Thursday 28 December 2023

2023: Year of the memoir

Happy endings and beginnings, friends. It feels strange to be writing here, having been so absent from this blog space, and from so many other places, this year. I barely even did any sustainable - or any other kind of - travel, or travel writing. Because I've been deep in book-writing mode, working on a memoir about the experience of building my tiny house, with all its inherent (and surprising) ups and downs, observations and life lessons. 

So this might be a short post* because I've spent a large part of this year inside my own head. That's the thing about writing; it's no spectator sport. From the outside, it can look as if nothing much is happening. It's just someone sitting at a desk, her attention turned inwards to where all the (invisible) action is going on. 

And when I wasn't writing, I was reading - also not a spectator sport! - trying to get my head around this new-to-me way of writing. 

For the longest time I felt self-conscious calling my book a "memoir"; it sounded pompous and self-indulgent. But that was before I learned about this often-misunderstood genre, that humans are hard-wired for story, the difference between celebrity memoirs and "literary memoirs" (the kind I'm writing - usually about an interesting part of a non-famous person's life with universal themes readers can relate to, like romantic love or grief) and how to write one. (You can read micro-reviews here, of the memoirs I most loved this year.)

Like building the tiny house, writing a memoir has been like visiting a destination I'd long heard about but didn't know anything about - until I dived into it. Also like building the tiny, it's been one of the most difficult, emotional and satisfying things I've ever done. 

Some days I felt so content and happy that I got to sit at my desk in my tiny house and write about this experience that changed my life so profoundly. Other days, not so much. (I think I'm now halfway between #4 and #5 in the pic above.)

In many ways 2023 was a holding-steady kind of year, one in which I tried to keep my external environment as stable and as plain as possible so I could focus on writing. 

To that end, I still live in my little house - and feel grateful almost every day to have a place where I can live and work in peace. It's still parked in the same spot - though I'm hoping to move in the new year, somewhere nearby with more green space. I'm still doing my best to live simply, frugally, sustainably. 

And I'm still not-travelling. It's four years now since I stepped on a plane, and although that's mainly been due to the book-writing (and Covid before that), it's also a small act of defiance against the status quo destroying our planet's climate and ecosystems. I'm still not sure how to reconcile my love of travel in faraway places with my desire for a liveable climate (for everyone), but I'll have to figure that out one day - or make a permanent peace with not flying. 

(I did write a few sustainable travel stories this year. At the risk of sounding like the Elisabeth Zott - from Lessons in Chemistry, another book I loved this year - of travel, here are two of them: 7 sustainable travel terms every traveller should know and Sustainable travel trends to look forward to in 2024.)

The book is almost done now. I have a manuscript, a publisher, an editor. If all goes to plan, this time next year there'll be a paperback out in the world with my name on it. A memoir not just about building a tiny house but about love, letting go and finding my true home. 

Until then, bon voyage for your next trip around the sun, departing next Monday. I hope 2024 is full of love and wonder, for all of us, and daily natural delights that remind us we're all so interconnected it's incredible anyone could have imagined it to be any other way. 

*So much for this being a short post! 

Thursday 29 December 2022

2022: My year of living quietly

Here we are at the Sunday afternoon end of the year, at the tail end of this secret week between rushing and resolutions, between the year that's all but over and the one not yet begun. I like it. I like not knowing what day it is and feeling as if anything goes. No questions asked. There's time to read and nap and have regular swims to cool off (or is that just me?) and do nothing at all. And maybe cast a lazy backward glance at the year that's about to expire.

I know it's usual at times like this to say that the year has just flown by, but 2022 felt like a long year to me. Not in a dragging, lockdown kind of way, but in a one-day-at-a-time way. 

The world opened up, friends started travelling again. And I stayed put, mainly to work on a book about the tiny house build, which is still a work in progress (who knew writing about building a tiny house would take SO much longer than actually building one?). I don't think I went much beyond a three-hour radius of my little town all year (by car). 

It was my year of living quietly. 


Of course 2022 started with the noisy drumming of flooding rains up here in northern NSW (and is ending the same way in parts of South Australia as I write this). My town wasn't directly affected, and my little house weathered the storms and downpours beautifully, but everyone around here felt it in some way, all summer and into autumn. When the sun eventually came out - and stayed out - it seemed like a miracle. Then the government changed (hallelujah) and good things started to seem possible again.

Still, after the flooding, after hearing so many stories of heartache and homelessness, after seeing the sea turn brown and stay that way for months from all the river runoff and all the debris washed up on the beaches, including massive trees with barnacles on their trunks - it felt natural to stay close to home. I felt a new urgency to live simply, for my own wellbeing as much as for the sake of planet. 


So I made a conscious choice: to live frugally. This was always what tiny house living was about for me. Now I was finally going to live it. 

I decided to earn less so that I'd have more time and more headspace to write and think. I wanted to be un-busy and feel grateful for all I have here that enables me to live simply, including an un-greedy friend/landlord who charges me minimal rent to park my tiny on his land, a community garden down the road where I can grow some food, and natural places nearby where I can exercise and socialise, and find solace, for free. 

And in living this way, time slowed down. As one of my favourite poets, John Roedel, said recently, "Gratitude has a way of pouring maple syrup on all of the clocks."

Making & mending

Tiny houses are natural life-simplifiers. Being small, they force you to clean up after yourself regularly and keep things ship-shape. Undone chores are right in front of your nose. And with less paid work, I had more incentive - and more time - to make things. 

When I wasn't writing (or reading) and in the spirit of frugality (what a funny word) I spent time making and mending and doing basic home maintenance. Things I made: a camphor bowl, a laptop case, a chopping board, banana bread, pumpkin soup, spinach pie and a deliciously healthy chocolate cake. Things I mended: jeans and shirts and hot water bottle covers. I re-oiled my cedar siding, and the decks. 

Simple travels

When my passport expired at the beginning of the year, I instinctively ordered a new one. I still haven't used it. In fact, this month marks an unfamiliar milestone: it's three years since I've been on a plane. Of course, Covid gave me two flight-free years, and I will probably fly somewhere in 2023, but I do feel rather virtuous all the same (I'm half-kidding: it feels good to not fly when I feel so alarmed by the state of the planet, but I can't get too superior about it with all the flying I've done as a travel writer over the years.) 

To make ends meet this year, I did write about sustainable travel (in between book chapters) - without going anywhere. I learned a lot, about regenerative travel and tourism pledges and cultural appropriation, even quiet travel

I also took a casual job at Happy Flame, a local business that makes beautiful beeswax candles; it was my first casual job since I started my writing career 25 years ago, but it was a really enjoyable part of my quiet-year regime: simple work, a regular income, time to think.

Animal magic

When I did go away, it was invariably to go camping somewhere relatively nearby, like Bald Rock National Park, where I saw my first spotted quoll! 

Another first happened closer to home: I was surfing, in winter, when I slid off my longboard to swim around underwater in the lull between waves and heard... squeaks and clicks and moans. Whales! They weren't close enough to see, but within minutes I'd told other surfers nearby and they started sliding off their boards and coming up smiling too. Joy doubled in the sharing of it. 

Tiny life 2.0

When people ask me now, "How's your tiny house?" I have to think for a moment. After living in my tiny for almost two years, my little house is home. I guess that's a sign that it's comfortable and it suits me. Living tiny just seems normal to me. 

I know it's not for everyone, but it's good to remember that for most of human history, most people lived simply, in small dwellings and rarely ventured far from home.

So I'm here. Day by day, moment to moment, doing my best to make the most of everything I have, all the advantages I've been given. And I don't have any big plans to change that anytime soon. I'm starting to miss travel, or bits of it - walking amid big mountains, meeting new people, being away from everything and everyone I know - but for now I'm happy to be embarking on this next 365-day trip around the sun starting in a few days' time. Ready? I hope it's a good one for us all... 

Tuesday 25 October 2022

Tourism declares a climate emergency (and so do I)

This blog post is a bit different to my usual sharings. It's about a subject close to my heart - climate action - and how it relates to travel, which can be a prickly subject for those of us who make our living from encouraging people to travel, at a time when we all really, truly need to cut our emissions in every aspect of our lives.

I feel so strongly about this that today I'm signing Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency

First, a bit of backstory. 

In January 2020, when the world didn't yet know it was on the brink of shutting down because of a global pandemic, a small group of UK-based travel professionals, inspired by cities and towns all over the world declaring a climate emergency, launched an ambitious initiative to tackle the tourism industry's contribution to the climate crisis.

Tourism Declares was a bold move and, in hindsight, quite beautifully timed. For although the entire travel industry unpacked its bags in March 2020 and stayed home for two years, this enforced pause gave us all time to think deeply, and widely, about the way we'd all been travelling. For those of us working in travel, it was also a chance to rethink travel in all its forms, and reflect on our values and attitudes towards the planet.

I've mentioned Tourism Declares on this blog before and always planned to sign up. Then Covid hit and my tiny house project consumed my life (in a good way!) and with Australia's borders closed and no travel plans, there seemed little point in promising to limit my travel emissions.

Now, with travel back in action, in a big way, it seems a good time to make this commitment. 

This post is a formal record of my commitment. I here declare that:

I strongly support the global commitment to halve emissions by 2030 and reach net zero as soon as possible before 2050. 

I vow to do whatever I can, in my ongoing work as a travel writer, to promote travel that aligns with this commitment and align my own actions with the latest scientific recommendations to stop the planet warming by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100. 

I formally agree to collaborate with other Tourism Declares and Glasgow Declaration signatories in any way that is helpful to this cause.


Of course Covid let me off the travel hook for the past three years. Still, while some of my colleagues and friends have been jumping on planes to travel far and wide since Australia's borders opened earlier this year, I've stayed put - partly to focus on writing a book, partly because earlier this year catastrophic flooding in northern NSW, where I live, made the climate crisis frighteningly real. After that, it's hard to try to pretend that it's "business as usual" for travel - or for any industry. 

In practical terms, I've strived to contribute to a decarbonised travel industry by:

  • Writing almost exclusively about sustainable, responsible or regenerative travel since borders reopened earlier this year - and I plan to continue for as long as possible. Two of my latest stories are about tourism pledges and the rise of regenerative travel.
  • Not flying for almost three years - no overseas flights, no domestic flights (my last flight was for a work trip to Myanmar in December 2019).
  • Reducing my own travel-related emissions by limiting my travel outside the local area for the past three years - during which I co-built a tiny house and started on a book project instead!
  • Being an active member of the Australian Society of Travel Writers' (ASTW) Sustainability Committee, finding ways to help the ASTW operate more sustainably and promoting sustainable travel in all its forms to our members, who in turn influence the travelling public in Australia and elsewhere.
  • Helping the ASTW sign the Glasgow Declaration for Climate Action in Tourism, earlier this year, with the support of 93 per cent of our members. We're now developing a climate action plan to make this commitment practical.
  • Prioritising work assignments that have a sustainable focus and/or require little or no air travel. 

I also try to live as simply, ethically and sustainably as possible by, for instance: being vegetarian; living in a tiny house (pictured at left) for more than a year and a half now - which helps reduce my energy use; most of the electricity I use is solar-generated); and volunteering at my local Landcare group and Community Garden, which helps to reduce carbon emissions by planting trees and maintaining native bushland, and by growing organic food locally.

And I will of course seek to do more (or less, where appropriate!) and decarbonise further whenever possible. 

Want to join Tourism Declares? It's for anyone who works in the travel industry - as an individual or as part of an organisation, government department or travel company, even for those who work in hotels and other accommodation and service providers, anywhere in the world - and it's absolutely free. You can find out more here. And if you work in another industry, find an organisation that can help you reduce your emissions there and spread the word. We're all in this together (as I've said before but, you know, it's true!).

Wednesday 29 December 2021

2021: My (big!) tiny year

Wow, what a crazy, neverending, full-of-surprises year it's been. Did your trip around the sun this year seem to take longer than the usual 365 days? Mine did. Maybe because so many of our regular milestones seemed to vanish in a fog of ever-changing Covid restrictions, cancellations and lockdowns.

Maybe 2021 seemed longer to me, too, because it was a big year, one that revolved around my new tiny house and included two momentous events. 

First, we finished the build! (After eight intense months + a few months of tinkering.) Second: I moved into the tiny, the first home I've ever owned.

This time last year, Mr No Impact Girl and I were just starting on the interior fit-out of my little house. We took a day off for Christmas, but were otherwise on the tools and man, it was hot - and humid. One particularly steamy day, we both stripped down to shorts (no shirts) while we sanded the ceiling. So much cooler, so liberating! (There were no witnesses, by the way, no photos!)

The end of the build
The months after that ticked by like items on my to-do list: insulation, plywood walls, architraves, skirting boards and the start of the neverending painting story (January). Kitchen cabinets, a beautiful little cedar feature wall and the 3.8m timber benchtop (February). 

I spent the four days leading up to my birthday in late Feb on my hands and knees sanding then oiling the blackbutt floor (totally worth it). Then Mr No Impact Girl made hatches for the underfloor storage compartments, with marine-grade stainless steel ring-pulls on them, adding to the tiny's boaty feel.

In March, after the front door went in (big milestone) and I got lights, power and water, I moved in. The tiny wasn't finished, but it was so exciting to actually, finally, sleep in it. I had to climb a builder's ladder to my bed loft every night (and move the ladder across the floor to reach the day loft). And there wasn't much storage yet without the built-ins so the place was part construction site, part domestic mess for a few months after that. 

But I already knew I loved my new little home. 

The stairs went in early April, crafted by a local joiner. It was the one big thing we outsourced, and I'm glad we did; stairs are complicated, particularly when you want storage under them, and Matt did a beautiful job.

In May we finished all the big interior things: the desk (made from a panel of acacia), a built-in couch, and the ladder to the day loft. Then came the deck (in June) and a few built-in cabinets (July & August).

Then... a five-week lockdown, a blink compared to months-long lockdowns others have had to endure, but it gave me a chance to really get to know my tiny home. And to rest. 

I really needed to rest, and my body told me so. After almost a year of intense physical work, after feeling stronger than I've ever felt, my hands and wrists started aching and for a couple of months I couldn't even hold a screwdriver, let alone a power drill. 

Everything checked out ok, medically speaking, but I had to stop doing all but the gentlest work. 

So I baked and sewed and mended and made cedar buttons (I discovered during the build that I love making things). And my hands and wrists slowly healed themselves.

Living small, and simply
I've been living tiny for nine months now, and I love it more than ever. Slowing down really let it sink in how beautiful, and comfortable, this little house is. Everywhere I look, I see the thought and care we put into getting things just right. It's even better than the tiny houses I daydreamed about while drawing up designs 18 months ago. 

I love how spacious it feels, with all its windows looking out onto big trees and a green garden, and its high ceiling and the two lofts. And yet how compact it is, with everything I need within reach. 

Every morning when I wake up, I check the weather from my closest window (without even lifting my head) before checking on my indoor plants, which always look as happy to live here as I am. Descending the stairs (designed for me, to suit my height, my leg length), I feel the curves of the timber handrail. 

I might do some yoga on the deck, listening to rainbow lorikeets far above me. Or head to the beach for a swim, returning home to rinse off under the outdoor shower, looking up at the trees. 

Living tiny is different in some ways. You have to be tidier than in a regular-sized house and clean more often (because you're using a small space constantly). I have chores now, such as managing the compost toilet and looking after all my plants and a veggie garden. And although it's in a beautiful spot now, there'll always be the issue of finding a suitable parking spot for it (though renting a patch of land costs much less than paying to live in even a small apartment).

But tiny living is definitely for me. It's as if the way I live and how I feel inside have aligned and I'll always feel thankful that I had the time (thanks, Covid) and enough money and the right kind of support from others to do this project. 

Last milestones
One of the fun things that happened just as we were finishing the build was that I was interviewed by Shannon Schultz of Fred's Tiny Houses (I can thoroughly recommend his tiny house trailers - there's one under my tiny!) for her wonderful Candid Tiny Houses podcast. Here's the link to the video interview & tour of my tiny

In November, there was one last stop on this "tiny build" road: a housewarming party to thank everyone who'd helped us on the build - people who'd donated materials or helped lift roofing sheets or baked sweet treats to sustain us or given moral support or design advice. So many people were involved and most of them gave their time for free.

I learned something else about my little house that afternoon: it loves having people over! The gas-strut window really opens up the space. The lofts and stairs allow people to spread out vertically instead of horizontally. The high ceiling means it never feels cramped or crowded inside. 

That inspired me to host my first-ever Christmas lunch, too, for three of us without families nearby. Until Covid cancelled that: I had to have a Covid test on Christmas morning, then self-isolate, and I'm still waiting for the results, FIVE days later... 

So I'm writing this recap of 2021 while I wait, comfortably tiny house-bound, and thanking this crazy, incredible year, and 2020, for one of the biggest adventures of my life. It's been a wild ride. And 2022 will surely bring new experiences, different ones, but who really knows? 

All I do know is I'll try to start this next cycle the way I start every year: by finding a quiet spot to watch the sunrise on New Year's Day, close enough to the sea that I can feel the thick salt air on my skin and maybe have a swim, and give thanks to the year just past and send out hopeful wishes for the one just beginning. For more peace, understanding and kindness towards each other (non-human beings included) and for the planet we all call home. Happy 2022!

UPDATE, 30 December: Well, 2021 had one more surprise for me. My New Year's Day plans have now been squashed by Covid too. Got my PCR result back today and... I'm positive for Covid-19. Caught it at a party I went to last week where someone tested positive and I've had cold symptoms for a few days, but feel ok now. Just need to isolate for another five days. That first swim of the year is going to feel so sweet next week. Happy new year, everyone, and play safely! 

Tuesday 9 November 2021

Climate action inspiration + COP26 hope (I hope)

I don't usually weigh in on world affairs here. I think about them, of course, as most of us do. Talk with friends. Take action where I can, particularly locally, and try to live low-impact ("no impact" is unattainable, of course; the name of my blog was always intended to be aspirational and playful, by the way, not prescriptive). But this feels different. The climate crisis makes it different.

Now that we're halfway through COP26 in Glasgow, I feel compelled to say something. Still not sure exactly what. What could I possibly say that might help?

So I'll start with this. Perhaps like you, I feel frustrated, disappointed and powerless as I watch this latest climate conference unfold. I feel a sort of national shame that Australia's prime minister fronted up with the bare minimum in terms of a climate policy, what amounted to "the price of admission" to Glasgow. 

I'm afraid, too, that COP26 will end like other COPs, with world leaders hearing stirring speeches - by the likes of Sir David Attenborough and Barack Obama - then failing to make rock-solid commitments that will stop global temperatures rising more than 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels. 

There have been big gains made this time, I know. Historic agreements to reduce deforestationmethane emissions and investment in coal and increase funding to Indigenous conservation projects. It's not just governments making promises: hundreds of financial institutions in 45 countries agreed to limit greenhouse emissions. 

It was heartening to see travel, the industry I've been part of for more than 20 years, taking a stand with the new Glasgow Declaration, which urges tourism businesses of all kinds and sizes all over the world to reduce emissions by half by 2030. You can read my news stories about it and what it means for travellers here and here, and my interview with one of its chief architects and co-founder of Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency, Jeremy Smith, here.

Is it all enough? 

According to the International Energy Agency's latest analysis, if all the promises from COP26 are kept, and funded, the planet may not warm more than 1.8C by the end of this century. But it's a big "if", particularly when China and Russia didn't even attend this year's make-or-break conference.

What I keep coming back to in the midst of this fragile hope is that, powerful as world leaders are, the real leaders in this crisis are emerging from elsewhere. They're students like Greta. Entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Australian billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes, even multinational CEOs (and CSOs - Chief Sustainability Officers, it's a thing now!). They're already doing things some governments keep saying are impossible. In some industries, governments just need to get out of the way - oh, and stop subsiding the global fossil fuel industry to the tune of $500 billion a year. 

Want more hope? Here are a few more things I've found inspiring lately:


Greta Thunberg: A year to change the world is an excellent 3-part BBC doco now streaming on ABCiView (in Australia). It's full of insights and experts talking about what's happening to our planet, and what needs to happen to reverse that. And at the centre of it all is the now 18-year-old Swedish student who remains quietly powerful and incredibly human and open about things like her discomfort with crowds and chaos.

With every speech at every protest march and every conference, she fine-tunes her message: listen to the science, not to her, about what we need to do. I'm in awe of her.


I've just finished reading Beyond Climate Grief, by science journalist and Catalyst presenter Jonica Newby. It's a fascinating and engaging deep-dive into the emotions swirling around the loss of our "heart places" due to the climate crisis and the aftermath of natural disasters, particularly the catastrophic 2019-20 bushfires in Australia, with insights from various people interviewed on where to go from here. 

I'll also read anything written by environmental author and Guardian columnist George Monbiot, like this story last week: COP26 has to be about keeping fossil fuels in the ground. All else is distraction. 


I could probably list a few podcasts about climate action here. But if you're like me, and feeling a bit swamped by all the climate news at the moment, you probably need to hear a little silence right now. Or the birds outside your window. Or the hush and rumble of the sea, if you live near the coast. 

I'd recommend being outside as much as possible too. Standing under the sky or the stars or the trees. Looking down at your feet on the ground. Here we are, living through this time together. It might not be a fair world, but no matter how old we are or where we live or how much money we have, or who we vote for, we'll all be affected by this climate crisis, if we haven't been already. Which means we're all invested in finding solutions.


Sometimes when hope is thin on the ground and we feel powerless in the face of a crisis, I think we have to draw on another resource we all have: creativity. Imagination is more important than knowledge, Einstein famously said. Of course we need both, and we all need to find ways to act, wherever we are and using whatever abilities we have. 

But imagining is vital too. If we can see the future we want up ahead, it'll be easier to draw "roadmaps" to get us there. Imagine the power of collective imagining, all of us envisaging a cleaner, wiser future where we all live our lives knowing that every action we take - the food we eat, the vehicles we ride or drive, the homes we live in, the work we do, the people we vote for - is regenerating, supporting and contributing to a healthier planet, which in turn sustains us and all the other living beings we share it with. Wouldn't that be wonderful?