We’ve always tried to share our stories and adventures with you in a very simple way on this blog… a little like talking to you in person over a drink, like talking to friends. And if we generally talk to you about our travels, trying to inspire you and give you practical information to travel independently, we also share with you from time to time our thoughts and what has led us to make this or that choice in our lives.
Today I (Benoit) want to share with you things that worry me, to write down things I think about, my own contradictions… hoping that you will read them and maybe you can tell me what you think about it in the comments. 😉
A little bit of context
Looking back, I have to say that I won the life lottery! I was born in Switzerland, had a happy childhood in a great family with parents who always supported me (yet I was far from being a perfect student 😉 ), I never lacked anything; I could do the studies I wanted without worrying about having to support myself.
Then I won the lottery for the second time by meeting Fabienne who is now my wife, my best friend, my favorite adventurer and even my co-worker.
We first finished our studies in Zurich and then moved to Vienna to get our first professional experience. At that time, we were far from imagining what awaited us in the years that followed… We were on the track of our career and a well-defined future was waiting for us (and we were totally happy that way… it’s just that we didn’t see all the other possibilities available to us, nor the problems for that matter… a little as if we had blindfolds on)
You may know what happened next… a kind of sparkle while watching this video and a few days later we decided to leave everything behind to backpack around the world (it was in 2012). At that time, we were mainly interested in traveling, discovering the world, meeting people… but also we needed to slow down the pace and simply “take the time”.
19 months, 15 planes and I don’t know how many buses later, we were back in Switzerland, but not quite the same after all the experiences that such a trip represents. We tried for a year and a half to “get back on track” and get back to a “real job”… But in vain. We preferred to give our blog a chance and founded our small web development company to have a more flexible lifestyle and try the Digital Nomad adventure. We knew from the beginning that we would earn a lot less money but we had learned to live with a lot less during our trip and the flexibility/quality of life we were gaining far outweighed it.
It was also during this 1st big trip and some others that followed that we experienced some situations (such as this toxic fog caused by the palm oil industry and which blocked us for 1 week in Malaysia) that made us a little aware of the impact of our consumption habits on the planet (it was in 2015). I remember very well thinking:
How is it possible that I don’t know about this?
I never realized that the chocolate, ice cream or cookies I ate contained palm oil (but also instant noodles, bio-fuels, soaps, lip sticks and much more) and that this had a very negative impact on the lives of millions of people in Southeast Asia! I was also unaware that my plastic water bottle could eventually end up somewhere in Indonesia or on the bottom of the oceans despite being recycled…
Becoming aware of the situation
These experiences were a trigger, pushing me to learn a little more about the environment or global warming… and what I found there scared me a lot! I realized that our planet is actually in a very bad state (I knew it, but I didn’t realize how much… the latest very serious studies on the matter are scary and promise us a catastrophic future by 2050) and that my consumption habits were partly to blame. What I mean is that until then, for example, I didn’t really realize how bad it was for the planet to eat tomatoes in winter (more explanations here)… the same for meat (see here or here)… or just the impact of the 15 flights we took during our 19 months of travel around the world.
Remark: Even if the impact of 15 flights is undeniable, this trip still was a trigger for us on many points. Fabienne who was a real “compulsive buyer” before this trip (she must have had 70 handbags and pairs of shoes) became very minimalist. During this backpacking trip, we learned to live with much less and we realized that we were not more unhappy 😉 . People we met, the open mindset and the experiences we gained also have a lot of value in to us. So to the question: Would you do a long-distance trip again? I will answer yes, but flying as few as possible and favoring land transport as much as possible.
That’s how I began to realize the impact of my everyday actions on the world around me… I realized that I had often made the wrong choices for convenience or pleasure rather than necessity (stupid examples: buying new instead of repairing, flying instead of the train because it is cheaper, eating tomatoes all year round, eating a lot of meat…). An assessment that it took me a long time to “digest” 😉 because these habits had been rooted in my daily life for years and considered normal.
But as you can imagine, the problem is more global (and it is people who are much smarter than I am saying it and who said it a long time ago) and we cannot continue to favor our individual comfort over the planet and the common good. Our frenetic race to “growth” takes us straight into the wall at a mad speed and we keep pushing on the accelerator…. Well, let us talk about economic growth and success:
What does it mean to be successful or cool in 2019
In 2019, success (of a country, a company, a person) is always measured by indicators such as productivity, wealth or even the famous economic growth! I am no exception and I also measure the “success” of our small business according to the money that falls on our account each month (but not only obviously)… and I also try to make it “grow” in order to be able to live from it properly.
In 2019 we still can’t help but compare ourselves… we wonder how much this or that colleague is earning, we are still trying to get a better salary than the others. As if to be “cool” or to succeed you absolutely need to have the largest possible number on your bank account. But more money to do what? To buy more things? To have always more comfort?
Yet in 2019, we shouldn’t be cool anymore if:
- we buy all the latest trendy electronic gadgets (I’m clearly not the best at it)
- you buy all the latest collections from Zara and H&M (fast fashion is a nightmare).
- we eat meat or fish every day
- we drink bottled water while the tap water is drinkable
- we eat fruits and vegetables from the other side of the planet
- we fly more than 10 times a year
- and many others…
And if in 2019 we changed the perception of success and coolness… and if in 2019 someone cool was:
- someone who is trying to improve his quality of life and not his salary
- someone who takes the bike to work if he can
- someone who goes on holiday close to home
- someone who is carpooling
- someone who does permaculture
- someone who is vegetarian
- someone who buys second hand
someone who has no children
- someone who eats local and seasonal food
Remark: I removed “someone who has no children” from the list because indeed, even if there is a demographic problem that is easy to understand (we already have enough problems at 7.5 billion), I did not mean to say literally that in 2019 it is cool not to have children. What I wanted to raise instead is the fact that social pressure (therefore a rather negative connotation) is more on people who do not have children when everyone should be free to choose without judgment.
Contradictions et conclusions
Then I confess to having been very hesitant to share these things that I have in mind with you on our travel blog…. In fact I don’t feel legitimate at all to talk about this because overall I am clearly in the clan of rich polluters who have to make the most effort. I am full of contradictions because even if I try to change, I still have many bad habits…
For example, on this blog alone, we recommend that you buy items that we use and appreciate (photography or hiking gear) on Amazon, which is not exactly a company that saves the planet (it is a bit like a symbol of over-consumption) or that favors small businesses (we know something about it because we have written 2 books)…. and yet it is a significant source of income and we can’t really afford to remove it (well…. not everything is bad about Amazon and it’s another subject but if you have any suggestions we’re interested 😉 ).
Another thing: Even if for 2-3 years we have remained on the European continent and we focus on closer places, many long and shorter hikes… I also realize that most of you are not nomads like us and that by talking to you about our travels you may be encouraged to fly because you have a more limited time to travel than we do. What do you think of that?
In conclusion, I must admit that the perspectives for the coming years frighten me and I feel powerless. I realize that we all have to act together to be effective and make big sacrifices… and I thought maybe one way to do that was to just start talking about it on our blog as I just did. I’m not trying to be moralizing or making people feel guilty (I already feel guilty enough when I do things that are not necessarily very green), just to share my questions and discuss these matters with you. Besides, don’t hesitate to give me your opinion on this article in the comments.
To go further
If you are interested, here are some resources from people who inspire me and who approach these topics much better than I do, while proposing concrete solutions. Feel free to share their messages with others… and hopefully inspire as many people as possible!
1) Hot Mess is a youtube channel I really like because they have very good videos about a lot of climate-related topics. Plus they do a great job explaining the issues with simple words and giving concrete solutions. You should really check it out.
2) The different reports of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) as well as the “living planet” reports of the WWF.
…if you have any other channel or website you really like that talk about these topics. Don’t hesitate to share it with us in the comments.
Hi Benoit and thank you for this blog post.
Me and my boyfriend are also digital nomads and we are also worried about this subject. We are buying more local, avoiding plastic and we have been downsizing our way of living on the last years. We think that instead of having more to be happy, we need to own less. Things take a lot of our time and energy, so we now live, work and travel in a campervan.
Of course there are always contradictions, as you say. It’s part of being human. The most important thing I think is to be aware of it and choose what each one of us really need and what we don’t need so much and do this downsizing process to our lives.
Well, everything is dynamic, so the truth now can be not the truth of tomorrow, we are all in this learning process.
Thank you so much for spreading awareness!
Thank you for stopping by and leaving a message here. Of course I completely agree with you when you say we need to own less to be more happy. That’s one of the things we really realized while traveling. I feel like people are more aware of these issues now but I just hope we’ll be able to change our habits before it’s too late.
Wish you guys all the best