IN CONVERSATION: TRAVEL STORIES WITH KARISSA SPARKE
WE'VE ALL FELT THE URGE. PACK YOUR BAGS, MAKE A LOOSE PLAN, PRESS PAUSE ON THE REGULAR LIFE, AND HIT THE ROAD.
Karissa + Tom took off from their Byron Bay life (yes, already pretty blissful), bought a van (aptly named Vanny DeVito) + travelled Europe for a heavenly 5 months. Karissa has been supportive of Sans Beast from day 1 - so she was the ideal person to talk to about the joys of travel, what prompted a step away from the 'tick the box' life we often follow, how to manage a plant based diet in foreign lands + whether homesickness ever struck. Saloan Cilia has the convo with Karissa + gets some beautiful insights along the way...plus some jealousy inducing images to help that vision board come to life. (If you find this post TLTR - check out @karissasparke for the full immersion into Karissa's travels.)
SB: Looking through your IG, you've been on a breathtaking journey around the globe. What got you started on this adventure?
KS: Basically in our final years of university, my husband (then fiancé) and I decided that we didn’t want to just move through life ticking boxes. Finish uni (tick), get a job (tick), buy a house (tick), fill the house with stuff (tick), fill the house with nicer stuff…and so on. We decided we wanted to live intentionally, and even if we did all those things anyway, we wanted it to be on our own terms, actively choosing them, rather than trying to uphold societal expectations. With my husbands work, there was a “gap” before he started the next lot of training, and we decided to take that window and travel. We hadn’t travelled to Europe yet, and always wanted to take our time with it. So more than two years before we left on our trip, we had already decided we were going to pack up our lives, embrace slow travel and living simply for a while.
"WE DECIDED WE WANTED TO LIVE INTENTIONALLY..."
SB: I know you’re a strong advocate towards a sustainable + plant based lifestyle, did you find this difficult while traveling?
KS: This is definitely something I am incredibly passionate about, but I always try to have a balanced view. My motto has also been progress not perfection. But yes, living sustainably was at times incredibly difficult in the van. You have constraints on how you can shop for food and each country varied so much in what we could buy and how they package their food. The UK really killed me – I just completely avoided buying fruit for weeks because it was impossible to buy anything that wasn’t wrapped in plastic.
Eating plant-based was mostly a breeze to be honest. The world has changed and is changing so much. Given we were travelling in a van and cooked 90% of our meals, it was fairly easy to create the meals we love and cook back home. You’d also find plant-based/vegan options in the most unexpected places sometimes, which just goes to show how much awareness is growing.
ON VEGANISM: "MY MOTTO HAS ALSO BEEN PROGRESS NOT PERFECTION.
SB: How do you decide where to travel next? Is it personal or a mix of what your followers want to see?
KS: Travelling Europe in the van, we 100% winged it. We had a rough direction of travel and a list of places we wanted to visit, but day to day we would go with the flow of how long or little we would stay somewhere and what else was around us that we could explore. It always ended up being the in-between, unplanned hidden treasures we loved the most. And I think my followers appreciated that the most too. Obviously there are places you feel you HAVE to go, because you’ve seen it everywhere and its places people love to see. But it was the places that people hadn’t been oversaturated by that often got the highest response.
Moving forward with our future travel plans, it is really personal. I love sharing my life and my experiences, but I could never go somewhere based on what I think my followers want to see. The lessons we learnt from our 5 month van adventure, will really change how we choose and plan future travels. It is definitely more about travelling with purpose, to be immersed in culture, or WHO we are travelling with that will guide us on future holidays.
SB: How does your travel influence the way you now live your life?
KS: The greatest lesson travel has taught me, is how good my life is back home. It has taught me to appreciate everything I already have. The van in particular was a powerful lesson – like how much I take for granted being able to shower everyday and go to the toilet whenever I want! Travelling in the van also enabled us to experience living quite minimally and realising what are the things we actually value. How much do you need to own to survive and to thrive? Questions we maybe don’t always ask ourselves.
Our Europe trip also really changed our life trajectory. We set out on that adventure thinking it would be the start of possibly 2 or 3 years of on and off long-term travel. But we realised that for us personally, we are ready to feel grounded, to set up roots and build a community. I went from envying travel bloggers lives, to feeling really lonely on their behalf. Now obviously, I’m sure many of them LOVE it, because everyones' temperaments and personalities are all really different. But we decided that we are not the kind of people who want that.
For van life specifically, in amongst the complete freedom and endless natural beauty it can actually become quite lonely and so one of the biggest influences the trip had was to really deepen our craving for friends, family and community. Right now, instead of aspiring to run far and free we have been aspiring to enjoy everything we already have right here at home.We're looking forward to different forms of long-term travel.
"IT IS DEFINITELY MORE ABOUT TRAVELLING WITH PURPOSE, TO BE IMMERSED IN CULTURE, OR WHO WE ARE TRAVELLING WITH THAT WILL GUIDE US ON FUTURE HOLIDAYS."
SB: You have travelled loads, is there anywhere you are just dying to go back to, and why?
Oh gosh, I barely feel like I’ve scratched the surface of world travel. I don’t think I’d be quite ready to go back to anywhere yet, before experiencing new places. Butttttt, that said. We LOVED Italy. I would love to go back to Tuscany and the Apulia region – the food, the wine, everything! (SB note: same....take us back to Italy!!!)
SB: What have you set out to achieve in 2019?
KS: 2019 is really just about pouring energy into my personal growth and exploring some sides of myself that I’ve left untouched in recent years e.g. music, art, maybe teaching yoga, reconnecting with my former life as an Occupational Therapist. I think with having a family on the cards in the next couple of years, my husband and I just want to use this year to explore ourselves, have fun, indulge ourselves a little in the things that bring us the most joy (i.e. new surfboards and some music gear) as well as work towards our future and building our life here in Byron Bay.
I’m also feeling more motivated than ever to create fresh, intentional, meaningful content and share more of myself with my follower both on my website and Instagram.And hopefully some more travel, but definitely not 5 months this time haha. We’re hoping to do a surf-trip and culture immersion through Sri Lanka, India and the Maldives if we’re lucky a bit later this year!
SB: You always look amazing on your travels, what are your tips for keeping it fresh?
KS: Ah, you are too kind!
My husband and I both OBSESSED over and refined our holiday wardrobe for months in advance. It was alllll about versatility, wearability and comfort. I think I would have taken even less, if it wasn’t kind of my job to take photos. Even still we left with our backpacks as carryon and a 35kg bag between us.
I opted for a lot of plain colour and neutrals (not that I’m hugely into prints anyway). But I knew simpler clothing would stand out less in an image. Like wearing a black slip dress over and over again, is less obvious than a printed piece in a photo. I also focused a lot on separates, so I could essentially mix and match almost every piece I took, to keep my outfits feeling fresh. Also just getting more inventive than you’d be forced to do with your usual wardrobe – like layering a t-shirt over a dress or wearing a swimsuit as top.
I probably shatter any “perfect” ideals they may have of me because I’m pretty real. Like I wear my heart on my sleeve
SB: A huge part of what you do is in the public eye, is there ever a time you feel pressured to act or look a certain way?
KS: Absolutely. I feel like it’s impossible not to feel some pressure in some way or another. In the past I’ve been so overcome with anxiety about what to wear and “looking fashionable” that I’ve just not gone to certain places or events. Or cried in the mirror about how bad my skin is when I have to leave the house for an event, or take a photo for a job. I admit I have longer term issues with these sort of things, so perhaps certain pressures hit me harder than others, but it can be something that really gets in your head if you let it.
But equally I’ve learnt a lot recently that people care a lot less about you than you think, like kind of not at all. And I’m also fortunate to have a beautiful community that appreciates me for my vulnerability and sharing the less than perfect sides of myself.
I think when people meet me in person, I probably shatter any “perfect” ideals they may have of me because I’m pretty real. Like I wear my heart on my sleeve, I’m honest about how I feel, I don’t pretend to have my life together or be perfect in anyway and I don’t really have time for shallow conversation and would rather dive into the heart of it all.
SB: As a vegan myself I sometimes feel the pressures to be 'perfect' all the time. I was wondering as a fellow vegan do you ever feel this pressure? Either from yourself or others..
KS: 100% yes. I think in recent years I feel less pressure from myself, but it’s still there from others. As I said earlier, I’m all about progress not perfection. My husband and I have always wanted to make the vegan lifestyle seem accessible and do-able for all. For people to feel okay to try it, and maybe not do it perfectly from the get go, but just to try and know that any reduction they make in consuming animal products is helping the environment and reducing animal cruelty. I absolutely feel very deeply what other vegans feel and why that drives many to take an intense, perfectionistic, “vegan police” approach. I think the world needs people like this and in regards to sharing our message, some of the population respond well to this. But for others, it can be really off-putting, they get defensive and dig in harder against whatever you’re trying to get them to understand. So I think we also need people taking a more gentle approach. I definitely get people messaging me, sometimes with an ‘attacking’ approach, but I think I’ve also really tried to position myself as a “big picture vegan” and most people message me and question things in a more conversational tone, which I really appreciate because then we can explore concepts and struggles together. I definitely don’t pretend to have all the answers.
Our recent trip to Europe was the first time we’d ever really been lax with our veganism in 5 years, choosing at times to eat vegetarian instead. It was a decision we made based on the fact that we’d never been to Europe before and felt that we would be missing a whole part of the cultural experience by being overly strict, especially around those “quintessential” foods – pizza in Italy, croissants in Paris, pastel de nadas in Portugal. Because honestly, it's such an important part of travel and nothing makes you feel more stupid in travel than going into a café or restaurant and trying to order food or coffee through broken English. Those moments of human connection without language are easily lost if you avoid those situations [like if we’d decided to ONLY eat in the van].
I had a lot of anxiety around sharing those meals for fear of backlash, but then just decided to pose the question to my followers and open up a conversation about the topic. The response was so overwhelmingly positive – with so many people also taking a more relaxed approach when travelling, or people who hadn’t and wishing they had as the strictness and stress of perfection they placed on themselves had a negative impact on their trip. It’s a very personal decision, and one I know some people won’t feel comfortable with, and that’s okay. But I think as vegans, it’s important to remember our intentions and our overall goal. To be gentle with ourselves [and others] when we’re not perfect, and remembering that one thing doesn’t affect our overall intention.
SB: Thank you Karissa for being so generous with your responses + giving us a small taste of the incredible adventure you had....we're off to book flights stat.