Coming Home: 6 weeks on

So my adventures ended, after a quick jaunt around Inle Lake, a trip on the road to Mandalay and a final feast at the Little Rangoon Teahouse in Yangon, I was on a plane to Bangkok, spent my last 4 hours in the amazing LubD Siam hostel and jetted back to Manchester via Helsinki (where it was snowy and I was in cropped leggings and a hoody).

After 5 years and 2 months of amazing adventures; 4 jobs on 3 continents and a total of 17 countries visited, I made the decision to move back to the UK ‘permanently’ in March of last year. It was a decision founded on a number of things, the need for stability, both financial and social, the need to focus on different aspects of my life and the desire to be closer to family and friends. Most importantly, I had so many goals which were overlooked because I was working long hours, didn’t have the means or simply, geographically, couldn’t fulfil them. I wanted to create a new life, with more focus on me and less focus on work, to spend a couple of years pursuing other goals to see where I would end up.

So I quit my job, the position that had failed to satisfy me through a lack of challenge and a weight of responsibility unmatched by the rewards. But I wasn’t ready to dive onto a plane to the UK, I travelled, in Cambodia with my Mum, and then through Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar, which you’ll know all about if you have read my blog before. During my adventures I was fortunate enough to secure a job in the UK ready for when I got home.

Coming back to the UK has been a learning curve all of it’s own, it is so long since I have lived here that I struggle with basic things like how to manage my utility bills or decipher all of the different broadband package options. It hasn’t been smooth sailing, I struggled to settle on a flat, although eventually ended up in a place I am comfortable, I drowned my new iPhone just weeks after getting it (although it fortunately made a full recovery), setting up a new place with limited funds hasn’t been easy either, but I am getting there now.

What’s next is the pursuit of those goals and dreams, the need to start realising elements of my dreams to make this choice worthwhile. As we enter 2017, I am in a new place, creating my own reality and no longer limited by the complexities of my work or environment. I enjoy my new job but I leave it in the office, and come home by 5pm to take time for me. I am excited about what lies ahead, and certain it will involve as many trips and adventures as possible along the way.

Please stop writing tips for solo Female travellers

Please stop telling girls how to stay safe on the road. Please stop singling out females as a ‘higher safety risk’ when travelling than males. Have you ever read an article that outlines the ‘Top tips for solo male travellers’? No. We don’t worry about the boys, the big strong men can take care of themselves, but our girls need to worry, they need to be fearful and careful, they are much more at risk than guys, or so it would seem from the barrage of media dedicated to this topic.

I took a look through a few articles offering tips directed specifically at females planning to hit the road alone and summarised some of the common suggestions here (thanks to the authors!):

  • Keep valuables and important documents stored discreetly, e.g. in an inside pocket or money belt.
  • Don’t worry about loneliness – connect with people at hostels, restaurants etc. Perhaps having a deck or cards can help you to meet people if you are shy.
  • You will surprise yourself with your resilience when you need to.
  • Keep copies of important documents somewhere safe and separate from the originals
  • Make sure you can carry your own luggage, particularly on public transport.
  • Check out apps that provide offline maps particularly for rail and transport systems
  • Pack plenty of tampons and stock up where you can – they are not so easy to find everywhere!
  • Avoid arriving in a new place late at night
  • Have scheduled check-ins with someone at home so they know you are safe
  • Avoid advertising that you are alone as this may make you more vulnerable.
  • Try to blend into your surroundings, don’t dress to stand out
  • Have an emergency fund in case you need to get out of a difficult situation
  • Trust your intuition, you can always say no

From that list I see only one point that applies only to girls, unless there are any males with a need for tampons. So let’s stop writing about how girls can stay safe and start writing about how everyone can travel safer and more securely.

Many Thanks to the authors of the articles from which I pulled the tips (they are great tips; they just apply to everyone!):

Megsy Collins’ 12 Tips for Travelling Solo – Advice from our favourite female travel bloggers

Kiersten Rich’s 6 Fears you Face as a solo female traveller

Jillian Finley’s 9 Things you need to know before travelling alone as a female

Bemused Backpacker’s Solo Female Backpacker Safety Tips

Why the way we think about Volunteering Abroad is all wrong

 

Critics of volunteer abroad programmes will often tell you that volunteers do more harm than good. They will question how untrained students, fresh from high school can ever be knowledgeable enough to really make a difference in the field of international development. They will ask why we need people to travel to conduct work that could be done using members of the community in which the programme is taking place. They will tell you that there is no long term impact and that it is simply a means to generate funds, not to really make a difference.

These people though, are looking at it all wrong. They might be right on some of the facts, but every organisation is different so perhaps we won’t dwell on that too much right now. Instead, let us shift the focus of our thoughts; what if instead, we think about the volunteers and the type of people we are fostering through these programmes? In a world where migration is increasing, flights are getting cheaper every day and we are mixing more and more with people from different backgrounds and cultures.

These young people who go overseas to volunteer are learning about the world, learning about culture and the challenges that people around the world face, they are appreciating their own upbringings and fostering an understanding of the world outside their backyard. These volunteers are mixing with others from around the world, with local community members, with experts in different fields. They are learning new things every day from experience, discussion and critical reflection.

Our volunteers are learning about the environment and how to be more responsible in protecting it, they are learning about the dangers of tourist attractions that mistreat animals, not to ride elephants and swim with dolphins. As a result, we are growing a generation of young people who are knowledgeable about the world and who are passionate about protecting it. These volunteers go home and they talk about what they have seen and what they have learned, they post about it on social media and they blog and they vlog and the message grows and grows. These are the people that will change the way the future looks for a world that right now, might not have great expansive coral reefs or huge deep forests in 100 or even 50 years’ time. These people are the generation that can make that change.

If we stop and we look instead at what these volunteers are learning and how their message is growing, we begin to understand that these programmes have benefits much greater than that small pocket of difference so critically disseminated, and we might begin instead to appreciate this industry for more than its scope in international development alone.

So for those who are thinking about volunteering abroad in their gap year, be an advocate for learning and empowerment, just think carefully about the organisation you choose to join. Here are some things to look for in a ‘good’ volunteer abroad organisation:

What does ‘good’ volunteering abroad look like?

  1. Working with local partner organisations: The programmes that will have the biggest impact are those that support local partners on the ground, experts who know their field and their locale better than anyone else. These partners should direct the work, that is implemented and monitored by the volunteer organisation.
  2. Long-term goals: Programmes should not end when the volunteer goes home. There should be long term goals and time-targeted plans directing the work. The ultimate aim should always be to allow the community or local partner to manage the programme without support, leaving it sustainable and pushing the volunteer organisation to redirect their efforts to an area of greater need. To do this effectively, there should be long-term, qualified and experienced staff overseeing the work. They should be able to discuss these plans with you openly and also the progress that has already been made.
  3. Fees: A fair fee should be charged, probably more than you would initially expect, to cover not only volunteers’ meals, accommodation, in-country logistics etc. but also to pay a reasonable, not excessive salary for the long-term staff and administrative costs. Free volunteering is costing someone (most likely the community that is being supported) and as such could be doing more harm than good, unless you are covering absolutely all of your expenses in the field.
  4. Taking social and environmental responsibility: A ‘good’ organisation will implement a number of things to ensure they are safeguarding the people they work with – they should ask for a criminal background check if you are to have any interaction with children or vulnerable persons, and should discuss appropriate behaviour, confidentiality and child protection with you to ensure you are fully briefed. Organisations should also be taking responsibility more broadly for their impact on the environment, encouraging you to be environmentally friendly and discouraging un-ethical activities such as animal tourism that you might be exposed to outside of the programme.
  5. Training and development: Volunteers should receive training and support as they embark on the programme to ensure they are conducting tasks effectively. There should be opportunities for broader learning and discussion of the issues faced in the area and more broadly. They should promote learning, reflection and discussion of the issues faced.

 

8 things you should know before you quit your job to travel

It’s something I am working towards. They are things I know to be true. They are important words for anyone thinking of making this decision.

  1. You won’t care about money once you are on the road. Sure you might worry now about blowing your savings on a few months in South America, or a year in Asia, but honestly, once you are on the road, you won’t, you will spend your last penny on the best experiences you can find, and you will be glad you did.
  2. Friends, family, even long-term relationships will wait for you to come back. Anyone who really cares about you will encourage you to fulfil your dream, they’ll support you through it, hell they might even join you. So quit worrying about other people and focus on yourself first for once.
  3. You’ll get another job. In reality, the thing you will probably dread most is returning to your desk, that pile of filing and the creepy guy who never seems to leave the copy room. That said, you will find another job when you come home, you might just find yourself chasing after an entirely new career path as well.
  4. You’ll spend plenty of time alone. Life on the road can get lonely from time to time, but you’ll also make some of the best friends you ever had, and more importantly, you’ll learn that sometimes it’s OK to be alone anyways.
  5. You’ll appreciate everything so much more. The convenience that is the convenience store. The array of vegetables in the supermarket. The frequency of the subway. All very valid things to appreciate in life. But you’ll also mingle with new cultures and religions, open your mind to new possibilities and grow more tolerant that you might have ever thought you needed to be.
  6. You’ll understand yourself. More than that, you’ll understand what makes you tick and how to resolve it. What terrifies you and what drives you. How many chilli’s you can handle in your curry and how long you can sit in the sun before you become a piece of bacon. You’ll learn all about yourself, and that will make you even better at being you than you were before.
  7. You’ll become stronger. Things won’t always go to plan, you might lose your credit card or worse have it stolen, you might get sick, get injured or get lost. You’ll face unexpected challenges but also expected ones, like choosing to bungee jump, dive with sharks or climb a rock face. There will be so many challenges, such diversity of challenges, that you will learn that you are capable of more than you thought possible before, and this means that you will forever know that your own strength is not limited.
  8. When you come back, nothing will have changed. Other than your perspective, and possibly your looks. Life at home will be waiting for you when you’re ready to come back with sandy feet, elephant pants and a new tattoo, so just go already!

Environmental Resolutions in Less-developed Countries

This week we celebrated Earth Day 2016, and with each year that passes awareness of the damage that our lifestyles, markets, and consumerism behaviours cause to the environment grows. My passion for this area remains relatively young, it’s all too easy to ignore until you are faced with the plausible possibility that one day we might simply destroy it all. I do in fact want my children, and their children to be able to play in the forest, to see incredible wildlife and marine life, to sit on a beach not a pile of trash, and that’s when you realise that we are all in this together, a shared responsibility to do what we can.

The reality of deforestation, increasing carbon emissions, non-renewable energy sources, increasing waste and improper disposal thereof creates a nasty picture of what our world might look like without change in even 10 or 20 more years.

Living overseas, particularly in less developed areas, makes it increasingly hard to do your bit for the environment however. Here, where I live in Cambodia, for example, everything comes in a plastic bag, you buy a can of coke, it gets bagged, vegetables get a bag each in a bigger bag, coffee is in a plastic cup or bag in another bag, and with tap-water that is unsafe for drinking, you are forced to resort to other sources, which often means plastic bottles. Not to mention that the flights between here and home do enough damage without adding anything more.

So what are a few resolutions that expats living in less developed areas can take to reduce their impact on the environment and contribute to preserving the world for future generations – here are my ideas:

  1. Re-usable water bottles and bulk stocks. Obviously, if you can’t fill your bottle at a tap, you still need to buy a larger source to fill from, unfortunately that often means larger plastic bottles. Look for something re-usable, here the 20litre bottles are returned and re-used by the central distribution centre, not ideal but better when coupled with a re-usable drinking bottle as well.
  2. Buy drinks in containers that can be recycled and avoid plastic. I always try to buy soda’s in cans, which can be recycled and reduce plastic waste.
  3. Re-usable carrier bags – and pack your own items so that the shopkeeper does not try to put a plastic bag inside your tote.
  4. Turn things off – you can only be in one place at a time – so only use the lights, fans, AC in the room you are in to save energy and money!
  5. Tupperware for take-out, when you go out to dinner, pop a Tupperware in your bag and bring home any leftovers in that rather than a polystyrene, plastic bag, rubber band combo that the restaurant will create. Equally if your order food, take your own container when you go to collect it.
  6. Go paperless and encourage your office to do the same – if you can’t, try printing double-sided or on just half a page, or try evaluating how many people need a printout of different articles – can they be shared or centrally displayed?
  7. Leave your vehicles at home – when you can choose public transportation, or better still walk and cycles as much as possible.

What is key however, is that even though for most of us, removing plastic from our lives for example is an unattainable goal, reducing our consumption of it is far more achievable. As such, if we all strive to simply reduce where we can, together we will make an impact. If you are willing to go further than the points above, other things you could try include taking your own cup to get take-away coffee, planting trees, eating less meat, limiting fish consumption to only sustainable options and much much more.

As cliched as it sounds, I truly believe that if everyone made a few small changes, together we can make a huge impact. For me, it’s time to really drive my efforts to making these easy resolves part of everyday life!

4 Things you learn about Friendship when you live abroad

The best friendships last, regardless of distance.

When I first moved overseas I kept in touch with everyone regularly, but this inevitably dwindles with time, and sometimes even the people you have known the longest become estranged from your life. Often it’s simply down to a lack of effort on both sides, sometimes your lives become too different. That said, best friends will last regardless of how much time passes, these are the people that will message you after 3 months like they chatted to you yesterday, divert their flight route to visit you for 2 days, and generally always strive to be part of your life.

It’s not all about how long you’ve known each other.

Sometimes the best kind of friends come into your life in a moment. These are the people that understand you in an instant, it just clicks and it’s like you have known them forever even if it’s only been two weeks.

Physical presence is irrelevant.

In the age of so much social media, there is no need to be lonely. Video calls, messenger apps, photo sharing platforms, there are so many ways to stay up to date on each others lives regardless of where you are in the world.

It’s not always easy to put yourself out there.

Making new friends tends to get harder with age, we become more inhibited and simply don’t have the opportunities to interact with new people that we have at school and university. That said, everyone is in the same boat, so putting yourself out there is definitely the way forward, most people will be relieved by your offerings and excited to meet you, let loose!

 

Why I won’t ‘settle down’

“The journey is the destination”

Dan Eldon

After months, maybe years of searching I have finally awoken to this realisation. There is no destination, at least not for me. I will not conform, I will not ‘settle down’, and here’s why…

I do not wish to choose only one ending for my story.

Approaching my 27th birthday faster than I would really like, I begin to think about how the next chapter of my book will read. In reality, the next chapter should be the long chapter, the one where I choose a place to live, a job, maybe get married, even start a family, and live the routine for 40 years, until I am old enough to retire and start the ‘sunset years’, or the way the story ends.

But this is not what I will do. I do not plan on changing jobs once a year until I am 60. I do not plan on moving every 18 months. But I do plan on doing many things in that time. I do not wish to have one destiny when I can have many.

And I’m OK with that. I don’t need to conform to societal ‘expectation’. I just need to be happy. Happy every day in the little things, like my iced coffee on the way to work, like the smiles on the children’s faces when I walk into their classroom, like the sunset as I cycle home.

“Life is a journey, not a destination” (Ralph Waldo Emerson), and for me, the destination is the journey. I no longer need to look for the thing that will settle me, because I have accepted that I wont be settled.

10 important lessons I’ve learned on the road

So here goes, a new blog with a new look, a new start, a chance to talk about my love of travel. To kick things off, I am 26, closing in on 27 at a daunting rate. I currently live in Cambodia, where I have been managing projects for an NGO for 4 months. Previously I worked in volunteer travel and development programmes in Kenya, Ghana, South Africa and Mexico. My career-based passion is education and international development. I have now been on the road for 5 years, have visited 26 countries and experienced the highs and lows that encompass that journey.

I have learned so much from my travels, so much more than I could have ever learned if I had followed a more traditional path, so here are a few of the most important lessons for life on the road (at least according to me):

  1. You will always regret not trying something much more than you will regret giving it a go and not enjoying it. This lesson was employed very strictly when I bungee jumped at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, as much as I wanted to run away, I knew it was something I had to try whilst I had the chance, if not, I would always have wondered ‘what if…’.
  2. Not everything you eat is trying to kill you. I was cautious at first, as every sensible first-time traveller is, washing fruit in drinking water, not eating street-food. But my first really adventurous trip took me to a small island called Mafia in Tanzania, and there wasn’t much on offer if you didn’t try the street food. I did and yes I did get the one dicky-tummy in a month, but overall I learned to be more of a risk-taker when it comes to food. Some of the best foods I have had have been from street vendors, but yes it may occasionally end in the bathroom!
  3. You will need home comforts. I love to throw myself into a new country and a new culture, trying new foods, activities, exploring. But I also know that some days I will need to stay home all day watching movies, or go and eat the most homely dish I can find (in Battambang this is crispy chicken strips and fries…) for the sake of my sanity!
  4. Sometimes you must be frivolous. I have witnessed so many travellers missing out on simple pleasures and memorable activities for the want of saving cash. If it means your trip is a week or two shorter but you got to sand-board in Namibia, or simply drank a few beers with new friends every night, be sure not to inadvertently limit your enjoyment by limiting you cash.
  5. Whatever your age, there will always be times when you miss home. I still have plenty of days when I need to call my Mum, chat things over and move on. I might not be able to see her every time, but skype makes a decent alternative.
  6. You will eat a lot of rice. If you leave the west to South or Central America, Africa or Asia, to name some serious land-masses, you must accept that you will eat rice, almost every day, sometimes every single meal. Just accept and embrace it.
  7. People are the most interesting resources. You will see so many things in your life, do so many amazing activities, experience great wonders. But the most interesting experiences will involve other people, people you would never otherwise have met, people with a story to tell and an ear to listen to yours as well. Make time for people, whether it is your taxi driver, a guide or just someone you meet on the street, be patient and friendly, be open to their conversation.
  8. Sometimes you will be lonely. That’s true as well, as well as being homesick, you may simply be lonely. You might spend weeks moving from place to place, not spending more than a day or two with the same person. Technology is a great cure for loneliness and I often use this chance to connect with a familiar voice, or of course, just go out and find someone to share a beer with and move on.
  9. Trinkets are great memories, but don’t overload. I love to take home a souvenir, a memory of a happy time and a beautiful place. Just remember that there will be plenty of opportunities to shop, and plenty of amazing treats to buy, so limit yourself and be real about what you will use when you get back home. Often, I actually find that buying clothes, bags and jewellery to wear along the way is one of the best things as they get plenty of use and carry even more memories with them.
  10. Be yourself. There will be times when you land in a place and everyone is doing X, but you came to do Y. You will find yourself travelling with people and suddenly having different plans. Be yourself, go your own way and beat your own path. The journey is yours and only yours. That being said, be flexible and differ from your plans when something truly attractive becomes an option.