Travel Heroes / Travel Heroes Journal

10 inspiring travellers and how they change the world

Travel Heroes Episode 1: The Causes

By Casey ONeill

Summer is here and people all over Australia and New Zealand are making holiday plans. There are plenty of great holiday ideas to choose from: relax, stay with your family, stay in an exotic location as far from your family as possible, catch up on your spring cleaning, read a book, change the world… yes, you read correctly, we did say change the world.  

If you think “change the world” is an unachievable holiday plan – prepare to be proven wrong.  Columbus Direct is honoured by the opportunity to introduce our 10 Travel Heroes Finalists – this inspiring group of humanitarians, environmentalists, medical research supporters and all around awesome human beings use their travel and holiday time to incredible effect.

“Who are these fabulous people?” You ask. “What do they do?” and most importantly “who do they do it for?” Read on to find out.

CAUTION: Reading beyond this point may result in a serious case of inspiration. 

  1. Claire Baines

    Meet Claire. This adventure fundraiser extraordinaire has cycled over 8,200 km – that’s longer than New Zealand, longer than Australia east to west, longer even, than the entire coastline of Italy! On her way, this iron legged heroine met her future husband, experienced the absolute beauty of Thailand and has raised more than $100,000 to support Thai children in need. 


    Claire is a hero for … Hands Across the Water

    Hands Across the Water was founded by Peter Baines – a forensic specialist who worked to identify victims in the aftermath of 2004’s Boxing Day Tsunami. He was struck by the number of children left alone and homeless and decided to do something about it.

    Since its inception in 2005 Hands Across the Water have provided thousands of Thai children with food, shelter and education. “We’re small” they say “but we do amazing work.” Claire admires Hands across the Water for the long term commitment to Tsunami survivors.  Disaster relief charities generally move on or withdraw funding once the immediate need for assistance has passed. Hands Across the Water is different. Claire tells us: “they went in after the Tsunami, identified a need and built a home for a group of kids that lost everything, and then they stayed.”

  2. Kate Massey

    We all know someone truly impressive – perhaps they ran a marathon, trekked Kokoda, visited Machu Picchu, scaled Kilimanjaro, survived cancer or raised tens of thousands of dollars for charity. Meet Kate, the Travel Heroes finalist who has done … all of the above!


    Kate is a cancer survivor and prolific adventure fundraiser who has raised $40,000 for charity and is not stopping there.  Kate has her sights set on $100,000 and is prepared to do as many massive adventures as it takes to get there.

    Kate is a hero for … Cure Cancer

    Every day more than 100 Australian’s die from cancer. Half of all Australians will be diagnosed with cancer by the age of 85. Cure Cancer aims to stop this. They are on a mission to make our generation the last generation that dies from cancer.

    To achieve this goal Cure Cancer provide funding for medical research professionals in the early stages of their career. According to Cure Cancer CEO Floyd Larsen “scientists at the beginning of their careers have different ideas and challenging perspectives that quite often prove to be right.” 

    The Cure Cancer approach appears to be working. Today, many of Australia’s best regarded cancer researchers got their start though Cure Cancer. Members of the charity’s alumni have made breakthroughs in a wide range of areas including neuroblastoma, brain cancer and prostate cancer. 

  3. Henry Birt

    To most people soil is dirt boring - something we scrub off our shoes, sweep off our driveways and try in vain to keep away from our children’s new clothes. Meet Henry – the travel heroes’ finalist and eco warrior on a mission to show the world just how fascinating soil can be.  


    Henry is a PHD student and aspiring soil scientist who uses his expertise to protect the environment. Henry’s love of nature has seen him undertake projects in rainforest reforestation, river monitoring and environmental education. His latest goal:  to teach Atlantic Forest locals about the amazing life thriving below ground level by setting up a soil science lab.  

    Henry is a hero for … Iracambi

    500 years ago the Atlantic Forest covered 330 million acres, today less than 15% of this survives. Iracambi is a Brazilian based charity that aims to preserve and restore the Atlantic Forest. They work with the local community to make conservation of the forest a more attractive option than its destruction. 

    Iracambi houses a passionate group of researchers and environmental volunteers. The charity has worked hard to provide everything that a budding environmentalist needs to start making a difference: from a field laboratory, classroom and forest nursery to forest trails and specialist computers.  Visitors can take up a hammock in the centre’s Pico da Graminha Forest Reserve and maybe learn a thing or two about Iracambi’s research into sustainable production of honey and acai.

  4. Jackie Scott

    If you are an intrepid traveller, then encountering people in need is almost inevitable.  Many a traveller has resolved to donate to charity or organise a fundraiser when they get home. Sadly, when we are back in the land of flat-whites and office air conditioning, holiday resolutions can be easy to forget.


    Meet Jackie the Travel Heroes finalist who didn’t just remember her travel resolution, she acted on it. In 2015 while touring Zimbabwe Jackie came across a centre for children in crisis and young girls who have been sexually abused. “I felt my heart land where it belongs” she says.  The need to help stayed with Jackie long after her return to New Zealand. She returned to Zimbabwe in 2016 as a centre volunteer.

    Jackie is a hero for … The Sandra Jones Centre.

    In Zimbabwe one third of all girls will have experienced sexual abuse by the time they turn 18. The Sandra Jones Centre provides some of these children with a home. Their mission is to “restore babies, children and youth of Bulawayo to a state of physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing, sufficient for them to proceed/return to a normal, well-adjusted lifestyle, preferably within the framework of their family and/or social structure.” The centre has been running for 14 years and has housed more than 1,200 girls during this time.

    Jackie is impressed by the way that The Sandra Jones Centre transforms the lives of the girls in their care and, by the flow-on effect their work has in the wider community. “When you see a child’s life transform, this then catches on in their own families back home in their villages.” 

  5. Ashleigh Nelson

    If you ran into an Olympic Athlete on the street or at a party, there are plenty of questions you might want to ask… What is the Olympic village like?  Did you meet Usain Bolt? Is there really free McDonalds?”  If you ask nicely then Olympian Ashleigh Nelson and her Hokeyroo teammate Rachel Lynch may answer these questions for you but, there is something more serious they would rather have a conversation about: suicide prevention.


    Ashleigh and her Hokeyroo teammate Rach Lynch are on a mission to spread suicide awareness across Australia. Recently they cycled from Perth to Albany visiting small towns and opening a dialogue around suicide prevention everywhere they went.

    Ashleigh is a hero for … RU OK?

    In 1995 Gavin Larkin lost his father Barry to suicide. In 2009 Gavin founded RU OK? His goal was to prevent other families from experiencing the pain that his own family did. RU OK? was created on the principal that a single conversation can change a life. Their mission is to “inspire and empower everyone to meaningfully connect with people around them and support anyone struggling with life.”

    Asking “are you okay?” might seem like a simplistic response to the complex and sensitive challenge that suicide presents but, there is a wealth of evidence to suggest it works. Studies suggest that people at risk of suicide do not feel connected to those around them. “It's this lack of connection (or lack of belonging) that we want to prevent” RU OK? says on their website. “By inspiring people to take the time to ask "are you ok?" and listen, we can help people struggling with life feel connected long before they even think about suicide.”

  6. Maria Vamvouklis

    What do motorbikes and mental health awareness have in common (apart from the fact that they both start with M) … Travel Heroes finalist Maria.  Maria and her BMW F700 GS have travelled from Sydney to Perth (and back!) to raise educate, bring awareness and raise funds for people with mental health issues.


    Maria’s own struggle with attention deficit disorder (ADD) was the inspiration for her work. She noticed the stigma attached to mental health conditions at a young age and resolved to help future sufferers by working to change the perceptions around them. 

    Maria is a hero for … RU OK?

    Like fellow Travel Hero Finalist Ashleigh, Maria is involved with the suicide prevention charity RU OK?

    Given the prevalence of suicide in Australia, we are thrilled that RU OK? has two such dedicated and accomplished supporters on their side.  In 2015 there were more deaths from suicide than from road accidents - the Australian Bureau of Statistics recorded an average of 8.3 suicide deaths every day. When you consider RU OK’s assertion that for every death from suicide in Australia there are 20 suicide attempts – the scale of the problem the charity is working to reduce becomes glaringly apparent.

  7. Nina Lansdowne

    In 2014 Nina unexpectedly lost her 25 year-old husband Craig to an undiagnosed medical condition called Marfan’s Syndrome. Following Craig’s death, Nina was surprised to discover the prevalence of Marfans Syndrome. She is working in Craig’s honour to raise awareness of the condition and to prevent others from having to go through what she had to. “I guess it comes down to the fact that if a Doctor or practitioner has picked up on this, Craig would still be here.”


    Nina had hoped to run the New York Marathon this year but has been prevented by medical issues of her own. “Turns out when you do a massive amount of running (like say ... a marathon?) Then it can throw all sorts of stuff out of whack” she told her supporters.  We were sad to hear Nina is unwell but absolutely thrilled to hear that she will not be letting this setback stop her! This resilient and dedicated heroine is more determined than ever to raise funds for her cause.

    Nina is a hero for …. The Marfan Foundation.

    Marfan syndrome is a genetic disorder affecting the connective tissue – this is the tissue that holds the body’s cells, organs and other tissue together. Marfan syndrome is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition. An early Marfan’s diagnosis can save someone’s life.

    The Marfan foundation is a USA based organisation. Nina tells us that despite the condition’s prevalence, “there is no foundation here for it.”  The Marfan foundation addresses the condition from multiple angles in way that will benefit people and families all over the world. They provide grants to medical researchers, they lobby governments to provide funding for Marfan awareness and research, they provide support to people and families affected by the syndrome and crucially, they help to teach medical practitioners and health officials about diagnosing and treating Marfan’s syndrome. 

  8. Amanda Russell

    For the staff at Columbus, one of the most inspiring aspects of Travel Heroes has been hearing how much the Heroes themselves have taken from their experiences. Travel Heroes finalist Amanda Russel is the perfect example of this. In 2013 Amanda made a commitment that changed the world and her life at the same time.


    If you met this this super fit, super energetic, runner with eight half marathons (and now one full marathon) under her belt you would never guess - less than three years ago Amanda could not even manage a run around the block. In this short time Amanda has raised over $30,000 for cancer research.  This year Amanda funded a pod of runners entering the New York Marathon – a contribution which left them free to raise over $100,000 for the same cause!

    Amanda is a hero for … Can Too

    Can Too is an Australian Charity that supports sports fundraisers as they raise money for cancer research. The benefit of Can Too’s work is twofold: they fund research aimed at the prevention and cure of cancer and, by encouraging sports and exercise they help to improve health and wellbeing in the general community. Since its inception in 2005 Can Too has trained over 10,000 fundraisers and raised over $15 million for cancer research.

    Can Too supports people participating in a range of running, swimming and cycling events. Can Too’s founder Annie Crawford described their values as “Fun, Fitness, Friends and Fundraising!”. With this in mind, all participants – from hardcore fitness freaks to first time athletes - receive professional coaching in a supportive team environment.

  9. Amy Hitchins

    Most of us have seen a rhino on TV or in the zoo, some of us may have seen one in the wild and a few have perhaps even seen one up close. Meet Amy – the south African-born wildlife enthusiast who has not only seen a rhino, but who is travelling to South Africa to help save them (and other exotic animals) from poaching.  


     Amy is a hero for … Care for Wild

    Care For Wild is a Rhino Sanctuary situated in Mpumalanga, South Africa. It was started by Petronel Nieuwoudt an ex-police offer in the Endangered Species Protection Unit who has over 20 years’ experience with wild animals. Petronel created Care For Wild “to protect rhinos and other endangered species from poaching.”  Her centre specialises in the treatment of orphaned and injured rhinos. It takes them in, provides veterinary care and, where possible, releases the rehabilitated animals back into the wild.

    Alongside rhino and endangered animal care, Care For Wild helps to train veterinarians, veterinary nurses, farmers and wildlife professionals in game capture and is committed to the preservation of native species through breeding programmes. The sanctuary is currently breeding roan, sable, buffalo and impala.

  10. Jennifer Allison

    In 2005 notorious army leader Joseph Kony was indicted by The International Court of Justice in The Hague for both war crimes and crimes against humanity. Chief among the charges levelled at Kony were abduction and recruitment of child soldiers and the capture and rape of young girls. Jennifer is a fundraising and volunteering legend dedicated to the support of the children affected by the Kony regime. Jennifer spent time Uganda teaching English, providing education necessities like pens and paper and completing research for local hospitals.


    Jennifer is a hero for … Friends of Orphans (FRO) Uganda.

    FRO was founded by Anywar Ricky Richard the 2008 world of children award winner. At age 14 Anywar’s village was attacked by Kony’s infamous Lord’s Resistance Army and he was abducted and made to act as a child soldier. Following his escape from the LRA, Anywar became determined to help children who had suffered the same fate as he had. “I saw from my own experience” he says “that if former child soldiers could be supported, they are still useful human beings and good citizens.”

    FRO provides former child soldiers, abductees, child mothers and orphans with the skills they need to earn a future income. They offer programmes in woodwork, brick laying, cooking, metal work, sewing and English. Their vision is “a society in which the vulnerable are empowered to achieve their full potential and contribute to the development of their community.”

Each of these amazing people and causes are in the running to win** a $5,000 donation from Columbus Direct Travel Insurance – and it’s up to you to decide who wins! Vote for your favourite Travel Hero and cause, and enter the Voters Challenge competition for your chance to win a travel kit.*

Stay tuned for the next article about our finalists amazing travel adventures (sign up here to receive this via email).

Inspired to become a Travel Hero too? Check out our resources and how-to’s.

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*The Travel Heroes Voters Challenge competition is only open to Australian and New Zealand residents aged 18 or over. The entry period ends at 10:59am AEDST on 15th December 2016. Limit 1 entry per person & 1 entry per email address. The Prize Pack consists of a Turkish Murkish Super Soft Towel, an ecococoon Retro Chic 4 Cup Set and a set of 10 idTagit baggage tags. Further terms and conditions apply. View the full Terms and Conditions.

**The Travel Heroes competition is now closed. The entry period ended at 10:59am AEDST on 7th November 2016. View the full Terms and Conditions.

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