When I started planning the Epic Journey, I thought “Every step of the pre-journey will be tracked on my blog!”
Then stuff like gaming, the gaming blog and the Outside World captured my attention more than writing about trip planning. And so, years into planning, I’ve only just started writing about it.
Better late than never, though, so here’s some sharing of random stuff I found in different countries that I think would be very fun into include in my adventures.
UltimateOz’ Outback Ranch Package: If you google anything about Australian arrival packages or ranch work, this always comes up first. I searched around for references and reviews, just because it seemed too good to be true, and everything I found pointed toward it being legit. For the first half of the two week program, they welcome you and show you around Sydney and help you do all the bureaucratic stuff like set up a bank account and taxfile number, deal with mail and stuff like that. Yes, I know it’s all stuff I could do on my own for much cheaper, but you know what? For once in my life, I don’t want to think. I want them to walk me through it, I want to hang out with other travelers and I want my arrival to be as stress-free as possible. I also have a huge budget set aside for splurges that I really want, and I really want this splurge.
During the second week, you get hands-on ranch training and experience. I can’t even begin to say how excited I get when I think of that.
Obviously, I live in Alberta, Canada, and every time I bring this up offline, I get job offers from local farms. And yes, the whole reason I want to do the course (and hopefully work a couple of months on a real cattle ranch – but I’d still do the course even if I decided to not pursue cattle ranch work) is because it’s a skillset I don’t have, and I’m a big believer of using every opportunity to develop new skills. I could, sure, develop those skills here in Canada, but there’s a world of difference between volunteering on a Canadian farm over my weekends in addition to my regular job, and having a blast with other travelers in the hot Australian sun while my mind is free of the burdens of drug insurance companies and angry customers.
More than just developing new skills, I also want to get this kind of experience while I still can. I plan on going into more detail in future posts, but the countdown on my leg use has started. I still do fine most of the time but I lose feeling in them more and more often, and the muscles are getting stubborner and stubborner. Every time the Epic Journey gets delayed, my heart sinks and I worry that my trip will start too late and I won’t meet the physical requirements for a farm experience.
So anyway, the plan is to make sure I have a really fun physical job and take full advantage of my ability to walk and run and lift heavy objects because I won’t be able to much longer.
Volunteering through Andaman Discoveries: I really wanted to do some international volunteer work along the way and my guide book suggested Andaman Discoveries. I looked them up and was impressed by their mentality, their level of organization and how recognized they were in the field of ethical tourism.
There are a lot of opportunities in South East Asia to volunteer in orphanages. I’ve been, though, warned against the darksides of orphanage volunteering. For one, the short term aspect of volunteering is rough on the kids. As soon as they get attached to you, you leave. And secondly, there’ve been reports of orphanages buying children to serve as tourist attractions. (While this may be entirely untrue, as an international adoption hopeful, I’ve done a lot of reading on the topic and it seems that a major reason Canada and the US have banned adoption from certain countries is because families, orphanages and agencies were trying to “sell” children who did not need adopting to Westerners.)
Andaman does have an orphanage volunteering program (which seems like it is ethical, and the volunteer’s role seems to be more that of a guest presenter than a caretaker, which likely much healthier for the kids), they also have a program for children of Burmese Migrants, and a Special Education program. All the programs seem super interesting, but I would love to volunteer with the Special Education program. I worked for years at a summer camp for children on the Austism Spectrum where I discovered that I absolutely adore that clientele. I miss it every day now that I can’t have summer jobs anymore. It would be amazing to have another Special Education experience, this time in an intercultural setting.
Big Brother Mouse: Literacy is my favorite cause, so I was super excited when I stumbled upon Big Brother Mouse. In Laos, many people live in remote areas where books aren’t exactly accessible. And even when books are available, many of them are in foreign languages. Big Brother Mouse works to increase the quantity of books in the Lao language and gets those books to places they wouldn’t normally go. Opportunities to help out mostly involve sponsorship (however! if you have a published book that would be appropriate in Laos and you’re willing to give them the rights to publish it in Lao – let them know! They might be interested and you’d be making a difference in people’s lives!), but something cool you can donate toward are book parties. During book parties, they bring books to a more remote village. There are a lot of fun activities and games, and in the end, they leave enough books behind to start a mini-library. What makes this even better is that if you sponsor a book party, you can attend one in the future. It seems like a great way to support literacy and learn about Lao culture in a really unique setting.
Every time I read the Big Brother Mouse website, I want to learn and master the Lao language, just so that I can help them write and translate books. Hmm, I wonder if I could get my pharmacist credentials in Laos, so that I could stay longer and make myself useful.
In my travel research, the biggest surprise to me was the Philippines. I didn’t know much about the country, other than how it was composed of many islands and their people, I swear, are the bravest people in the world. Even in Northern, Northern Canadian towns that suffer extreme climates that even us Canadians can’t stand, you’ll always find a thriving and cheerful Filipino community.
About a year ago, I started sponsoring a little girl in the Philippines. The organization I do the sponsorship with, Plan Canada, lets you visit your sponsored children. (Mine is really young, so I would probably be more like visiting her family.) So I started doing researching what else I could check out in the Philippines.
Interestingly, there is a lot to do in the Philippines. Plus, tourism there seems to be at its childhood stages, so there is enough infrastructure to make travel simple and interesting, but the country isn’t overrun yet by annoying and perverted tourists.
One thing that caught my eye is WWOOFing opportunities in the Philippines. WWOOFing (Willing Workers On Organic Farms – basically you get room and board in exchange for volunteering on a farm) is super popular among travelers to Australia and New Zealand, but I was surprised to see hosts in the Philippines. I think it would be a great chance to stay in one place in the Philippines, put my Australian farm skills to use, contribute a little bit to the local economy and get a small feel of daily life in their country.
Those are the bigger projects I’m interested in, but I would still like to see all the countries listed in my South East Asia guide book. I definitely want to visit temples in Myanmar/Burma and Cambodia (I would like to study religious history in those countries, but I couldn’t find much in terms of short courses so I will probably have to teach myself before I go). I want to take a (or several!) cooking class(es) in Vietnam. I want to visit the wildlife in Indonesia and Malaysia, I want to stay in a Borneo Longhouse. New Zealand has my attention as well and I would love to take a short course on Maori culture and language (all I could find, though, were year long university certificates and, unfortunately, I don’t have enough time for that).
I want to eat lots of food in Singapore (and also want to explore the city/country – I had this massive fascination with Singapore when I was, like, 19, and while the obsession has faded, I definitely want to spend a few days there) and experience Brunei and Timor-Leste, two countries that I had barely even heard of before researching my trip. (I had heard of Timor-Leste slightly, back when I was in high school, because of the unrest at the time, but I haven’t heard much of it since then.) And while I’m probably the only person in the world who doesn’t really care to go to Bali, I figure I should still spend a couple of nights there, just because.