Between March and September 2014, I got ‘let go’ from two different jobs. One in Canada and one in South Africa. For both, I had uprooted my life and, although each had lasted very different lengths of time, the feelings of not being good enough, were the same.
I used this experience to rethink where I was (both physically and emotionally) and to focus on what I wanted long term rather than on getting another job. I had always had a dream to set up a social enterprise offering volunteer placements and had dabbled in doing so over the previous 5 years after spending time in Uganda. In fact, my passion for volunteer placements and community development is what had brought me to South Africa.
By chance, the end of 2014 saw me living in South Africa with half of my belongings still being in Canada. Having moved house twice since being in South Africa and downsizing each time, I was living out of a backpack. I had gone, in less than a year, from having an apartment filled with possessions and belongings to one backpack And it was good, I was coping. I didn’t need all the ‘things’ I had been surrounding myself with. I didn’t need to spend my money on material possessions. I realized it felt good to have de-cluttered, despite it not being by choice.
I focused on establishing Global Handprints and using my time, effort and little savings to getting my own dream going. The best way for me to do so was to stay in South Africa where the cost of living is more affordable than London. Therefore making start-up investment go further. This was where I felt at home at the time and the thought of another life move, after several in one year, was too much!
I threw myself into defining the social enterprise, learning from my experiences of travel, volunteering, and project and placement management.
Together, my boyfriend and I explored areas of South Africa I knew I wanted volunteers to experience. We delved into local communities and found projects to partner with. I spent my days putting together projects, learning about website design, marketing, and social media management. I reveled in the fact I was doing all of this for me. I was working for myself. I could take Friday off and go to Swaziland without a moment’s notice if I wanted to! I didn’t need to check in with anyone else. It was liberating, hard work and purposeful.
A year ago we decided to take the life we had been living one step further. Packing up our few belongings and dogs into an old caravan, we left the small town that had been home. We headed off on an adventure. With no set plan and no idea of what we would do along the way other than that we needed to generate an income somehow and that I wanted to keep working on promoting and establishing Global Handprints. We headed west.
Yes, it’s been tough. We’ve had days where we have had to ask someone to wire us money as there’s nothing left in either bank account. We have eaten only peanut butter and bread for 3 days straight. We have sat in darkness when the generator ran out of fuel and the nearest fuel station was 30kms away and the car tank was empty. We have screamed and shouted at each other about the dishes and who is taking them to the ocean to wash them. We have sat in silence next to each other in the caravan because there’s no room to have a time out. We have got lost and blamed each other for not reading directions.
Simultaneously, we have been on an adventure. We have lived every moment of the past year. We have woken up on the top of a ravine with an unrivaled view for our morning coffee. We have harvested our own mussels fresh from the ocean when the caravan was stuck in the sand for 3 weeks. We have slept on the side of the road, under the stars in national parks, caravan sites, friend’s gardens and on farms. We have been part of the caravan community, small town communities, and farming communities.
In one year, I have seen more of this beautiful country than many people born here have. I have explored its deserted, sandy beaches, rocky barren coastline, vast landscapes that go on and on and on with no signs of life, the wetlands parks, the nature reserves, the sand dunes, the small villages to the cosmopolitan cities. I have traveled, and experienced, the real South Africa.
I grew up always wanting to be a teacher, in part for the holidays that would enable me to travel. I always knew I didn’t want to have 10 days of annual leave that I needed to ‘spend wisely’. However, I expected to settle down at home, in London, with a house filled with belongings and to meet the societal norms. I grew up focused on being busy, on filling my time with what I thought were experiences. I was a planner, an organizer and a ‘do-er’.
However, here I am, living this nomadic lifestyle. I have few belongings with me. I have no set plan. I have nothing to organize.
Our days are filled with talks about whether to move on from where we are or to stay. Usually, something happens to make the decision for us and we go with it.
I am on the open road and living life.