After the statement we made on Anthony’s 30th Birthday it seemed only fitting to look to cement the next stage of our career break on my 30th.
Initially we had viewed ourselves as taking a grown up gap year – a term that for us had been coined by Emily-Ann Elliott. However, when the opportunity to sign up for an i-to-i TEFL internship came along we jumped at the opportunity and handed our notice in on Anthony’s 30th Birthday. This meant we had added 6 months onto the start of our RTW trip and put off having to worry about planning anything whilst trying to finish work, sell everything we own and move out of our house.
free of any real possessions, commitments or pressures
After settling in to our internship we looked to our next stage. We enjoyed being free of any real possessions, commitments or pressures and wanted to continue to travel. As we were now enjoying our life in China, we considered staying on but in a different area of the country to make the most of our weekends for travel. However, reading posts from our fellow travel bloggers rekindled our wanderlust and we returned to the original plan of taking a RTW trip confident that there would still be job opportunities in China in a years time.
enable us to make a real difference
Not content just to travel though, we looked to volunteering feeling that this would: allow for more slow travel; give us the confidence to push ourselves out of our comfort zones; and enable us to make a real difference. However, there was so much information out there that it was difficult to filter. It was only as we started to contact potential companies that we realised volunteering as a couple might be harder than we first thought.
set our hearts on South Africa and India
Many of the larger companies did seem to offer everything we wanted at a price we could afford. However, due to their larger size they often accommodated their volunteers in single-sex dorms or even separate houses. This is not something we were after and, having already set our hearts on South Africa and India, we were not willing to compromise on location to be able to share a room.
Having run out of options and ready to discuss if we were happy to sign up to live separately for part of our RTW trip we found Plan My Gap Year. They seemed too good to be true: they had the projects we wanted to be involved in at the right locations; they stated that couples could easily be accommodated together; and they were within our price range. Having spent a fraction of the time looking at their site compared to many others, I turned to Anthony and said:
I think we’ve just found the company for us.
It was as simple as that. We were so pleased with them that we increased the volunteering portion of our year away from five to seven months and even added an extra country to our itinerary (Sri Lanka).
Just as we were about to book to head off to South Africa in early September we were contacted by Voluntary Projects Overseas. VPO were one of many organisations we had looked at initially but hadn’t decided to pursue due purely to the locations on offer. Yet, they now presented a fantastic opportunity that was too good to turn away: a free placement in return for some blogging, vlogging and general social media support. We thought long and hard about it, not wanting to agree to something we couldn’t fully deliver but, as we would be doing the same for PMGY (in exchange for a free registration fee for S.Africa as well as in-country upgrades for both India & Sri Lanka so we could get a private room) and had been doing this for i-to-i too, we felt confident we could help them out.
With all the elements coming together, we could now start to formulate a plan. VPO had mentioned three of their key projects in India, Nepal & Cambodia. Since we had already been to Cambodia this destination didn’t feature on our radar. Equally this looked to be the most successful of the VPO repertoire and therefore would most likely get a growth of volunteers organically from the other support we provided. As we were off to India with PMGY we were unsure as to whether more time in this country was what we wanted. However, we then read about VPO’s newest project in Southern India which had yet to have a single volunteer. We knew if we worked hard we could support in marketing this opportunity to help getting volunteers over there. Nepal was something we were very keen to add to our RTW plans but then a tragic earthquake struck, not once but twice! Hearing first hand accounts of people witnessing the deaths of their loved ones and friends via our VPO contact, we knew this was a country that would need the help of volunteers. Currently this is being coordinated by the professionals who are best experienced, skilled and equipped. However, by the time we would be available to go in September it might just be possible they will need our help.
The plan so far
We are therefore looking to fly out to Nepal for two weeks at the start of September. This flight (thanks to STA Travel will be via Delhi so should Nepal fall through we will arrive in India two weeks ahead of schedule where we will either visit VPO’s Northern India project in the Himalayas, make the most of some discount vouchers we have for an Exodus trip, or do some of our own travel. Following Nepal, we’ll be heading to Vijayawada (again via Delhi) to support VPO’s Southern India project for two weeks. After this, we’ll be on our own & will be making our way up through India to arrive in Delhi by the 25th October to start the PMGY section of our trip.
Starting in Faridabad, India, we’ll be spending two months on their English teaching programme (working in slum schools) with the flexibility to get involved in other projects too – we’re particularly interested in helping out in the orphanage in our free time. Staying in the volunteer house (which doubles as our host’s home), we’ll have our own private room and all meals provided.
Next we’ll be moving on to Sri Lanka where we’ll be involved in a Sea Turtle conservation project for a month. This is a dream of Anthony’s and will really push me out of my comfort zone. However, as with India, we’ll have the chance to take part in other projects too such as teaching about conservation in schools.
Our final stop with Plan My Gap Year will be a 10 week placement in Cape Town, South Africa. As in India, we’ll be on the English teaching programme working with children from the Townships. There will be less flexibility to switch between projects but, should schools close due to holidays, we’ll be able to get involved in their Childcare programmes. Unlike India & Sri Lanka, we will not have a private room but can still be easily accommodated together in mixed dorms. Although not ideal, this is a much better solution than other providers could offer us and it will enable us to really integrate with and get to know our fellow volunteers. Plus, being only 10 minutes away from the beach will give us the chance to get some time away from the hustle and bustle of the house should we need it.
After the plan?
It’s great having some plans in place for the first half of the year and, as we’ll be both volunteering for and working with VPO and PMGY, this has been crucial. However, we’ll still have a lot of flexibility in India plus the freedom to travel on afternoons and weekends throughout our stays in Sri Lanka and South Africa. We’ve also added two additional weeks onto our South Africa trip to make the most of our visa and explore the Garden Route, Port Elizabeth, Durban and Johannesburg (hopefully with a safari included).
Then were off to Australia, originally to start in Sydney though, after the advice of our STA Travel planner, we’ll be starting in Melbourne and heading up the East Coast to Cairns. Over in Australia, we still want to do some volunteering and are currently looking at Helpx where we can exchange a few hours work for accommodation and maybe even food too. We’re also considering using a hop-on-hop-off bus service for backpackers like Oz Experience which we can use for transport as well as getting involved in organised activities including surf lessons, sailing, sand-boarding and learning to dive at the Great Barrier Reef (another one ticked off Anthony’s bucket list).
We have no idea how this amazing year is going to turn out or what these captivating countries will offer us. We do know that we are determined to make a difference and to make the most of every opportunity. If you would like to keep updated then please add your email to receive our updates and pop back from time to time. If you have any advice or ideas we would love to hear from you.