As the world shifts to an eco-friendlier climate, travelers are becoming more conscious of things they can do to give back while traveling. Starting a beach clean up abroad is one of the ways you can pay your dues to the country you’re traveling in, and respect Mother Earth.
If you’re an ocean-lover like me, you’re constantly seeking out the best beaches to fill up your travel itinerary. Traveling around Southeast Asia has allowed me to come across the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen, but it’s also exposed me to the trash problem that plagues these tourist destinations.
Living as an expat in the coastal city of Si Racha, Thailand, I decided to help do my part in acting against this environmental issue. Here’s how I started a regular occurring beach clean up while living abroad.
Having been involved with various volunteer projects back home in the States, I was itching for a way to get involved abroad. After doing some research, I couldn’t find any volunteer projects in my city (the language barrier also added to this), so I decided to start my own.
Had I ever started a beach clean up before? No. Did I know how to start one abroad? Not quite. All I knew was that there was a beach near me that I loved to visit, and I had a vision to clean it.
“When you know your why, you can bear almost any how” -Nietzsche
I was an ocean-loving woman on a mission, and here’s how I executed on it.
My previous experience in event planning helped me develop a strategy for starting a beach clean up. I knew I needed to recruit a crew, develop a schedule, gather supplies, then execute on my master plan.
The first thing you need to start a beach clean up is a crew of individuals with the same passion for service as yourself. When living abroad, (especially in a non-touristy city like Si Racha), it can be hard to develop a social group. Luckily for me I was introduced to the MeetUp App from a friend; and this became my tool for recruiting a clean up crew.
MeetUp is a social networking app that allows you to find people who share similar interests as you and join groups. The app goes one step further than just having an online connection by allowing members to create events related to these interests. It’s a perfect way to meet people abroad, and an even better way to find people interested in volunteering.
I downloaded the app, went to my first “Meet Up” in my city, and presented my idea to my newly found friends. My mission to clean up our local beach was received well, and after sparking some interests in my counterparts, I now had a crew of people to support me.
The next thing you need to start a beach clean up is make a game plan. Where will your beach clean up take place? What day works best for your crew? What time is ideal?
The beach located near the fitness park in my city was popular for locals and foreigners, so I decided this would be a good place to start. After choosing a location, I surveyed my crew to see which days worked best for everyone to get together. It turns out Sundays were the most convenient (and most people’s day off).
Next, I needed to decide on a time for the clean up. It’s hot in Thailand—which means the clean up would need to take place early in the morning or later in the evening. I hosted clean ups during both times of the day, but the evenings slowly became more popular (some people have a hard time waking up early after a Saturday night out on the town, fair enough!)
All you really need for a beach clean up is trash bags. Additional items that are helpful include: tongs, gloves, hand sanitizer, and water bottles (for people to drink).
Fortunately, we were able to receive a start up quantity of all the supplies we needed from another beach clean up organization in a neighboring city (a member of our crew was coworkers with the organizer). However, these items can be purchased at almost any store and you can ask your crew to help chip in on the costs (a small fee for a large impact, remind them of this!)
When it comes to getting rid of the trash, most places allow you to pile up the bags near a trash bin and the city will take care of it on their rounds. Scope out the area near your clean up for bins and make sure to leave your bags there. Check with local officials as rules differ in different areas.
Once you’ve settled on your game plan and have acquired the proper supplies, it’s time to get the word out. There’s strength in numbers, and although the trash problem in our oceans is tremendous, every action taken contributes to moving the needle closer to cleaner beaches.
If you don’t know this already—Facebook Groups are poppin’! They are the most convenient way to connect with a group of people and allow you to create events, post photos, and publicize your volunteer efforts.
I created a Facebook Group (“Sriracha Clean Up Crew”) and began inviting my new acquaintances as members. I made the group public, allowing other people to see and join in on the action. This group is where I posted the clean up events, tracked the attendees, and shared our success of cleaning up our local beach one trash bag at a time.
Those who volunteer know that the act of service is the most fulfilling feeling in the world. Aside from this internal joy that is received by doing something to give back, it’s important to make volunteering fun.
I achieved this by organizing group dinners after each beach clean up. After a few hours of picking up trash and watching the illustrious sun set over the ocean, we would all head over to a restaurant for a family-style meal. These gatherings allowed us to get to know each other better over sharing food, which I’ve come to learn is one of the best ways to engage in collectivism and form bonds.
You can also play some tunes on a portable Bluetooth speaker to keep the energy high during your clean up or bring a Frisbee to throw around on the beach when you’re finished.
So maybe you aren’t living abroad, but you’ve got a few weeks in a location or are backpacking around for a few months and want to do your part to give back. You can still execute on one-time beach clean ups in your travels.
In popular tourist destinations you can find volunteer organizations that host beach clean ups regularly. Add this to your itinerary during your travels and you will leave the country feeling better about yourself and leaving a positive impact on the environment.
When I was traveling in Koh Lipe, Thailand, there was a beach clean up opportunity every Monday morning. Participating in this allowed me to leave my mark on the island and meet some other travelers as well!
The easiest thing you can do to give back while traveling is bring a bag with you every time you go to a beach and clean up on your own. This doesn’t mean that your relaxing beach days need to be traded with volunteer trash-work, but you can easily grab any trash you see on your walk down the beach or spend a few minutes cleaning up the surrounding area.
When I was in Koh Larn, Thailand, some friends and I spent about 15 minutes cleaning up the beach we were chilling on all day right before leaving. Not only were we able to pick up all of the trash in the area, other people saw us and started doing the same around them. This is the power of small actions!
Starting a beach clean up abroad is easy. With a crew of people, proper supplies, and a solid game plan, you can do your part to give back while traveling.
What started out as a small idea turned into a regular event that I hosted twice a month. Through this project I met people from all walks of life, partnered with other local volunteer groups, and unknowingly instilled a habit in myself to provide service in every destination I travel to.
Simple acts of service like this leave a huge impact, not only on the environment, but on the people watching you do it.
Imagine what our world would be like if we all gave back—to our own cities, to the people around us, and to our Earth.
Give more than you get,