All images courtesy of Alison Ball.
Next time you feel like traveling, but can’t, you can imagine you are by following Geography Cat on Facebook or Instagram.
The black and white feline, otherwise known as Ike, lives with his human owner Alison Ball in Nottingham, England. However, he has had the luxury of traveling all around the world.
He doesn’t physically travel, but he does through his official cat stunt double.
“Ike is pocket-sized,” says Ball, who claims her cat once traveled 140,000 miles in just one year. “You can take him with you walking up atop of a mountain. He’s very portable. He’s very low maintenance.”
Ike also travels through postcards sent to him by his fans who visit other countries, and then he shares them for all to see on his website and social media channels. Every time he receives a card, he blogs about the place pictured, sharing interesting geographical information about the location and then posts it on his Paw Print Map. “Ike has traveled extensively around the British Isles,” says Ball. “He has also visited Iceland, France, Austria, New Zealand, USA, Australia, Italy, Indonesia, Crete, Greece, and Mexico. He would love to travel more.”
Ike gets his love of geography from Ball who is a former geography teacher of nearly 30 years. She pursued a degree in geography because back in the 1980’s and before social media, studying about different places in the world was the only window to the world. “I love the pictures of different places,” says Ball. “I was interested in the world, and one of the reasons I became a teacher is that it’s a great career for traveling.”
After six years of teaching in her native England, Ball decided to apply to teach in other countries in order to further fulfill her love of traveling.
“A job in Colombia came up, and I was delighted because it fit my criteria of being very different,” says Ball. “At that time, Bogota was one of the most dangerous cities in the world.”
She returned home three years later.
“Home was really boring. So, I wanted to go away again,” says Ball.
Her next stop was New Zealand for four years.
“It was marvelous, but a very long way from home… Each different place in the world is such a jigsaw of physical landscape and cultures and all the external influences past and present,” says Ball.
No matter where she taught, she says she used many games over the years to aid her lessons in the classroom. Some games were from nonprofit websites like Save the Children, which had a game about conflict and migration and an online game called Quizzed.
“I used to make games, like a sort of board game, of whatever it was we were doing – trying to make it a little different for students,” says Ball. “They enjoyed being able to learn stuff at the same time as having fun with their friends. Students love to learn, but if they can have a laugh with their friends as well, they like it even more.”
Ball says she has had the pleasure of traveling to more than a dozen countries throughout her life, including France, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Morocco, Japan, Vietnam, Panama, Cuba, and Ecuador, and that she’s loved all of them in different ways.
“You can’t have a favorite,” laughs Ball. “It’s like if you had children. I think if you’ve never traveled, or experienced another place, then it’s very hard to understand your own experience. I think a geographer should see the world, but it’s more than making a photo album. It’s about making relationships in those countries – a fully immersive experience.”
Even with those diverse experiences, however, Ball says she still has a lot more to learn about our massive world. “Three or four years living and working there somewhere, you only begin to scratch the surface,” she says.
One day, Ball was inspired to create Geography Cat for her students.
“The first part was for my students who take their exams at 16. It started as a way for me to help them with their homework, and then other students and other schools started using it,” says Ball, who has won awards for her project. Ball adds that she has received very positive feedback and heard from students on how it has helped them improve their grades.
Ball explains that her project was created very specifically for the exams she knew students would be taking. “My articles on Geography Cat were like an exam question, and included the answer, but it looked like an online article,” says Ball. “They could mark it and take out what was unnecessary, and I was hoping that because I made it online, that kids could access it whenever they wanted to. It was always there when they needed it.” In this way, Ball was teaching students how to structure an answer on their exam.
Today, she says, Geography Cat is much more about its adult readership.
“Some are just so enthusiastic,” Ball says about her followers. “The people who read Geography Cat and follow it want to read as much as they can and share. There’s a Facebook group where people post pictures of where they live. It’s about communication, really. A lot of the fans are elderly people who can’t travel now, but they did in the past, and they use the platform to visit places they’ve gone before.”
Although Ball has recently left teaching, she carries on with Geography Cat because it continues to help so many.
According to the former teacher, geography is more than learning about other places.
“It’s more about looking out than looking in,” she explains. “There’s something a little creative about it. Like for instance with Ike, people are creating a little story and sharing it… One of them was to get active and go outdoors, but it’s also being observant and being mindful about where you are. It gives people a sense of purpose that they’re doing it for other people, and they get people outside.”
Ball remembers back during the pandemic, she got into a little bit of a backlog. Ike wasn’t traveling a great deal, but she continued to post things from him. By carrying on, no matter the circumstances, Ike started to get a lot of postcards from other cats.
“Every week, I go to the Post Office to pick up postcards. I think he’s got over 5,000 postcards from around the world,” says Ball, amused. “Appreciating the little things can sometimes take your mind off other worries.”