Earlier this year, Wendy was invited to speak about our conscious overland journey between Melbourne(AUS) and Katowice(PL) at the Bratislava PechaKucha Night Volume 37.
For those of you not familiar, PechaKucha is a presentation format originating from Japan, that is now popular around the world. It’s simple, yet challenging: 20 photos x 20 seconds. Definitely a tight schedule to summarise over a year on the road! The evening was part of the [fjúžn] festival, promoting and celebrating a multicultural Slovakia.
Wendy’s speech focused on a basic question travellers should ask themselves when coming back from a trip: How should we speak about our journeys? Travel stories often speak of exotic customs, bizarre foods or insane adventures. But do these stories build an accurate image of the place we visited? Don’t we, in stressing the differences, forget that the places we saw and people we met share much in common with ourselves and our own communities? Don’t we, in telling our stories in this way, unwillingly perpetuate stereotypes about how much people around the world differ from us? Is there another way to speak consciously about our travel experiences?
Enjoy the video from Wendy’s presentation!
This article was first published on tourism_LOG blog where it was one of the winning pieces of the “Fair travelling and experiencing the world” competition. It’s a shortened version of 5 WAYS TO BE A CONSCIOUS TRAVELLER post with text cut down to minimum for a quick read.
Travelling to far away countries has become a possibility for more people than ever before. This is really exciting as travel is the best education we can get, helping us to become an informed global citizen. But no one ever really teaches us how we should travel…
We fly, sail, Interrail, cycle or hitch-hike around the world, staying in hostels, resorts, home-stays, couch-surfing… But how to get most of our trips while making sure we respect people and places we visit? How to be a CONSCIOUS TRAVELLER?
Cheap airfares are making overseas travel a possibility for more people than ever before. This is really exciting, as travel is the best education we can give ourselves to become informed global citizens. But on the other hand, no one ever really teaches us how we should travel….
We brushed up against many different forms of tourism on our overland journey half-way round the world, and it seems to us there is plenty of room for more conversations around conscious travel. In fact, if it was up to us it would be a compulsory school subject ;). Travelling “right” is really a double-sided coin that comes down to:
- Ensuring proper respect to the people of the places we visit
- Ensuring travellers get the most out of their trips abroad.
This article is Drop The Tension‘s first in our series of useful information to help backpacker-local interactions be positive experiences for both sides. Take this as a guide for anyone heading overseas. But it might be especially useful for a young person heading off backpacking for the first time (Know someone? Share this their way!), especially if you’re travelling solo (we think you’re awesome :))
We’re not into rules and remind you that this is just a guide of things to keep in mind. Common sense is the first thing you should pack for the trip and it’ll help you determine what is appropriate for your given situation. Any questions or comments, please contact us below – we’d love to start a discussion around this topic!
So, WHAT IS CONSCIOUS TRAVEL?
Conscious travel is about being aware of the impact your being there has on a place. A conscious traveller should strive to keep their travel low-impact. In this, I mean that we don’t want the places we visit to change dramatically through our visit. It’s that old rule ‘leave things as you found them… or a little bit better.’
Your impact includes everything from:
- The cultural impact: in some destinations, you’ll find yourself getting a lot of attention as a foreigner. The world round, people are listening to western music and watching Hollywood films. Seeing you can sometimes be the movies ‘coming to life’. People will be watching how you behave and might even copy what you do. While in the ‘spotlight’, don’t behave in a way you wouldn’t want to be copied… Don’t make yourself (or your country) famous for something you wouldn’t want it to be famous for!
- Your environmental impact: many places in the world lack environmental education. If locals are paying attention to your behaviour, disposing of rubbish (which, by the way, was introduced to the rest of the world by ‘The West’, without even a hint as to what to do with it!) correctly or refilling plastic water bottles where possible can start showing people other ways of doing things that care for the surroundings.
- The impact of where and how you spend your money.
Having decided to go through the west of Mongolia instead of Ulaanbaatar, we didn’t really know what to expect – there was not much information online. Hence, we thought it could be very useful for future travellers coming this way to have some practical information available online. But don’t worry, if you’re not going that way, this post won’t bore you with dry facts – you’ll learn about the fascinating reality of Mongolia!
The sun is getting lower in the sky. We’re standing on the roadside in a dry, treeless landscape, a wide valley bordered by rugged, rocky mountains. It looks like the snippets of footage from Afghanistan that I’ve seen on the news. The earth-brick houses are squares with flat roofs. The road signs are in Arabic. But this isn’t the middle east. We’re in almost the most north-western corner of China, a region predominantly inhabited by Kazakh people, heading for the western border crossing into Mongolia.
May Ling is waiting with us. We have already walked a few kilometres together, along the dusty road, before we managed to flag down a passing car – a rarity out here. She knows a handful of English words and we a pinch of Mandarin, so there is some understanding between us. May Ling is patient and seems committed to helping us, but she is understandably eager to get into town. We have established that she’s come out here for work, but that there is no hotel in town. Anyway, next town is the border town, 30km further down the road, we’d rather sleep there so we can cross in the morning. The wind is blowing so strongly that we stand sideways, angled against it. The sight of a car on the distant rise brings us hope – maybe this one? But so far we have only been disappointed at the sight of indicators flashing towards town. Reaching the border by tonight is beginning to look unlikely… And that wind is feeling cold. Continue Reading →
Of all the views of our journey, the Tibetan Plateau was the one to transfixed me. For the first time, I felt myself truly and totally riding the journey. I never tired of looking out the window at the seemingly endless green plain and huge blue above. My thoughts remained present in the landscape, thinking only in wonder of the naturally treeless land rolling by like an ocean and contemplating the life that might be happening inside the intermittent white tents…
We (now joined by Jarmo, perhaps the first Polish-Sichuan chef ever!) were hitch-hiking through the accessible regions of Amdo Tibet. This is not to be mistaken with the Tibetan Province – closed to foreigners unless you’ve the budget to fork out big for a guide who’s guaranteed to make sure you don’t see too much! There are, in fact, places where Tibetan culture exists that have no access restrictions and nomadic life may even be better persevered than within the Tibetan Province. Inspired by this blog, we chose to take a route between Chengdu to Xining to learn something for ourselves about this ancient civilisation. Continue Reading →
Today we are writing to you from POLAND!!!!!!!!! We have made it the whole 25,000km from Wendy’s Melbourne, Australia, to where we sit now in lounge room of Jurek’s mother in Katowice, Poland, without taking a single flight! Around 15,000km of the way, we hitch-hiked. Project Drop the tension was cooked up while hitch-hiking east coast Australia – why don’t we keep going to Poland? we thought. We wanted to travel to get ideas and inspiration from different cultures for ways to live our own lives and decided that might be interesting for other people too. Wanting to travel consciously, our idea was broadly to explore cultures of sharing along our flight-less way: to meet people from a range of diverse backgrounds taking local action for more a human-friendly world. 1 year, 2 months and 10 days later, we’ve made it! We have officially completed our conscious overland journey crossing halfway round the globe, visiting 15 different nations. WOW!
It’s surreal for us to be here and have our clothes folded away in drawers (!); we imagine it will take some time to adjust back into living life in one place. No doubt we will have many more ideas, reflections and perhaps conclusions to share with you in the coming weeks and months as we fully churn all the experiences that have gotten us to where we are now. But for now, we wanted to mark the achievement by looking at some of the huge contrasts we’ve had along our way:
Continue Reading →
“My name is Marina,” laughs the girl in dungarees, standing behind a table covered with small jars containing spices. She switches back to Russian. “My friends and I were experimenting at home with different methods of making coffee and then we decided we needed more guests!”
Marina is a founding member of the collective behind Addis Coffee, a Saint Petersburg coffee workshop running on a pay-as-you-feel donation system. The workshop is ‘underground’ St Pete literally, being located in a series of rooms that were once a bomb shelter. Marina and the team have renovated the space, so it now feels very homely with blanket covered couches, board games and a guitar they welcome musical guests to use.
While tales from China and Mongolia are under construction (we’ve upped our travel pace in the last month!), I’m breaking our usual chronological series to pass on the spirit of our current surroundings. I couldn’t wait to tell you about our first experiences in Russia. We have just entered the country from Western Mongolia into the Altai Republic in southern Siberia.
A few facts about Russia that made me a little anxious about coming here: it went through the biggest organised genocide in human history; it hosts some of the most polluted places on the planet (and it has sucked dry an entire sea!); it was involved in starting a war in Europe in 2014; its TV cites sersious spokesmen saying gay culture was invented by the West to control population growth; temperatures of -40ºC are annual here. The country’s currency fell so dramatically this year, almost overnight, that Russians living in Thailand started making jokes about renting out their places in Thailand to holiday in Moscow (the Ruble is in rubbles). In Russian language there are words expressing such grim misery that they don’t translate to English. I was apprehensive about what we would find in this country and how we might be received, as representatives of ‘The West’.
Yet… It’s just amazing here! Turns out there was nothing to fear. In fact, quite the opposite. We’ve been blown away by Russia! And the beauty of the Altai Mountains, known by some as the most beautiful place on Earth, falls second to the generosity and hospitality of the people of Russia.
Thanks to our friends in Adventurous Sumbawa, we connected with another wonderful group on the neighbouring island of Lombok. Lombok Backpackers are a group of locals passionate about the natural beauty of their island home (click the link to their facebook). In the provincial capital Mataram they have their ‘Base Camp’. Base Camp is a open-house set up for travellers to stay as long as they need for free. There are just a few basic rule: no drugs or alcohol in the house, clean your room when you leave and help keep communal spaces clean. In the evenings, the travellers and locals gather in the outdoor area to swap their adventure stories of the day, share food and make music.
We asked the owner of the house, what made him want to create this place? He replied “I’ve always loved trekking and snorkelling and having my friends around. So I thought to make a place where this can all come together.”