My First Zero-Bag Trip and Why It Was Important

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I’m grateful to be fortunate in a few ways, but the one lucky bit currently on my mind is that I like to write. Generally, and especially when it comes to this blog, I try and write about things that seem important. I can certainly pound out mindless marketing drivel at ~90wpm as I did for a grueling six months in one particular job, but I never thought that was important (though I lied at the interview and said I did). In the years since calling that my profession I’ve learned some things. One of those things is not to lie at job interviews because even if you do get a job you don’t like, you will not be able to sustain it day-in and day-out. Another thing I’ve learned is that writing words that do not seem important is like eating at Taco Bell. It might seem like a good idea before you start, there’s no actual discernable benefit other than a temporary dopamine hit, and even as you’re doing it you find yourself wondering why.

I try and write blog posts that, at their most unsuccessful, will at least entertain. If they are a little more successful they might point you towards an object or idea that can be of use to you. My most successful posts will do both, and if I’m really on a roll, without any spelling mistakes. If I have an idea for some writing that will do none of those things, I don’t write it.

Sometime before the new year I had the opportunity to visit a beautiful landmark someplace close to my old hometown, the beautiful capital city of Toronto, ON. (There’s a joke in there for my Ottawa friends.) I went to Niagara Falls for a two-day, one-night trip. Being in a particularly minimalist mood as I decided what to pack up in my bag for the trip, I had a thought that sauntered into my mind, sat down, and refused to leave. It was: “All right Miss Fancy-Pants one-bagger, how about a real challenge? Don’t bring a bag.”

Since in my general experience the thoughts that refuse to leave are the ones that turn out to be important (even if at the time I don’t know why), I decided to listen to it. So aside from the items I take with me daily (wallet, phone, headphones, power bank), here’s what I brought for the two-day, one-night trip.

All I see when I look at this is how huge my fingers look.

All I see when I look at this is how huge my fingers look.

I’m holding a little zip pouch with some lip balm, tweezers and cuticle trimmers (because all those things are annoying to not have on hand), and a just-in-case tampon. In my other hand is a pair of balled-up socks with some underwear tucked into the middle. These items went into the pockets of my Uniqlo down jacket, the jacket went onto me, and I went to Niagara Falls.

It was cold. I was unperturbed.

It was cold. I was unperturbed.

I know, you’re thinking, “But what about X?! How did you Y?! What did you do for Z?!” Well, I made some assumptions. The plan was to stay in a hotel. Since Niagara Falls is a city that inexplicably exists almost solely for tourists (and once long ago was a terribly bloody battlefield that soon after became a tourist attraction - but I digress) I figured the hotel room would be well appointed. I bet that there would be a toothbrush available, and soap to wash with, and probably skin lotion. The latter two of these assumptions resolved in my favor. There was mouthwash, at least.

I intended to wear most the same clothes on both days, aside from the change of socks and underwear, and this went fine. In fact, aside from the discovery that I never again want to go longer than twenty-four hours without brushing my teeth, I wasn’t really put out by not having more stuff with me. Actually, it was quite the opposite. Not having any bag at all made me feel quite like a kid at recess, freshly unshackled from the norm and wanting to run around just for the heck of it.

This was all some months ago and it’s taken me until now to write about it, mainly because I couldn’t decide why it was important. I figured it out earlier today during an altogether unrelated moment, listening to an audiobook at the gym. It was The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman (my favourite author and a constant inspiration). If you happen to be at all interested in writing or observing life or breathing I highly recommend it. He speaks at one point about writing things to find out what it is he thinks of them. I had minimalism in the back of my mind and something fell into place. Like with the trip to Niagara Falls, and more importantly, in general, I experiment with doing without so I can discover what it is I really need - and to go a step further, to find out whether or not I have the fortitude and resourcefulness to do without anyway. It’s how I came to nomadism and traveling with one bag in the first place - by experimenting.

It’s all too easy to be on autopilot, doing things a certain way because that’s the way you’ve always done them. It’s a refreshing and informative experience to, just for the heck of it, try something that for you is completely unusual. It doesn’t matter if it’s about doing without, though it’s almost certainly guaranteed to make you feel uncomfortable, temporarily. It doesn’t have to stick, but it might. At the very least, you’ll learn something about yourself that you wouldn’t have found out otherwise. And that’s why it was important for me to take a short trip with nothing more than what fit in my pockets.

Next time, though, I’ll bring a toothbrush.

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON HER ONE BAG.

 

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VICKY LAI

Vicky is a software developer originally hailing from Toronto, ON Canada. She's been travelling the world while living out of one bag since 2016. She loves telling stories through writing and photography, and combines these passions at heronebag.com.

International Year of Sustainable Tourism: Travel Social Good 2017 Summit

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November 16th – 17th, Travel Social Good hosted its annual summit at the United Nations in New York City. Guests included tourism ambassadors, travel industry professionals and members of the hospitality community. The core challenge and theme was Transparency and focused on the UN’s declaration of 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism For Development. Summit partners included Global Sustainable Tourism Council, Sustainable Travel International, Center for Responsible Travel, and Tourism Cares. For those tweeting live or following along at home, the hashtag #TravelGood17 was created.

Every year 1.2 billion people travel the globe for business, pleasure, and familial reasons. Of the estimated trillions of dollars generated by this type of travel, less than 10 percent of it remains to benefit the local community. Some critics have described this as colonialism 2.0. The notion that the comparatively wealthy come to a place, consume and exhaust its resources, and leave the lands and oceans worse. Then, the same industries that profited from this practice dare to tell both travelers and indigenous people what’s best for the local lands, bodies of waters, and the economy. 

Whether due to criticism or a sense of wanting to do the right thing, many travel professionals and innovators are creating ways to mitigate the damage being done by the industry. “Tourism can be parasitic,” keynote speaker and Planeterra Foundation President, and VP of G Adventures, Jamie Sweeting said. 21st century travel does more harm than good, he asserted. Sweeting noted that 2002 was the UN’s International Year of Eco-Tourism, and fifteen years later, with this being the Year of Sustainable Tourism, the industry is still talking about essentially the same issues. He said the field is still too focused on destination “arrivals and visits” and not enough on generating substantive “non-menial jobs” for locals. He challenged all sectors of the travel industry— airlines, hotels, agents, restaurants, manufacturers, etc.— to do better. 

Sweeting’s financial statistics were grimmer than those put out earlier in the conference by travel experts. He said only “5 out of 100 dollars stay with developing and local economies.” “Who really benefits from tourism?” he asked the audience. Using Andrew Carnegie as an illustration, Sweeting noted that the industrialist became wealthy by manufacturing steel but did so using child labor and a “weakened” morality. He was charitable, but also created damage. The travel industry, he implored, must “reduce their harm.”

Jamie pointed to G Adventures’ G Local as an example of causing less harm within the business of tourism. Sweeting said 91% of the company’s suppliers are locally owned and 90% of those suppliers use local resources. Out of $250M generated, $200M is recycled back into the local community, Sweeting said.

Representatives from Israel, Botswana, Gambia, and Kenya were also present at TSG’s summit and spoke about tourism in their nations. They highlighted the beautiful attractions of their lands and gave historical and political information about their countries. H.E. Mr. Adonia Ayebar described Uganda’s rainforests and deserts and said the country has over 1,000 species of birds due to its unique climate and geography. Victoria Falls in Zambia, is one of the seven wonders of the world according to H.E. Ms. Christine Kalamwina. In addition to Kenya being “the most wonderful place on the planet,” the nation has also increased penalties for poaching and attacking crops, H.E. Ms. Koki Muli Grignon informed the audience.

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The idea of using data to demonstrate a destination’s value was also presented at the summit. According to Nature Conservancy’s Geof Rochester, reefs in Barbados mitigate waves and clean gallons of ocean water. 40% of the nation’s economy is tied to tourism, at $24T per year. Of the estimated 70 million trips taken to coral reefs and “reef adjacent,” (i.e. beaches nearest the reefs) $35.5B was generated according to the data collected. Data such as this can then be presented to governments, airlines, trip insurers, etc. to help “calculate value” of certain destinations.

Towards the close of the summit, attendees were asked to engage in “design thinking” to help problem solve and mitigate the negative impacts of tourism.

Jeremy Smith, co-founder of Travindy, pointed out that though “tourism only directly supports 3.6% of [the] economy,” it’s responsible for 5% of greenhouse gases. He highlighted hotels that were beginning to use plant carpets to offset carbon emissions. Conference goers broke into smaller groups to brainstorm such creative solutions. 

Gail Grimmett, president of Travel Leaders Elite told attendees, “purpose is the new luxury,” and encouraged the audience and industry leaders to be stewards of the resources we come in contact with.

For more information, please visit travelsocialgood.org.

 

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ALEXANDREA THORNTON

Alexandrea is a journalist and producer living in NY. A graduate of UC Berkeley and Columbia University, she splits her time between California and New York. She's an avid reader and is penning her first non-fiction book. 

 

Am I Making a Difference?

Mingling in hostels you tend to meet many adventurous spirits finding their way in the world. Among those I met a young girl with similar interests in the social work/humanitarian field in Chennai, India. She was nearing the end of her yearlong journey and as we talked we reminisced about the hardships and victories we found along the way. She told me of her 1st day working at an HIV positive orphanage in Bangalore where a child fell and cut herself. My new found friend's immediate reaction was to clean the wound, which she instinctively did, as everyone watched open mouthed, too afraid to say a word. After numerous blood tests she found out she had not contracted HIV, but it was a wake up call. She had forgotten she was in a different place, without the luxury of basic necessities. Finally we got to the point I asked  what she felt her biggest accomplishment was during this trip? She looked me straight in the eye's and said, "I feel like I have accomplished absolutely nothing, I have made no difference in this place." Here was a girl who had been devoting her life for the past year to HIV positive orphans, trafficked girls, and battered women yet she felt like she had accomplished nothing. I was floored and thought if she hasn't made a difference have I? I proceeded to make a list of how I felt when I was impacted by volunteers when I was younger, and what difference they made in my life today. As I thought, I realized we need to look at our small victories. Realize we can't change a country overnight, but we can provide a motherless child with love. We can let these children see what else there is in the world. We can give them the confidence to succeed. We can open their minds. Whether it be for 2 days or 2 years, that child is going to remember the love they felt from you. This is why we started Humanitarian Travel Tips doing medical screenings and vocational training. We can't change a country overnight, but by providing glasses to a child who can't see a chalk board we are changing their opportunities and their life forever.

Without glasses these children can't learn. They are put into the lowest classes of children deemed unfit for learning, given little to no teacher supervision, and leftover books (if there are any). With glasses they are able to move up in school, they won't fall through the cracks, they have the opportunities to reach their full potential. The girls who got the glasses go on to be educated women who as a whole have fewer children and take better care of those children. On the same token teaching women a vocation like sewing gives her the ability to provide for her family, send her children to school, and give the children the nutrition they need to concentrate during school. They raise educated children, thus changing a generation. Too often we underestimate the power of the good we are doing and we shouldn't. Every smile, every friendship, every amount of love you give to a person makes a difference to that person. I have been at orphanages long term and you don't realize how long after you leave those children still talk about you, or the pictures you give them they will hold onto forever. Don't underestimate the power of good in this world you can do. 

 

CHAMBREY WILLIS

@chambreyw

Chambrey is the founder of Humanitarian Travel Tips an organization that raises the standard of living to people in developing countries through health screenings and vocational training. We are excited to announce that we are now welcoming volunteers to join with us on these initiatives this summer. Chambrey is an avid yogi, got her undergrad in Finance and is working on a  guidebook outlining step by step how to best fundraise for your next big adventure. You can find her on facebook or follow her blog.

My Non-Conventional Cambodian Christmas

Megan participated in the 2013 PEPY Ride by PEPY Tours. They biked through Cambodia, from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh.

Christmas for me normally consists of the following things: flying home to good old England, walking through the door, receiving a suffocating hug from my parents (suffocating is, of course, meant in the most affectionate way possible) and then eating. The eating generally doesn’t ever stop, just ebbs and flows like the tide. So when Christmas 2013 rolled around and I found myself facing a 1000km bike ride across Cambodia -- and a whole lot of rice -- needless to say I was ever so slightly nervous.

The route

The route

Maybe you’re wondering what on earth drove me to forego the usual food-based festivities in favour of risking a month of inevitable, interminable muscle pain. The honest answer is adventure. I wanted to see something new. To smell something new. To taste something new. But when I signed up for the PEPY Ride XI, I never imagined that, above all of the things I just mentioned, I would feel something new. And that something, whatever it was, has more or less changed the way I look at the world and all the funny, strange, sad, glorious, confusing and downright brilliant things in it.

A 1000km bike ride is in itself one such downright brilliant thing: getting up before the crack of dawn, hopping on the bike and watching the world wake up is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s like looking at hundreds of different photos for less than a second at a time-the split second you whizz past someone, you get this teeny, tiny snapshot of their life and it’s pretty amazing. Sometimes it’d be a gaggle of kids messing around on the way to school, sometimes an older chap watching us with great bemusement as we blitzed past him, waving and grinning like lunatics, or maybe a group of men herding ducks into a roadside stream (yes, you read that right-duck herding).

Megan's group in action

Megan's group in action

Whoever it was, one thing is for sure: Cambodians like to say hello to people on bikes. Every day, and I really mean every day, as we were cycling merrily along, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, a couple of kids would suddenly come racing out of thin air and ambush us, screaming 'hellohellohellohellohellohello'. This would start a kind of chain reaction and the next half hour would pass in a frenzy of shouting and waving, which is quite dangerous on a road full of pot holes. 

But pot holes aside, travelling through a country by bike is a very unique experience. Of course, there were times when I debated whether or not it was possible for just my rear end to die, independently from the rest of my body, such was the level of numbness, but there is really no comparison to the feeling of freedom you get from cycling. We saw corners of Cambodia that are more than a world away from our normal lives, corners where the tourist buses can’t get to, or the hoards of backpackers that come with them. Nothing against backpackers, but sometimes it’s nice to escape the masses.

Megan's group

Megan's group

Ok, a three week bike ride is indeed a rather incredible feat, but really a life-changing experience? I can almost smell your scepticism! But it really was. Not in the ‘I’m going to sell all my worldly possessions and wander the world, touching the lives of everyone I meet’ kind of way; it was quieter than that. It wasn’t so aggressively do-goody. It just kind of made me want to smile more. I don’t know about other people, but I am definitely guilty of letting the little things stress me out too much in my ‘normal’ life.

Sunrise in Angkor

Sunrise in Angkor

Spending three weeks in one of the poorest nations in South East Asia, with its unfathomably devastating recent history, certainly shook me up and made me realise that I have it pretty good. All the daft little problems which I worry about suddenly weren’t problems anymore. What’s the use in using all that energy on something that, in all likeliness, won’t change, no matter how much you kick and scream and tear your hair out? Cambodia is a country on the mend, or at least that’s the impression I had, and sometimes it was all to easy to forget that behind the smiles, many people have seen more ugliness and pain than you or me could ever imagine. Yet despite the horrors this country has lived through, it seems to radiate an energy and spirit like no other place I’ve ever visited.

I think it’s easy to become disillusioned with the world: you watch the news and you feel a bit hopeless because really, how on earth can you help? To be honest, I don’t know the answer to that question. But Cambodia gave me hope for, well, hope. I know that sounds horrendously schmalzy, but I can’t describe it in any other way. Seeing all these incredibly cool and inspiring projects, only someone with a heart of stone could refuse to be touched by the optimism. There’s always going to be good and bad in the world, for sure, but now my eyes and heart are more open to the good stuff.

Find out more about how you can participate in a PEPY Ride here!

 

MEGAN SKINNER

Meg is earning her keep as a freelance English teacher, translator and interpreter in the tropical climes of Northern Germany. As exciting as the world of patent translations is, her mind often wanders to adventures in more exotic locations. Or food. Or both.

TRIP REVIEW: Bike Across Cambodia for Good

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“We have to learn before we can help,” is the motto behind PEPY Tours, a development education tour company, where the focus is learning rather than volunteering.  PEPY stands for Promoting Education, empowering Youth in line with its mission to inspire people to improve the way we give, travel and live. What Daniela Papi, the founder of PEPY Tours who has been traveling and volunteering for many years, realized is volunteer travel can be problematic. It risks giving the impression that volunteers are superior to those they are helping, and/or fostering that false belief system. At times, it can cause more harm than good. When someone volunteers in another country where they don’t understand the culture, they may be working on what their ‘perceived’ versions of the problem are, rather than the actual problem itself. In Daniela’s case, she spent time building a school in Cambodia, then stuck around after its completion... only to find that the school was not being used, as there was no one to teach in it. Volunteering can risk supplying short term solutions, rather than sustainable aid.

PEPY is unique in that it integrates travel and sightseeing in Cambodia with experiential learning, all the while raising money to support local community development. They offer student study trips, where the students learn about the culture of Cambodia and about sustainable development, and also get to experience it all firsthand. They also offer custom adventures, and social enterprise adventures, that follow a similar structure. Learning about the culture of those you are trying to help can allow you to see what the real problems are, which will lead to effective, long-lasting solutions.

And if you’re into adventure, it’s PEPY Ride that will really get your heart racing. PEPY Ride is their annual cross-Cambodia cycling adventure that introduces bikers to community development projects. It gets you off-the-beaten track, up close and personal with the culture and people while you bike the rural back-roads of Cambodia. As you do so, you focus on learning about development issues and responsible tourism in Cambodia.

You start out in historical Siem Reap in the north, and bike all the way down to beautiful, coastal Kep in the South, with the option of finishing early in the capital city of Phnom Penh. The group size ranges from 5-18 people, with at least three English-speaking trip leaders. You can bring your own trusted bike, or rent one. You’ll be staying in a variety of accommodations, ranging from basic hotels with hot water to mid-range hotels. It’s a strenuous trip, with a medium-high level of physical activity (some days you will travel over 100 km!), but you don’t need to be an experienced cyclist.

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There is also a fundraising requirement that is both a great way to learn, and a great way to give, as it lets you contribute even after you have left. Each biker is matched with a mentor who will provide ideas and resources to help you reach your goal of $1,500. The money is spent on the local groups working on sustainable development programs in Siem Reap, one of Cambodia’s poorest provinces, directly benefiting them.

PEPY believes in a world where “travel offers two-way learning... and a lot of fun,” and PEPY Ride aims for both, which is what makes them so unique. If you’re looking for adventure, cultural immersion and a chance to give back, look no further. Not only will you be making a difference, but because of PEPY’s focus on learning about culture you will know why and how you are making a difference. This is the keystone to PEPY’s philosophy. 

So if you’re interested in PEPY Ride, check it out here

If you’re not a biker, but are still interested in PEPY’s mission, learn about their other trips here.

TRIP INFO: Dates: PEPY Ride begins on December 24th, 2012, and ends on January 12th, 2013, lasting a total of 20 days, with the option of finishing early in Phnom Penh. Prices: $1,650 for the full 20 days.$1,425 for two weeks, if you leave early in Phnom Penh. Price includes accommodations, entrance tickets, in-country transport, instructors and guides, donations to the NGOs you will visit, and most meals. Airfare not included. The fundraising portion of the trip is spent on the sustainable development programs in Siem Reap.

CONNECT WITH FIND YOUR MISSION for more change-the-world experiences

Chantal Stein can never reply to the question “where are you from?” because there are too many answers. She has traveled extensively and now lives in New York City. Her favorite place (so far!) is Easter Island, and her dream is to one day visit Antarctica.

TRIP REVIEW: Surfing South Africa to Help Out

The downfall of many volunteer organizations is cost. All too often there will be a $1000+ price tag on a trip that lasts only a week or two, not included airfare. This isn’t news, so it should come as no surprise that there are people out there who are working to fix this. One of these people is Daniel Radcliffe (no, not the actor). After collecting a Masters of Business, Daniel decided that it was time to give back to the world. He began to research volunteer trips. He too ran into this roadblock, but unlike someone like me who will simple notice the problem and then write about it, Daniel decided to do something. International Volunteer HQ was founded upon his return to New Zealand in 2007. “IVHQ was born with the goal of providing safe, affordable and high quality placements in areas where there is a real need for volunteers.” One of these places is South Africa.

It’s easy to read a statistic or to watch a documentary and think that we understand. Sure, we have problems here in the United States, there’s inequality and poverty everywhere, but, honestly, we cannot imagine what some citizens of the world live through. In South Africa the average life expectancy of a white South African is 71 years. The average life expectancy for the black population is 48 years. In 2005 it was estimated that 31% of the female population was infected with HIV, most of them black. There are 1,200,000 orphans. These are numbers and statistics, I could throw them onto a graph and you would see the vast differences, but you still wouldn’t know, you would still be using your imagination. Over there, it’s a reality. South Africa needs help and, if you feel so inclined, you can give it.

IVHQ sends volunteers to South Africa on the first and third Monday of each month. They normally arrive in groups of twenty to fifty people and the assist the community in an astounding variety of ways. Participants can involve themselves in a teaching project, in childcare, computer training, sports development and, an organization after my own heart, a surf outreach program.

Maybe you’re wondering what good a surf outreach program would do for children when they could be receiving extra medical attention or extra food and shelter. In the words of Ellen Varoy, Marketing and Media Coordinator for IVHQ, “The Surf Outreach program is designed to provide these children with an after school activity, keeping them off the streets of Cape Town and placing them in a safe and encouraging environment. Through the program, these children have the opportunity to learn new skills, take up new challenges, gain confidence and interact with our international volunteers, who the children look up to as role models.” It’s not about whether or not these kids learn to surf. It’s about showing them that there are people who care. It’s about being a ray of light on an otherwise bleak horizon. As a surfer would say, it’s about sharing the stoke. Would these children benefit more from help that focused on their health and nourishment? On the spreadsheet, probably, but where would they go after that? I say give them role models, give them hope and teach them that they can overcome. That, in my opinion, will last much longer than a loaf of bread.

The cost of IVHQ trips is one of the things that makes this organization so great. Prospective volunteers for the surf outreach program only have to pay $320 for one week. Longer periods of time require more money, being capped off at six months for $4580. This does not included airfare or visas or spending money. Also, if you want to participate in the surf outreach program you must know how to swim. I just thought I would point that out. If you are interested in any of the other programs offered for South Africa, you can find more information here

IVHQ is a fantastic option for people who want to volunteer for an affordable price. A full range of trips can be found at their website, http://www.volunteerhq.org/. As usual, if you were interested in the trip, but don’t think it’s for you, check back with Mission.tv next week for the next article in our series of trip reviews.

For testimonials by volunteers who completed the surf outreach program, check out: Testimonials  

To check out a video from the trip click here.

LEARN MORE ABOUT IVHQ

KINO CROOKE spent the last three years juggling school and travel. He most recently spent the last two months traveling across Spain before moving to New York to work with CATALYST.

NORWAY: North of the Sun

Norwegians Inge Wegge, 25, and Jørn Ranum, 22, spent nine months of cold, Norwegian winter in the isolated and uninhabited bay of a remote, arctic island by the coast of Northern-Norway, facing nothing but the vast Atlantic Ocean. There they built a cabin out of driftwood and other cast-off materials that washed up on shore, and ate expired food the stores would otherwise have thrown away. But they brought with them two items of utmost importance: surfboards—their motivation for the Arctic adventure.

LEARN MORE AT NORTH OF THE SUN

NICARAGUA: Surfing for Change Travel Guide

The mission of Surfing for Change is to spread awareness that tourism, and surf travel, can bring dollars and along with it a lot of destruction to surf destinations in the developing world. Their vision is that there is a better way. Here, watch Nicaragua's Wave of Optimism (WOO) implementing a new model for surf tourism, and Courney Hull, social entrepreneur, building the world's first plastic-free hotel.

CONNECT WITH SURFING FOR CHANGE