Imagine, for a second, that you’re visiting a place you’ve always wanted to see – living an adventure that lays deep inside your heart and captivates your curiosity.
Maybe you’re setting foot in a rainforest for the first time, breathing in the sweet scent of life, glimpsing the flittering blue of a Morpho butterfly’s wings, or drawing your breath when a fellow primate shakes fruit down from the canopy overhead.
Or maybe you’ve just hiked up into the mountains and sharing a simple meal with a local family, exchanging smiles and laughs as you learn about their way of life.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could live that experience right now? Wouldn’t it be better if everyone could have that experience?
Now think, for a second, about what you just did.
Imagination is that uniquely human ability to create ideas and experiences in our minds that aren’t happening in reality. And it means that we can dream up, relive and share travel experiences without ever leaving our doorsteps.
So, what if travel were available to everyone?
At Terra Incognita we believe strongly in the power of travel for good, including as a tool for awakening understanding, transforming perceptions and inspiring change. But we don’t always have to go to exotic, far-flung destinations to achieve that. As Travel Blogger of the Year proves, we each have the power to create our own journeys.
Travel through imagination
Through storytelling we can learn about places we’ve never visited and experience them vividly. We can share once-in-a-lifetime experiences with others. We can discover a new ecosystem or take a step into another culture. We can venture beyond our comfort zone. We can discover, learn, feel, understand. We can even change lives.
“You don’t really have to get on a plane and travel to the four corners of the globe to understand what’s out there,” said Kate Stephenson, Judges’ Choice First Runner Up in Travel Blogger of the Year. “I have a house full of books, paintings and artefacts … that remind me of the bigger world that I’m a part of”.
“More than ever, we’re understanding the natural world and having it accessible to us in our own homes. I love things like ‘vEcotourism’ VR apps, flicking through travel mags and watching David Attenborough documentaries. I see my role as a writer to ignite other people’s imaginations, in my work with National Geographic Kids, that’s been to inform and to inspire children about the world they’re growing up in”, Kate explained.
“I have a map of the World hung over my daughter’s bed and every night I trace my finger over it, let her stop me on a country and make up an adventure story about my knowledge of that place”, added Kate. “I hope it inspires her to want to protect these places, like I do – and to believe in the power of imagination”.
Anyone who’s ever been moved by a book, movie or documentary will know that storytelling isn’t just about imagining places and people. It’s about connection – within ourselves and with each other.
“I love to see people who have gone on a journey within themselves as well as geographically; who can write in a way that is both engaging and accurate; and who can demonstrate a close connection with the subject matter”, said wildlife storyteller and Travel Blogger of the Year judge Lucy McRobert.
And because storytelling is so vivid, so personal, it makes an ideal platform to connect readers with global issues and possibly even ways they can help.
“Storytelling has always been a huge part of human culture – from cavemen (and women) etching their latest hunts onto rocks to modern day travel-blogging, we have this incredible ability as a species to bring our adventures to life. Today we’re globally connected, and so it’s never been easier to share our ventures,” said Travel Blogger of the Year Readers’ Choice First Runner Up Josh Robertson.
“As a wildlife conservationist, I feel it’s never been more important to share stories that connect people with the natural world, the threats facing it, and, perhaps most importantly, the success stories”, added Josh. “Blogging is such a powerful tool to help us achieve this, and that’s why I tried to intertwine conservation issues throughout my entry in this competition. I hope my story made people laugh, think, and dream of visiting wild places.”
We know from our partners at Conservation Careers, who have interviewed hundreds of conservationists about their career paths, that most people who work to conserve nature were inspired to do so through time spent outdoors. But not everyone has access to the outdoors, and many others have found their inspiration through documentaries, zoos, and even stories – anything that ignites our imagination and awakens our curiosity.
Stories close the distance between us and the planet and people around us, even if written and read continents apart.
So if storytelling is such a powerful tool to connect people with important environmental and social issues, how do we get more people reading it to create more impact?
We asked two-time Readers’ Choice Winner Uthman Ayoku Oyebamiji, who earned a staggering 18,000+ votes in the Travel Blogger of the Year competition in just a few short months, how he spread the word.
“I achieved this because of passion, my friends, classmates, school mates, lecturers and Nigerians saw my commitment to nature and natural resources. They support and promote my story / passion and nature love first”, said Uthman.
Uthman is a Nigerian Wildlife and Ecotourism Management undergraduate student, ornithologist and conservationist whose story featured Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the last remnants of primary high forest in southern Nigeria.
He hopes his story spreads awareness about conservation and African Indigenous beliefs, and sees his success in the competition as a way to fuel his work. “It will be a great incentive to do more for nature… I won Wildlife Blogger of the Year 2018, it made me feel loved and I believe my people will be more eager to support me again”, said Uthman.
Youth voices – the next generation of storytelling
It takes only one look at young leaders like Greta Thunberg to recognise the power of messages from youth to cut to the heart of global issues and rally support on an international level.
Seventeen-year-old Rhianyon Larson won the Travel Blogger of the Year Judges’ Choice Youth competition with her story Glacier National Park that raises climate change through the lens of a favourite national park and the familiar stages of growing up.
“I believe that storytelling is an integral part of culture. In sharing our stories and lives, we can help spread the truth and teach important lessons … by sharing stories of the natural world, we can help others understand the importance of protecting it”, said Rhianyon.
“Glacier National Park was such a crucial part of my growing up and somewhat moulded me as a person. With the looming threat of climate change, I feel that it is my responsibility to help preserve and protect it as well as this wonderful earth we live on. I wished to convey this deep spiritual connection and the importance of experiencing a place such as this”, added Rhianyon.
“I hope readers will take away the importance of being in nature and not seeing it as something to conquer or an accomplishment, but a space of tranquility and ease that has the ability to spread peace through all of us if we let it”, added Rhianyon.
Judges’ Choice First Runner Up Celeste Marr-Johnson, who wrote about an up-close-and-personal experience with nature in her story Puffin Island, said, “…to really get close to [puffins] and to immerse yourself in their beauty and detail, that is an experience that no one will forget. Also, I think that it’s important to get close to nature as otherwise you can’t really relate to the experience, and you won’t understand the detail and the importance of it”.
“I think that travel writing is really important, as it shares experiences without so many people having to go on planes or travel by car. This is also a great way to preserve a moment in time so you can enjoy it again!” added Celeste.
Alex Brickle, Runner Up in Wildlife Blogger of the Year and Judges’ Choice Youth Second Runner Up in Travel Blogger of the Year (who has a knack for capturing the fun and humour when travel plans don’t go to plan), said that travel writing and storytelling allow us to “…share these amazing experiences and maybe even inspire others to visit the places you write about”.
Want a little inspiration? Find your own journey amongst the Travel Blogger of the Year entries.
You can also learn more about the competition winners and runners up.
Main image: Dew drops on a funnel spider web in northwestern Oregon, photographed by Travel Blogger of the Year 2020 Winner, Erik Gauger. Credit: Erik Gauger, notesfromtheroad.com.