Tuesday 31 December 2019

2019: The year of sustainable thinking

Here we are again, at the end of another 365-day trip around the sun together, another year-long stay on the rooftop of our planetary hotel. It's an artificial, human-centric end, of course, but the eve of a "new" year is as good a time as any to stop, sit under a tree and check our internal compasses again.

A new dawn, in Turkey
Are we still on track? How far back was the last trail-marker? Sometimes it can feel as if we're adrift in an oceanic universe, without signposts to guide us. Most importantly, have we left the places we've been better than we found them?

It's been a big year, globally and personally, and I feel equal parts anxious and hopeful on this last day of 2019.

Anxious about the state of the world, including Australia, much of which is still in deep drought and on fire as I write this. Hopeful because good things are happening too, people power is growing - and Greta Thunberg was just named TIME magazine's Person of the Year. (Watching her "How dare you" speech to the UN was one of the most heart-wrenching moments of 2019.)

Greta the great, keeping it real
We still have a long way to go to turn this earth-ship around, but it's heartening that more of us are now talking about the climate crisis and finding new ways to live more sustainably.

Sustainable writing
One of the things I'm grateful for this year is that demand for sustainable travel stories has been at an all-time high, allowing my love of travel and my desire for a simpler, more sustainable life to make friends with each other.

2040, most inspiring book of 2019
I wrote about overtourism and 10 unsung destinations such as Jordan and Turkey and how to be an "untourist" in Venice. About "green lands", countries like Costa Rica and Bhutan that are doing good things for the planet; and 5 ways to avoid buying plastic bottles when you can't drink the tap water.

There were stories about sustainable moves airlines are making and what sustainable travel in 2020 and beyond looks like. I even interviewed 10 environmental advocates about where they go on holiday (and found out what they really think about flight-shame).

The power of seven
I also got to write more about tiny houses, which brings me to my last list for the year: seven low-impact highlights of 2019...

Tiny house #3 (pic by Unyoked)
1. My first tiny-house stay. After obsessing about tiny houses for the past couple of years, I finally got to sleep in four of them on a Goldilocks-esque tiny house tour of regional NSW and Victoria in February.

Officially, I was on assignment for Traveller to report on the new "tiny house stay" phenomenon - and to review all four tiny houses for this blog (starting with Edmond in the NSW Southern Highlands). But it was really a personal quest to experience tiny life first-hand, if only for a few days. The good news: climbing ladders to loft beds only fuelled my desire to live in a tiny house one day soon.

Beached in the Mergui islands
2. Low-impact trips. Changes in the travel industry have meant it's now easier than ever to build sustainable elements into my trips. So in addition to hiking Japan's little-known Tokaido trail in March and kayaking Myanmar's remote Mergui islands last month, I stayed in minimalist hotel rooms in Tokyo and Bangkok and did Intrepid's deliciously new vegan tour of northern Italy.

3. People power. At home, I got involved in more eco-events than usual, from tree-planting days in Lennox to Sustainable House Day, the Brisbane Eco Expo and, most inspiring of all, the Global Climate Strike in September.

I would have loved to have been one of the 80,000 people striking in Sydney or the 100,000 in Melbourne, but even at the relatively small Lismore strike it felt amazing to be part of the largest climate mobilisation in history. A record 7.6 million people protested for climate action across the world. Power to the people!

Butcher bird with a message
4. Finding peace. One of my favourite trips this year was an opportunity to review Eden Health Retreat in south-east Queensland. It came at just the right time; I'd been feeling burned-out (even travel writers get the blues) and Eden pressed "reset" on my life. It was the most nourishing week I've had in a long time.

Silk rug soft as butterfly wings
5. I won, I won! In October, while I was walking barefoot on Turkish rugs in Istanbul, I won the ASTW's Travel Writer of the Year award for the fifth time - which felt especially good after struggling with anxiety-depression a bit this year. And more goodness came when I got to celebrate with my travel mates at an ASTW lunch in Sydney earlier this month.

6. Singing therapy. Here's something you might not know about me: I like singing. Just for myself, or with a friend or two. But in July this year I stepped out of my introverted comfort zone and sang three songs with Mr No Impact Girl at a local open-mic night called Tintenbar Upfront. After a shaky start and cotton-wool-mouth nerves, it was a new kind of fun, but the biggest high came afterwards, just from taking the leap ("daring greatly" as Brene Brown would say; yes, I love her).

7. A month of simple Sundays. One of the things that brought me joy this year was creating and self-publishing this little book of mostly prose pieces I wrote on idle Sunday afternoons in the outdoors over the past couple of years.

Since launching it last month I've been bowled over by how well it has been received. From my local book store and art gallery both wanting to sell it, to friends ordering multiple copies to give to their friends, people have been genuinely touched by it, which warms my heart.

Barefoot, outside and ready to write
Part of that, I think, is because it's about the simple, grounding, peace-giving experience of being in nature - something we can all relate to. Something that's increasingly important in this anxious age we live in.

So my 2020 wish for you is that you get the chance to gather ordinary moments in nature this coming year, as many as your senses can carry, share them with others and hold them close. Because the more connected we feel to the planet, our living life-support system, the more motivated we are to act in its best interests.

Here's to a peaceful, plastic-free, low-carbon year for you all, wherever you happen to be. And, as always, thanks for reading and for doing all you do to live and travel more simply. Meet you back here in the new year, ok?