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What's this blog all about?

Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.
I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps. See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Can anyone - even you - do good travelling?

Nell coping without a watch...
This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. Impossible? No. This post asks if travelling does anyone any good? Words from Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).  

Nell, 11, is upset that at the start of the summer holidays her watch stopped. Seemed symbolic to me, but it's easy to replace the battery, especially as the shop owner of Raymonds in nearby Highbury Barn loves fiddling with watches. It's his original trade, the one he learnt in India. Seeing the lifeless watch he seized his magnifying glass, prized off the back and located another battery. "That's £5," he said. "all this money, all the watch money goes to charity. To an Indian charity that feeds blind people. The £1 is so strong that this brings about 80 rupees - that can give four people dinner, a lot of food."


As my own children and relatives get older I seem to see more appeals for help with overseas projects, like this one my cousin Nick sent from his pet project in Sierra Leone. What's agreed is that everyone needs money, the question is, how to give it? Does it involve going to a country, or can the money be sent in more imaginative ways? Offering up a skill - as a friend say helping to install an app or cut a hedge, or as I did 20 plus years ago as a volunteer working in Solomon Islands for VSO - is definitely generous.

Or is it? The early VSOs were unskilled school leavers, often on a gap year before university (although they have been skilled experts willing to pass on knowledge for years now). But I know a 14 year old who is doing wonderful fundraising (odd jobs, babysitting and saving her own birthday money) to travel to an African country and help with building projects. Even so I don't think she is old enough to be able to help. And even if she was I think it would be much better if local people were given that training in their own locale. Keep these UK kids out of it.

I know that what I got back from the experience of working for a NGO (Solomon Islands Development Trust) overseas was surely greater than what I put in. Just a quick calculation includes a new language, friendships that have really lasted, a new way of thinking that's more cooperative (sort of the pacific way, but not quite), a love of having children around, ideas for my novel Coconut Wireless. That's a big list, if I hadn't gone to the Solomons my life would have been considerably less rich in experiences.

My watch-loving newsagent takes this further: "People in India have nothing, and expect nothing," he says. "That's why they sleep. They sleep soundly, anywhere, even in the street. But here in the UK everyone's worried, so worried they can't sleep. They have everything but they need pills to sleep. You can be happy with nothing."

Over to you
I've noticed that people with strong Hindu beliefs often come to a similar conclusion - but for me it's another rich reward for just popping into my local shop for a battery. My question is do you listen more because you've travelled? Or is this an age thing? Of course travelling is a lot of fun, but do you think it does anyone - but the traveller - any good?

6 comments:

Karin said...

I think it's true that travel broadens your mind, if you let it, anyway. When travelling as a tourist you are boosting local economies, although there can also be a negative impact, but you can minimise that to some extent.

Nicola Baird said...

Hi Karin, nice to hear from you. Good point that there are many ways to minimise some of the negative impacts. And going to places like Zimbabwe (although hard to get to from the UK without flying) makes people there feel like they are not being forgotten. Nicola

mehmet tasman said...

i think its a bit long to read, but good points

mehmet tasman said...

its a bit long but good points

Oly Shipp said...

What an interesting idea!

Came across you blog through Blog Action Day, so interested in your comments as a returned VSO volunteer (my entry was about VSO - http://olysukblog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/the-power-of-we.html).

I have to say that I think VSO now focusses on 'sharing skills' - so goes much more for experienced professionals rather than young adventurers - but your point about not just giving but getting back a new language, friends, experiences etc still holds.

I too am concerned about climate change and applaud your stance on planes - but confess that I struggle, not only as I love travelling, but also as I want to volunteer again - hope I'll be worth the carbon footprint!

Will follow with interest - and if you do anything on Cambodia, you may be interested in 2 years worth of blogs at http://olyscambodiablog.blogspot.com

Bon voyage!

Nicola Baird said...

Hi Oly, thanks for stopping by - I will enjoy looking at your time/blog in Cambodia, a country I know so little about. Although I was with VSO from 1990-92 it was very much about passing on professional skills (I think the adventurer days were possibly a very short period in its earliest days). I know I still whince at Pacific old hands talking about VSOs as if they were teenagers on holiday. It makes me very proud that one of my women counterparts went on to run the organisation, and another set up the country's first TV station. But that said I was 26 when I arrived, which isn't young but it was definitely towards the start of my career - I'd only had 2 years working on a magazine.

Like you I would love to volunteer again in another country/with VSO. But family commitments make that difficult right now. In the meantime there are far too many volunteering opportunities on my doorstep: often just a stroll away. Maybe that's the same for you and you can make use of the we feeling in the most local of situations?