Instatraveller: the Travelling Irish Bear
Fergal Howard isn't the first person to travel the world with a stuffed companion. But he is one of few who capture their toys in the photographs too. He takes Packie the Bear all over the planet – in fact, we're a bit jealous of Packie's travel CV. Here we catch up with Fergal about his adventures with this globetrotting bear...
How did it all begin?
It all began in September 2012 when I was planning on moving to New Zealand. A good friend of mine gave me the teddy as a present and as a little reminder of home – I think it is one of the best presents I have ever received.
Where did the name come from?
He's kitted out in the Leitrim GAA team colours so I decided to call him after one of the best players to ever play for the county, Packy McGarty, who played for the county in the 1950s. I came up with the name pretty much on the spot.
When did you start taking photographs of him on your travels, and what was the first destination?
I left for New Zealand a few weeks later in October and soon started travelling around the country. I was travelling on my own so I decided I would take Packie along for the journey. One morning early in the trip, I was walking along the beach in Kaiteriteri, (a small coastal town close to Abel Tasman National Park in the north of the South Island) and I decided to take a photograph of Packie sitting on a bench. At the time I was just thinking it was just a bit of a laugh to take a photo of him. As I travelled a bit more and developed a larger collection of photos of Packie, someone suggested setting up a page so others could follow his travels. I started with a Facebook page and then an Instagram page and, more recently, a blog. The more I travelled the more I wanted to see.
Have you always been passionate about travelling?
I was interested in travel from a young age. Geography was my favourite subject in school and I would love watching nature/travel programmes – David Attenborough and the likes – and always hoped I would get the chance to travel myself at some stage. My older brother spent close to a year travelling all over the world when I was in secondary school and hearing of his travels gave me some inspiration to try and emulate him. New Zealand was the first destination and is still one of our favourite places. The towns of Wanaka and Queenstown are amazing locations. We love the outdoors so New Zealand was the absolute ideal place to start. I think the time spent there and enjoying it so much made us want to see more of what the world had to offer.
How many countries has he been to?
Since our first bit of travelling in New Zealand, we have been to 51 countries on six continents.
Which was his favourite destination?
Some of our other favourite places have been Colombia, Jordan, Australia and, of course, Ireland. Every place has something special about it.
Do you ever receive any funny looks when taking the shots?!
I always get a few funny looks when taking the shots, but it's great when you meet a fellow traveller doing a similar thing. I tend to be walking or running around a new place with Packie in one hand and my phone in the other. Everyone sees the fun in it though. It does take a few minutes of explaining as to why a 27 year old man has a teddy bear with him though. Ha.
What's your favourite photo of Packie?
I have a lot of photos of Packie from the last few years, but I do have a few favourites. One was close to Christmas last year when were in Colombia on a trek to the Lost City and a few native kids came out of the local village to say hello. They had big smiles at the sight of Packie, which was really nice to see.
Another of my favourites was when I was in Thailand in Koh Phangnan a few years ago, chilling out by the beach with friends and having a few cocktails.
Where’s the most adventurous place he’s been?
Some of the more adventurous places we have been include Nepal, trekking to Everest Base Camp, at the Lost City of Petra in Jordan, and in the jungles of Borneo. Each of these places were close to top of the bucket list for us. The more adventurous the better.
Where is home for you?
I am from Leitrim in the north-west of Ireland; it's a small county with an equally small population. Nice relaxed place. I also spend a lot of time in Dublin when I am back in Ireland. I love the city, there is always something going on, with a good buzz about the place. I have a great group of friends living there, so it's always great to catch up with them.
Where’s next on the list?
I work on a boat, so next on the list is Australia – we'll be there until early January – and then down to the Ross Sea of Antarctica. Antarctica is another place very high on the bucket list. We are looking forward to retracing the steps of Irish explorer Tom Crean, who joined Scott and Shackleton on their early expeditions to reach the South Pole.
From Antarctica we will be back in New Zealand again to try our hand at mountaineering in the South Island close to Mt Cook. I'm also thinking Las Vegas, Mexico and bit of Central America before a quick stop back home again. It should all be great craic.
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