Interview with Jérémy Backpacker: How Travelling Can Be Slow and Responsible

1. How do we call you, and what name does your audience know you by?

Hello! I'm Jérémy, a little Belgian backpacker who somehow became a travel blogger specialising in WHV’s (Working Holiday visa) in Australia and New Zealand (and backpacking in general).

People who follow my adventures know me rather under the name "Jeremybackpacker", an Instagram nickname chosen a bit randomly at the beginning of my Australian adventure which finally stayed. So it was natural to call my travel blog!

2. How did you become passionate about travelling?

Many travellers say that this desire to discover the world started at a very young age. It wasn’t the case for me, haha.

It's only when I graduated and after a year and a half on a permanent contract in a big company in Brussels that I started to look for alternative lifestyles. I realized that I was getting into a routine that was so predictable that it was slowly starting to freak me out.

I became interested in travelling and discovered the incredible opportunity that the WHV visa (and especially the Working Holiday visa in Australia) represents. So I swapped my job and apartment and my work contract for a one-way ticket to Perth.

My arrival in Perth

The original plan was to escape for six to eight months, alone, without any plan. Well, those 6-8 months turned into 3 and a half years of travel in between Oceania and Southeast Asia. I was amazed I could fund my own travels while actually travelling already. So I had no reason to go home as I was discovering and enjoying this new life so badly.

3. How did you become conscious about the environment?

During our 6 months spent in Southeast Asia with my girlfriend I met in Australia. She was already veggie at the time and much more aware than I was of all the things we do wrong in our so-called “developed countries”.

She made me watch documentaries, without judging me, and that changed everything (What the Health, Cowspiracy, Before the Flood, to name a few). I've continued to inform myself ever since, I've become a vegetarian too. But soon you realize that everything is connected, so my vision of “travelling” has completely changed too.

On my small scale, whether it's on Instagram or on the blog, I try to spread messages about slow tourism (which is in line with the WHVs, because you usually leave for a year or more for the same destination).

I do speak about all the topics that I care about. Travelling of course, but also trying to explain why we should consider plan-based diet, plastic pollution, etc.

I also made an Instagram post where I share 40 documentaries that deeply change your vision on many subjects (food, society, tourism,...).

4. What do you think are the environmental issues of the tourism industry? Do you pay attention to your own environmental impact when you travel?

We have completely overlooked the fact that travel is a luxury. Travel has become "too" democratic. Mass tourism will have to stop, whether we like it or not.

It's hard to talk about it without making people feel guilty. Explaining to people who work all year round that taking a plane to go to the other side of the world for two weeks is one of the worst gestures from an ecological point of view is not simple (as true as it is).

We have become selfish; we have to become truly aware of the impact of travel. Whether it's for the local population or for the environment, biodiversity, etc.

The other real problem is the inconsistency of the tourism and transport industry. If you want to travel within Europe, it costs you 2, 3 or 4 times more to take the train or bus instead of flying. How can you expect us to change all our habits if the most practical and quickest solution is by far the cheapest? As soon as it hits the wallet, it gets tricky.

5. You say you practice the idea of "slow backpacking" - so what is it? What's good about it?

What I mean by "slow backpacking" is travelling at a slow pace. When you decide to enjoy a country or a region of the world for a long time, you drastically reduce your impact.

The "round-the-world trips" that include 30 destinations, 15 flights for less than a year, is absolutely not something that attracts me anymore.

Without meaning to, I practiced “slow travel” from the very beginning. I spent 2 years in Australia (so yes, it's a huge country and I've moved around a lot) and 10 months in New Zealand.

Two destinations in almost 3 years only. It makes your 20h flight less impactful if it’s for a year or two than a return flight for a couple of weeks to visit the other side of the world. That's also why I like to talk about WHV, because you're going away for a long time.

As for our 6 months in Asia, we were not exemplary. Even though we crossed several borders by land, often travelled locally (train/bus) and spent an average of 1 month per country, we still took several flights. Something we would do differently today.

I don't think we should stop "travelling", but I am convinced that we must learn how to do it in a more sustainable way. Take an interest in what's close to home, on our own continent. Be proud to marvel at a destination we visit and reduce our impact. By stopping participating in the destruction of what we want to explore, in fact.

6. Tell us about a destination you've been to that you would recommend to our readers.

To build on what I just said, I want to dodge that question a little by asking those who read this: Have you ever explored your own country?

Or even neighbouring countries. I am a little ashamed to admit that I know Oceania much better than I know Europe. And this is something I want to “fix” in the future.

The global pandemic of Covid-19 is an unprecedented crisis. But it has forced us to rethink our travel plans. When I dig a little deeper, I realize that our French neighbours have one of the most beautiful countries in the world. There's absolutely everything in France, mountains, beaches, lakes, and yet I've never explored it.

7. What else do you enjoy doing, besides travelling?

It may sound clichéd, but since I've become much more involved in blogging, I'm very passionate about it. Writing, SEO, optimizing your own travel blog, rank in Google, inspire us through your writings. Plus, when it comes to writing about subjects that I'm passionate about, it's even better.

I'm currently working on an online course (in French though) to help those who want to learn how to share their passion for travel, or get their message across.

Many people who want to talk about responsible tourism or slow travel have a lot of very interesting things to say (like you guys!), but it became really hard to “make it” and to get its first hundreds/thousands organic visitors. So yeah, I wanna try my best to teach people all I learnt the past few years and what worked for me. (I talk much more about it in a long French article for those interested)

Otherwise, I really like sports in general. Ah, and I'm reading more and more, books are one of the most underrated things of our generation, I tell myself that every time I finish one!

8. What was the place that you felt most connected with nature?

New Zealand, without a doubt. So, I know that New Zealand plays a lot on “responsible tourism”, but it's a lot of marketing unfortunately, the reality is quite different...

That being said, when I found myself facing Mt Aoraki/Cook and its Southern Alps glacier chain, I took one of the biggest slaps of my life.

Rarely have I felt so small and insignificant in front of nature. I am not ashamed to say that I was moved by the strength and the beauty of Mother Nature. This kind of place and feeling puts ideas back in place even more.

It's time for humans to realize that we are nothing compared to our planet Earth and the living. We are guests here and we should protect and cherish nature, biodiversity, fauna and flora, instead of plundering it for excessive comfort.

Time is running out and our fate is in our hands.

Thank you Helena and your team for what you are doing. We need initiatives like Just Smile to see the light of day and guide us in the right direction!


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