July 14, 2016

Day 1000 – My story so far

Today is day 1000, 1000 days since I left London, 1000 days since I boarded my first flight to Saigon and 1000 days of adventure, being on the road and trying to make the most of everything thrown my way. I left with the solo aim of volunteering in an orphanage aboard. That was my dream but after three of months of Vietnam, I wanted to see a little more and do a little more and so my trip continued. In the end, I volunteered in both Vietnam and Cambodia before backpacking around South East Asia. I spend a total of seven months exploring eight countries and I would have stayed longer but I wanted to hit South America.

I had initially thought about volunteering in South America but given I don’t speak Spanish or Portuguese, I was advised to reconsider. Upon booking my flight for Argentina, I was aware that my Spanish was still next to non-existent but that didn’t stop me. I didn’t know what to expect or how it would be but I knew I wanted to see and experience it for myself. I volunteered again in both Brazil and Paraguay before living and working in Paraguay for nine months.  I spent over a year in South America and I explored four countries. I love South America, the energy, warmth and love from the people is vibrant and evident.
I left South America and headed to South Africa to meet my sister and brother-in-law. Given I hadn’t seen my family or friends for nearly two years it was a great trip to catch up.  They went back home after three weeks but I stayed on and volunteered in a township in Cape Town. Whilst as a family we had been to South Africa, we never explored any other country in Africa so I booked a two-month adventure tour to see more. I was lucky enough to travel and explore ten countries with some great people. I was keen to see Tanzania as my father was born there and whilst I didn’t go to his home town, I got to explore and appreciate other cities.  Africa is not a backpacker continent and it is not cheap to travel through either so for me, the tour proved to be a great means to explore countries safely. I love Africa, different spirit and connection to South America but special.
I finished the tour in Kenya and was virtually broke. I had a decision to make; to go home and work or find work elsewhere. I researched several possibilities; China, South Korea, Japan and Australia. Each of these countries would give me valuable and an unique experience. I opted for Australia as I have friends here and I would be able to apply for the working holiday visa as I was under the age of thirty. Plus I had met so many backpackers who applied and were granted such a visa that I was hopeful.  Sure enough I was granted a one year working holiday visa but not before I underwent a medical examination. I initially stay in Kingscliff with my friend Denise but after a week or so, moved into central Brisbane in the hope to find work. Had I not found employment before Christmas, I was planning on going home.
I moved to a small, military and mining town, Townsville just before Christmas because I was fortunate enough to be offered work. Most of my friends here in Australia were not so keen on Townsville and many have never visited the town. I wasn’t in a position to be picky or fussy about location and quite frankly for me I wanted and needed a job which I now I had so I wasn’t about to turn it down. I managed to work as a women’s health and sexual assault counsellor for six months thanks to my masters in social work and experience. I was hopeful about getting a job in Australia but I didn’t think I would be fortunate enough to get a job that I was passionate about, doing something I love and am so enthusiastic about.  Whilst back at home, I wouldn’t be employed as a counsellor as I have no qualification in this field, here in Australia it is different, many social workers are counsellors.
Whilst I love travelling and being on the road, I also love to stop and really immense myself in a culture and what better way then to live and become part of the local community. I struggle with blitz backpackers that spend no more than a day before heading to another country. I understand time and money constraints and perhaps if they had the choice, they too would spend longer in a city. For me, the best part of travelling is living like a local. Sure we want to visit and do the touristic things but the real joy for me is uncovering hidden gems that are off the beaten track. For instance; having brunch at a local cafe, finding a good second-hand book store, eating street food, enjoying drinks at a bbq on the beach and dancing the night away at a street party. It does take energy and effort to find such joys but it is well worth it. Plus, in many parts of the world, locals are more than happy to help, in fact they want to show your city or introduce you to their community.
I don’t have a endless pit of money and of course we all need money to travel. Whilst, I saved up and had money when I left, I spent a great deal of that money which is why I was happy to work in Paraguay and Australia. Working in a city also helps to ground you and it helped me feel like I belonged to a community. As a backpacker, I have often felt like I could float through cities but volunteering or working in a city makes you much more visible. Finding something your passionate about and joining that cause not only enables you to love what you do but it also surrounds you with people that share your passion and vision. I have met some truly beautiful people wherever I volunteered or worked. It is then the people that I miss dearly more than the city.