PART OF WHY I TRAVEL is because I want to live my life with absolutely no regrets — I want to fill my life with exciting experiences, so I can look back and say, “Damn…my life was good, huh?”
In an era dominated by media pressures to conform in all aspects of our lives — to look a certain way, live a certain way, love a certain way — it can be hard to keep motivated. Considering this, I thought searching for individuals who are actively living life with “no regrets” would prove to be difficult. But to be honest, I could list another 15, or 30, if I had to.
What does it mean to live a life with no regrets? How much of yourself do you have to give to the world? These qualities, and the individuals who uphold them, are proof that no-regrets-living is entirely possible.
Shannon Galpin – Showing the world what “Girl Power” really means
Feminism has brought us a long way, but there are many places around the world where women’s rights are in desperate need of championing. Matador Ambassador Shannon Galpin founded the nonprofit Mountain2Mountain, which helps bring educational opportunities to people suffering from governmental oppression. In 2012, Shannon was recognized by National Geographic as a 2013 Adventurer of the Year for her work helping girls and women in Afghanistan find a voice in their communities. Part of this initiative was supporting the Afghan National Cycling Team, which gave women in Afghanistan a chance to participate in competitive cycling. Shannon’s first book, Streets of Afghanistan: Bridging Cultures through Art, is available for purchase.
Chad Pregracke – Not letting a little garbage stand in his way
Chad goes beyond what’s expected of a typical sanitation worker — he’s dedicated his life to cleaning up the trash that accumulates along the Mississippi River. It takes courage to do a job no one else wants to do, especially one that Chad fully realized was disgusting, but knew would ultimately improve the lives of others. His selflessness helps him live a life of no regrets in that he recognizes how even one person can make a huge impact; Chad started on his own, but now helps organize over 70,000 volunteers to perform similar community cleanups around the country. Together with his nonprofit, Living Lands & Waters, Chad has collected more than 7 million pounds of trash in the past 15 years.
Ashley Bell – Speaking out for those who have no voice
An animal rights supporter since she was young, Ashley juggles her time between acting in feature films, television shows, and shows on Broadway, and spreading awareness about making the world a better place for the creatures we share it with. She’s an ambassador for Cruelty Free International and works towards an end to animal testing for cosmetics and consumer products. Her latest endeavor, a documentary called Love and Bananas, includes a look at the lives of two rescued Asian elephants as they journey from Thailand to the Cambodian Wildlife Sanctuary. Ashley and her production team traveled into insecure zones of Cambodia and used guerrilla-style aerial footage to capture segments of the film in restricted areas of the country. In the face of dangerous conditions, she continues to bring awareness to the plight of Asian elephants.
Casey Neistat – Putting his talents toward a greater good
Casey Neistat is no stranger to epicness — his 200+ short films have made him an internet celebrity, led him to star in an HBO docu-series about his filmmaking career, and helped him produce Daddy Longlegs, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival and earned him an Independent Spirit Award. When approached by 20th Century Fox to produce a film that would inspire people to live their hopes and dreams (a la The Secret Life of Walter Mitty), Neistat took the proposed budget, flew to the Philippines, and used the opportunity to help those affected by the typhoon that devastated the country in November of 2013. $25,000 was spent on supplies, food, and transportation to Tacloban. Casey personally organized and handed out the goods he’d helped purchase to those who needed them most. His experience is proof that filmmakers can make a difference in front of, as well as behind, the camera.
Céline Cousteau – Exploring the world to understand it
Since she was young, Céline Cousteau has dedicated her life to exploration of our planet. Her love of the ocean, and the life that exists within it, was influenced by her grandfather, ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, and she has contributed significantly to ocean conservation initiatives. Through projects such as the Amazon Promise Expedition, work with the Uganda Rural Community Support Foundation, and a 12-part documentary film about the ecosystems of Chile, Céline has helped make a significant positive impact on the world around her. Now partnered with Contiki Cares, she leads conservation and marine-biology missions around the world.
Find out how you can win a chance to travel to Costa Rica on a sea turtle conservation trip with Céline.
Robin Emmons – Digging in to help feed her community
When you’re poor, or even homeless, things like nutritional counseling and healthy food options become unattainable luxuries. Robin Emmons understood this, and that feeding low-income families has to go beyond providing just any meal. Many people in her community suffer from health issues — such as diabetes and obesity — that are directly tied to a lack of healthy options in their neighborhood, or because they can’t afford them. So Robin used her own resources, including her personal land, to develop her nonprofit, Sow Much Good. Since 2008, she has grown more than 26,000 pounds of organic produce and distributed it to poor communities in the Charlotte, North Carolina area.
Logan LaPlante – Putting happiness first
Logan LaPlante is changing the way we think about homeschooling, and how location-independent children learn. His homeschooling concept, called “hackschooling,” combines his personal interests with academic motivations, providing him with a well-rounded, experiential education he believes helps heighten his positive mood and outlook on life. He embraces this alternative form of education, incorporating practical and hands-on experiences such as internships, nature walks, and relevant scientific experiments into his everyday life, bridging the connection between teaching and learning. Logan’s laid-back attitude is infectious, and inspirational; at the age of 13, he has already made a name for himself by speaking around the world, including a TEDx talk at the University of Nevada in 2013.
Ellen Page – Standing up to conformity
Actress Ellen Page is best known for playing the lead in Juno, a film about a snarky, pregnant teenager who gives her child up for adoption. In real life, Page is more subdued, but still exudes strength in her public speaking appearances. Recently, during a Human Rights Campaign Foundation event, she announced her homosexuality. Beyond this brave “coming out” experience, a move with which both celebrities and “regular” people struggle, Page spoke about the strength we gain in placing our trust in love. She chose to stand up for her beliefs, something many people find difficult, but something which will allow her to live the life she wants — a life with no regrets.
Michael Christian Martinez – Not letting “no” stand in his way
17-year-old Michael Christian Martinez doesn’t let his environment dictate his dreams; he’s out to prove that even people from tropical locations have a shot at medaling in ice skating competitions. Michael trained tirelessly to become the only athlete from the Philippines to compete in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. He used the ice rink at a shopping mall in his community to practice, his technique largely based on videos he watched, and coaching that was paid for using his family’s savings. While he didn’t place this year, his enthusiasm has given hope to many around the world that they can achieve their dreams, despite the obstacles their surroundings might present.
Alex Honnold – Challenging himself every day
Challenging yourself is one step towards living a life with no regrets. Alex Honnold upholds this virtue, pushing himself to achieve feats few even attempt — free-climbing massive rock walls in search of adventure. At the age of 19, Alex dropped out of college to focus on his passion for rock climbing, and has since made a career out of that which others can only participate in as a hobby. Alex has broken a number of free- and solo-climbing speed records, including the soloing of Half Dome in 1 hour, 22 minutes (annihilating the previous record of 2 hours, 50 minutes…which he also held). Beyond the climbing community, he is an inspiration to those who seek to push the limits of human potential.
Dr. Georges Bwelle – Fighting for free healthcare for those who need it most
After witnessing his father’s struggle with an infection that impaired his body, Dr. Georges Bwelle realized the only way the world can rise above crippling epidemics is if treatment is offered to patients at any cost. And so Georges took matters into his own hands and became a doctor himself. He now organizes free medical clinics throughout his home country of Cameroon, treating illnesses from the common cold to malaria and tuberculosis, and even performing surgeries otherwise unattainable for many because of the expense. He could have become a rich surgeon who catered only to paying customers, but Dr. Bwelle doesn’t regret his decision to serve his people: “I am so happy when I am doing this work…. To make people laugh, to reduce the pain, that’s why I’m doing this.”
Malala Yousafzai – Surviving and striving for educational freedom
Not many people would be able to find strength after being shot — not to mention if they were targeted based on their beliefs. Malala Yousafzai, winner of Pakistan’s first National Youth Peace Prize (now called the National Malala Peace Prize), has spoken out about girls’ education in her country since the age of 11. Despite being attacked by a Taliban assassin, she continues to fight for women’s education and support her past initiatives, which include writing for a BBC blog about life under an extremist government, and speaking out publicly for women’s rights around the world. At the age of 16, she has already written an autobiography entitled I am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, has won numerous humanitarian awards, and became the youngest girl to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Steve Obbayi – Taking on the “crap” no one else wants to deal with
Nearly 40% of the world lacks access to proper sanitation. Kenyan entrepreneur and mountaineer Steve Obbayi knew that increasing the world’s awareness of proper hygiene practices would dramatically reduce illness and death caused by lack of indoor plumbing and running water. Together with Flying Kites children’s home founder Toby Storie-Pugh, they came up with the Do Epic Shit campaign. Their Expedition Everest trek will raise awareness for these issues, and Steve will become the first Kenyan to climb the world’s tallest peak. With so many causes out there, choosing to focus on the “crap” might seem extreme — but for Steve and Toby, the War on Poop is just beginning.
Lizzie Velasquez – Defying the haters, and the odds
Lizzie Velasquez was born with an extremely rare disorder that prevents her from gaining weight. In high school, she found a YouTube video with pictures of herself that was called, “The Ugliest Woman in the World,” with hundreds of hateful comments that included death threats and pleas for her to commit suicide. Instead of succumbing to these horrible messages, Lizzie realized that the only way she could live a happy life was by standing up to those who doubted her. She excelled in proving to them that she was capable of leading a perfectly normal life, just slightly different from everyone else. Doctors warned her family that she wouldn’t make it past the age of 3; she’s now 25, has a college degree, and makes a living as a motivational speaker.
Dr. Enric Sala – Protecting the last truly wild parts of the world
One of the world’s most famous marine conservationists, Dr. Enric Sala travels to extremely remote places to explore, document, and rehabilitate areas of the ocean that see little to no contact with human beings. He has published over 100 scientific reports and produced several films about ocean conservation, particularly concerning the ecosystems of sharks. Dr. Sala is an explorer-in-residence for National Geographic, and is the lead director of the Pristine Seas project. Traveling to such distant places as the Pitcairn Islands and the Pacific Remote Islands takes much time, dedication, and sacrifice, but Dr. Sala knows his work is worth the cost if it manages to impact the world in a positive way.
Feature photo: Antoine Gady