Exploring at home – learn new skills and meet new people by travelling and volunteering

What will travel look like after Covid 19?

Well it definitely looks like travel might be very much changed for the next year or so. One recent travel article I read even suggested that countries might not reopen their borders to travellers until vaccines are available for all and a Covid 19 travel vaccination might become a prerequisite travel jab.

Passport and visa, backpacking
So many immigration stamps!

I usually travel for a few months each winter and was really hoping to make it to New Zealand and Borneo this year. Just in case that doesn’t happen (and it does seem unlikely) I’m making backup domestic travel plans. As I always say, half the fun of travelling is planning it!

Unfortunately it’s expensive to travel in the UK and not half as fun as being overseas. So what are my other options?

Volunteer as you travel – my favourite travel budgeting hack

Workaway is probably going to be my favoured solution. It’s a backpacking hack I’ve written about many times. Volunteering with local families while travelling is a great way to make your travel budget go further and extend your trip without it costing more. It’s also fantastic for getting to know a community better and learning new ways of living or gaining skills.

Lake and volcanoes at Panajachel, Guatemala
My first view of Lago de Atitlan in Guatemala

I learned all about composting when I volunteered with a Guatemalan family at Lake Atitlan in Central America and I’ve never forgotten how to correctly prune a home grape vine taught to me by Ann in Tasmania.

Volunteering and travelling in your home country

But it’s also possible to volunteer in your home country. Workaway lets you search opportunities for volunteering in any country, including your own. When my overseas travel dates were delayed last year, I posted a message on Workaway to say I was looking for a couple of weeks volunteering in England and I had ten replies within two days.

A sunset drive in my Berlingo camper on the Isle of Man
There’s no excuse to miss a sunset when you embrace Vanlife

So this winter my backup travel destination is Scotland and Northern Ireland. Two places, which despite being part of my own country, I’ve never explored properly. The plan will be to mix volunteering opportunities with a bit of UK vanlife,  doing some great road trips between volunteering placements as I work my way around the country.

I’m already excited!

I’ve previously only volunteered within the UK a handful of times. Here’s two of my favourites…

Looking after a smallholding in Shropshire

I spent three weeks in the rural countryside of Shropshire, halfway up the Wales-England border. The owners were heading off to Scotland on a canoeing trip and needed a volunteer to look after their five sheep, dog and cat. I also had garden duty – weeding and watering.

I arrived a few days before they headed off to get up to speed with my responsibilities. The decaying farmhouse was under renovation, with just the family bedrooms habitable. A caravan in the garden was being used as the kitchen and family area and would also be my home for the fortnight.

I had a great stay – checking daily on the sheep, walking the dog and exploring the property. I had use of a bicycle and cycled the country lanes happily getting lost among the quaint villages.

There was a glut of green beans during my stay, prompting me to do many Google searches for green bean recipes!

Looking after goats, feral cats and other animals in West Yorkshire

I really enjoyed working on Emma’s property. She’d just started a new business and was struggling to keep up with all the chores around her smallholding. There was ragwort popping up everywhere, adopted feral cats in the barn needing attention and a couple of very inquisitive goats that kept escaping.

I pottered around the property during the mornings, tidying and organising, whilst trying to shoo the goats back into their allotted areas. A few times a day I visited with the cats trying to get them used to a human presence and I pulled up never ending bunches of ragwort.

In the afternoons I was free to explore the beautiful hills of West Yorkshire and the quirky little towns. The walks started right on the doorstep, with stunning views across the moor. I traipsed up and down valleys following a faded OS map, finding odd features like the 121 foot Stoodley Pike monument built on top of the hills, visible on the skyline for miles around.

I’m actually really looking forward to exploring more of my own country this year. Even if overseas travel does open up again after Covid 19 is under control, I’m thinking that a winter exploring Scotland could be quite appealing.

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