Summer Vacation: Liz Cunningham on the Beauty of Going it Alone

Posted by – July 14, 2016
Categories: Ecology & Sustainability

Many of our authors are seasoned travelers, spending months or even years abroad researching and writing their books, often in remote locations and often in close communion with the local inhabitants of those regions. Our Summer Vacation Series collects some of their thoughts, along with some tips to keep you grounded while you’re on the go.

Liz Cunningham, the author of Ocean Country: One Woman’s Voyage from Peril to Hope in her Quest To Save the Seas, experienced a near-drowning kayak accident in which she was temporarily paralyzed. In the aftermath of the accident, she embarked on a journey that led her to unexpected encounters with conservationists, fishermen, sea nomads, and scientists in the Mediterranean, Sulawesi, the Turks and Caicos Islands, and Papua, New Guinea. Ocean Country is an adventure story, a call to action, and a poetic meditation on the state of the seas. But most importantly it is the story of finding true hope in the midst of one of the greatest crises to face humankind, the rapidly degrading state of our environment.

Already a seasoned traveler, Liz is now back on the road promoting her book. Here’s what she has to say:

The beauty of going it alone

One of the most unexpected things that I encountered in researching Ocean Country was how deeply enriching it was to travel alone. For example, when I stayed in a small fishing village in Sulawesi, I felt a connection with the people that I might not have experienced if I had been traveling with others. The villagers’ kindness and warmth and my own vulnerability and willingness to trust them opened the door to a wonderful connection.

Traveling alone also gave me more opportunities to enjoy my solitude in nature. One of the most vivid memories on my last day in Sulawesi was free diving with a pair of wooden goggles given to me by a Bajau sea nomad. Diving into the water and being surrounded by a school of fish in deep silence that morning gave me a glimpse of what it might be like to see through the sea nomad’s eyes.

You don’t have to be a superhero to travel to remote places

I have an autoimmune disease and am prone to fatigue. I try to pace myself and get enough sleep. I do carry a “travel medical kit” with some basic prescriptions. I remind myself that I’m likely to experience days that really stink, when I’ll feel sick as hell or everything goes wrong or it’s a downright disaster. That’s when I try to remember that it comes with the territory and, in hindsight, it will be a blip on the screen.

Gratitude and service enrich traveling

When I am at home or abroad I try to do some act of gratitude to that place. Since ocean conservation is my main focus, I usually pick up plastic on the beach. Gifting time or money to a local conservation organization is great too—even just a few hours’ time and a modest contribution.

Ways to lighten your impact on the environment

I try to reduce my carbon footprint of air travel by doing as much as possible while I’m in one location and so avoiding the necessity of repeat trips. For example, I recently was able to arrange seven events on an East Coast speaking tour. Now if one invitation comes up, I immediately start reaching out for other possibilities.

I’ve also found a couple two pieces of gear that not only cut down on waste, but also make traveling more convenient. One is a collapsible, re-usable water bottle that is much less cumbersome and fits in your pack when empty. The other is a solar nightlight for reading, something I love to do at night when I’m traveling.

Tags: Liz Cunningham Travel
About the Author

Leslie comes to book publishing from both sides of the fence—both as a veteran editor and marketing copywriter, and as an author. She joined NAB in 2013. Her first job was with an independent press in London where, because the staff was so small, she got hands-on experience in all aspects of publishing. For many years she was senior writer and publications manager at the University of California Press. She has managed the communications programs and written copy for a number of nonprofits. Her two novels, Slipstream and Breaking Out of Bedlam, were published by Crown/Shaye Areheart Books and her work has appeared in Faultline, O, The Oprah Magazine, The Writer, Flaunt, The Women’s Review of Books, and More. She likes deadlines, untangling sentences, and finding the right word. When she isn’t reading, writing, or walking, she enjoys cooking and feasting on the produce she grows in her Berkeley backyard.