“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” – Gustave Flaubert
When I see this map, I think WOW, the world is huge and I still have so many places I would love to discover. In fact, I made it to all 7 continents by the age of 27 and have held a desire to understand our world since a very young age. A sense of curiosity that couldn’t be tamed by just watching natgeo or reading world encyclopaedias. I wanted to experience it first hand, viewing with my own eyes and feeling it with my own body and mind. So, above are my stops to date and you see below is my most recent journey; the 14 month backpack through 4 continents, including 23 countries, 20 islands and some 20 UNESCO World Heritage sites. Oh I do love my islands. I just feel a sense of home there, probably due to the proximity of the ocean.
Let’s look at some stats, because I LOVE that stuff. Honestly looking at that, I can’t get my eyes around it. I actually don’t know how I did it. Truthfully, it was hard to keep going and towards the end, when sickness and tiredness came upon me, I could feel myself getting weaker, but then I would rest a couple of days and boom, back in action. It’s amazing what sleep does. Traveling alone also gives you a very strong self-talk ritual as you only have yourself to keep you going. I had to consistently work on this and be ready for discouragement or a desire to give up and come home. Certain annoyances I encountered time and time again I had to learn to deal with such as, men who made inappropriate comments, I would try and accept it as their culture and walk on, you see coming from a country where men don’t catcall, shout in streets etc, you never have to learn to digest this, but when you move into other cultures, it can become intense, especially when you are alone and foreign ‘meat’ (as I once heard). Now I don’t want to discourage other women to travel, I managed it, I am just saying to be aware of it, hold your head high and be strong. You just don’t let the comments get to you!
Another important thought I kept circling in my mind, ‘Never ever make a decision when you are tired’ always sleep on it ;), As I said, even the 3 month traveller gets tired, after a year, the tiredness can hit you faster and you could easily resort to ‘Oh lets go home, hop on a plane’ sort of attitude, but you must always weigh up the pros and cons. Is it worth it ? Will I make it back here some day? You must maintain the willpower to follow your desires and stay strong. Further than this, emotions can become really intense as you travel; you are out of your comfort zone each and every day, the culture is not familiar, you get lost, you end up in the wrong place, you are misunderstood, you are constantly facing fears, you may even fall in love but most importantly, when you are alone, you are highly vulnerable. This, what I believe, is what can make or break you. You become bulletproof in the end; lost in a taxi; no problem, plane cancelled; whatever, food poisoning; what harm, no accommodation; grand it’s warm here I can sleep in a tent outside. (see below lol) You see travel is just about training yourself to be fearless and know you can manage whatever comes your way. The funniest part was when I would arrive at a hostel or for e.g. climbing Machu Picu, a group of Argentinians said, so what do you do ? response ‘hmmm, I travel’ what!!!!!! just travel? how long are you here? oh hmm one year now, response WHAAAAAAAAAA????
Normally I kept quiet about my plan or timeframe as I learned early on, you never know when you could be a target. So I was Kate, or kah-té en espanol, ka-che em português here for two weeks, then they would say buttttt where did you learn Spanish? Me ‘oh am some exchange in Colombia’ lol. Anyways obviously I did tell some the true details, just not all, only when my gut felt it was safe.
You know, people are sooooo curious, they always want to ask questions, who you are, what you are doing? why alone? where is the husband, my children, does everyone in Ireland have blonde hair and blue eyes (nearly the most common question). These people I met and unique cultures were harmless and just kind humans like the rest of us. They are most definitely NOT as portrayed in the media. The news, I just would not even look at because it’s just to keep people where they are and afraid of the world. Best thing, turn it off ! 🙂
Most of the locals I met had no means to travel like we do, so it gave me the utmost pleasure to sit, chat and stay with them. I broke barriers of their images of Europe and beyond and I told them many stories, especially of places they may never get to or things they may never experience, such as snow. I do remember this one time in Cuba, down a side street selling crafts, a middle aged guy asking me all the ins and outs of the aeroplane journey. His eyes were dazzled as I explained the experience of flying, then he said, is it like in James Bond? I said, ‘kind of yes’, and at that point I felt a tear in my eye; he tells me he will NEVER have the possibility to leave his country. He would only dream of being able to travel but locked in by strict government rules. Imagine that ! And all I kept thinking, how lucky I am to have so much freedom and wander from one country to the next, obtaining stamps without questions or interrogation.
As the Brazilians called me ‘Uma gringa feliz’.
You see above, that was the beginning. I couldn’t put in all the stops as there were a bit too many. To be honest, I had soooo many questions off people before the trip; where, when, who, what, why, return etc etc and people were very concerned for my safety. I didn’t want to say anything because they were my dreams and goals and I knew peoples’ opinions would be negative, given the reputation of the countries I was about to enter. I kept saying ‘oh ya I’m just going to mexico’, little did I know the voyage would continue and continue and continue, right down into Antarctica and back up again; (ticking off my bucket list as I went) it was absolutely unbelievable.
It tested my mental strength enormously as well as physically (sometimes walking kms with 25kgs weight front and back in 35ºc heat), spoke no Spanish nor Portuguese on arrival, had no contacts, female, blonde and alone. You can sense the kind of discomfort I would have been in, but I knew it would be fine, I always knew that. Deep down, I know that for survival you only need the basic necessities; food, shelter, water and voilà, you are living. The rest would come with time.
So my next concern was my carbon footprint. Given that my utmost passion is our planet and its protection, I would only hate to think that I, indeed, am harming it even more. Also, having studied environmental science, I am highly conscious of the strain on the planet and so I wanted to ensure the purpose of this trip resonated with my values. The main purpose was to experience our most precious places that are currently in a state of destruction. My desire and my route of choice was fuelled by climate change. I could not sit and think of my 80 year old self wondering ‘I never saw that place’, it’s gone now, or ‘I never saw that species, it’s extinct’. That has so much power for me. I wanted to explore Earth’s natural beauties and return home to share and tell of what I saw. I witnessed so much beauty but also incredible stark effects of climate change. I would like to talk through this in another post; the effects of climate change in the countries visited.
So, to give you an insight into my travel; of course my initial flight had a high rate of carbon scoring but from my initial flight to my return home, I made extremely conscientious decisions to maintain a low footprint. My mode of transport remained overland for the most part; used overcrowded buses, car pooling, hitchhiking, sailing and I even traveled in a camper van from Nicaragua all the way into Panama. I also couch surfed, so I stayed with locals (I think some 40+ families, solos and couples hosted me – we now remain friends, it is such a wonderful organisation), shopped local and basically immersed completely everywhere I went. I wanted to be a ‘local’ wherever I ventured; learn their customs, culture and language, while also teaching them and brining some of my customs to the table. We did have some Irish dance lessons in the middle of central Mexico at one point and a bottle of Jameson whiskey (from my town) may have been opened on New Years in Medellin, Colombia.
For all you travellers that may suffer from eco-anxiety, some other things I did or had; always carried my own reusable water bottle, flask, mug, cutlery, (i.e. no single use plastic), purchase gallons of water (not 500ml plastic bottles), limit red meat consumption, use mainly cold water for washing, 99% of my showers were also cold water (this is very common in these places, I rarely had a hot shower, well maybe in Argentina lol), always ate the staple local food (you spend about 80% less when you eat where the locals are), a cloth bag for shopping (still have it from Cuba 5$ hehe:), very rare use of electronics such as dishwashers, straighteners, hair dryers, tumble dryers (only what was necessary), always stayed with locals or a local hostel, avoided large foreign corporations, avoided mega resorts etc and finally I aimed to document what I saw and share online to educate and raise awareness of the effects of climate change on such countries; some of whom have no knowledge of it and are just living on the after-effects, the sad reality.
Last point, if you suffer guilt from travel, you can also offset your environmental footprint by purchasing carbon offsets. In Ireland, it isn’t so well developed on an individual level, however you can donate to websites that run carbon offset projects, such as treesontheland.com. On a global scale, using a website such as terrapass.com, you can calculate your individual footprint and give back by purchasing credits that help build projects in communities which reduce greenhouse gases. You can also calculate your impact by category; house, car, transport, etc on carbonfootprint.com, go on, get started adding up the math.
Ok lets move on, as I know some get a bit overwhelmed with climate change, I want to share some positives. So, for me, I opted to offset by helping locals and volunteering my time here and there. In Colombia, I helped some fair-trade coffee and cacao farmers interpret their tours, bring visitors in with the hope to educate on the coffee crisis in Colombia and get some sales to get the purest coffee out of the country and in to some cafes globally. In Mexico, I helped out in turtle conservation nesting in some rare and protected nature reserves; was so cool, we used to depart at midnight to wander the beaches; stamp, date and log species while watching the turtles under the moonlight return to sea after nesting. I also helped a business running tours of the Galapagos endemic penguin species; basically going out to sea on kayaks and snorkelling, again, explaining to visitors the importance of such species to the flora and fauna of the galapagos. I also got involved in land clearing work and fruit picking in the Galapagos, not to mention the numerous hostels I did translation work for their tours and communities who spoke no English, French or Spanish.
I wanted to help them, and share my skills and leave something behind, make their lives easier in some sort. I remember one time in Guatemala, in the midst of a jungle village surrounded by enormously steep valleys, I was helping some staff with guests and it just got all a bit too much, they couldn’t cope. They still use the old fashioned paper and pen system and try to track purchases, but it can become very overwhelming, especially if you have not had adequate schooling. I gave simple tips on how to divide the A4 page for guests and their bills etc and I hope that helped. You see, in the western world we are all too used to calculators and computers at the ready, the majority of the globe doesn’t function like this. There is a lot of development still to take place. I can say one thing though, they have humongous hearts of gold and so selfless they would give the person less more, even if they had nothing at all. I was offered a bed countless times while someone would offer to take the floor. Its unbelievable, the generosity and care you receive in latinamerica, they are wonderful people and deserve far more credit than the fake media portrays.
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” – Anthony Bourdain
So I guess I’ll finish by saying, although I have a big global footprint, admittedly I have gained a carbon footprint too. However, I know that what I have done, my learnings, my teachings, my work at home and abroad with environmental charities far outweighs my impact on our planet’s destruction. I make a conscious effort each day and connect to nature to enhance my care for it. I believe if more people were connected to nature, and less to materials, they would care a lot more. It is like the hard opposition, the material world of consumption vs the raw nature of our planet. One fake side trying to convince you to consume and feel good by using temporary purchases vs the raw and blissful presence of nature. It is omnipresent, will never try to change you, and will always keep you grounded. The answers are in nature, and the more we connect to it, the less we will want the material world. A world embedded in stress, unease, constant dissatisfaction and ‘moreness’. So if you take something away from this post, please let it be, to grow a stronger connection to nature. We are all one, this planet and us, and if you respect yourself, you will respect our home, Planet Earth.
It is our collective and individual responsibility … to preserve and tend to the world in which we all live.” —Dalai Lama