This week we chatted with twenty-seven year old documentary photographer and filmmaker Kate Murphy, from Ireland. Kate tells us how travel has opened her eyes to the problem of plastic pollution, and how a chance encounter with a novice monk led her to meeting his family in the dangerous Shan State of Myanmar.

What’s your profession?

I’m a documentary photographer and filmmaker.

How old are you?

I’m twenty-seven years old.

Tell me a bit about your background?

I’m from Cork, Ireland and no matter where I go, I try to brag about it as much as I can. I’m from a big family and I’m a twin. Career wise, I’ve dabbled in a bit of everything; marketing, band management... I even used to photograph people nude for a project called Fully Disclothed. I have a Bachelors degree in Music and a Masters in Multimedia, both of which mean very little in the real world.

Prior to my travels, I was working as a videographer in a busy media agency in Dublin. I worked there for almost 3 years. But working in the commercial world, I felt a bit creatively stifled and I needed to get out to explore and experience new things, in order to find out what other ways I could use my skills. I’m still figuring that out.

When did you first decide to travel solo and where did you go?

Full time travel has been on my mind for many years, but it wasn’t until 2017 that I decided to save up for the big trip. In January of this year I went to Morocco for 10 days - which was a trip of a lifetime - and it was then I said enough was enough. I came back, booked a flight to Bangkok and handed in my two weeks notice. No plan, I just packed a bag and went.

“Travel is honestly the most empowering thing, especially as a woman. I feel so free and alive.”

What’s been your greatest achievement whilst travelling?

Talking my way out of any sticky situation, and twisting peoples arm to let me photograph them, or go somewhere I might not be allowed. I believe a lot of this comes down to Irish charm.

What have you found to be the most challenging part of travelling solo and how did you learn to overcome it?

Washing my clothes by hand. I took that, and drinkable tap water for granted. In all seriousness though, the toughest part has been not having control over my diet. Eating different street food is still one of my favourite things to do whilst travelling, but it has caused me to gain weight and my skin to become bad, which can be very frustrating. It’s not always easy to have access to nutritious meals, or even have control over what’s going into my meals. Another thing I find challenging is making good friends with people I meet along the way, and then having to part ways... it never gets easier.

What’s the weirdest thing that you saw or experienced on your travels, and in which country?

I was driving up through some really remote mountain village in Northern Thailand and I passed a man sitting on the side of the road who had carved a bong out of bamboo. Little sights like this always make me smile, but very little actually surprises me in Asia now.

Who was the most inspiring person that you met whilst travelling and why? Can you tell me a bit about them?

There have been many. Most recently its been Wahyu Taufiq, who I met when I was staying in a co-working hostel in Bali. I was so blown away by his self-made businesses and work ethic. Wahyu is from Bali and is the founder of an online digital marketing company and co-manager of a hostel, all whilst studying two university courses. Most impressively he was recently invited to take part in the World Economic Forum in Geneva. I’m so inspired by his drive towards a better society. His ideas and passion make me truly happy that there are people out there that have the intelligence, ambition and DIY resources to help in any way they can. You’ll definitely be seeing his name around, possibly even on the front of his autobiography someday.

“It was so nice to see how the people of this tiny rural village live, despite the ongoing fighting that happens around them on a daily basis.”

What was your best experience with a local and why? Can you tell me a bit about them?

Without a doubt it was in Myanmar with a novice monk. I met Sai Kham in Mandalay Palace one day and we got chatting, next thing I know I’m teaching English in the monastic high school that he attends. As we became friends he told me more about his life and his family, it was saddening to me that he hadn’t seen his family in many years because he hadn’t the money to go back to see them in Shan State.

I asked him would he like to go back to his village with me and he was delighted, both to see his family again and also to bring me back to see his home. It took an entire day to get back there and it was actually forbidden for me to be there due to the strict military regime. They basically want to censor all of the corruption from tourists, but we made it into his village late that night and I slept in a temple for my time there. The next day we went to his family home and although we couldn’t speak directly with each other it was a special experience.

They had never had a foreigner to their village before so people queued up outside to see me, touch my “fat and fair” skin and feed me till I burst. It was so nice to see how the people of this tiny rural village live, despite the ongoing fighting that happens around them on a daily basis. Corruption within the government and military has caused conflict in every part of the country, it really is heartbreaking.

However it’s people like Kham and his family who inspire me, because despite it all they remain hopeful and positive, as well as being extremely generous... even when they have so very little to give. This time in his home village gave me a new added perspective on life and made me really appreciate how lucky I am to have never known war.

“Sharing unique moments with people from across the world, whether locals or fellow travellers, is what it’s all about.“

Where was your favourite travel destination so far and why?

It’s impossible to pick just one. In Asia, Myanmar is by far the most interesting and untouched. In Europe, Slovenia and Austria. In Africa, Morocco is just incredible - I already can’t wait to visit again and lie on the sand dunes under the stars in the Sahara Desert.

Where is the next destination you plan to visit? What do you plan to do?

I’m making my way towards south western Asia in the coming months. I’ve always dreamt of visiting India, and I have decided I just can’t wait any longer. I’m so ready for that rollercoaster. As for next year, I would love to take on Africa.

How can we make our travels more meaningful in this day and age?

For me it’s all about the connection and the shared experience. Yes travelling solo is incredible, and for me the only way to travel, but connecting with people is what makes travelling so meaningful to me. Sharing unique moments with people from across the world, whether locals or fellow travellers, is what it’s all about. I get so much fulfilment in listening to peoples’ stories and photographing them. Everyone has a story and I want to share as much as I can about the people I encounter, because sometimes these people don’t have the tools or platform to do so.

How has travel influenced and impacted your life? Would you change this given the chance?

I’m always trying to improve myself and travel more consciously - which can be a challenge because you can’t do everything right - but you can start small. Seeing different issues along the way has opened my eyes to certain problems that I was unaware of before. Plastic pollution, meat consumption and clothing manufacturing conditions are all things I think about daily and I consciously make an effort to live more ethically because of these. I am a lot more aware of my carbon footprint now more than ever, I just wish I had been more aware before so I could have made certain changes to my lifestyle much earlier... but I’m making these important changes now, and that’s what matters.

How has solo travel empowered you?

Travel is honestly the most empowering thing, especially as a woman. I feel so free and alive. You’re never tied down to one thing or one person, it allows for so much more spontaneity. I love it, and I can’t imagine not living like this now.

If you could journey back to before you first travelled alone, is there anything you know now that you would tell yourself?

Yes! Don’t Google things so much, just go with the flow. It’s going to be good! Pack as little as possible and most importantly always trust your gut.

Do you have a favourite object that you bought on your travels, and what’s the story behind it?

Not really as I’m trying to travel as light as possible. But if there was one thing that gave me happiness, it’s a lunchbox I bought in Bagan. The simple things, eh?

Photographs taken by Kate Flo Murphy (Merzouga, Morocco: 2018; Shan State, Myanmar: 2018; Hsipaw, Myanmar: 2018; Bagan, Myanmar: 2018; Inle Lake, Myanmar: 2018; Mandalay, Myanmar: 2018; Bali, Indonesia: 2018; Chiang Mai, Thailand: 2018; Mae Wang, Thailand: 2018).