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Kirsty Gordge at her writing desk

“As you freely walk the earth, you are affecting people’s livelihoods”

Kirsty Gordge is a fellow writer and wanderer. In 2018, she visited 12 countries in 11 months, which became the basis of her travel blog Identity K.

Having lived parallel lives as full-time travellers and writers, I’ve always admired Kirsty’s commitment to sustainable and ethical travel. It came, therefore, as a welcome surprise to see she was using her time in lockdown to write and release a short book called 48 Hours Before the Lockdown.

I bought the book immediately and finished it in one sitting. It’s a clever and well-written book – the kind I wish I wrote. But I’m not bitter. The novella actually served to inspire me to be a little more productive with my time in lockdown. Which is why I started this blog. So thanks, Kirsty!

As my website grew, Kirsty became an obvious candidate to collaborate with. From the content she’s created, I knew she’d have some insights on how to travel better.

And boy, was I right.

Beginning at the beginning, I asked Kirsty about her upbringing.

KG: I actually grew up in lots of places – England, Hong Kong, Brunei – but New Zealand has been home from age eleven, so ultimately this is where a lot of my actual ‘growing up’ happened.

I spent my high school years on the North Shore of Auckland; a cluster of bays and towns thrown together, linked by winding main roads and schools. It’s a rapidly developing place with lots of activity, lined by beautiful coastline and endless beaches which my friends and I would frequently scramble along looking for adventure.

Why did you decide to leave?

KG: I swapped this booming suburbia for the quieter, colder plains of the South Island, packing my bags to start a new adventure as a student of the University of Otago in Dunedin. Dunedin is hugely underrated in New Zealand; its post-pandemic local tourism campaign even says ‘it’s not a bad plan D’!

In reality, it’s home to roaming sea lions, penguins and albatross, stunning vistas from mountain tops, a heaving local farmers market, and beaches with good surf (albeit freezing water). After leaving Dunedin with a thirst to travel the world, I really appreciated it for everything it was. A nomadic year or so later, I settled in a town with similar magic: Brno, in the Czech Republic.

Kirsty, Tawharanui Beach, New Zealand

48 Hours Before the Lockdown was an engaging and insightful read! What inspired it?

KG: Thanks!! I love reading books from different characters’ perspectives; I think it gives us invaluable insight into another person’s mind that we just cannot get from a TV series. After finishing Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo, I couldn’t help narrating our hilarious family antics in my head, as five adults in my parent’s three-bedroom apartment began to navigate how to be together in a confined space.

It was enlightening, taking time to imagine how another person can see the same room.

The lockdown announcement had shocked our country, and there was a lot of panicked disbelief in the two days of preparation we were given. I was certain that people might find comfort in knowing that other individuals were having the same feelings and other households were going through similar mayhem. I started writing.

Is full-time author part of your future career plans?

KG: I can definitely imagine writing another novel in the future and I know I will obsess over it as soon as the plotline pops into my mind. I’d love to give readers as much joy as I get from browsing an independent bookshop, selecting my next read, taking it home in a brown paper bag, making a coffee and diving right in.

So yes! I’m sure there’s another book in me yet. But I’ll certainly read a hundred more before seeing my name on the shelves.

Do you plan to travel differently once things return to normal?

KG: Good question. I have thought about this a whole lot over the past couple of years so I’m glad you have made a blog about it! While I was solo-backpacking around the world in 2018, I stayed in cheap hostels and met some amazing people by chance, but struggled with my why. I wanted to explore, yes, but after a while, I needed a purpose.

Travelling can give you all the escapes you’ve ever dreamed of, but if you cannot find a way to make it purposeful, your mental wellbeing can suffer. There is no answer hidden in these lines to tell you what your purpose is; that’s for you to figure out.

But, after Coronavirus? I plan to go here and there, take trains, be spontaneous, travel light, write things down, and enjoy the very freedom that allows me to do so.

I hope that other people will feel the same; that people might explore their own backyard more. Package deals, perfectly designed trips and mass tourism simply destroy everything it is that makes travelling attractive in the first place. Don’t post that picture. Don’t travel for other people. Travel for yourself.

Kirsty and Martin, Auckland City, New Zealand

What do you do for a living and how far is it from your dream career?

KG: At the moment, I’m an English teacher and writer. I work part-time hours at both, and I believe this is the key to my success.

I’m a big fan of doing different things so diversifying income streams and changing up daily activities keeps my interest piqued and my creativity rolling.

For me, it’s important not to spend too long on one activity, as my motivation takes a nose-dive and I end up lost in dark tunnel vision. I find that balancing out life’s habits (including the fun stuff like being in a relationship) is like living in the big picture view and being able to zoom in and out on your different aspects, without ever getting your soul lost in the detail.

Living in this way is pretty close to my dream career lifestyle, but I’m sure I’ll work in various fields in the future because I love learning and diving into new things!

What’s a lesson you’ve learned from travel?

KG: I reckon one of the most valuable character traits I’ve earned from travelling is patience, and not expecting anything from anyone. (I guess this comes from waiting for countless buses that I wasn’t confident would turn up haha.)

Whilst travelling solo, I gained real confidence in my ability to work anything out, because I was proving to myself on a daily basis that I was continually doing just that. No matter what happened during the day, I knew I would lay my head on a pillow somewhere at night and it would be past.

Time is indifferent, so the good and bad times alike are just fleeting moments.

Now I can deal with life in a similar mindset, and that’s something that years of university cannot teach you. You have to hit (perceived) rock bottom with yourself first. No-one owes you anything. If that Plan-A bus isn’t arriving, just step back and consider Plan B, C, D, and E again. Pick one quickly, because indecision is a killer. (The universe really doesn’t care!)

But you’ll always put your head on a pillow again; there’s no need to worry.

How can people travel better?

KG: Hmmm, a good piece of advice for other travellers would have to be think about your impact. As you trot around the globe, consider what you are contributing to, both consciously and unknowingly. Think about what you’d like to support, and consciously spend your money and time there. It might seem like a small thing at the time, but it makes a difference to invest your $10 on a handmade notebook in a village rather than on an overpriced bottle of water at the airport.

As you freely walk the earth, you are affecting people’s livelihoods. Try to tread gently, leave a positive impact, and don’t get mad at the world. Be the best friend to yourself and try to do good as you go. It’s okay to change your mind.

That’s learning, reflecting, and growing… which is the whole point of travel. Right, Thom?

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