined” by Steven Pinkerton

“Tribal warfare was nine times as deadly as war and genocide in the 20th century. The murder rate in medieval Europe was more than thirty times what it is today. Slavery, sadistic punishments, and frivolous executions were unexceptionable features of life for millennia, then were suddenly abolished. Wars between developed countries have vanished, and even in the developing world, wars kill a fraction of the numbers they did a few decades ago. Rape, hate crimes, deadly riots, child abuse―all substantially down.

How could this have happened, if human nature has not changed?

Pinker argues that the key to explaining the decline of violence is to understand the inner demons that incline us toward violence and the better angels that steer us away. Thanks to the spread of government, literacy, trade, and cosmopolitanism, we increasingly control our impulses, empathize with others, debunk toxic ideologies, and deploy our powers of reason to reduce the temptations of violence.

Pinker will force you to rethink your deepest beliefs about progress, modernity, and human nature.”

2. Do you think that we really do only have two years (or probably less now) to do something about climate change and if so, why are we not all focussed on doing something about it? Why are governments ignoring the issue? Why is this short deadline not all over the headlines all the time?

I really don’t know. Too big a problem? So many scares in the papers that turn out to be unfounded? It is an invisible threat?

3. What, if any, practical suggestions for helping to do something about reversing global warming did you glean from the book?

Haven’t finished it yet so don’t know if there are any personal practical guidelines but she seems to say that this problem has to be addressed by drastically changing our political and economic organizations. So far I have found no advice on changing a greedy, self-serving consumers into a caring, green socialists. And that is what needs to happen if we are to change our politics and economics. That- or a green junta take over.

4. Is it better to address the problems of climate change individually or collectively?

Ideally we would be addressing this issue along with global poverty and the massive inequalities of wealth and property. And war, terrorism, genocide and other disruptive, discriminatory, violent, unfair and destructive practices. Marginalized people cannot afford to care about the environment. It starts with world peace, equal rights and wealth redistribution. Which have to be addressed collectively.  However that might be some time coming so in the meantime everyone has to take personal action – on all of the above and their own CO2 emissions.

5. What would you be willing to do to combat climate change?

I hope I live a carbon reduced lifestyle already. But of course you can always do more.

As part of my personal-wealth-redistribution project I am trying to use only my global share of textiles this year. Check out only the My FairShare Textiles to see how I am getting on!

6. Is going back to basics the solution to all our problems or should we continue to look for and rely on technological solutions?

If we believe in fair shares for all then we in the developed countries need to consume a whole lot less so that others can have more of the resources. If that is what is meant by basic then yes of course. But technology is what is keeping us alive. At a very basic level it has given us clean water, means we can grow enough food, share ideas in minutes over thousands of miles and harness energy from the sun. We need advanced technology alongside fair and rational consumption. We have to learn to take as much as we need not as much as we want and to share frugal tips on our Apple Macs. But of course we need to keep on learning and developing solutions. Especially need to concentrate on finding ways to create greener electricity

7. What political system would support a sustainable future (it can be an imagined one)?

Green socialism

8. Should we all move to the moon?

Yes, I love cheese.

9. If it is too late and we can’t stop global warming, should we or should we not worry about throwing away rubbish and polluting our planet?

No we don’t know how it will all pan out. All we have is the present and we are obliged, as adults, to live as responsibly as we can right now. Lets make it as nice as we can now. Second guessing the future is no excuse not to act.

10. Would you recommend this book to your friends and family?

Not sure. Most of the greens I know are also a little bit red. I don’t see how you can be an environmentalist and not believe in some form of communism, by which I mean the communal owning of and so equal benefitting from worlds resources. Recommending this would feel like preaching to the converted. Personally I find it is rather long on theory and (so far at least) short on practical solutions. In fact I am finding it difficult to finish.

I would recommend these website though…

25 ways to cut you carbon footprint

EPA Climate Response

Mashable fight climate change

And Ben Goldacre one of my favorite science writers (I highly recommend his book Bad Science), says this on the subject and recomends some excellent resources is always a good resource on climate stuff, and written by proper climate scientists.

Here they specifically address the rather elderly claims in The Great Global Warming Swindle:

And here are a couple of more general guides to arguing with a climate sceptic, that cover the same ground:

If you prefer books, Mark Maslin’s Global Warming – A Very Short Introduction is also very good, explains the science, and specifically addresses the climate skeptics claims.

Looking forward to the next book club. Why not join us?


I must be sick… I want bland!

We are now in Thailand. We had planned to mooch round the Thousand Islands in Laos but I have a stinking cold with shovel loads of green snot oozing out of my snout. I am breathing hebbily through my mouth and I say hebbily because that is how  I talk at the moment. And every 10 minutes I have to blow hard or choke on the filthy stuff. I am knackered, a mass of aches and surrounded by sticky crumpled tissues containing gruesome monstrosities. Today something came out that was grey and I swear it had tentacles. I can feel a void in my skull where it used to be.

Here’s what the survival doctor has to say on thick green mucas. This is a useful site for info when help is not on the way. Their tagline not mine!

Any how Savanakhet, (see above),  for all its crumbling charm is no place for a sick lady so we have crossed the Mekong, left Laos behind and are now enjoying the delights of Mukhadan, Thailand. Rather we are enjoying the delights of the blandest of hotel rooms. The hotel is on the outskirts of town overlooking the shopping center. It is a 15 minute walk from the bus station and about as far as I could manage. It is like a superior travel lodge. Its lovely, new, clean, has air-con the biggest softest bed ever and a great shower. I cannot deal with anything ethnic, authentic or backpacker at the moment. Also, due to its completely soulless location, it is very cheap. My plan is to lie here for a couple of days and see what happens to the snot flow. Will give you detailed updates…

We were sorry to miss the Thousand Islands but it was 5 hours there 5 hours back and the  weather was on the turn…. maybe not such bad luck. And we heard there were nice things to do here in Mukhadan. And even if we don’t find anything we have been on the go since Kazakhstan, freezing in Mongolia, jostled in China and sweating in Laos – slowing things down might be a good thing.

And there is always the shopping center. It is ages since we have been anywhere that shiny. Really crossing the river has meant stepping back into the bright lights of the capitalist world. For sure China has modern shops, KFCs even, but they are always surrounded by a hive a teeny retail outlets and temporary stalls selling fried pigs heads and pickled snakes. Plus a million people pushing past you, snatching at the snacks and spitting in the doorway. Laos as far as I can tell doesn’t have any shopping centers or American fast food outlets. Certainly not the places we were. Mongolia? Ha! Ditto Kazakhstan. And, despite all these countries ditching the more inconvenient aspects of communism, (like the restrictions on unbridled personal wealth for a limited few),  an ascetic, socialist aura still lingers like a disapproving aunt who won’t join in but won’t go home either.

Don’t get me wrong, I love those countries and personally I think the aunt has a lot to offer. I hope the old besom sticks around…. but not when I am ill. When I am ill I want bland and the capitalist shopping center certainly provides that. It is big, modern, quiet and peaceful. Everyday we visit the Big C supermarket. Most stuff is plastic packed so we don’t buy. Rather we wander round marveling like a couple of hicks from the sticks! Grubby hicks at that. We are extremely travel stained and need to get our clothes washed.

On that note I will go get a shower

Later Gators

Feral – a review

Here are my comments for the sustainable book club – meeting today – details here. Once again I am unable to access the internet so I will have to do this via WordPress and hope it gets picked up via social media….

This piece is not as detailed as I would like and will have  no quotes as I had my Kindle stolen in Ulan Batur. Just one more thing I have against Mongolia…. the list is getting longer!

Sorry but here goes…..

“Feral…. Searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding

The suburbs dream of violence. Asleep in their drowsy villas, sheltered by benevolent shopping malls, they wait patiently for the nightmares that will wake them into a more passionate world’ J. G. BALLADFeral

Feral is the lyrical and gripping story of George Monbiot’s efforts to re-engage with nature and discover a new way of living. He shows how, by restoring and rewilding our damaged ecosystems on land and at sea, we can bring wonder back into our lives.

Making use of some remarkable scientific discoveries, Feral lays out a new, positive environmentalism, in which nature is allowed to find its own way”

George Monbiot? I had kind of heard of him before but didn’t really know anything about him. Due to lack of internet connection I still don’t but judging by his book he is a kind Eco Ernest Hemingway. Or maybe more of a Jack London? What ever – his is manly love of nature, a wrestling with elks kind of relationship. He would like to see the arid and financially dysfunctional barren grasslands of Britains sheep farms planted up as native woodland. And these forests then repopulated with native fauna. A process called rewidling. Also wants unsustainable fishing to be sorted. Damn right!

Interestingly his definition of native stretches back to the days when mammoths roamed Monmouth and Auriochs ruled Aberystwyth. At the very least he wants to reintroduce wolves and bears. With proper consultation and public approval of course. And while that is being assessed maybe we can stretch to some eagles and a few basking sharks.

And though we are talking native fauna (and yes his definition of native is indeed broad), he does not want to maintain an environment in stasis. Rather he would let nature develop as it will. Naturally so to speak. It is nice to hear some one promoting the processes of plant colonisation which really are rather magical.

There are some lovely descriptions of the environment (and mans place in it). But for those of you less poetical, the practical ideas put forward are good, well researched and inspiring. The science seems solid and the theories refreshing. I like it a lot. Love the idea that elephants could be introduced the Midlands. But back to the wolves; there are strong arguments that an ecosystem can only function properly when controlled and managed by natural predators.  Remove these and the knock on effects are dire. He talks well of trophic cascades and other such things.

For rewilding to work here needs to be more involvement in who owns the land in Britain, how it is managed, rights to roam and farming subsidies. Most people don’t really know or care about these matters. I like that this book raises these issues.Really, you have to read it.

On a personal note when I was studying landscape architecture the move was towards planting native species. The aim to create a network of wild life corridors. These bands of hedgerow and woodland would from a web across England allowing animals to move freely rather than getting trapped in little islands of woodland. One reason was to maintain a healthy gene pool.

Back then Chris Baines was our god or Green Man rather. He pioneered a great and extremely cheap technique for creating native hedgerows. Clear a strip of land of grass, fence it and leave it for species to colonize. Much the same principals are being promoted in this book. Well I can tell you from personal experience they work and work well. I am proud to say that I have planted up several woodlands and hedgerows. Though I am more J.R. Hartley then Hemmingway. I was happy with an increase in hedgehogs and frogs.

But this is something we can all do. If mammoths seem to be rather a large undertaking, pollinators, bees and butterflies, are in desperate need of help. You could start rewilding a corner of your garden – theres lots of help here 


2015 Plastic free July Mongolia

… hard. Here’s an update. So far we are totally about  4o items that contain some plastic and 4 plastic wrappers each.

It has been pouring down here (with a light dusting of snow – sigh!), so we have been sitting in a lot of cafes in an effort to keep warm and sometimes try to log on to what they advertise as wifi but is in fact an exercise in optimism. Something I am rapidly running out of.

When we sit we have to buy a drink. Here they serve milk tea. A confusing name because it contains no tea at all. It is a dash of milk a lot of hot water, a dollop of grease (butter?) and enough salt to make your lips twist. It tastes…..another sigh! I’ve tried, I really have – but I don’t like hot milk at the best of times. And these are most definitely not the best of times!

So we have been drinking a lot of plastic related beverages. Never a beverage from a plastic bottle! I’ll never sink that low but glass bottles with plastic lined lids, plastic lined cans and the occasional tea bag (which of course contains plastic).  You can find out more about these sneaky plastics here.

This adds up to around 2 items a day each.

When we have access to hot water we are making our own tea with loose leaves we bought in China.

For water we are using our Steripen to sterilize tap water.

But we have been trekking and camping in yurts so have had to buy some of our food. Outside of Ulan Batur the choice is poor. There are markets but they sell mostly pre packed processed food – plastic packed sweets, plastic wrapped processed sausages, instant noodles and packet soup. The only fresh food is weird buttery cheesy stuff that looks like grimy wax and tastes mildly yet unpleasantly of rancid butter. There are a few shriveled fruit and veg that are extremely expensive and meat. And lots and lots of meat. All around sheep are being skinned or carved up into bloody chunks. Furry feet are discarded on the floor, and once a sheep head staring up from the park bench where it had been absently left.

But we have had to eat something while huddled in our yurt and so we have bought 3 plastic wrapped loaves of bread and 3 packets of biscuits. Rather then leave them out in the national park rubbish bins I burnt the wrappers on the fire. There were simple polythene and so (it is claimed) safe to burn.

Back in Ulan Batur and our hotel gave us a sandwich for breakfast. It was included in the price and made as we thought in house. Today they served it in a plastic box. I ate it anyway. And I bought another packet of real coffee. Plastic packed of course.


With all this plastic packaging hardly surprising then that there is quite a lot of plastic trash. Everyday we litter picked in the national park collecting huge amounts of bottles.

Waste disposal methods in the city also leave a lot to be desired. Plastic bags are dumped in the street to to be collected by truck at some point. Stray animals scrabble through it looking for food. Then bin men go through the garbage first looking for cans. Inevitably some plastic rubbish escapes in the process.

Check out our FB album for updated photos.

CAMFORR Keep It Real Keep It Clean

So for Plastic Free July I am begging everyone to join in campaigning for real rubbish. You can read about it here.

Keep Our Glass

And asking folks to sign the petition asking Dairy crest to keep their refillable glass milk bottles.

In the pack

Rummage in our plastic free backpack here



So sorry to have to do this via WordPress but every few minutes I get I am thrown off Twitter. Even more sorry to do it a day early but I don’t think I will be on line tomorrow and I want to get my ten pennorth in. Bit scrappy and not as clear as I would like, here are some rather jumbled thoughts on

Stuffocation by James Wallman

for the Twitter Sustainable Bookclub #susbc (What? Find out here)

In Stuffocation, James Wallman traces our obsession with stuff back to the original Mad Men who first created desire through advertising. He interviews anthropologists studying the clutter crisis, economists searching for new ways of measuring progress, and psychologists who link rampant materialism to declining wellbeing. And he introduces us to the innovators who are turning their backs on all-you-can-get consumption, and trading in materialism for “experientialism” – where they find more happiness, live more meaningful lives, and express status more successfully, through experiences rather than stuff.

My thoughts

When I was young and trembling on the threshold of life, minimalism was a design concept practiced by a cool elite who could afford to shop at Habitat. Then along came Ikea with its chuck out your chintz ads and do-it-yourself Billy bookcases. Suddenly we could all afford to live clutter free. These days of course minimalism is not just a design concept celebrating clean lines but a way life. Or rather several ways of life.

Initially minimalism seems to reject the accumulation of possessions for their own sake. A few simple, beautiful and practical things are all that are required. It is not a new concept. William Morris (1834-1896) the greatest designer and one of the most outstanding figures of the Arts and Crafts Movement famously said “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”While not a minimalist in design terms, (most of those wall paper patterns are way too busy), his concepts are minimalistically modern. His design criteria was underpinned by political beliefs. He also said “Nothing should be made by man’s labour which is not worth making, or which must be made by labour degrading to the makers.”

th-3His designs and emphasis on skilled craftsmanship were a response to what he considered the ugly issues of his day. It was an era where most people didn’t want to pay for quality and thanks to industrialization, mechanization and a cheap colonial workforce they didn’t have to. They could have loads of cheap, mass-produced products. Yes they were made in the most degrading conditions possible but no one really cared if they could lots of them. Sound familiar?

In his book Stuffocation, Wallman starts with a similar premise; that too much, badly-made, rubbishy stuff is bad for you. That constant consuming will never make you happy but instead leads to a kind of emotional malaise. That there “is a global, rich-world, middle-class clutter crisis”. That too much stuff is “bad for the physical and psychological health of a significant number of people.” The main culprit is “Mass-produced goods, which are the natural product of the system, are the worst of all. They are so stripped of meaning and novelty that they have little chance of genuinely exciting or inspiring us. ”

And finally

“The logical conclusion is one of the darkest sides of materialism: mass production and mass consumption, ultimately, cause mass depression.”

Blimey strong stuff.

And the reason we keep on buying these meaningless goods? They have been given a spurious glamour by spin doctors and ad men. Wallman argues that by the 1930s America was over producing. The dilemma was simple: either the farmers and factories needed to produce less, or people had to consume more. To make the people buy more, they would have to change behaviors and attitudes.

So they made products that didn’t last as long and then (insult to injury), encouraged people to replace them even before they wore out. To buy the new improved model. Often the only “improvement” was in how it looked. The latter is called fashion and has of been happening for ever as far as I can see. To be able to buy the latest fashion is of course an indicator of wealth and wealth means prestige. Buying new stuff indicates that you are rich enough to do so.

As I understand it, Wallman does not say that consumerism is absolutely bad. In fact buying more means we have more which means more jobs which means we have more. That “international trade, with materialistic consumerism at its heart, is pulling more people out of poverty around the world than ever before. Many, including the World Bank’s president, Jom Yong Kim, even believe that we may have virtually wiped out poverty by 2030. For this reason, materialism, fueled by people and nations wanting to keep up with their neighbors, was unquestionably the best idea of the twentieth century.”

The question seems to be how to deal with the unhealthy effects of having to much stuff while keeping a healthy market economy? To resolve the problems of mass production and mass consumption with out causing an economic crash.

He goes on to discuss the different kinds of minimalist. This is not a body of research more a collection of case studies. A kind of social commentary. This is my analysis of his studies.

The Many Ways Of Minimalism

Monk Minimalism the monk tries to reduce their possessions to the absolute minimum. They would be happiest with simple pallet, some robes and a rice bowl. They are into counting how much stuff they have. This kind of minimalism has a sort of spiritual overtone and not so good for continued materialism.

Green Minimalism where people have less because they want to consume less of the planets scarce resources. A political school of thought and pretty much opposed to continued materialism

Cant Be Arsed Minimalism. Why work harder just to get more stuff? Be happy with the minimum. Not so good for continued materialism but not necessarily a challenge to it either.

th-5Design School Of Minimalism. They like the look of it. They have no political or moral issues with stuff. They will buy stuff, use it, then throw it away just to keep the place looking uncluttered. When they need it again they will buy new. Excellent for continued materialism.

The Buy The Best Minimalism. Will only have a few things but they will be the very best quality items. Can be replaced with more of the best. Good for continued materialism.

The Memories Not Things Minimalism who replaces possessions with memories. Rather than buy another vase you go to the theatre. No kind of ethical  or political justification as such. This is Wallmans preferred option. Good for continued materialism.

So everybody can be a minimalist but for very different reasons. But will this really cure the “physical and psychological health of a significant number of people?”

It is an interesting read and a useful introduction to the many school of minimalism. Wallman illustrates that everyone from the deepest of greens to shallowest of designers can be a minimalist. But the reasons for being so are very different to the point of being ideologically opposed.

I am a mixed up minimalist. I am for example a Design School  Minimalist. People visiting my house say it will be nice when its finished. When I say it is, they look shocked and ask where my stuff is. I don’t want stuff.  I hate clutter and I look the look of clean spaces. But I would never discard a useful object. Indeed I find that idea offensive on so many levels that I now feel uncomfortable calling myself a minimalist. Basically I prefer to live this way and would be unhappy if I couldn’t but many people feel uncomfortable my “impersonal” house. So I am not sure that having stuff is all that is making people unhappy. There is more to it than an over abundance of ornaments. If people are buying stuff because they are unhappy that is of course a problem and possibly buying less stuff might make them look at the reasons for their underlying sadness. But that is as far as I would go.

And yes I am a Memories Not Things Minimalist. I do think that experiences are better than stuff but if that means flying to Paris every weekend then I don’t. I think that is just another form of consumerism and as unhealthy as any other kind.

I am also a green and can’t be arsed minimalist but I don’t believe I am any greener than a green who hoards everything because it might come in handy. With stuff or without I think greens are more content because of their ideology. They tend to be less selfish, more responsible and inclusive. Even those with the rainbow mobiles, dream catchers, wall-hung tree-of-life bedspreads and bloody fairy lights. If you are of an environmental disposition you try not to over consume but that needn’t stop you having a hundred spider plants.

Brave New WorldBrave New World

Wallman quotes Brave New World which reminded me that I hadn’t read it in a while. I downloaded it free from Project Gutenberg . Loved it. Written Aldous Huxley and published in 1932, the novel is about a benign but negative utopia where mass consumerism and controlled hedonism keeps the genetically modified inhabitants healthy, content and soporific. Full of fantastic snidey digs.

“Primroses and landscapes, he pointed out, have one grave defect: they are gratuitous. A love of nature keeps no factories busy. It was decided to abolish the love of nature, at any rate among the lower classes”

And this

“strange to think that even in Our Ford’s day most games were played without more apparatus than a ball or two and a few sticks and perhaps a bit of netting. Imagine the folly of allowing people to play elaborate games which do nothing whatever to increase consumption. It’s madness. Nowadays the Controllers won’t approve of any new game unless it can be shown that it requires at least as much apparatus as the most complicated of existing games.”

Sound familiar?

Looking forward to what everyone else thinks. Once again I am using my twitter feed app so please use the hash tag #susbc. Then even if I can’t access twitter I can see what you say.

Live Twitter Feed

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Why not charity shops…

The first book I read for the Twitter Sustainable Book Club (the what? Find out here) was a timely one. Recently I have thinking about  how to dress sustainably and plastic-free. When discussing sustainable clothing, buying second-hand, along with clothes swaps seems like a no brainer. Of course buying from charity shops is a greener option and from the plastic-free point of view ideal in that it is packaging free. But how sustainable is it?

I have my doubts that buying second-hand helps reduce consumerism. Rather it creates another market but this time for second-hand goods. Furthermore you cannot influence, with your purchasing power, how the clothes were made and by whom. Buying second-hand clothes made in sweat shops is not to my mind guilt free merely because they are second hand..

And there are other issues which have been well documented in this easy to read case study..

Clothing Poverty – The Hidden World of Fast Fashion and Second-hand Clothes by Andrew Brooks

“Following a pair of jeans, Clothing Poverty takes the reader on a vivid around-the-world tour to reveal how clothes are manufactured and retailed, bringing to light how fast fashion and clothing recycling are interconnected. Andrew Brooks shows how recycled clothes are traded across continents, uncovers how retailers and international charities are embroiled in commodity chains which perpetuate poverty, and exposes the hidden trade networks which transect the globe.”

The following summary is way too simple but basically this is what is happeningshopping

Fast Fashion

Those in the richer countries are encouraged to buy and discard clothes on a regular basis a movement described as fast fashion. We wear a lot of clothes. Here are a few statistics

  • The major products consumed were: 420 thousand tonnes of trousers, T-shirts and pullovers 530 thousand tonnes of carpets
  • From 2001 to 2005 spending on women’s clothing grew by 21% and that on men’s by 14%. During the same time – as the end of the quota arrangement approached in 2005 – prices actually dropped by 14%
    Consumers in the UK spend about £780 per head per year, purchasing around 2.15 million tonnes (35kg per person)

You can find more statistics here…

A few months later those new clothes are discarded. Most are thrown away but a small percentage are donated to charity shops. However charity shops can only sell a percentage of those clothes back to U.K. customers. The demand simply isn’t there. So they sell the unsold clothes to international clothes traders. These clothes end up on third world markets.

So clothes are made in the third world then transported to the first world to be worn for a limited time before being given to a charity who sell it back to the third world. These are sold to private market traders who sell them back possibly to those who made them!

Amongst other things Andrew Brooks argues that this impacts adversely on the development of local textile and clothing markets. Both in Africa and at home. It certainly impacts adversely on the environment!

You can see more posts on this here 

Charity Shops & Over Consumption

I have long considered giving to charity shops to distract from the problem of overconsumption. For many gifting good quality clothing justifies buying more. Which does nothing to address the issue of buying too much. At worst it adds a kind of beneficial, even charitable gloss to going out shopping. But while mine is a gut feeling Andrew Brooks explores this in-depth and comes to similar  but far better documented conclusions.

Charity Shops & Poor Quality Clothes

I am not against the sale of second-hand clothing or the money raised going to charity. But only as part of a very different clothing cycle.I remember when charity shops sold good quality second-hand clothing from decades ago. You jumble salecould buy collarless granddad shirts and woolen overcoats as seen on the Smiths Basically dead mens clothes! Because back then most clothes were made to last a life time and only discarded when your granddad had gone to place where he wouldn’t be needing shirts.

Now charity shops are stuffed full of cheap and badly made clothes that are not much cheaper than Primark. It might be that I am shopping in the wrong area.When  I went on a trawl of charity shops in Tunbridge Wells they were posh! But generally the faster turn around in clothes means they are of poorer quality.  Andrew  Brooks who also documents this aspect of the clothing trade.

Charity Shops and Fair Trade /Environmental Issues

If you choose to buy secondhand you lose the chance to influence how your clothes are made by whom and out of what. Any purchase is a vote with your cash and an opportunity to influence the market. Buying second-hand clothes made in sweat shops, out fibres grown unsustainably, by unethical companies is not, (to my mind), guilt free.

Sustainable Clothes

So how can we clothe ourselves in a fitting manner

Fair Share Fabrics My Global Share

Before charity clothing shops can come back into their own, we need to tackle overconsumption and production of  poor quality clothes. Of course one mans over consumption is another’s nothing to wear so how to decide what is sustainable?

This is how the equation works for me

  • We cannot exceed current levels of production

  • We cannot expect others to want less than we have.

  • Therefore we can only consume our global share

Which works out at 11.74kg of fabric per person, per year. 3.8 kg is natural fibres the rest is synthetic fibre. You can check my figures here.

So I  use no more than my share of fibres and because I hate non-biodegradables I keep my use of synthetics to a minimum. The fibres I do use have to be sustainably sourced.

You can see how I manage with fabric rationing here…

Fine Quality Worn To Shreds

A very similar approach and one I really love is that of Mrs M. She buys quality clothes and wears them till they fall apart. One reason for that is that she only allows herself the amount of clothes she could have had under the war-time rationing system. And those clothes have to be ethically sourced. Her clothes have a value. Catch up with her fantastic blog here. 

patchingSharing, Swapping and Mending

Zoe too has some great tips for more varied ethical dressing including how to approach the tricky second-hand clothing issue

1. Use up or give away to friends / family / strangers (in this country) our unwanted clothes

2. Go forward with only:

  • buying really good quality ethically sourced long-lasting clothes containing only sustainable natural fibres and/or
  • buying or receiving unwanted secondhand clothes from family, friends and strangers and/or
  • making your own good quality long-lasting clothes from environmentally conscious and ethically sourced fabrics

3. Hire clothes that will only be worn once or twice e.g. suits and dresses

5. Swap clothes if you want a wardrobe refresh (whilst still in good condition) with others.


You can read more here  plus her great Clothing Poverty Review over here

 You can read more about my fair-trade, sustainable, plastic-free wardrobe here


Plastic Aware Projects Archive

Campus to track plastic use for new project Here’s an interesting report from the Daily Californian

English: Campus of the UC Berkeley in Berkeley...

English: Campus of the UC Berkeley in Berkeley, California, United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Two weeks ago, the campus ( UC Berkeley)  secured funding for a zero-waste research center to study where waste on campus is coming from and what can be done to reduce it. The first action the center will take is adoption of the Plastic Disclosure Project, a worldwide initiative asking the business world to report and assess how much plastic waste it is producing.

The project was founded last year by UC Berkeley alumnus Doug Woodring, who witnessed the effects of plastic in local waters and at the North Pacific Gyre, an aggregate of plastic floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Woodring said the project is looking to work with businesses “to hold a mirror up to themselves” and address how plastic production and waste effect plastic pollution in oceans. UC Berkeley will be the first campus in the world to join the project.

Read the rest of the article here


Sun block for a year

I have absolutely no melamine and my skin burns even in cloudy conditions. Sure I cover up but I still have  to factor up on a regular basis.

I have been making my own sun block for years now and it does work (details below), but when setting off on our plastic free travels I had to ask myself:

  • Could I  really carry a years supply of home made sun tan lotion out there with me?
  • If so, how I would I carry it?

Last time I went away I took my home-made lotions in metal pots. While they are fine in the handbag they are not so good for hard core backpacking. My pack gets flung on and off jolty old buses and the metal bottles crumpled and creased under the strain. Then the lids could not be removed or started to leak.

Obviously I am not going to use glass bottles.

This is one of those times when plastic bottles are the best option so why not just buy the lotion out there ready made and packed in plastic bottles. Its not even as if those bottles would be going to landfill or end up as litter. In most of the countries we visit plastic bottles represent cash and are collected by  litter pickers.

Plenty of justifications for buying ready-made, plastic –packed lotion and yet I was not keen on that idea. Part of it is just stubbornness. I want to see how far I can go with this. Another reason is I hate  the crap they put in those creams – all those nasty chemicals and irritating perfumes.

So here’s my solution.

Back home I made some uber strong sun block cream. It’s  as thick as axel grease with a factor of about 100. I adapted an Aromantic recipe, reduced the water and upped the sun block ingredients,details below. It was all very ad hoc so there is no recipe.

Now, while travelling,  I thin down the axel grease with  homemade lotion as needed. I refill the  reusable plastic bottles I took from home. I can make a range of factors depending on how much lotion I add. So far it is working.

The logical amongst you will be looking puzzled. Surely  the problem remains? Rather then carrying a years supply of sunblock I now have to carry a years supply of lotion to thin the sunblock down with??

No because I make the lotion as I go along using the Plastic Is Rubbish backpackers home made lotion kit.

I think you will be proud of me!

Here’s how you make sun tan lotion

And here is  The Plastic Is Rubbish Backpackers home made lotion kit

Other cream related posts can be found HERE. If like me you don’t tan, you might be especially interested in Home madehfake tan

There are lots more plastic free beauty products here.




Cream in Bangkok

I don’t know what you do in a downtown hotel room in Bangkok but I make body lotion. I have been making my own creams and lotions successfully at home for ages now but since then of course I have packed my bags to travel the world. Obviously I don’t want to go back to using plastic packed cosmetics but carrying a years supply of creams and lotions was not an option. So I thought why not continue to make my own creams WHILE back packing.

As I am sure you know, cream, body lotion and the like is basically water and oil mixed together in varying quantities. The more oil the richer the cream. As water and fat do not naturally mix you need to use an emulsifier.

The process is simple – mix the oils and emulsifier and heat to a certain temperature. Heat the water to a certain temperature. Mix the two together to make cream.

So before I left I weighed out, mixed up and melted together a batch of oils and emulsifiers. I used hard oils like Shea so the end mix set firm – think butter in the fridge consistency. I planned to add the water at a later stage.
So when my body lotion ran out in Thailand it was time to see if my cunning stunt was going to work.
I set out my equipment.

Tiffin Tin 2
Metal cup
Heating element I had brought along to make tea (and cream) with.

Shea butter emulsifying oil mix
Let the show begin.
I put a dollop of the oil/emulsifying mix in the metal cup and some water in the tiffin tin.
I clipped the tin cup to the side of the tiffin tin with my tweezers.
I heated the water in the tiffin tin with the element.

When I thought everything was hot enough I added some of the water to the melted oils and mixed vigorously.

Not a complete success. The oil and water did emulsify but didn’t thicken quite as much as I had hoped. I had created a kind of sloppy lotion rather than a cream but it was good enough for moisturising.

I refilled my plastic bottle and went on my merry moisturised way.
Lots more information about my cream making exploits can be found on the following pages

Lots more information about my cream making exploits can be found on the following pages

All cream index

How do you make cosmetic creams and lotions the basics

The Aromantics cream making starter pack some more details

Home made sun tan lotion

Home made fake tan

Other plastic free beauty products can be found right here

Want to find more travel related plastic free tips? Check out the travel category

Stay at home type? Check out my range of U.K based plastic free products with the >>>A-Z<<< plastic free index