Overtourism, Underappreciation: How Do We Tackle Our Travel Crisis?

There’s a very particular type of learning that comes through travel; in particular venturing to a faraway place where the culture and language are entirely different to your own. I like the way that it puts you in your place a bit: shows you how much you really don’t know about the world. It also challenges you on the most basic levels of communication and navigation – things we take entirely for granted and spare little thought in our day-to-day lives.

I’m very fortunate to have grown up as a third culture kid, because despite the longing for home and loneliness I battle with at times, I traverse through life fairly open-minded and interested in others whose lives are wildly different to my own. And honestly, without tooting my own horn, I think it’d be pretty stellar if more people were as curious.

With the internet bringing us ever closer together, the world seemingly shrinking before our very eyes and platforms like Instagram unlikely to disappear any time soon, we have at our disposal access to travel unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. All the flight deals, phenomenal ease of staying connected even in the most remote of locations and enough FOMO-inducing travel inspo pics to scroll through for the next 100 years.

I feel bittersweet about it all, to be honest. On the one hand I think about the ways in which travel has enriched my life and shaped me into the person I am today (and God, I wouldn’t trade that for anything.) But on the other, I gingerly peep at the harsh reality that perhaps the world’s beautiful natural spaces aren’t abundant enough to go around. We’re at 7.7 billion people on this planet and while each deserves an enriching experience during his or her time on Earth, is it really doable? Is there a way to keep doing all the travel while avoiding the plight of overtourism?

Overtourism has trashed our beaches, national parks and cities and while the average person truly means no harm, there’s an unfortunate “mob mentality” that kicks in when we see one person disrespecting a space; it suddenly seems to send a wave of permission through the masses that a free-for-all is totally acceptable. Look at what happened with the US government shutdown earlier this year? National parks now face years of damage that is, tragically, thought to be irreversible in some places.

So who stays and who goes? That’s the uncomfortable question. Or is there a way that we can still travel freely without leaving our footprint in the sand, as it were?

The obvious first step in responsible travel is to do so with the environment at the forefront of your mind. Before the photo-ops are explored and the bar has been located, I wonder how things might be different if we weren’t so entitled. It’s a complete privelege to visit another person’s land (or sea) and we must do so with immense respect. We need to adopt humility and pause to face the reality that those places don’t need any sign of us after we leave. None of us are that special. And while other nations kindly welcome us in and let us stay for a while, exploring what they have to offer, we will eventually leave and they do not wish to be stuck with the house left trashed by the party, if you catch my drift? Neither would you, I’m sure.

But let’s say everyone transformed overnight into respectful tourists, sticking to the footpaths and leaving no trace of their plasti wrappers, we still face the harsh truth that the numbers are staggering. The number of flights and pressure to expand our airports. The number of Air Bnb’s forcing out locals from their hometowns. And the population density that doesn’t go unnoticed by local flora and fauna, reshaping wildlife communities in search of tranquility. These things will still exist.

And so I pose the question – even if you have no answer: how do we stop the death and destruction that overtourism has caused and is popular culture ruining the world more today than it ever has?

Photo by Febiyan on Unsplash

Is Instagram Killing Adventure? Why It’s Important To Keep Some Places Secret

Back in May I spent a solid three weeks in the US, connecting with old friends and getting some much-needed fresh air in my lungs. It had been a while and as such, I packed my adventure full to the brim with as many special moments as possible. It is by far my favourite way to travel; visiting friends or family in a destination that’s exciting to me. I get the comforts of home in a foreign place, a familiar face to contemplate life with and the inside knowledge of the best places to, well, do as the locals do.

I encountered a strange situation on this trip though; one that was entirely new to me and has stuck with me ever since. It was the act of sharing photos on Instagram without giving away the exact location. Because, who was I to disclose to the world a secret spot that I was fortunate enough to have been given the key to? Who was I to shatter the pristine and silent wilderness that had been entrusted to me by those who enjoy it as their backyard?

We live in a strange age where we can be connected to each other via social media every second of every day, if we want to be. With that comes great power, but also great responsibility. Primarily for our own sanity, of course, but also when it comes to maintaining that which is sacred.

Travel is a luxury that not all of us can afford, but there is certainly a growing number indulging in jaunts across the globe for work or pleasure. It’s one of life’s most wonderful gifts; experiencing new cultures and everything that delights the senses as a result of that. Travel is something that enriches our lives and makes us better people. It teaches us about others, helps to eradicate discrimination and gets us in touch with the natural world.

But as more of us travel and wish to excitedly share our adventures, there is a growing fear amongst some (now including myself) that those sacred spaces that hold enormous appeal are becoming fewer and fewer. Pristine wilderness untouched by the footprints, toilet paper and granola wrappers of man slipping through our fingers.

Are Instagram and Facebook to blame, I wonder? With each of us seemingly trying to outdo one another with the most beautiful and inspiring photographs of what are now iconic ‘wanderlust musts’ around the globe, are we propelling ourselves directly into that which will destroy the very thing we hold dear? I see photograph after photograph of Antelope Canyon and Joshua Tree and I realise that the chances of me getting to go to those places without a single tourist in sight are almost nonexistent. And that’s incredibly disheartening.

If you’re like me, you travel to get away from all the hustle and bustle; away from all the connectivity to instead gain perspective on what truly matters. My favourite moments in the world; the ones I hold closest to my heart and help me settle to sleep are those are those where I am truly immersed in the wilderness. There’s nothing but me and a couple friends and real, untouched terrain. With a growing population and many of those in power giving, well, not a flying fuck, about preserving these spaces, it then becomes, surely, my responsibility to protect them?

So adventure and share photographs, I did, but the exact location of some of these has remained inside knowledge. Is it wrong of me to think that the best spots in the world should be reserved for locals and those who happen to find them of their own accord? No, I genuinely believe not. It’s so easy to scour Google for the best places to eat, mountains to climb and beaches to surf, but can you really call it an adventure if a search online from your couch was all it took to get there? I hardly think so.

It’s only natural to want to sing and dance and shout about the most phenomenal places in the world. It’s why there are a thousand blogs and books written about the topic and a thousand more Instagram pages dedicated to it. But would it maybe serve us better to hold off a little on the exact coordinates? In this age of know it all, leave just a little something to the imagination? Leave a little mystery? After all, it might just make us talk to each other a little bit more and adventure a little further if it took more effort to get there.

I don’t ignore the fact that shining a big, bright light and lots of publicity on certain places has indeed helped them gain protected status. And that’s great and one of the pros of social media acting a vessel for the coming together of conservation enthusiasts. But travel all for the sake of getting the shot so you can show others just how great of a time you’re having? That just doesn’t cut it, in my eyes. You can’t really say you’ve been somewhere if you haven’t made that emotional connection with the place. I don’t say that to sound pretentious, believe me. I say that because I bet your bottom dollar that the next time you really go somewhere and experience the stillness and serenity of a land untouched by tourism, you’ll think of this. You’ll recall this idea of preserving sacred spaces a little part of you will experience the sensation that you don’t want the world to know about it. It’s the realisation that you don’t want to risk anything destroying it. And that’s okay. You go ahead and keep it sacred. I encourage you to do so. And I only hope that one day I discover it on my own so I can understand just how special it is and exactly how it made you smile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Social Media, The Scapegoat & What I’ve Learned In The Past 6 Months

I’ve come to realise something that’s really thrown me. And if you know me well, you’ll know that I live for this kind of stuff. I’m game for anything that turns my thinking on its head and forces me to reassess my perspective and where I stand. Because after all, what is life if not one big, long, lesson? Some parts more comfortable than others.

Let’s backtrack for a minute to last September when this all started. I took a month off social media and boy, was that a good call. You can read about it here, if you like. It allowed me to gain some all important perspective on why it was causing me so much stress; why I was oscillating between trying to convince myself I could handle it one minute and then wanting to run in the other direction the next. The lesson learned was simple, really. I was struggling because I’m a human. An imperfect, emotional human. And last I checked, everyone else using social media is human too (alien conspiracy theories aside), which must mean that the things I was feeling were being felt by everyone else too. More on that later.

The entire point of life is to experience joy and make connections. No, not the superficial kind consisting of follows and likes, but the kind where communication takes the form of body language and expression. The kind where ideas are encouraged and something beautiful churned out because two heads are better than one. Meaningful relationships where we see the bad alongside the good in a person and accept it; supporting them and understanding why they are who they are by really seeing them through walking a mile in his or her shoes.

But we’ve walked a dangerously sharp knife edge as we’ve let social media rule our lives in recent years, without really understanding that it cannot ever be a substitute for genuine, human interaction. It isn’t a supplement; It’s just another way that we can spend our time.

As soon as I realised this, I was freed. It was really that simple. I had wriggled free of its tight grip that had suffocated me for so long. That, and realising that it was a tool that I could use to start conversations and implement social change; a way of sharing my lifestyle and beliefs in the hope that I could encourage others to make different choices; choices that I believed were kinder to our environment. But don’t get me wrong; I don’t know all the answers and I openly welcome a discussion around anything that I post about. It’s how I learn. I’m self-assured, but at the same time I understand that I don’t know all the solutions and sometimes I am wrong.

When I came back from my month off social media last year, I also made a pretty huge life choice; I came off hormonal birth control that I had been taking for near on a decade. That’s a whole other topic (that you can read about here), but one that also fits into the puzzle. It allowed me to get to know my true self for the first time in years. Kind of a big deal. And in the process of transitioning from numb human to sprightly self, I realised that something else had been bumming me out as I’d been trying to “do” social media; I wasn’t really following those who inspired me. So, I switched my focus from brands and individuals who didn’t seem to have values that aligned with my own and I tell ya, it made all the difference.

These days, I relish the fact that I’ve been able to cultivate some really special connections with actual humans who are passionate about the same things that I am interested in. We encourage each other, educate each other and shine as bright little beacons in a world that often feels very dark and cold. It’s a world that feels like it can break you and beat you down and, well, win. And that’s why social media isn’t the problem. It’s the scapegoat.

The various avenues of social media have never been the cause of our anxiety, misery and loneliness as I’ve seen them portrayed to be and as I, too, believed. They’ve never been deleterious to our health. What we have been and continue to struggle with is our own shadows; the work that we need to put in for ourselves to be better, to heal and to succeed. We are a broken people raised by parents who never knew any better and brought up in an education system that does us no good. We are square pegs meticulously forced into round holes and we’re deeply unhappy because we have this yearning to be more creative than society is set up for us to live and thrive in.

We’re expected to be happy and have our shit together at all times. Because God forbid we openly admit that we’re not doing so great. God forbid that we ask for the world to cut us some slack and give us some breathing room. There’s money to be made and mouths to stay locked and emotions never allowed to see the light of day.

Only, time’s up, isn’t it?

Ah, yes. We’re at tipping point. In all aspects, from all angles, a paradigm long overdue a shift in a different direction. Because the world will keep on turning and technology keep on churning and there’s only one way to keep up: to wake up.

I look at social media now and I see it for what it is: a marvelous, beautiful, expansive tool that can be used to change the world for better. And I’m already seeing it: exponential growth in encouragement and cultivation of ideas and momentum continues to build each day. If you’re struggling, know that you too can learn to see things from a more positive place, but only if you put the work in first. We need to stop blaming social media for all of our problems and instead look in the mirror. All that social media does is highlight our shadows; those parts within us that need care and attention. It’s hard work and perfectly natural to want to turn the other way rather than put the effort in, but use those uncomfortable truths as focal points for where change needs to be made within yourself. I cannot encourage you enough. Only when you’re all right shining a light on yourself because you’re proud of who you are and truly want to encourage others to be their best selves and the world a better place will you feel comfortable using social media. 

Take the time off, do the work and come back stronger. You can change the world, but first you have to change yourself.

Hormonal Birth Control – Man’s Last Exercising Power Over Women

I complain about the signs of the times more often than not. Thus the basis of this blog, I suppose. But when I’m trying to pick myself back up again, I often casually offer to myself the reminder that I’m lucky to live somewhere that at least women are treated (mostly) as equals to men. I’m so glad that I have the right to vote, work all the same jobs as a man and could even run for parliament if I wanted to. Hell, we even have a female Prime Minister! Only, there’s one tiny, little thing that’s blown all of that out of the water: hormonal birth control.

Let’s backtrack a minute to catch you up with where I’m at now, shall we? I’ve recently stuck the middle finger up to the hormonal birth control pill. It’s been in the pipeline for a while. I knew something was wrong when I was noticing the same pattern. Month after month I’d have my seven-day break between packets and suddenly feel alive again; see things in colour, if you will. But come Monday morning, I’d be on a new packet and then within a few days back to feeling like cotton wool was shoved between my ears. I’d start the day with rage and end it with hopeless despair. I pointed the finger at every single aspect of my life, other than the pill. That is, until I had nowhere else to go but 6 feet under.

And we all do it. All of us! If our doctors are giving us medication, we believe that we can trust it. And with time, we grow loyal to it, even. Surely it can’t be our hormonal birth control that’s the root of all our problems? Only, when you realise that it’s the only medication dished out to healthy people to make them ill, you’ve got to stop and ask yourself: how did it get to this?

Women’s bodies, from puberty through to menopause, function cyclically. Every month our body does a delicate dance with a handful of different hormones, ebbing and flowing as an egg is released and – if unfertilised – causes a monthly bleed. With these changes in hormones comes changes in mood and energy levels. Like the turn of the tide, we have a rhythm that we live by. Although some studies indicate men too experience their own type of cycle each month, generally speaking they are linear – at least when it comes to their fertility. No matter the day of the month, a normal, healthy male produces sperm that are able to fertilise an egg.

These two ways of existing – of doing life – are vastly different. The linear route hints at reliability. Unless illness gets in the way or some other anomaly, every day you can assume that a man will wake up and be just as he was the day before. With women, it’s different. Women have changing needs and strengths as the different stages of their cycle roll into one another and they simply can’t be expected to be the same every day. That is, unless you take hormonal birth control. My arguement is that it’s the greatest oppressor we have in our society against females. If we are given the pill, implant, injection, IUD or any other form of hormonal birth control, we are essentially telling ourselves, our sisters, our daughters and wives that a female in her natural state is ill, isn’t good enough, isn’t capable of survival in what is essentially a man’s world.

Yes, hormonal birth control is used as a contraceptive, sure, but it’s also given to girls as young as 13 to ‘treat’ heavy periods and acne. Let’s look at these in some more detail.

Consider the cycle that I mentioned earlier and – without going into too much detail – you might know that this includes an ovulatory phase amongst other things. This is the phase where an egg is released from an ovary, makes its way down the fallopian tube and arrives in the uterus. It hangs around for about 24 hours before disintegrating if no sperm appear. A little while later, the uterus lining shreds and is expelled in the form of a period.

So, that being said, what I’d like to know is how it’s fair that although women are only fertile for a short part of each monthly cycle, we are somehow expected – en masse – to take sole responsibility for birth control? Not the man who is fertile all month long, but the woman. Make sense to you?

And then onto the second reason that I mentioned earlier – the pill given to young girls who have recently started their cycles. Hormonal birth control is not a cure. It is not a solution. It is a mask. By bringing your menstrual cycle to a halt and stopping ovulation, along with pumping your body full of synthetic hormones, you are suppressing any problems that might be there. This may seem all good and well, only the day that that woman decides to come off the pill for whatever reason, all of those symptoms will come right back again. The pill is not a cure like diet and lifestyle are. It is a virtual reality.

Hormonal birth control is doing a mixture of different things. It’s suppressing our menstrual cycles, causing side effects like increasing our risk of breast cancer, giving us depression and anxiety, killing our sex drive and rendering us infertile in many cases when we finally come off it after decades of regular use. And it’s dished out like candy by medical professionals that we are told we can trust. Our entire society is built upon the notion.

What’s most shocking of all…what’s shaken my world and got my lying awake at night reading every publication I can get my feisty claws on, what’s got me shouting this information across my office, down the phone and across the dinner table is that what we’ve been doing this whole time is telling women that in order to be successful in this society, we need to exist like men. We need to be as close to men as we possibly can. After all, without a menstrual cycle can you really call yourself a woman? This is what I wonder.

If society and in particular our emphasis on long work weeks continues as it is, we are operating in a linear fashion where there’s no room for cyclical people (aka normal, healthy females). We’ve been misleading our women into thinking that they’re being free of the burden of their menstrual cycles by adopting hormonal birth control. To the point where many defend their choice saying that it allows them to not have to experience the ‘inconvenience’ of a period 12 or 13 times a year. But what we’re missing is that a truly equal society where women are liberated is one that moulds itself into a model that plays to womens cyclical strengths; not one that tells them that what they are in their natural form is not good enough.

You might be saying, “But Kennedy, I’m not depressed. I don’t have any negative symptoms from my pill.” Sure, you might not have any of the negative mental health symptoms that unfortunately so many of us are plagued with and believe me, I am extremely happy for you (genuinely!), but did you know that taking the pill before the age of 20 doubles your risk of getting breast cancer? Pill use also reduces your uptake of vitamins and minerals thus by default renders you malnourished unless extreme care and planning goes into your diet. It also thins your bones and disrupts every organ in your body in one way or another. You might not have any obvious symptoms, but a closer look would say otherwise.

When will we wake up and realise that the pill is no longer applicable to today’s modern woman?

 

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Another Rant About Society and All The Things We’re Doing Wrong

What does it take for radical changes to be made in our society? How much environmental damage? How many traumatised sexual assault victims? How many children fighting for survival in broken homes? How many young people burdened with crippling stress as a result of overwork and underpay? How much sickness?

It’s pretty mind-boggling to me because I consider myself to be a (relatively) normal person of a (somewhat) normal background, but I’ve experienced all of the above. All of them. And I struggle with my mental health a lot of the time. So how are those worse off than me coping? Thinking about this truly saddens and baffles me, to be honest.

This isn’t a cry for sympathy. I write about this kind of stuff to bring it to light, to encourage those suffering in silence to speak up and get help and also to turn up the volume on our desperation – as the young voices of society – for change.

I’m sick of spending 70% of my time wondering how to live well while avoiding plastic, avoiding consuming animal products and still maintaining a nutritious, balanced diet so that I can be healthy and happy. Society is not built to support this and so it’s incredibly difficult. The framework is not there. The framework exists in the form of corporations and advertising backing fast food and destructive consumption habits. The result is sick person after sick person, overweight and yet malnourished (in the developed world, that is), polluting the beautiful world around us.

I’m sick of having to fight off the seething anger I feel when some asshole catcalls at me when I pass by in the street. Do you know that I now rarely wear anything that reveals a body that I’m actually really proud of because it’s just too exhausting to deal with the attention? I’ve tried every tactic in the book when it comes to rude men invading my personal space and disrespecting me. I’ve ignored them, I’ve raised the middle finger, I’ve told them to fuck off and no matter the response I choose to embrace, I still leave the scene angry and deflated. To any men that have ever catcalled a woman or worse, please know that we think of you as akin to the dirt on our shoe. We do not find this attractive. It does not make us attracted to you. It does not make us feel good. We see you as dumb, chauvinistic predators who feel that the worth of a woman is limited to her appearance rather than her brain. We don’t feel you would produce good offspring. We don’t want to have your babies.

I’m sick of seeing bad parenting happening over and over again. We’ve got lazy parents who can’t be bothered to interact with their children, so instead shove a smartphone or tablet in front of them hoping it’ll keep them occupied. You grew this little human! Do yourself and society a favour and raise it well! We’ve got parents neglecting their children and withholding love because they don’t understand their needs. And it’s probably because they never took the time to heal themselves of their own traumatic childhoods before entering the world of parenting. They then find said children acting out and don’t understand why. They try to discipline them which only causes further upset and frustration until eventually the gap in understanding between parent and child becomes so large that bridging it is rendered impossible. That child enters adulthood struggling to do life, not really understanding why and feels a bitter resentment to their parent(s) which society still labels as unacceptable (“It’s family! You can’t turn your back on family!” *shakes head*). The vicious cycle then continues if they go on to reproduce.

I’m sick of overtime becoming the norm for so many people of working age. Overworked people are good for very little. All that results is both physical and mental sickness. Weak staff are unhappy staff and unhappy staff aren’t very productive. Every job – no matter how ‘technical’ – has an element of creativity to it. If workers are essentially shoved into survival mode because they are too stressed to function properly, the last priority is creativity. Simply doing basic life becomes a struggle and so you’re essentially paying staff to do what a robot could do far better. You’re not getting out of them what humans are so good for in the first place: creative self-expression.

Finally, I’m sick of the weight-watching-obsessed, calorie-counting, disease-ridden people taking up resources and placing a strain on our healthcare system because they simply weren’t taught about food while growing up. I don’t blame any person struggling with his/her weight and addicted to processed food. It is likely that he/she grew up with parents who put fast food on the table every night or who’s idea of vegatables was boiling everything until it turned the same shade of snot-green, subsequently putting him/her off for life. If you grow up thinking that broccoli is meant to be a pile of green mush, of course you’d rather opt for fries. We need to start teaching kids about food in a way that encourages a healthy relationship to flourish. We need to teach them how food grown, how it’s meant to be consumed, what nutrients we need to be healthy and the environmental impacts of the food we choose to eat.

So my question to you is, what does it take? WIth all these different flaws we have, what will it take to see real change?

Photo via Unsplash

 

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