Some places in the world just aren’t visited very often, and one in particular is right near the bottom of the list. So Thomas Brag of the YouTube channel Yes Theory decided to pack his bags and head out there. He found an amazing and gorgeous place, but unfortunately there’s every chance it may not be beautiful for much longer…
There’s a great quote attributed to Saint Augustine which goes, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.” It’s hard to disagree. Visiting pastures new is genuinely important to human beings, because it gives us a chance to experience different places and cultures, to broaden our horizons in general.
And of course many countries, both big and small, thrive on the tourism industry. If you want to visit any of the myriad beautiful places in the world – and why wouldn’t you – you and your fellow travelers can do so in the knowledge that you’re helping to stimulate the country’s economy and create jobs.
That’s why a lot of countries are so keen to promote tourism. And it’s usually a win-win situation! You get to experience a new side of life, eat foods you’ve never tried before, and perhaps even make friends out of strangers. And the place you’re visiting gets a boost. The island to which Brag journeyed definitely seemed to garner a lot of new interest thanks to Yes Theory.
Some might ask, why travel all the way to a distant island when there are lots of other exciting places much closer to home? Well, partly because taking risks is part of the Yes Theory ethos – more on that later – but also, but simply, why wouldn’t you? New experiences are what life’s all about.
And don’t forget that other great quote about travel – J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous line from The Lord of the Rings, “Not all those who wander are lost.” So when the world is ready for travel again, perhaps you’d like to wind your way towards the beautiful but endangered island which Brag visited for Yes Theory.
Why did Brag decide to go there? He explained it in the November 2019 video, saying, “Since the day I found out about this country I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it: wondering what the people are like; what there is to do in a country without any tourism infrastructure and wanting to go tell a story about this country that could possibly disappear very soon.”
Brag is one of three surviving members of the YouTube channel Yes Theory, the other two being Ammar Kandil and Matt Dajer. Ever since 2015 – the year it started up – it has gone from strength to strength. Nowadays it’s one of the most popular channels on the whole platform and the trio’s clips reach an audience of no fewer than 5.8 million followers.
The Yes Theory members – who initially also included the now-departed Derin Emre – met in Montreal after finishing school and all of them were looking for something different out of life. So they decided that not only would they begin doing new and exciting things as often as possible, they also would film it for a YouTube channel. And the rest is history.
During a TEDx Talk in March 2018 Brag explained what Yes Theory was all about. He asked the audience, “When was the last time you felt most alive? Was it when you were watching TV at home before going to bed for three hours or playing video games? Or was it going to work? Or going to the same bar you go to every weekend?”
Brag went on, “Or was it when you took a big risk, when you walked up to a stranger and said, ‘Hi’ and suddenly became friends? Or when you went on a spontaneous trip, having no idea what might happen?” And that last example there is, of course, exactly what Brag did in this instance.
Then Brag spoke about the ethos of Yes Theory, saying, “By our very nature, we are built to be thirsty: thirsty for risk-taking, for adventure, for exploration, experimentation, for trying new things. It’s how we evolved. And so the mantra of seeking discomfort, which we live by, is a mantra that goes hand-in-hand with humanity, because we are natural-born discomfort-seekers.”
Yes Theory’s members have for years now channeled that discomfort into work. One of the things which put them on the map was a protest they did in 2015 after the terror attacks in Paris and Beirut. They filmed an anti-hate-crime video on the Montreal subway, and news cameras covered the event.
But there’s been more than even that. One of the reasons Yes Theory is so popular is because its members are happy to participate in – and film for their millions of followers – what seems like genuinely dangerous stuff. Some of their most popular videos feature helicopter stunts, skydiving, and sneaking into places without permission.
The Yes Theory gang even have a celebrity fan in Will Smith. They got even more of a spotlight on their channel when the Hollywood movie star accepted a bungee-jumping challenge from them. In 2018 Smith celebrated his 50th birthday by leaping out of a helicopter over the Grand Canyon, all in the name of raising money for charity.
Before the celebrity video had even been up for 24 hours, it had racked up over 9 million views. Footage of the Independence Day star plummeting from a helicopter had, somewhat ironically, sent Yes Theory’s popularity soaring to new heights. After that, new sponsorship deals arrived for the team and there have been rumors they might get a TV series.
Obviously, the 2020 global health emergency put a dent in Yes Theory’s plans just as it did almost everyone’s. But the trio kept on trucking. In May the team wrote on their official Instagram account, alongside a quote from the Dalai Lama, “This pandemic has shown us all that we are all more connected than we may have originally thought.”
That’s the message of Brag’s island video as well – and if you’re sad you can’t travel due to the lockdown, there’s no better video through which to live the experience vicariously. So what was this mysterious place which so few people seemed to visit? It was Tuvalu, a very small nation located in the Pacific Ocean, roughly equidistant between Hawaii and Australia.
Tuvalu is actually made up of three islands and six coral atolls, but the main island is Funafuti. There’s no official tourist information center or huge mall full of souvenir shops, but there are other ways of putting the fun in Funafuti. For a start, you can explore the beaches, swim, or simply sunbathe.
In the clip, before setting out on his journey, Brag actually goes and asks random people on the street if they have ever heard of Tuvalu. Nobody has. Some people think it might be a bar, or a band. Maybe a movie even? One guy offers up the rather unflattering suggestion, “It sounds like a disease.”
But Tuvalu very much wants people to know of its existence. The official tourism website for the island, Timeless Tuvalu, offers up, “As one of the smallest and most remote nations in the world, this unspoiled corner of the Pacific offers a peaceful and non-commercialized environment that is ideal for rest and relaxation.”
He could have been forgiven for having some trepidation, but it is precisely this “peaceful and non-commercialized environment” that Brag discovers in his video. Upon arriving, he notices there are more visitors around than he expects, but “every single person” to whom he speaks tells him they are there for work, not play.
And the remoteness of it all would probably give anyone pause for thought. After arriving in the country Brag checks into a hotel overlooking the airport, which is hardly busy. He tells his camera, “There goes the only plane in the entire country. It leaves now and doesn’t come back for three days.”
But you would absolutely want to stay on this amazingly untouched island. Sure, it only has one small airport and is extremely isolated, but the sheer beauty of the place more than makes up for that. It’s literally the archetypical island paradise – beautiful beaches meeting an inviting crystal blue sea.
Brag clearly thinks so too. Awestruck while wandering the sands, he tells his followers, “I think we have found our own little paradise. I can’t believe this country is the least-visited place on the planet. I mean, look at this… This is like out of a dream. Like, when you picture a deserted paradise island, this is it.”
And what’s more, the people of Tuvalu are extremely friendly and welcoming to tourists. While riding about the island on a bike rented from his hotel, Brag tells the camera, “Pretty much every single person that I’ve crossed so far walking is waving and saying, ‘Hi.’ Already just first impressions are, like, love this place.”
Brag isn’t the only one who loves the place. Every article about Tuvalu sings its praises as a haven and a beauty spot. In 2017 British newspaper The Independent noted, “What Tuvalu lacks in architectural splendor, it makes up for in empty, palm tree-fringed beaches… Its diverse habitat makes it an ideal place for scuba diving or snorkeling to spot marine life.”
In case you’re the kind of person that scares easily, rest assured: Tuvalu is also a very safe place to visit. Despite the fact that everyone carries cash – there are no card machines or ATMs – the crime rate there is very low. There are also very few dangerous animals and little risk of malaria. You’re not likely to have your sunbathing time interrupted by something venomous.
So it’s strange, all things considered, that Tuvalu is visited so seldom. It seems to have everything a seasoned traveler could possibly want in a holiday. But according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization, it had a mere 2,000 visitors in 2016. The nearby island of Kiribati had more than twice that amount.
And it’s worrying that Tuvalu is so overlooked, because it stands to be terribly affected by what’s happening in the world right now. Brag says at the beginning of his video that the island paradise is “sadly one of the first countries to be forecasted to disappear as a result of rising oceans caused by climate change.”
Those who live in Tuvalu are for obvious reasons working hard to do something about this. The government is working on a new policy that will combine both tourism and climate change action, so when people like Brag visit the island they can not only enjoy it but also work to save it.
In July 2019 Tourism Minister Taukelina Finikaso explained this at a conference in New Zealand, saying, “We’re trying to brand our tourism according to climate change in such a way that we can also develop some responses to climate change like when tourists come to Tuvalu, for them to participate in planting of mangroves and other trees that can help save the landscape from being washed away.”
But there are worrying signs already. That same year, a Tuvaluan woman named Leitu Frank told The Guardian newspaper, “The sea is eating all the sand. Before, the sand used to stretch out far, and when we swam we could see the sea floor, and the coral. Now, it is cloudy all the time, and the coral is dead. Tuvalu is sinking.”
There’s another problem. Although Tuvalu is very beautiful, unfortunately its land doesn’t have much practical value. The soil is too salty for most crops to grow, so food has to be imported. And despite being surrounded by ocean, only rainwater can be used for actual drinking. The United Nations lists the island as a “least-developed country.”
While exploring the island Brag runs into a local man who just so happens to be a fan of Yes Theory. After getting over his shock at finding a follower in such a remote part of the world, Brag asks him about the island’s status and what climate change is doing. The man tells him they are “trying to look for solutions” to the problem.
In the comments of the Yes Theory video, Brag talked about the climate change issue. In a pinned post he wrote, “What’s happening to Tuvalu is heartbreaking… We’re trying really hard to work on our emissions. We’re the first to admit that we’re far from perfect and have a long way to go.”
Brag went on, “We’re educating ourselves on how we can be better and we carbon offset all our flights, which is a start but obviously not a final solution. We’re actively experimenting with ways to improve and we’ll be talking more about it in future videos! I’m feeling super-grateful after this trip and I’m so excited I got to share this incredible experience with you all.”
In the comments, people were thrilled at being able to experience a glimpse of Tuvalu. One user by the name of b2n enthused, “I was genuinely smiling from when you stepped foot onto the island till you left. Tuvalu seems like an amazing place with some genuine wholesome people. I wish the best for them and I hope that their island is here for generations. There’s a lot you could learn from the people on that island and it’s something we need.”
At the end of his video, Brag tells the millions of Yes Theory followers, “As I was walking out the door the lady at the hotel asked me if I’d ever come back and I usually just politely answer ‘Of course’ in these situations. But this time I think I meant it.” Such was the impact of the footage that Google Trends reported an uptick in people searching for “Tuvalu.”
If the tourism policy regarding climate change goes ahead, that can only be a good thing. Clearly, there’s a lot of work to do to make sure Tuvalu remains beautiful for new generations to enjoy, whether as a holiday destination or a home. After all, as good as Yes Theory’s videos are, experiencing something in real life is always better.