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!).