April 5, 2016

Day 900 – Reflections

So I reached a milestone today, 900 days of being on the road, of being a traveller, an explorer, a volunteer, a backpacker and more. That’s over two years now that I haven’t been back home to London and caught up with my family and friends. It’s not easy and I didn’t plan to disappear for so long. I didn’t think I would last this long and I didn’t imagine that I would ever want to. But it has been great, a lot of learning, appreciating and being grateful. It has also made me slow down and embrace the moment, the conversation and individual more.  Below are I few of my realisations and suggestions for future fellow travellers.

1/  Volunteer abroad – it was my dream to do aid work abroad and it was through my volunteering experience in Vietnam that many other opportunities came along. Sure, volunteering abroad is expensive but you can save money by avoiding the big umbrella organizations and contacting organisations directly. I managed to do this in Cambodia, Paraguay and South Africa and it is considerably cheaper than going through a large organisation. Money aside, volunteering abroad exposes you to a new city, culture and in turn a way of life. In my experience, I also met some wonderful people which turned into some great friendships. There is a great sense of joy and satisfaction that I felt from volunteering because I saw the difference my work made. I saw it every day with the children and in turn I felt their appreciation. I volunteered for years back in London but volunteering in Saigon left a mark on me and changed my life.

2/ Backpack as a traveller, drop the suitcase and avoid being a tourist – when I left in October 2013, I was naive and inexperienced as a traveller. The best way to cross borders and get on night buses is with a backpack. I started my journey with a suitcase, containing half of my wardrobe and it did me no favours. I struggled going up and down stairs, it was hard to throw it onto a long boat and next to impossible to get it on a rickshaw. So yes I learnt the hard way and I cannot emphasis it enough, travelling with a backpack truly is the way forward.

3/ Travel solo – sure travelling with your best friend or in a group is good fun but I encourage you to travel solo at least once. When I left, I was scarred shitless and so anxious about travelling solo especially as a woman. It is the best way to travel as I am never alone, I’m constantly surrounded by or am with people in hostels, buses or sites. When you travel with a friend or friends there is little motivation to talk to other travellers’. Part of the travelling experience is about the people we meet and share moments and experiences with. I have had some beautiful, in-depth, thought provoking conversations with people I may never see again but I will always have that moment we shared.

4/ Live abroad – so many of us visit a city without infiltrating in the local community. We don’t have the time to really appreciate the local food or music. We don’t allow ourselves to spend time with locals and to live with them. What better way of understanding and appreciating another city then living there. There are many amazing and diverse cities out there which are waiting to be explored and appreciated by travellers. I was able to learn short cuts and buy street food in Saigon. We took the local bus into town and integrated ourselves with locals. Living abroad is the best way to experience life, understand the local’s problems and hardship and how these can be overcome.

5/ Work abroad – if living abroad or volunteering is hard then I urge you to work overseas. I never planned on working in Paraguay but it happened. Many developing countries have far greater opportunities and far less bureaucracy than developed countries. There is scope for implementing new ideas and being innovative. I was able to work as an English teacher, work in a hostel, sell Indian food and do henna all in the space of five months. So, unlock your hidden talents or simply improve your current skills and venture into a new city. I loved working in Paraguay, whilst I didn’t speak enough Spanish, I was able to understand that the work I did was good.

6/ The time is now – I know many of us are hesitant to take the plunge but there is no better moment than the presence. If we were able to embrace all our doubts and fears and sit with the uncomfortable feeling of the unknown then we would truly free ourselves and allow ourselves to take a leap of faith. There will always be something or someone that will prevent us from leaving and in turn living. I left soon after my grandmother passed away, with my parents abroad attending her funeral.  My plan was to see everyone, especially my family before I left but, it didn’t work out that way. I could have stayed and I have no doubt that had I done this, I would never have left. Trusting the unknown, the universe and all it has to offer is a big ask but if we surrender ourselves to this, we invite endless possibilities to come our way.

7/  Expand your comfort zone – no one other than you can live your life for you, no one can overcome your fears and no one can achieve your true potential. Travelling is one of the best ways to expand your comfort zones. It is an opportunity to push ourselves to the limit and we learn to appreciate what truly matters. I visited and explored cities I had never heard of, I tried new experiences and shared them with friends I had just made.  Each and every one changed me a little, shaped me a little and enhanced my understanding on matters. The only way to overcome our fears is to face them, to live them and in turn we realise that all these fears were simply in our head.

8/ Learn to appreciate all that you have and more- travelling makes you realise how fortunate we are and just how much we have to be thankful for.  Volunteering and travelling through Africa was an eye-opener for many travellers who were not aware of just how hard life is for some people. It was a realisation of how wealthy we are in the west and in turn how much we can do to help. We don’t have load shedding in England, we don’t have a donkey system heating up water and we have high speed internet. All of this and more is a luxury in parts of Africa.  Despite the hardships, the spirits are high and locals, especially children, make the most of what they have. There are no demands for an iPad in parts of Rio, in the favela I volunteered in because, many don’t know that it exists and so have no desire to own one.

9/ Spend time and money making memories not consuming – we live in a capitalistic system which, is forever encouraging us to consume and not to travel. Money is well spent on making priceless memories than on a latest phone or new piece of furniture. It shouldn’t matter what we own or how much, it should matter how we are living are life. When we die, I would rather be remembered for what I did, how I helped and inspired others rather than how much Gucci I owned or what phone I had.