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The Trip That

Changed My Life Whether it’s trekking to Everest base camp or Macchu Pichu, gorilla-watching in Rwanda, cycling across the Sinai desert or diving in the Galápagos, plenty of tour operators these days promise you ‘a life-changing experience’. For most people that means little more than a camera-full of pictures and some pretty fantastic memories. But for some, that once-in-a-lifetime adventure really does do what it says on the tin, prompting a complete reappraisal of their life and values. Here, four travellers talk about how their lives have spun off in a totally unexpected direction

Vicky Smith

33, from London

I

stood in the middle of the busy street, surrounded by thronging masses. There were no cars or buses, just thousands of people on a mission. I felt rooted to the spot. Like a film scene, the world around me was in fast forward but I was in slow motion. I felt detached, even though I was aware of being constantly jostled. I felt my throat constrict and inhaled deeply to calm myself, totally and unexpectedly overwhelmed by culture shock. I’ve always had a passion for travel and have done as much as finances and time allowed, But I’d never experienced anything like this. And what was ridiculous, this wasn’t Africa, where I had spent the last few months backpacking and volunteering in remote villages and wilderness reserves in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia. This was my hometown, London. Oxford Street to be precise, just before Christmas last year. I suddenly felt out of place, a complete stranger. I usually love Christmas shopping, but the spree I’d planned seemed so overwhelmingly trite, pointless and superficial. It hadn’t changed of course, I had. I used to like shopping, gossip mags and rubbish TV and all the rest. But they now held no interest for me whatsoever. I just longed to be back in Africa. I’d come to London after working in the ski industry in Europe, moved into being an international conference manager in the internet technologies, taking my skills from that back to the travel industry, where I applied them developing and marketing mainstream travel websites. Then I took

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a career break and left the corporate world to go to Africa. And Africa blew me away. To be at one with nature under African skies at night; to see the beautiful faces of the kids in the rural communities. To witness the effects of AIDS, both physical and economic, as those of working age are obliterated, leaving elderly and frail grandparents to look after their orphans. To see the long-term consequences of policies such as apartheid, arms sales and genocide which have ravaged African nations. To know that, at 33, I was beyond the life expectancy of most of the people in the countries I visited. And so I returned and decided I wanted a web development and marketing role in responsible volunteer travel – not so different from my last job but with a different, infinitely more satisfying, intention – to facilitate tourism to be a force for good. After some hard graft, that’s exactly what I’m now doing, with different-travel. com. Nearly a year on and the intensity of that Oxford Street feeling has subsided a little, but it’s certainly not gone away. Life is more precious to me, to be treated more respectfully, and my sense of self is stronger. I’m probably less tolerant of senseless, egotistical behaviour but kinder to myself. I make more time in my life for health and vitality, physical and spiritual, and I’ve taken up things I’ve been meaning to do for years but never seemed to have the time, like finishing the DIY jobs, practising yoga and reading more. That Africa trip certainly changed my life. It changed my job, my working day, my focus, my drive and above all, it changed my perspective. I can’t wait to go back.

r:travel, official magazine of the Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards 2007  

Official magazine of the Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards 2007

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