Charlotte got the travel bug as soon as she started earning enough to get away.
I started off probably how most young people do, travelling to places where English is the first language. Then I did a few trips into Europe and stayed in little boutique hotels and explored. But over the last two or three years I’ve improved my travel style: meeting people and learning their experiences.
I took this philosophy into my travels in Thailand, where a motorbike accident prompted me to put it into action; we found ourselves involved with local people and village life in ways I hadn’t expected.
Travelling across Thailand
My partner Alex and I went to Thailand a couple of years ago. We did some island-hopping, and on Koh Lanta we hired a scooter. It was a beautiful place and the morning was idyllic, and we were taking pictures of the sea and from a school that was at break time – all the children came running to see us, and we had a chat with the teacher.
Coming back, we came down a hill and because it was the rainy season there was a load of silt that had come down from the mountains, settling on the road, and as we went around a corner the bike went one way and the two of us went in different directions and were injured. So, our plans had to change.
We asked the staff at our hotel if there was anything we could do apart from just being in this beautiful place? The people there were amazing; they spoke to their friends and one day a guy came and picked us up and took us back to his family home: it was this little homestead out of the way of anywhere, and they taught us how to weave traditional baskets and the toys that they make for children.
And that was how I’d wanted to travel: just learning, meeting the people, learning from the people, learning their language. After this, we asked them if they had any other friends that could help us out and they said, “Oh yes, there’s another resort up the road and it’s closed at the moment for refurbishments, but they’ve got a really good chef up there, so if you want she said you can go there and learn to cook some Thai food”, so she took us up there. When we pulled up, there were macaques just sitting around. The monkeys were obviously in crazed state smelling the food. This was an entirely different experience and something that was phenomenal for me, because I was meeting people and learning about their lives.
Safari in Africa through volunteering
And it was those experiences in Thailand that led me, when I went to Africa, to go on a kind of work holiday. Colchester Zoo were offering opportunities for work-holidays in projects they were affiliated with.
So we signed up, went over there and we met some incredible people. The people that run it, Abby and Neil, are phenomenal. They’re a married couple and they met on another project in Namibia. They manage these places together, and the progress they’ve made is incredible. Every morning, Alex would have a cup of tea ready for me on the veranda. I’d go out and watch the sunrise, and it was just the most humbling and beautiful thing I’ve ever experienced. We were also creating erosion defenses, and once we tried to save an escaped giraffe who had done a 180 over the fence and got himself on the wrong side!
My Africa travel experiences proved to me how mixing work with pleasure makes a more fulfilling travel experience and creates opportunities for local people that are often desperately needed.
The rangers were incredible. The local population are Zulu people, and the local area has a 65-70% unemployment rate, so jobs are hard to come by. Neil and Abby, who run the reserve, were trying to create not just a culture of having a job, especially because of the poaching issues that they have over there, but a culture of looking after your own environment.
I thought we would be a hindrance to the rangers because they’ve got to patrol and make sure that all the animals are safe, and that the fences are upheld and all the rest of it. We were talking to them, and they were saying how, no, we make their job possible because they have interns come over and pay: it’s a working holiday, so you pay to be there and it’s a charity, so you’re contributing to the costs. They had four rangers, now they’ve got eight, and they’re hoping to expand and get more and more and more, because of the opportunities this project is creating.
I got amazing things out of that African trip. We did do a one-day safari in a local game reserve while we were there, but it made me really glad that we had decided to work instead of just do that. We saw lions and other animals, but it was just like a checklist.
For me, it was amazing waking up and walking outside and, having built the watering hole the week before, having a giraffe come and drink from it, or going out at night time onto the veranda and shining the big flashlight with the red light on so it doesn’t scare the animals, and seeing hundreds of pairs of eyes, because the impala have decided to come down for the night.
So my travel experiences have started combining holidays with an element of development work, and it’s a symbiotic relationship.