One Taste and I was Hooked
I have always enjoyed holidays abroad, who doesn’t? However, I got my first real taste of solo travel back in 2015 when I travelled to Amsterdam alone.
My friend was currently backpacking across Europe, also solo, and we organised to meet up. Don’t get me wrong it was only a long weekend but it gave me massive confidence in myself. For a girl who lacks co-ordination to get on a plane and fly to a country that she had never been to before was a big achievement. A perfect taster for travelling.
The flight was only around an hour long and navigating the trains was not as hard as I had anticipated. People are more friendly than we give them credit for. Any time I asked for directions strangers were more than willing to help me.
I had arranged to stay in a hostel and to be honest I wasn’t sure what to expect. This was all new to me. It turned out I was sharing a room with two other girls. It was a small but very pleasant room and I didn’t see the other two girls much. I felt extremely safe and secure.
Amsterdam was no where near as sleazy as I thought it was going to be. A very beautiful place with fantastic views, museums and history. However, whilst walking along a man did make a beeline for me with a piece of paper in his hand. It had one word written on it. Sex? ‘Where is the sex?’ he asked me. I’m not sure what made me look like I was the kind of person who knew that but I pointed him in the right direction anyway. Always happy to help.
One Step Further
Once I was back home safe and sound I had time to reflect on my long weekend away. I loved it. The excitement of relying on yourself to navigate around unfamiliar places. The enjoyment of meeting new people – I wanted more.
I started looking at companies that specialised in volunteering abroad. I have a passion for working with animals and I was running my own pet sitting service at the time. So, I figured I would like to work with animals.
There are various companies that provide Gap Year Travel, Volunteering Options & Short Breaks. Some are listed below:-
Then I came across it – ‘Working in South Africa with Lion Cubs’. I knew this was the one. I kept my eye on it for a while. Fear was holding me back a little and I had to save up in the meantime. Eventually I booked my two weeks away for April 2016. Check out my tips for travelling alone.
Was I scared? Hell yes! A long weekend away, meeting up with a friend was one thing. But taking two weeks away in a strange county with no one you know, was quite another. I did get cold feet but I thankfully never cancelled my plans.
Life with the Lions
The trip to South Africa from the UK consisted of two 8 hour flights but everything went smoothly. I flew with Qatar who were an awesome airline. I arrived in Johannesburg airport where I was met by my Rep. We waited for the others to arrive and we headed to our first night in our hostel.
I thoroughly enjoy meeting new people and interacting with different personalities. I love how uniquely diverse we all are. The first night I shared my room with three of the other girls and it was not awkward in the slightest.
We went to the lodge the next day and was shown around. We met current volunteers and were shown what we would be doing (there was poop scooping involved) and where we would be staying.
I really threw myself into anything and everything they asked of me. I didn’t want to miss out on a thing. It was like nothing I had done before. Interacting with Lion cubs & Cheetahs. Going on walks with the older Lions. Picking veg and feeding the animals on the farm. Completely out of my comfort zone but I loved every second of it. Some girls were staying for 6+ weeks. It really was quite an experience.
In hindsight however, I really wish I did my research before working with wild animals. It turned out to be an educational trip for me also. I was not aware of the canned hunting scene in South Africa. Nor did I understand the ramifications of human interaction with wild animals. Even looking back now I am in constant conflict with myself. The experience was one of my best so far but I have the feeling that I may have done more damage than I realise.
When I went out to Africa I genuinely thought I would be helping and making an impact. I researched the place I was going to. They are a research facility for Feline TB and Aids. I was informed that all of the Lions are tracked and do not go to canned hunting farms under any circumstances. I’m sure there is much more research that I need to do on this subject.
Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail
Unlike many blogs and articles that I read, I did not wake up one day and decide to quit my job and catch the first plane outta here. After South Africa and discussions with my partner, we agreed we both wanted to travel. However, I had a good job, a house, a car, we needed to save and plan. The decision most certainly was not made overnight.
We spent well over a year getting our financial affairs in order and started to plan our trip. I am very lucky that I work for a company that will let me take a year out and I have a job to come back to. Whether I return to that job is a question for another time. I am all for spur of the moment spontaneity, but sometimes it really does pay to think things through.
There were plenty of questions to ask:
- Where do you want to go?
- How long for?
- How much money can you save?
- Can you take time off work? Are you prepared to quit your job?
- Do you want to work while you travel?
- Are you happy to sell what you can’t take?
- Will you sell or rent your house?
One question answered always seemed to lead to two new questions. It is important to take the time to plan things through properly. I feel much more confident than if I was just ‘winging it’.
I decided to do a blog to document my travels mainly for my family. However, I chose to give this a vegetarian theme as I want to share as much information as possible about the Vegetarian/Vegan diet, especially while away from home.
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