Discovering the Undiscovered: The Travel Pad Talks to Robert Michael Poole
October 3, 2019
Meet writer, photographer, and social media influencer Robert Michael Poole. Having visited 149 countries, his work has been featured by several media platforms, including CNN, National Geographic, and BBC. Now, with his growing online presence, Robert endeavours to show his followers his experiences in different countries beyond what mainstream media has portrayed.
The Travel Pad talks to Robert Michael Poole, as he discusses his life, travels, and experiences.
Tell us more about yourself!
I’ve always been a highly curious person, a trait that many people seem to have as a child but lose a bit as they grow older. That’s what keeps me travelling, a thirst for knowledge, understanding, and shared experiences. I think we learn more by traveling then any education can give, so long as you are curious and travel in the right way. I reached this point after studying in six countries, each a lesson in looking at the world from different perspectives.
We are who we are because of the where we are born, and we are much less ourselves than we first think -- we are much more a product of our home society. So my interests were always outside of that.
My first career was in music, and that allowed me to hear other cultures and voices. Then, as a journalist, I met and interviewed people with different life experiences. And now with Instagram, I’m able to live more freely than ever.
What is your Instagram page (@robertmichaelpoole) about? Why is Instagram your platform of choice for sharing your content?
I want to show the reality of the world. Instagram, and the internet in general, was meant to create a level playing field in which all people could participate. However, the internet and social media are as biased as previous media formats, and we only see the repeat images of the same places taken by similar people.
Through my work, I want to show that the world is much more complex and diverse than it appears. And I want to show places for how they really are - or at least, how my experience of them is - compared to what you may think based on media. So I’m showing Iraq, Kurdistan, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Micronesia, Marshall Islands, and trying to share information about these places in my captions.
I think a picture speaks a thousand words, and Instagram communicates better than other social media.
When did you discover your love for photography, and how did it evolve into your career as a photojournalist?
When I was 19, I made a trip with a friend from Poland, to India, by land from the UK in 1999. It was on that trip that I first used a camera. I enjoyed the process of attempting to capture a moment, to capture the beauty of a place or person. I wanted to capture what I thought was beautiful, and see if what was in front of my eyes and in my mind could be captured on film.
Because we all see things how we want to see them, and what is magical or interesting for me may be different from others. I also enjoy the creative elements of photography: figuring out the framing, playing with lighting, capturing things you might not see with your own eyes at first. Others seemed to like my pictures, and that’s how I became a photojournalist.
What is the one food from home you miss the most when you are travelling?
I was born in the UK, and left as a teenager. Currently, I have no home and haven’t had one for a few years; I live on the road permanently. In this way, I have no home, and I enjoy that sense of freedom and not needing to feel I have to “belong” to one country or another.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss any foods from the UK that I grew up with. You can’t beat a good Sunday roast with roast potatoes, Yorkshire puddings and gravy. I am also in the “love” camp for Marmite. And mature cheddar cheese.
Who is one person who inspires you, and why?
I would say @Levison.Wood. He’s an adventurer from the UK, the first man to walk the Nile, and the first to walk the Himalayas. He’s also a bestselling author. I think he represents the idea that even in the modern world in which so many people travel, we can still be humbled by nature and the planet we share.
We have divided our world into political states, but nature doesn’t care for boundaries and traveling is not about counting countries. It’s about experiencing and seeing our incredible planet, and the human civilisations that share it.
What are some of your most memorable experiences after travelling to so many countries?
There are many for sure! I believe in slow travel and making sure I really experience the destination, so most places have people and experiences associated with them.
A recent highlight was Yap island, part of the Federated States of Micronesia. It’s one of the only places that still retains its long history and traditions of clothing, headdresses, dance, song, tribal culture and stone money.
Attending Yap Day reminded me of all of our histories, of when we used to live simply in small villages, developed our own cultures and arts independent of globalisation, and dressed according to what suited our environment the best. It feels like a tiny reminder of how innocently and beautifully we all used to live.
Another highlight would be Kurdistan, an incredibly historic and diverse place. It was a cradle of civilisation, home to some of the earliest towns and monasteries in the world, with ancient faiths, and caves where Neanderthals once resided.
Sadly, it is also a place of brutal modern history. Kurdistan should always remind us that we need to learn from history and treat all our brothers and sisters better. The people here are so friendly and warm, and yet it isn’t even its own country. Places like this are easily forgotten or misunderstood in our modern world.
What inspired you to start travelling? What motivated you to share your adventures with the online community?
When I was a teenager, I did a student exchange to Finlandon the ERASMUS program, to a town called Joensuu. That was the trip that changed my life; it opened my eyes to the fact that people from around the world are all very different in many ways. That’s what inspired me to experience other countries: I wanted to understand who I would have been if I was born elsewhere.
I was encouraged to share my travels by fellow travellers who felt that I was visiting places that few others visited or even knew of. They wanted to see my experiences and I felt that there may be more people who were interested to learn more about the world beyond the obvious.
What do you think is the biggest challenge you've had while travelling?
The biggest challenge is not mine, but the planet's. We have destroyed so much of our planet; we have killed its animals and polluted the oceans. Trying to make people understand this, and initiate change, is a massive challenge.
I do think even if it seems small, it’s important for all of us to try to stop using plastics, eat healthy whenever possible, assist in recycling, try not to waste things, and keep our carbon footprint small.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Don’t fret. Life gets better and better as you get older, just stick to your own path!
All photos courtesy of Robert Michael Poole.
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