Taking a year out to travel is a mammoth task. Especially traveling on your own. I didn’t really know where to start. It was undoubtedly overwhelming, still is, but a nice distraction, gathering info of possibilities to weave into a reality, like putting a jigsaw together. Anyways, it helps me to have a target and a semblance of a plan!
Initially, I trawled the internet for positive uplifting messages in pretty fonts over beautiful photos (I was having a crisis of confidence and major doubt) I read cheesy, yet inspiring, travel quotes and kept a gorgeous diary with pictures of faraway destinations I’d clipped from travel brochures…
I researched volunteer travel & TEFL organisations – USIT, GVI, EIL, Idex, Trailfinders… I went to some open days and talks, I watched videos from bloggers sharing their “voluntour” experiences; cultural immersion, homestays with local families, learning and getting more than they could ever give back, having their eyes opened, falling in love with the country, culture and community. The projects available are vast – animal conservation, marine & diving, teaching English, construction & beautification, elderly care, medical assistance… It clicked into place, it felt right. I was animatedly rambling on and drawing maps in the air with my finger as I excitedly discussed options with my friends.
I narrowed it down to a travel bucket list – Mexico, Guatemala, India, Nepal, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia. Some projects jumped out at me and made my heart swell – childcare through art on a beach in Mexico, after school clubs and children’s libraries in fishing villages in Central America, womens empowerment in Nepal, teaching English to novice monks in a Buddhist monastery, community help with mahouts in an elephant village in India, sea turtle conservation in Costa Rica or Sri Lanka… Glorious pipe dreams, hopefully I can make some a reality.
I decided to save up to volunteer and travel instead of applying for a job teaching English. That way I could, theoretically, see more and have more freedom, a safe base with local expertise, and crucially, not deprive a local of a job. To be clear, I know I can’t save the world, and am aware of the controversy surrounding sending unskilled students to volunteer abroad on construction projects for two weeks to gain some smug self satisfaction, or drop by to an orphanage and spend a few hours taking pictures and hugging vulnerable, confused children. I want to learn and discover, but also I realise the value of having eight years experience as a primary school teacher of international & inner city children. I feel my skills lie in child care and teaching in community projects and that I could be beneficial in a project abroad given enough time.
The first place I chose to visit was Nepal. Only for two weeks, mind you. Getting my feet wet. I’d never stayed in a hostel with strangers, or traveled alone, or been to Asia. If I hated it, then I’d have to change tack, teach English in Florence or Barcelona maybe. The program looked incredible though and only time would tell…
In closing, one of the quotes that kept me going – “You will know you made the right decision when you pick the hardest and most painful choice but there is peace in your heart”