Well, I don’t really need to buy that thing, do I?

Last Monday morning, I was on my way to work when a flashback inspired me to write my first blog article.

As usual I was going to work by bike, wearing a T-shirt. Unfortunately, it started to rain. I hadn’t checked the weather forecast since I was getting used to this incredibly hot summer in Berlin. Or should I say thanks to the heat wave which hit most of the world this year, with disastrous consequences in some parts of the world. Luckily in Berlin, that meant just enjoying lots of barbecues, techno festivals, lake parties and maybe ordering extra fans at work to avoid “suffering” from the heat too much.

Before I explain to you what I saw that morning, let me describe in which mindset I was. The previous night, I was planning to play some music. While working on the lyrics of a new song for my band, I took a break (meaning “I started procrastinating”) and learned on Facebook that the French Minister for the Environment Nicolas Hulot just announced his resignation on the radio.

If you have been a kid growing up in the 90’s with French Television and cared about nature and adventure, you know Nicolas Hulot: he was the iconic presenter of Ushuaia, a famous TV show in which he had the chance to live the most extreme adventures for example, swimming with sharks, dolphins and whales; flying with a hang-glider above the beautiful Alps or the Machu Picchu, fainting inside a Mig 29 fighter jet, watching lions and zebras in Africa. He is one of the people who gave me a taste for traveling and exploring the world and nature. Just like the astrophysicist Hubert Reeves and the adventurer The Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, Nicolas Hulot was one of those celebrities who used their fame in their field of expertise to speak up for nature and the importance to preserve it.

Last year, Nicolas Hulot accepted a political mission for the first time and became Minister for the Environment in the French government led by the young liberal president Emmanuel Macron. I am not French but as I am Walloon (from the French-speaking part of Belgium), our news report about French developments so it is hard to not be aware of what is going on there. Especially politics and sports are big topics — we lost against France at the football world cup . Damn it, why against France? Now we are in for 4 years of mockery and boasting by the French news .

Knowing how engaged Nicolas Hulot is in nature and sustainability, I watched his political adventure from afar. I considered it as a good sign to have him in such a position. At least it is far more encouraging than Trump nominating a climate skeptic as the Head of the US environment agency!

So that evening, instead of playing music, I spent one hour watching Nicolas Hulot resigning live at the radio. Why did he announce that on the radio before even telling the president? He was afraid he would have been convinced to be more patient and stay if he had talked to the president first. Why did he resign? Because he is not being heard and has no influence on the government. Since it is still too influenced by the lobbyists and he feels there is no real intention of taking bold measures to change towards a real sustainable economy.

“When all the disgusted people will have left, one will be left with the disgusting people.”
Paul Vanden Boeynants

In my opinion, the world is doomed not necessarily because of humans themselves but because some people are obsessed with greed and power. Unfortunately, these people usually end up controlling everything with their money. This event was another example: Beside his smile, charisma, and promises like ‘We can make the planet green again’, Macron is just another muppet manipulated by the lobbyists as all his predecessors. All he seems to care about is growth, growth, money, money.

It is hard to care about nature in the current society when it feels like you are in the middle of the bus from Speed driving way too fast towards a wall but nobody does anything about it, Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock are not there and the bus keeps on accelerating while people inside are screaming.

When even the biggest defenders of the environment leave politics because they can’t have a significant impact, then it relies on us — you and me — to make a change in the world.

Back to that morning: I was with a t-shirt on my way to work and unfortunately, it started to rain. You know, not that kind of sideways heavy rain which makes you feel like somebody is pouring a water bottle on your head:

It was more like “oh it is actually raining”….I hesitated: Should I go back home to grab a jacket and lose 15 minutes in case it would start raining more heavily or instead take the risk to feel a bit cold. I was shivering but listening to music was enough for me to not think about it so I decided to go on.

Then, at a traffic light, a woman on a bike stopped next to me. She was wearing a big purple rain jacket, waterproof pants, a backpack with a flashy blue rain cover and a helmet also covered with a rain protection. I looked at her…I looked at me…back at her and all her rain protection…back at me and my bare arms… then that flashback hit me! That contrast between me being anxious about the rain and (feeling a bit stupid) wearing only a t-shirt and her being covered from top to bottom brought me back a few years ago when I realized:

  • I was not going to die if I feel a bit cold or warm (proof is: I am not even sick at the moment of writing this article)
  • I was used to buying lots of things that I didn’t need to travel, just because I was afraid of feeling uncomfortable or because I wanted to be top prepared just in case
  • This fear was irrational and I was not aware of it. Now I am.

Don’t get me wrong: No matter if that lady was on a bike trip through Europe or on her normal commute to work, traveling by bike is one of the best things you can do for the planet, so high five to her…

My point is that seeing her reminded me of the experience I had and wanted to share with you. This experience had a tremendous impact on the way I consume things and the way I try to take better care of the planet!

In February 2014, I joined Bjorn The Social Traveler and Ryan Le Sac à Dos for a little adventure. These two travel bloggers invited me last minute for a bike trip from Hamburg to Copenhagen.

A 400 km bike trip sounds like a great idea, except when you have never done such a long bike trip before, when it is February freezing outside, you are not really fit and the trips starts 3 days after the invite.

I asked Bjorn what I should bring and he told me: “just bring your bike, a rain jacket, a few clothes, and your smile”. While taking a career break and leaving my life in Belgium taught me to improvise and chill, deep inside I remain a planner. So I started stressing myself out:

“What should I bring?

What if it is too cold? How many layers should I take?

What if it rains or even snows?

Consequently, I reacted like lots of people before going on holidays: I went to a big sports store. You could spend a lot of money in such stores. A looooot.

“Should I buy this rain protection for shoes?
And how about this high tech insulated shirt?
Oh, that color is nice!
It would definitely look good with that new jacket”

I did not have a lot of money so I only bought one extra padded bike short. Being afraid of two things — feeling cold and feeling hungry , I packed a lot of clothes from my wardrobe and bought an unreasonable amount of cereal bars.To carry all of this and my reflex camera, my backpack was too small , so I needed side bags that you can attach to your bike carrier: They are pretty expensive but I was lucky and a friend lent two of them to me.

It was one of the hardest physical experience I have gone through, but it will remain one of the most amazing and joyful ones.

We were 8 people and I was obviously the most loaded. Bjorn is from the Flemish side of Belgium and speaking in clichés, the Flemish people have a reputation of being harder workers than the Walloons, from the French side of Belgium where I am from. So it made me laugh so hard when Bjorn said at one moment during the trip:

Now we can never say again that the Walloons are less prepared than the Flemish! :-)

It was a very hard trip: We ended up biking 12+ hours per day. Some days even until 2:30am. Mainly because we were physically and technically unprepared — we had 2 of these old bikes without gears — and also because we were maybe a bit unlucky — 13 flat tires, one tire which exploded, two broken pedals!

During that adventure, Annie taught me a good life lesson. Annie was in her late 50’s and in contrast to me regarding preparation, she came with one small backpack, did not have any fancy gadgets or cereal bars, had to ride one of these old bikes with only one gear….and she did the whole trip without complaining once, always with a smile on her face at the end of the day!

From the whole group, Annie was the one who deserves the most respect and set the example for me to follow: you can have fun and enjoy the adventure without having the best equipment and without bringing too much with you!

Until that bike trip, I used to go and buy things for every single trip: these tiny gadgets that you think you will need (like a compass before going to a jungle trip — as if that will make a difference if you lose your guide) or one of the technical clothes that you think will do a better job than the one you already own.

Here are some reasons leading you to buy unnecessary things (for travel or in life in general):

  • You are a shopping or fashion addict and that makes you feel good. This should be the topic of another blog post ;)
  • You are not well informed about the place you are going to visit, and/or
  • You have an irrational fear of the unknown and/or an irrational fear of feeling bad or uncomfortable during your trip

Fear is a very common driver used to influence your behaviors in various contexts.

Seth Goddin explained how factories use fear to keep people in line in a job they hate and increase their profit instead of following whatever vocation they might be made for. Politicians like Trump and far-right parties use fear to fuel hatred against refugees by arguing that they will ‘rape you” or ‘take your job”.

Marketing uses emotions such as fear to influence your shopping behavior.

Everything you buy has an ecological footprint: It requires a lot of energy and resources for manufacturing. Consequently, you can have a tremendous positive impact on the environment if you DON’T buy something you don’t REALLY need.

Seeing Nicolas Hulot giving up on his role shows we are at a critical time in which politics are not going to change the world until they realize that we, the citizen, really want to change. We are in a world of over consumptions and it is time for us to show that we care and are ready to change our habits.

Here are a few tips I apply to myself before making a shopping decision.

First, when you collect information and recommendations, be critical towards your sources.

Lots of travel blogs recommend ideal equipment for your next trip. Some bloggers are doing an amazing job and traveling has been made so much easier thanks to them, but don’t forget that lots of bloggers make money with affiliate programs. They take a commission on your shopping if you click on one of their links and you end up buying something in that online shop (on Amazon for example).

Your irrational fear of the unknown, or feeling bad, even only for a tiny part of your trip, is used by sports stores, adventure brands and travel blogs to make you buy things you most of the time don’t need.

Cross-check community forums with other travelers or with friends who have traveled to specific places can help you distinguish must-have from nice-to-haves and unnecessary items.

With extreme sports, of course sometimes your life can be at stake: using top of the top equipment when you go scuba diving, ice climbing or hiking at the top of the Everest makes a lot of sense. But maybe you don’t need to buy it for your first adventure, maybe you can rent it and buy it after that first experience when you know this will be your new long-lasting passion.

Even the pharmaceutical lobbyists use that fear to make you buy in advance medications you won’t need. Usually you can buy most of the medication there if you are sick. Thanks to the recommendation on the Federal Public Service Foreign Affairs website, I bought malaria pills for a trek in Thailand. I arrived in the trek region and the guide told me we awere at an altitude where there are was no mosquitos. Always double check what makes sense.

While having a bit of preparation and buying some elementary things for your travel can be useful — an extra padded bike shorts is a really good investment for a bike trip — Ryan Le Sac A Dos can testify ;-) — , Most of the time you can enjoy your trips without these things you think you need and you buy just for that one occasion.

With a bit more experience now, I have changed my shopping behavior.

A few months after that bike trip, I went to Oman: amazing country by the way, not the best idea to go in July 😉. We were planning to visit the desert and the mountains. Before going, I had no hiking shoes or shoes for a hot summer in Oman, so I went to a sports store and they recommended me the perfect shoes for that trip — for € 170. As much as I was tempted, I decided to not buy them and I traveled with my normal sneakers.

Guess what….

I had amazing holidays and I did not even think about my shoes. In the end, I saved money and I traveled lighter.

Think about it for a second: 
How risky will it be for you if you miss that piece of gear you want to buy?
If your life will be at stake, then buy it, but remember, feeling a bit cold or not super comfortable for two hours won’t kill you and that 3-week trip might even be the only time you are going to use that item.

Another thought about being under- or over-equipped to start a new activity: what are the two kinds of people you always spot when starting a new activity? There is always that one guy with over-the-top gear who has no talent and there is always that person who has way less or way older equipment than others but is however super talented. Into which category do you want take the risk to fall?

To conclude, what about setting a challenge for yourself the next time you consider buying something new for your holidays or your next activity?
Don’t buy it…
If you really end up missing it there, you know you can buy it for the next time (or borrow it from a friend).

Same goes for tech products. Lots of you guys on Medium might be very tech savvy and own a decent amount of gadgets. Think about it next time you want to buy the latest gadget: Do you really need it? ;-)

This is my first blog article, I’d love to hear your feedback, your experience and your opinion on that topic.