So a few months ago I was contacted by the team at Impact Travel Alliance, to give a 10-minute speech at their launch event in Melbourne. For those that know me personally, you’ll know that public speaking is majorly out of my comfort zone. There were many many times when I thought about throwing in the towel, but I decided to challenge myself and tackle my fear head-on.
AND, I’m very happy to say that I did it!!!
I wasn’t perfect ⏤ but I’m incredibly proud of myself for doing something that I would generally stay very clear of. The feedback was amazing and I’m so grateful to have been able to connect with so many like-minded people.
But anyway, now I thought I’d share my speech with you. Please remember that this is very different from a normal blog post, and the way I read it plays a lot into how it came across at the time… So definitely keep that in mind!
Enjoy – XX
Experiences over Possessions – Compassion over Comparison – Progress over Perfection…
Hi, I’m Kate!
I’m 22 years old from a small place called Toomuc Valley, who was once a fast fashion consumer, a carnivore, a subconscious supporter of animal testing, a careless traveller and a selfish teen.
Yes! That was me…
But as I’m sure you’re already assuming by the fact that I’m standing here in this room, that is no longer the Kate that I identify with today.
Instead of boring you with the person I once was, I’m going to jump to the destinations that turned my life downside up…
In 2015, I went on a trip to Northern India – I spent 3 weeks travelling around Rajasthan and the neighbouring states on the trip of a lifetime.
India was a country that I’d always dreamt of visiting, but I had no idea that it was going to be the place that would transform me from an ignorant, absent-minded 19-year-old girl, to a feminist, a peaceful activist, a compassionate eater and an eco-friendly human being.
But it did!
I’m not sure what it was about this country that left such an overwhelming impact on me. I guess it was the fact that it shocked me into the realisation that the bubble I lived in, in Australia, is supreme privilege in comparison to the majority of the world.
I was faced with the fact that India was so unsustainable; with extreme amounts of trash lying at every turn, overwhelming pollution, terrible water sanitation, and extremely overpopulated streets… But also due to the fact that this country was so culturally rich!
I was blown away by the beauty, but also by the overwhelming difference between it and Australia.
So after a few weeks, I came back home feeling a whole lot of confusion. I started to feel like my life had no purpose, and that the career I was currently in, was no longer the one for me.
But after 6 months of feeling blue, I randomly had a bit of an epiphany!
I had been dwelling on the idea of starting a business of my own, but I didn’t know what, when or how. Then one day as I was binge-watching Ross Kemp documentaries like my partner and I frequently did, I all of sudden had an idea…
What if I start a blog!
Despite now knowing that there are millions of travel blogs on the web, at the time I had absolutely no idea about the industry, how to do such a thing or what I required to get it started.
I was working in a pharmacy at the time, as a cosmetician and a freelance makeup artist, but after a few things that I will mention shortly… Working here was no longer something that fulfilled me.
So one day I went into my parent’s lounge room, sat down on the couch and said: “I’m going to start a blog!”
As I’m sure you can imagine, they were a little shocked.
I came up with the idea of calling it Travel for Difference, which at first was intended to be just like any other ordinary travel blog; where I document my adventures and my purpose to do something good.
That was until my trip to Alaska a few months later, where my passion for sustainability came into play. I went on a cruise through the famous glacier bay, and as I was learning about the history of this part of the world, it slowly began to sink in that what I was cruising through, was hundreds of square kilometres of ice not too long ago.
On that same trip, I went to Iceland and saw one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions, glacier lagoon, which I realised was actually created by climate change itself… Icebergs floating in a lagoon of glacial melt.
From these few trips, every action I took that wasn’t kind to the environment, I had the image of melting glaciers in the Northern Hemisphere, and mounds of trash in India, playing in the back in my mind.
Subconsciously, these few experiences are the ones that pushed me to start my journey of sustainability.
It wasn’t a quick realisation by any means, as I was surrounded by people that hadn’t experienced anything like this, nor was it something they ultimately cared about.
So for the next few months, I didn’t act on my thoughts, and that’s due to the fact that I just didn’t know how…
Coming from the South Eastern Suburbs of Melbourne where McDonald’s packaging was thrown out of cars and people were addicted to plastic covered products, fast fashion and everything in-between, I was constantly put off from making the change.
Like most people, I once thought that being sustainable – let alone a sustainable traveller – was going to be so much harder than what it was worth.
I was once a person that thought:
“what difference are my actions going to make – one person can’t change the world by avoiding a single straw”…
But after months of dwelling and feeling bad for doing things that deep down I knew were wrong, I decided that I no longer wanted to follow societies expectations.
I was changing and developing as a person and I knew that if I wanted to be true to myself, I had to start turning my thoughts into actions.
So that’s exactly what I did!
I left a job that no longer aligned with my beliefs, I stopped purchasing fast fashion, I started offsetting my carbon footprint, I began my plastic free, palm oil free, cruelty free and zero waste journey, and I chose to only purchase from ethical and eco friendly brands, and only when it was essential.
So if you haven’t already gathered, my life has done a total 180…
In the 4 years since my very first travel experience, I’ve learnt more about life than I did in my 12 years of education. I had briefly learnt about melting glaciers, climate change and plastic pollution in school… But that knowledge was nothing in comparison to seeing it first hand.
Thanks to travel, I have learnt to take care of this planet like it’s living its last best, to be empowered by diversity, to put compassion over comparison and to put experiences over possessions.
I no longer care about materialistic items or making people feel positive by enhancing their physical appearance…
Now, what I care about the most is being conscious of my actions, and kindly encouraging others to do the same.
I’m not perfect by any means, but there’s one thing that I know for sure… Striving for progress is so much greater than striving for perfection.
Throughout my journey of sustainability, I’ve learnt that it’s the little successes that are the most important – that looking at our individual impact is what leads to the bigger picture.
But with that being said, I decided to ask my audience which of the following they believed to be the most important in terms of sustainable and ethical travel:
68% said that the Environmental impact. 5% said the economic impact, and 27% said the Social Impact.
A lot of people explained their choices, with many expressing that the environmental impact was vital due to the theory that the rest would suffer without it. Others explaining that by focusing on the social impact, the other two factors would infinitely improve; through education, uplifting communities and encouraging positive change.
Although I wholeheartedly agree that all three of these factors are equally as important as one another, there’s one very obvious aspect that I’m infinitely passionate about. And I’m sure it comes as no surprise… It’s the environment.
Unless we walk across the globe entirely on foot, only eat homegrown food and live with no technology or electricity… Travel is never going to be 100% sustainable. But striving for that is so far from realistic, as being environmentally conscious is never going to go well with the “all or nothing” attitude.
Although my journey has progressed relatively quickly, I’ve learnt the hard way that encouraging people to make instant life or travel changes isn’t effective.
Not long ago on a photo that I posted on social media, a man tried to tell me that I couldn’t label myself as a “sustainable traveller”, until the day that I chose to no longer fly. It reminded me of the type of behaviour that scared me away from making my first change back in 2016.
I eventually gained the courage to change my actions by following people that were leading by example, who were encouraging small steps rather than giant leaps, and who weren’t yelling at me for my mistakes… But who were encouraging me to challenge my thoughts.
Because ironically, in order to adopt a sustainable lifestyle, it literally has to be sustainable. So what’s the point of encouraging people to strive for perfection, when it doesn’t even exist?
Instead, travellers should be striving to live by their legacy.
My legacy is to live with the planet in mind. To only leave a trail of positivity and to travel with passion and purpose. To care for all things living and to give back even when I feel as though I have nothing left to give. To always live with kindness in my heart, and to conquer hate with love. To not beat myself up for my mistakes, but to use them as an opportunity to grow.
For me, being a sustainable traveller comes down to intention – before I do anything I try to ask myself: Is this good for the animals? Is this good for the people? Is this the most sustainable alternative I have at this point in time? And am I trying my best?
If the answer is no… I look for a better option!
It’s easy for people to assume that in order to be sustainable you have to be a big thinker, a vegan, an environmentalist, an activist or that you have to instantly drop all of the things you love and start a whole new life.
And that’s what I thought too… But here’s the thing!
Living by your legacy is not about starting a new beginning, it’s about striving for a different ending. Progress over perfection.
Every little action you take should be a reflection of your legacy. It’s the little things like bringing reusables on every trip, reducing your meat consumption, avoiding palm oil where possible, offsetting your footprint or boycotting unethical tourist attractions, that are all adding up to the future that you want to see.
It’s not always smooth sailing, as still to this very day I have fellow travellers look at me like I’m crazy. I get labelled a hippy. People roll their eyes when I don’t participate in unethical practices. They think I’m “weird” for avoiding plastic or eating with bamboo cutlery…
But all I have to say is…
Embrace your hippiness!
No one should ever make you feel like being kind to the earth is anything other an act of love.
No, travel may never be 100% sustainable, but without it, I wouldn’t be standing here today. I would still be the ignorant, shallow minded, unsustainable girl that I was in 2015.
Travel is a privilege that millions around the world will never be able to experience, so for those of us that have the opportunity, I ask you to embrace it with kind intentions.
If you want to be a sustainable human, you don’t have to quit flying, you don’t have to drop everything you love to live in a forest and start “hugging trees”…
All you have to do is be conscious of your actions. Constantly question yourself and the things that occur around you. Be open about your mistakes. Take the time to research. Try your best. And take baby steps that are leading to a world that you would be content with leaving behind.
Remember that throwing one bucket of water on a fire, is better than standing back and watching it burn. And that small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, really can change the world.
In the end, I don’t want my future children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, to have to learn about different species or any part of this earth, by flicking through a dusty old book.
I want them to be able to go to the beach without having to sit on a bed of plastic. I want them to go and see wild orang-utans in Borneo or elephants in Africa.
I want the rest of my life to be lived with intention, compassion and progressive actions towards a positive future.
But that’s my legacy. And now I ask you…