The most frequently-asked q so far has to do with the mechanics of preparing and planning for a trip like this. Part of me felt really overwhelmed by all the organizing and costs. In some ways it is almost easier to surrender to the idea that it’s impossible than to commit and go forward. Read on to learn how I did it:
Rule 1: Be organized.
Rule 2: Be flexible.
Rule 3: Take risks.
Not much to be done there. I researched the cost trends for flights to South Africa on Kayak, chose a travel time that wasn’t absolute peak season, and used a travel agent (my friend Paul who works at Flight Centre). I felt like I needed an agent because there were layovers and connecting flights and so forth, and Pauly’s always come through for me. The cost of the flights was still exorbitant, but at least when I booked I felt confident that I’d gotten the best deal possible.
I am staying with a friend. This kind of travel isn’t for everybody, and not everybody has a friend or acquaintance as generous as Craig, but for those of us who can handle being outside our comfort zone while inside someone else’s home, I recommend it. It’s an authentic living situation rather than a manufactured facsimile, and it can make things much more affordable. Plus, you get that old college feeling waking up on someone’s floor – it’s a brilliant remedy for your mid-life crisis.
I am going to a place where I can wine and dine cheaply, but also, having a kitchen is key. I am a big fan of picnic-style eating, especially in the day time. In the end, though, you’d have to eat no matter where you are, so I try not to get too uptight about it.
This is a category that can be deceptively robust. For example, I have luggage: I bought a set from Canadian Tire a few years back for $35, and only one piece has disintegrated (literally, the wheels fell off, which was funny and devastating as I dragged my hobbled valise through the bustling pedestrian malls of Camden Town). For this trip, though, I think it would be wise to have the appropriate luggage – luggage I can count on to not lie down and give up at the first sign of stress. This kind of luggage tends to be laughably expensive, so I have arranged to borrow it for the trip (Thanks, Ryan!). Similarly, borrow power adapters, travel pillows etc etc. Everyone has a closet full of this stuff.
Bills, bills, bills:
Sadly, Rogers Wireless, the Student Loan Centre, and my landlord don’t give a toss about my adventure in do-goodery. I can’t help you with Rogers or the banks, but I reduced the amount of rent I have to pay while I’m gone by locating a housesitter/subletter. Also not for everyone, but if you can get past the weirdness and trust issues, it’s possible to really help someone out while they are helping you out. I used the strangely hard-to-find Sublets/Temporary Wanted section of Craigslist (directly linked here) and found a perfectly lovely woman from the States who is coming to Toronto to study in a bridge program in midwifery (and if you can’t trust the midwives, really, who can you trust?). She is going to live in my house and feed my cats (a service I might have had to pay for), and in return I am offering her a nice apartment a short walk away from her school, at a reduced rate. Win-win, right?
For a lot of people, work can not be combined with travel at all. I am lucky in that I can take some of my work with me. I work for myself so I don’t have to ask for the time off, and my work life happens online. It really doesn’t matter if I am sitting in my home office with Mendoza on my lap, or if I am in an apartment in East London, obsessing about the rumoured giant (hissing!) cockroaches of South Africa. While I am away I will be working on a volunteer basis, but I will also be doing some client work so I am neither skint nor disconnected on my return.
People want to help – it’s as simple as that. If you can be organized (see Rule 1) and make it easy for them, people want to kick in. I set up a PayPal button on this site so my friends and colleagues can donate; in return, I will volunteer my time in Africa, and include everyone in that experience by blogging about it. It’s a great idea to be flexible (see Rule 2) about donations, too. A customer service imbroglio last week turned into a positive outcome when not only were my concerns addressed, but I was also offered a credit on my web hosting account in lieu of a donation to the trip. Thanks Site5!
I also chose to travel without the help of an agency. Agencies tend to charge you for their part in matching you with an organization – a fee that does not always find its way to the organization served. These overhead costs don’t include flights and can be in the thousands of dollars. By necessity I had to find another way (see Rule 3).