As a child, our family holidays were the definition of a ‘fly and flop’ vacation. We’d exit the airport, head to the resort and rarely venture beyond the gates until home time. Days would be spent lounging by the pool and our only interaction with the country we were visiting would be the evening’s entertainment, somewhat lazily served up by the hotel as ‘local culture’.
As an adult, I began to travel to more exotic destinations than my parents ever dared – yet still, any real interaction with locals was restricted to organised excursions that let’s face it, are little more than revenue boosting staged experiences.
All that changed in 1995. On a trip The Gambia in Western Africa I became acquainted with a local man, who in his endless attempts to offer his services as an unofficial tour guide, told me about his village and family – a good three hours drive from the resort where I was staying. I expressed an interest in visiting, and so before dawn the following day, we set off on a journey that included the world’s most dangerously overloaded ferry and a bone-shaking jeep ride across endless plains and through a plague of locusts.
It was worth every single minute and I will never forget that day at his village. I was welcomed as one of their own, I ate with his family, played with his children and visited the school – a small hut in one corner that was desperately underfunded, but staffed by a group of teachers who did the best they could.
Upon returning to the UK, I gathered a box of much needed supplies for the school and mailed it to them. Very soon afterwards, I received a letter from the children thanking me for their new books, pens, pencil cases and rulers. It was a simple act that had a huge impact – and it changed the way I travelled forever.
Since then, I have always made a concerted effort whilst on holiday to put down my cocktail, get up from my sun lounger, and venture beyond the gates of the resort in search of something, someone, somewhere to spend just one day of my vacation making a positive impact upon the destination in which I am a guest. I’ve volunteered in schools in India, cleared litter from streams and rivers in Panama, helped local charities in Peru and even organised a game of cricket for children from an orphanage in Brazil.
Along the way I’ve made friends that have stood the test of time, forged ties with incredible people who work tirelessly for their local communities and in return have been blessed with moments and memories that I will treasure forever.
At NOW, we’re calling for anyone who has the opportunity to do the same to give just ‘One Day Back or More’ to the local community of their chosen destination. If you have children, the opportunity to involve them in an initiative like this is more enriching than any geography class could ever be – in-fact, it has the potential to be life-changing.
Over the coming months, We’ll be featuring these ‘One Day Back or More’ stories from NOW travellers in a GIVING BACK article to be published in itmustbeNOW Magazine in the hope that it will inspire you to do the same.