Talkinit with Loyal Mehnert
Professional Adventurer, Travelanthropist, Spokesperson, Motivational Speaker, Habitat for Humanity International Volunteer and Fundraiser.
Loyal Mehnert has made it his life mission to give back to those less fortunate. Originally serving as the National Field Media Spokesperson for the Avon Foundation’s “Speak Out Against Domestic Violence” awareness campaign, Loyal joined Habitat for Humanity in 2007. There he traveled the entire country, encouraging people, especially teenagers and young adults, to donate their time, goods, and services to Habitat for Humanity and other charities.
One year later he created “The Everyday Journeyman,” an award-winning initiative using travelanthropy (travel + philanthropy) as a fundraising tool for non-profit organizations across the globe which in turn has raised thousands of dollars for charity. Loyal has been interviewed by numerous local and national media outlets about his adventurous approach to fundraising and volunteer work, in addition to being a motivational speaker and lecturer.
In 2009, Loyal was named a People Magazine and Major League Baseball’s “All-Stars Among Us,” which included recognition from the five living U.S. Presidents. In 2010, PETA crowed Loyal their “Sexiest Vegetarian” for his work as a community leader and he was also featured in Outside Magazine as a "Chief Inspiration Officer."
In 2011, Loyal was recognized as one of the Top 20 “Young Nonprofit Leaders in America” by the CLASSY Awards which honor the top philanthropic achievements of the year. In addition, Loyal was nominated for Shepherd Express' "Local Activist of the Year" and Milwaukeean of the Year" for the second year running.
Loyal has travelled to nearly thirty countries across five continents, sharing his love of adventure, volunteering, and giving back. Loyal recently spent August in Haiti building homes for families affected by last year’s earthquake. And in November he cycled and volunteered across Vietnam’s central highlands.
2012 brings new extreme travelanthropic challenges for Loyal. Beginning this May, Loyal is hiking 1200 miles across 5 long distance trails and 4 countries, raising money and awareness for the issue of child trafficking:www.crowdrise.com/HFH2012.
You describe yourself as a “Travelanthropist.” What exactly does that mean, and what is Travelanthropy? Where did this term come from? Can anyone become one? Is there a club? Do you have a secret handshake?
It’s essentially Adventure Travel + Philanthropy. For years people have explored and adventured and journeyed, and Travelanthropy is the marriage of those epic experiences with volunteering and fundraising. I still remember the day I came up with Travelanthropy. It was 5 years ago this month, I was at the gym and the idea struck me like a bolt of lightning.
The code name for the project, The Everyday Journeyman, stems from the idea that everyone can do it, it’s not something exclusive to the super-rich or those with incredible outdoor skills. However, there is a secret handshake that grants you admission into my apartment (current Travelanthropy HQ).
This [travelanthropy] takes you over the world and you take part in loads of goodwill projects and raise funds for some great cause, can you tell us about some of your recent trips?
Last year was a great year for Travelanthropy. Spent August exploring Haiti and building homes with Habitat for Humanity, with a detour through the Dominican Republic. And in November I was part of a team that cycled through the Central Highlands of Vietnam. We built a greenhouse and community garden for Catalyst Foundation, a charity that rescues children from poverty and human trafficking. I also spent time in Laos and South Korea.
Chicken or the egg situation here: Can you take us through your planning process? Do you think “I want to go to there,” then add a charity element or is it the good cause that grabs your attention and the adventure planning is secondary?
Generally speaking, I start with the charity. For years, I partnered with Habitat for Humanity because it’s a charity I know very well and that I have complete trust in. I also look at the charity in terms of “can I share their story in a way that’s interesting and engaging?” I research how much money the charity brings in each year, their social media footprint, and whether or not I can relate to the CEO or founder. I look for any red flags, and I do as much research as needed to make sure I’m 100% comfortable with the charity.
Once the charity is selected, I craft the adventure travel project around it. Ideally that project will have an interesting narrative and connection to the charity, but that’s not always the case. Probably the biggest deciding factor is creating a project that would have the most appeal to the media and sponsors, and would bring in the most donations.
Many of us dream of a life of travel and adventure: is it really as cool as we all think?
When I look back over the last 5 years, it’s pretty cool. Exhausting-but cool.
Can anyone do what you do? Should anyone do it? Any words of advice for any would-be travelanthpists out there?
Anyone could-and should-do it. The brilliant thing about travelanthropy is that it starts with you. Your travelanthropic adventure will be completely different from my travelanthropic adventure, and vice versa. A good starting point, especially for Americans who don’t necessarily have a lot of vacation time, is how many days/weeks can you dedicate to your idea. That will help narrow down your options as you look at an atlas.
Have you ever had a normal 9-5 job? Was there suddenly an epiphany were you thought: I’ll stick it to the man and embark on a life of Travelanthropy?
I spent my 20’s working in marketing and public relations. Made a lot of money, spent a lot of money, traveled pretty much non-stop across the United States. Worked for clients I loved, and some I hated. My epiphany came a few months before I turned 30. I had a sense of disappointment at wasting my 20’s, feeling I didn’t have much to be proud of. Soon thereafter I started working for a non-profit (The Avon Foundation), which led to a position with Habitat for Humanity, which then turned into Travelanthropy and The Everyday Journeyman project.
Have you ever though this is it, trip over, we’re going home before reaching the finish line?
Every time?! I think it’s part of the natural process to have second and third thoughts about what you’re doing. You’re thousands of miles away from home, low on sleep, exhausted, often in countries where you don’t speak the language. A major part of Travelanthropy is being outside your comfort zone. If it was easy, I’m not sure I would want to do it. You have to be a little miserable to come out a better person on the other side.
But whenever I’m ready to go home before finishing, I think about the charity and how much I’ll regret the decision the next day. Peer pressure helps: if you blog or tweet enough about your Travelanthropic adventure, you’re not going to want to face the music if you quit.
Do you think travel broadens the mind?
100%. You can’t pretend to have an open mind if you’ve never ventured out and explored. And this isn’t a commentary on Americans not having passports. There are plenty of places in the United States you can travel to and have incredible experiences that will help you grow and think about life and the world in a different way.
Do you “holiday?” Or is the holiday when you’re at home not traveling?
I went to Jamaica and Hawaii last year on holiday, though I did try to turn Hawaii into a travelanthropic project (it didn’t work out). I do love being home and reading in bed and watching tv and planning my next adventure when I’m not travelling.
What would your jewel-in-the-crown destination or travel experience be?
Antarctica is my #1. It’s been my #1 since I was a little kid reading about Shackleton. I also grew up on Arthur C. Clarke’s “Mysterious World,” with dreams of exploring the Amazon and Nepal and the deep ocean. So those are my #2, #3, and #4. I’ve only explored a small fraction of the planet so far: I have some catching up to do.
If you could suggest only one place for our readers to visit were would it be and what makes this place so special? That’s a tough question. My favourite place on Earth is New Zealand. I wouldn’t be surprised if in 5 years, I’m living there. It’s tough to explain what makes that country so incredible. Yeah, it’s beautiful and the people are beautiful and there’s so much to do there. But there’s also a quality that can’t be put into words, it can only be seen and experienced firsthand. So New Zealand: go there now!
Your latest challenge is Hike for Hope 2012! Where will this take you and which good cause will benefit from you travels.
In terms of scope, Hike for Hope is one of my biggest Travelanthropic adventures to date. It starts this May on the Camino de Santiago, which runs 496 miles from France to Spain. From there, I’ll fly to England and hike the Pennine Way in July which runs north towards Scotland for 267 miles. Once in Scotland, I’ll tackle some of the toughest trails in Europe: Cape Wrath (205 miles), East Highland Way (78 miles), and Outer Hebs (133 miles). In total, some 1200 miles will be hiked this summer.
My charity partner is the Catalyst Foundation, the organization I volunteered with last Fall. We have a $20,000 fundraising goal, with every $250 raised paying for a year of schooling, food, and safety from trafficking for one child living in poverty. Our goal is to raise enough money to pay for 80 kids to have a new chance at life.
What made you pick these trails and is there much training and prep work involved?
I successfully hiked the Camino in 2010. It’s a great trail for several reasons. Not only is the terrain really interesting, how it switches from city to countryside to mountains on a regular basis, but my supporters felt a strong connection to it. Each Travelanthropic adventure won’t appeal to everyone, but the Camino was very successful in that regard. I knew I had to pair it up with other trails this summer to increase the buzz and narrative. Pennine Way seemed like the perfect addition and since it led north, the three Scottish trails fit perfectly.
One of the big challenges this summer is not only how few people have hiked Cape Wrath Trail for example, but how little information there is out there for research. That lack of information affects planning tremendously. On the flip side, it’s an English speaking country. That’s a huge asset in helping you figure things out once you’re in the thick of it.
To successfully hike 15-20 miles a day for several months, it goes beyond physical demands. There’s mental stress that no amount of training or prep work will prepare you for. Long distance hiking is 70 mental/30 physical. You can be alone for days or perhaps even weeks: that takes a toll on you.
How can people help?
Go to www.crowdrise.com/HFH2012. Donate. Retweet. Share on Facebook. The Hike for Hope is 3 months long, so it’s important to keep the momentum going the entire summer.
We definitely wish you all the best with Hike for Hope 2012, but thinking beyond this year... do you have plans afoot? When/where (hopefully here!) will we hear about them?
I’m partnering with Adventures Without Limits this Fall on a section-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. Then in the Winter I’m planning a thru-hike across Haiti with Travelcology.
In terms of 2013, it’s the year of charity road rallies. Mongolia, Karakoram Highway in Pakistan, and the Pan-Am Highway from Alaska to Argentina. Lots of exciting, epic Travelanthropic adventures planned!