November 11, 2019

TRAVEL CHANGEMAKERS: Lachlan Bunn, CEO Antipodeans

Words by Travel to change the world
Lachlan Bunn, CEO of Antipodeans

Lachlan (aka Lachie) is the CEO of Antipodeans, a world traveller and psychologist on a mission to educate today’s young people to create a positive future through travel.

Lachlan was born and bred in Melbourne but moved up to Byron Bay eight years ago, where he now lives with his wife and three young boys.

At university, he studied psychology due to his ongoing fascination with human performance and the challenges that develop you either physically, emotionally or mentally.

As the CEO of Antipodeans, an organisation that runs educational overseas adventures for Aussie and Kiwi high school and university students, he gets to see this in action on a daily basis.

The Antipodeans vision is: To help shape the future by inspiring today’s young people to get out of their comfort zones, step away from technology, and spend time immersed in a culture and community that’s different from their own.

What was it that inspired you to join the travel industry?

Back in my early 20s, I had a job in the tech industry. I was making good money, but I couldn’t shake this nagging feeling that there was more to life out there…

So, I quit my job and gravitated towards something I knew had always fulfilled me – travel. I grabbed a backpack and headed to South America with no plan other than to try to find something to fuel me, while also helping others.

When I ran out of money in South America and went to England to get a job, by chance I started working for an organisation running overseas leadership experiences for high school students, teaching them real-life skills, and helping them become more worldly and well-rounded and independent.

Seeing the dramatic changes in these students, before and after their trips – I was just astounded. I knew that I had to bring these sorts of mindful travel experiences to students closer to home.

What concerns you about the long term impact of travel on people, animals and the planet?

The only real positive about someone with short term vision is that they seem to have a short shelf life. Given that over 11 million people have marched for climate change recently, I think my concerns of short term vision will become less and less in the near future, as a new guard comes into play with sustainability and value of life as a high priority.

I do worry about the impact that air travel has on the environment. It’s why through Antipodeans we’re always striving to do more to be as environmentally responsible as we can be.

We carbon offset all our flights and encourage all our travellers to do the same, as well as treading lightly ourselves by minimising waste in all of our offices and eliminating things like disposable coffee cup usage.

We’re also concerned that with the increased focus on “ethical” and sustainable tourism in recent years, there also comes the risk of travel experiences that make travellers themselves feel good but do little or nothing to actually benefit the communities they visit.

That’s why the community service work that our students do while overseas is never tokenistic.

We were the first high school expedition company in the world to become a Participant of the United Nations Global Compact, and we actively ensure every Antipodeans traveller participates towards the fulfilment of at least one of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals while on an Expedition with us.

We thoroughly research all service projects that our students participate in and work closely with local residents to ensure that our projects are sustainable and have a lasting positive impact on the members of that local community.

From an animal protection perspective, we adhere to World Animal Protection’s guidelines, only visit certified ethical animal sanctuaries, and have pledged to never offer elephant rides or animal shows in our any of our itineraries.

Do you think travel can change the world?

Absolutely. We believe that the benefits of travelling overseas on structured learning experiences are twofold.

Firstly, we believe that the more exposure young people have to the world around them, early on in their lives, the more likely it is that they’ll go on to be more socially-aware, engaged, and of course, responsible travellers. 

Secondly, our students make a real impact on the lives of others while they’re overseas. Since our inception, we’ve worked with locally-based NGOs, communities and companies in 25 countries to establish over 105 long-term overseas projects for high school students to contribute to.

For example, since 2006, our students have helped build more than 40 greenhouses in Cusco, Peru, which has contributed to the number of malnourished school children in the area decreasing from 98 per cent to just 5 per cent.

Are you seeing positive change happening in responsible and sustainable travel?

We’re talking with young people and their families every single day, so we’re really in tune with what’s happening in the travel industry. We’re definitely seeing a shift towards more meaningful and responsible travel.

One thing we kept hearing time and time again was that school leavers were looking for a positive alternative to the tired tradition of “Schoolies”.

More and more, students didn’t want to go to the Gold Coast or Bali and just party and drink for a week. They wanted to do something more meaningful, purposeful and memorable to celebrate the end of high school, which was so humbling for us to hear.

So after hearing all of this for years, we launched Schoolies Unearthed, a positive, alcohol-free alternative to schoolies. Students go on a 10-12 day culturally immersive adventure to Nepal, Vanuatu, Borneo or Vietnam, and really celebrate the end of a chapter in their lives in a rewarding environment.

Is there a particular moment or milestone in your life, that changed your outlook on things and inspired you to want to make a change?

I was in Ecuador when I walked into a small bookshop and was drawn to this book called “The Win-Win”.

It was all about the importance of finding your life’s work which allowed you to contribute positively to society, while also pay your bills at the same time.

It just made me realise that life could be so much more fulfilling when you not only do what you love but also make a positive impact on other peoples’ lives as well.

What advice would you give to people wanting to travel more responsibly?

I would always say to thoroughly research any travel experience you’re about to go on, to ensure it’s not doing any harm to the local people, or to any wildlife.

Be mindful of the communities you visit, and the impact that you being there may have. Implement the ‘refuse, reuse, recycle’ mentality. And of course, encourage the young people in your life to get out of their comfort zones and have more educational experiences through travel.

As a dad of three, I know that I want my boys to grow up to be mature, globally-minded and responsible adults. It’s so important – young people are the ones who will be the future leaders of our country and our world.

Let’s help them prepare for it by teaching them to be respectful and curious of other cultures, and the planet they live on. That’s a surefire way to make the world a better place for the long term.

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How can you travel to change the world?

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Ultimately, it all comes down to staying curious, keeping yourself up-to-date and making yourself accountable for your actions on your travels.