Travelling can mean many things to many people. The purpose of my current travels is to volunteer my time in three different communities in Ghana. This trip marks my first experience of this sort, as well as my longest time away from home, other than university.
Now three weeks in, I'm sitting on a beach “vacationing” in Cape Coast. Sure, I had thought about the various places I'd like to see while I'm here, but I guess I didn't fully consider that while I'm in Ghana for work purposes, I'd have opportunities to vacation. But it made me think about how important this component of volunteering abroad is and not just from an economic standpoint.
Taking the time to explore your host community is important, because you're going to be spending quite a bit of time there. Plus I think it shows an important sign of respect and interest to those you'll be living and working with. However, branching away from that familiar space is equally important. Doing so allows you to gain a more robust understanding of the country you're visiting, while disallowing you to take for granted why you went in the first place.
This doesn't mean you have to travel far and wide to accomplish this. For me sometimes just the drive from project to project is enough—taking in the sights, chatting with people I sit next to on the bus or upon arrival in the given community. It does wonders for yourself and your overall experience. The way I'm starting to look at it is to imagine what it would be like if you hosted someone in your own home. You'd probably question their level of interest or rationale for coming in the first place if all they were willing to see was your neighbourhood.
Keep in mind, as well, that your home stay family and local co-workers make excellent travel resources—it is their home, after all! So far my experiences outside of my work obligations have all been based on recommendations, and they've all worked out quite well. In some cases, they even offered to tag along, which provided an opportunity to see things differently than I would have, had they not joined me.
Whatever you decide to do, remember this is your trip, for your development, just as much as it is about the objectives of your project.Add this article to your reading list