So. This is the end of month six of my internship with three weeks to go. Work is wrapping up, and due dates are impending on me and I will say I’m not really ready to be done this adventure. And I thought it would be a good time to write a blog about why I came here and what I’d hope to achieve and what makes leaving friends and family behind worth trying out new experiences in new places.
I wish I could travel BUT I don’t have time/money/skills/I’m a student/I have debt/I have work.
I’ve been contacted by so many people, many of them who I haven’t talked to in years while I’ve been abroad. Most of these people have been friends of mine on facebook who I knew at some point in my life. Many of them express jealousy at my travels, or slight awe that I’m willing to go abroad for this long. Cumulatively I’ve spent about a year in Africa at this point and its definitely meant that I’ve had to sacrifice things for this experience. I gave up graduating with many of my friends, I gave up spending Christmas with my family, I missed birthdays, and christmases. I’ve dealt with homesickness, and medical emergencies in a foreign setting. It’s cost me a year of my life where I didn’t make any money, pushed back graduating, lost friendships and relationships.
However, I would not go back and change my decision to come here. In fact, if I could go back in time, I would likely have made the decision to try and find a way to stay longer. You do miss out on things traveling, and it isn’t always cheap. I feel pretty blessed to be here and to have met the people I’ve gotten a chance to meet while traveling. I value all of my experiences abroad, but at the same time–there is no ‘luck’ in me being here. I spent hours and hours searching for a way to afford to come here. I filled out applications, visas, got medical tests, worked long hours, and spent a lot of time researching South Africa. The thing is, if you want to travel -there’s a way to do it. Regardless of how much you make, or where you are in your life, you just have to really want it, and be flexible in where you are willing to go. You might not be able to find a way to go spend a semester in Vienna for cheap, but there are other ways and places to go. The world is a beautiful wonderful place and if you’re open to it–you can find a way to see different parts of it.
And you need to get over the idea of it being the ‘right time’ to travel. There may never be a great time to pack up your life for six months to go do something new somewhere new. You might have to come to the conclusion that it might put you in some debt, or it might put you off graduating in four years, or you might have to shell out a grand for an airline ticket. I had a really good friend of mine who passed away while he was here pretty suddenly. He loved his family, and missed them, but he was also having the time of his life abroad and meeting new people. He was twenty one, and if anything, that just proves that you shouldn’t put off new experiences for when you are older. You might not ever be older.
Plus there are huge benefits to traveling when you are young. You, for example, are much more willing to sleep on other people’s couches to save ten bucks. Couch surfing, is not always for the weak of heart, but it’s a great way to meet locals and see new things. Young people seem to be more okay with eating strange cheap foods from vendors, or subside on a diet of rice and beans. If you want to see how far you can stretch your money, now is the time to do it.
Language barriers intimidate me.
So learn some before you go abroad! People everywhere seem to know a little English, but it’s easy enough to learn some basic phrases for wherever you are going. Just do your research, be prepared, and never ever doubt the power of some decent charades for getting a basic message across. If you have a smart phone, considering downloading language phrase apps or writing out important information on paper so you can show locals. I had a friend who did this with Afrikaans and she learned more than the rest of us, and made some really diverse friends because people always appreciate when you make an effort to learn their native language. It’s manners really.
How do you plan this stuff? How do you know where to go? Get around? Find housing?
Research my friend! Lonely Planet books, and websites! Check out travellers blogs–there’re THOUSANDS of them, and many of them are very comprehensive. Hostelworld has great reviews on places to stay, and really all you need is to spend some quality time on google.
Weren’t you worried about your own personal safety in a place like South Africa?
No. And Yes. I was worried the first time I came here because I had never gone on a massive trip like this by myself. And it IS intimidating. However, traveling safely mainly has to do with how aware you are of where you are, and the consequences of your actions. If you go into townships at night, or ride the train with a sparkly new shiny phone–you’ll probably have some trouble. If you’re smart and avoid situations like that, you’ll likely be fine. There’s always that random chance something might go wrong, but a lot of being safe is being self-aware. You might have to come to the conclusion that if you want to have a smart phone here, that at some point it might get stolen. Or if you want to work in a township, or visit a more ‘dangerous’ area, you might get mugged. So weigh situations before you walk into them, because most of the time–not all the time, the stories I hear about people getting in trouble are when they engage in behaviour that is probably not very smart in the first place. I’ve had friends who had stuff stolen out of their cars–you never leave stuff in cars here. I’ve had friends who have been mugged in townships who were carrying valuables on them and thus what would have been a simply rattling experience, turned into a fairly expensive one. I even had a friend mugged in a grocery store where they lost a lot of money and credit cards/debit cards-but they lost it because they had a lot of money on them, and if they hadn’t it would have minimized the trouble.
One of the simplest things I’d say can to minimize your headaches here, or while traveling is to only carry cash if you can avoid carrying cards. They’re kind of a huge headache to get replaced, especially in a country where the mail isn’t very reliable. Same goes for passports or driver’s licenses. If you need them, carry copies when possible.
(I’m not saying that these thefts were at all the fault of those who were robbed, in an ideal world no one would have to worry about their possessions, but we don’t live in that world yet, so in the mean time do what you can to save yourself the trouble of replacing cameras and credit cards)
Well nothing bad’s happened to you..
Sure it has! I’ve sprained an ankle and spent three weeks on crutches, discovered an allergy to a very common antibiotic, been mugged, had personal property stolen in a hostel, broken a camera, screwed up a bus ticket, had friends pass away, had friends get into fights in bars, and gotten very very lost many many times.
And that is just the tip of the iceberg. The fact is shit happens. None of these events made me regret coming here. And most of my friends who have had a bad event/thing happen to them will say the same thing. The good things about traveling always outweigh the bad things. It was all still worth it.
I had a very close friend visit me while I was here. I’ve known her for ages, and frankly the first couple days were a little rough–mostly because I don’t think I appreciated how nerve-racking it can be going somewhere completely new for the first time. The fact is, traveling is something that requires a minor leap of faith to do, and for some people that leap comes more naturally than for others. If this is you, maybe try and find projects or programs where you have more support. You might have to pay a little more money in order to find a way to go abroad with a friend, or to go abroad with your school, but if you feel more comfortable, you’ll try more new things and you’ll get a lot more out of it. You only get as much out of a trip as you’re willing to put in.
Travel. Travel as much as you can, wherever you can, and don’t be afraid to skip off the beaten path and find your own adventures in crazy places all over the world. Travel in Canada, or go abroad, just challenge yourself with new things and perspectives. And learn things while you do it. As fun as it is getting drunk in bars and skydiving or whatever crazy stunts people like to do while abroad, take the time to learn about the place you are in, talk to locals and meet new people.
A lot of my best conversations occur in odd places, like cafes and on trains. People are genuinely interested in sharing their culture with tourists, and hearing about your home country. People are wonderful and if you are open to meeting them, you’ll broaden yourself to whole new experiences.