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Change of Heart, Change of Hands

How Travelling Destroys the Notion of Throw-Away Culture

We unfortunately live in a society where material possessions are used as a ranking of success to a blind population trying to fulfill their lives with things. Things that don't matter. Where more is "more", but is never actually enough. A society where things can be replaced just as easily as they were obtained with no concern for how it effects the earth. Where the only concern is how convenient it is for us. We live in a society where "throw-away culture" is widely practiced and accepted. Think about it: millions of people use paper cups for their morning coffee, and most likely their 3pm pick-me-up as well. Plastic water bottles are used once and then tossed into the garbage, maybe the recycling for someone who wants to help clear their conscious. We grab a plastic fork or spoon to eat out of our styrofoam container and toss them aside when we're done. We live in a society with an "out of sight out of mind" perspective about these types of things. Once we're done with it, it's no longer our problem, and the issue is that most people think that it's perfectly okay.

I definitely used to be one of those people, and deep down we probably all have a little bit of that inside of us, no matter how big of a tree hugger we are. It's instilled in us through the people around us. As a kid I watched my mother get a coffee in a paper cup everyday, so I didn't think anything of it when I began to do it. Until I began travelling.

When I visited Kenya I stayed in a camp with no running water, and electricity was only available for 2 hours a day. Forget about WiFi. And you know what? I survived. Not only that, but I came home with a feeling of gratitude I'd never felt before. Grateful and thrilled at the ability to turn on the tap and flick on the light switch and literally have water and electricity at my fingertips. Obviously after being home for a while the original excitement faded out, but it's been 7 years since that trip, and to this day I still take staggered showers and unplug anything that's not being used.

My trip to Cuba presented an immense sense of appreciation for the food on my plate. Having gone through a period of isolation and transition, many Cubans went through a time where proper nutrition, or even a proper meal was difficult to obtain. The utmost gratitude for every bite was extremely evident and brought up feelings of guilt and thoughts about how much I, once again, took for granted. Upon arriving home from Cuba I became a vegetarian and vowed to only take and use what I absolutely need, in order to reduce my footprint.

During my most recent trip to Asia, I travelled with a 38L backpack that contained all of my belongings. I had everything I needed and more, and even ended up donating quite a bit along the way. When I returned home and moved into my new place my father told me that I "lived like a monk" and I was ecstatic. I thought to myself "maybe I'm finally leading a life I can be proud of. Full of good, and free from want."

The more I travel and the more people I meet, the more I have come to realize why travellers (generally) reject throw-away culture and a life full of disposable want. The first is a lesson that naturally emerges when you travel. No matter where you go, you're thrown into a new landscape and culture, and a lot of times it can seem like a whole separate world from the one you're used to. You learn a new way of thinking and doing everyday things, whether that's what you bargained for or not. You are ignorant in a place full of unknowns and are forced to start from scratch. And you realize that you don't need anything but yourself and an open mind to be able to conquer the challenges that come your way. Every destination comes with a new lesson, whether it's how to live without running water, electricity, or hell, even WiFi. You realize that most of the things you have, you do not actually NEED. The more you travel the more this gets instilled in you: a life free from want and a greater appreciation for the things you already have. It gets brought home with you and allows you to practice freedom from want in your everyday life. I know it did for me.

The second is selfishness. Backpackers have an obsession with wanting to go everywhere and see everything. I'm haunted by the idea of not being able to see Machu Picchu (which is closing to the public), or the Maldives (which are slowly disappearing due to rising sea levels). If we continue to live the way we are, where throw-away culture is accepted and the environment is ignored, there are places we won't get to see and adventures we won't get to have. Historical sites are closing for preservation, forests and jungles are disappearing, and islands are flooding. Every traveller has their list of places to go, things to try, and sites to visit. And if we don't protect them, we won't get to have those experiences. So we make changes in our lives in order to protect the earth, because without it travelling becomes obsolete.

The more we go, the more we learn. Each experience is a new lesson, but there is one lesson that continues to come up for me each time I jet off. I've been told by people living without access to excess that North Americans and Europeans are wasteful. That we take advantage of having access to whatever we want, whenever we want. And it is in these moments that I am overwhelmed with feelings of shame and disheartenment. I want to tell them that we aren't all like that, but the truth is that most of us are. So the only thing I can do is what I can: reject the idea of throw-away culture and start the discussion with anyone who will listen. Family, friends, fellow travellers. Whoever. It's not always an easy one but if I want to see everything, and believe me I do, there has to be something left to see.

Caylie Smith

Not Your Average

"Whatever is good for your soul, do that"

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